A long time ago, I was talking with a friend and commented that one of the things I liked best about being a console-only gamer was that you never had to worry about PC stuff. Things like the bad habit of PC developers releasing unfinished code with the thought that they would simply release a patch later on. Screw that, we were plug-and-play! (I was young and naive then… Give me a break!)
Once taking consoles online began to seem more and more like a reality, the confidence I had in developers began to weaken. All of a sudden, it didn't seem far-fetched that some unsavory developers would let problems slide if they knew their audience would be able to get a fix later. It wasn't a big issue at the time, but the shadow was looming.
Fast-forward to today. As much as I hate to say it, it seems as though that undesirable "patch it later" mentality is becoming fairly commonplace. Normal, even.
The reason I bring this up is that over the weekend, my wife lost about twelve hours of progress in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow on 360. She did absolutely nothing wrong, but for some totally random reason her save corrupted and was unrecoverable. Complicating things, Lords of Shadow uses an auto-save system with only one file, so my wife didn't even have a chance to load an alternate save—the whole thing went kaput, and all of the incredibly precious time she devoted during our son's naps and staying up late was for nothing.
If I had known that there was a save issue beforehand, I never would have let her play it. Unfortunately, it didn't occur to me to check. If I did, I would've seen that plenty of players have reported similar problems on both the PS3 and 360 versions. The PS3 just received a patch allegedly correcting this problem, but 360 players have to take their chances since Konami is still working on a fix for them.
Too bad, so sad.
In the days before you plugged an ethernet cable in the back of your console, letting a glitch of this nature slip through QA would have been a public relations disaster on an epic scale, and would have incurred the wrath of the entire gaming community. At Konami, someone's head would have had to roll. Apologies would have been publicly made. Free stuff would have been sent out as a way of saying sorry. These days, it's barely a blip on anyone's radar—and of those that do notice, half of them don't seem to care.
I find it incredibly sad that it's come to this, but it appears as though this is the current reality. Without the ability to wave a magic wand and grant each game an extra 200 staffers for bug testing, I guess the best thing to do is change the way I organize my collection: one stack for "play it now", one stack for "play it later", and one stack for "after the patch."
I officially started Red Dead Redemption yesterday. It's one of the last "big" games I need to get to before the end of the year, so I figured I had best get to it. I'm still quite early in the adventure, but I have to say that one of the things that struck me almost immediately was a conscious realization that my tastes have changed.
Stepping into the boots of John Marston, I was keenly aware that during the plentiful cut scenes and numerous conversations, I was not being presented with any choices in dialogue. While having a set story in console games has been the rule for quite some time, more and more titles are bucking that trend, and for the better.
Mass Effect was certainly a very scripted experience, yet offered players a hand in how Commander Shepard conducted herself and in the pivotal choices that were made. Oblivion and Fallout 3 are perfect examples of combining open-world gameplay with player choice for a deeper level of actual role-playing. Hell, even Alpha Protocol presented a number of juicy options to players, and that was essentially a third-person action game. There are a number of other examples, but the point is that it feels hard for me to be satisfied with a one-size-fits-all experience; to go back to a character that I don't appear to have any control over.
To be clear, I don't think this is as much of a problem in tightly-focused action games. While I would certainly welcome having more choice, knowing that it won't happen isn't going to stop me from playing Gears of War 3 or others of its ilk. I think the problem for me lies in the fact that Red Dead is a wide-open experience that encourages exploration and side-questing, and my brain is wanting more opportunity to personalize my character and craft my own experience.
While there certainly seems to be some choice in the way I conduct myself through gameplay—do I save the prostitute from her attacker? Do I let the innocent rancher be shot?—so far, I haven't seen any of these choices affect the cutscenes, the plot, or which missions I'm able to partake in. I'm guessing that if I spent all my time murdering shopkeepers and skinning friendly dogs, Bonnie McFarlane would treat me exactly the same as she does when I'm herding her cattle or protecting her property. If that's true, then I find that kind of disappointing.
Like I said, it's still early days yet. I could be totally mistaken and there could be more depth of the kind I crave later on… but I'm suspecting that won't prove to be the case. At the moment I'm pressing on and seeing what Rockstar's cooked up, but in all honesty, I'm not feeling very engaged or immersed. After having a taste of the freedoms (illusory or not) that other titles have offered, it's interesting to see that a title with such stellar production values and breadth of content has much less of an effect on me than it would have in the past.
I guess, sometimes, you really can't go home again.