Newsflash: Innovation Can Fail
It has been a running trend amongst video game critics for years: many sources always put far too much emphasis on "innovation;" i.e., if a game "does something new." Well, there are two major issues that renders such emphasis absurd: 1. gaming is no longer in its infancy; asking for something new with every last big release is almost like asking the same of movies, and 2. innovation can, indeed, fail.
For whatever reason, the aforementioned emphasis has bred the belief that all innovation is always good. I checked the exact definition of the word innovate and it says, "to introduce something new; make changes in anything established." You will note there's no mention that these changes need to be positive, which instantly proves that "changing" or "new" can be poorly implemented, thereby causing a poor result. A perfect example is the recent Tony Hawk: Ride, which has experienced poor sales due to terrible critical reception. Now, Tony Hawk himself has jumped to the defense of his new game, saying that too many reviewers already "had their minds set" before ever playing the game. I don't believe that for a second but the interesting part is the rest of his quote:
"I'm proud of what we created; it's innovative, responsive and fun."
I'll agree with the innovative part, but he tosses the next two adjectives in as if they were givens; as if that innovation automatically translated to a quality gaming experience. Let me explain something to Mr. Hawk and to all these other self-righteous critics who believe that if a game doesn't do "something new," it's inferior to any game that does: there have been a lot of attempts to try new mechanics or new ideas in games before, and a great many of them fail. Most people don't know this because they're not playing the junk that features such failures, but I have to review them and trust me...new ideas and changes don't always work. In fact, they rarely work, which is why good innovation is hard. If it wasn't hard, it'd happen every damn day.
But I'm straying from my primary point, here. What I'm trying to say is that while I encourage developers to give us fresh stuff, and while I appreciate all efforts to be different, we must all accept the fact that innovation can fall flat on its face, as it did with Ride. No, it's not responsive. And because of that, we fail to see how it can be any fun. It's just bad. It just doesn't work very well. Sure, we love the idea, too; ambition should always be applauded. But everyone involved with that project should man up and admit it didn't come out well, return to the drawing board, and earn a second chance at earning the gamer's approval. You can't do that with poorly represented innovation. Shadow of the Colossus is amazing because it featured several new gameplay ideas but those ideas were extremely well executed. That's the difference, people.
And in the end, I'm pretty sick and tired of critics handing out the tired old, "oh, but it didn't do anything new" complaint. I heard this in relation to Uncharted 2 and I just wanted to throttle the person who said it. Who gives a sh**? It's quite possibly one of the most polished, most professional, and oh yes, most entertaining games in the industry's history. Lest we forget, the latter bonus is the reason we all play. Innovation can be great and we need it so the industry doesn't stagnate but damnit, there are other things to consider. Lots of other things. Like, oh, I don't know...if it's any freakin' good.
12/11/2009 Ben Dutka