Needs More Cowbell

Games are not always good. This is a sad fact of life as a gamer. As much as we may want them to be great, many games are just horribly, horribly bad, and nothing is as infuriating as expecting a game to be good and realizing a little too late that it’s not. Not only is it a waste of time, but of money, and if you’re like me you don’t have nearly enough of either.

There are games at the other end of the spectrum, though, and those are the ones that make all the bad experiences worthwhile. Games that blow the doors off your expectations and offer hours of immersive, blissful enjoyment make it easy to forget the ones that made you want to throw a controller through a wall. In this way, being a lifelong gamer, one realizes, is a lot like being a junkie. You spend most of your gaming life chasing the great high of playing a truly excellent game, looking for a repeat of an all-too-rare occurrence.

In the good times, great games are a dime a dozen. 2007 was one such year, to be sure, but again, for every BioShock, Mass Effect or Modern Warfare there were other, lesser games. Games that tried really hard but just weren’t any fun. (Lair, I’m looking at you.)

Yet between the great and the … not-so-great, are games that are harder to define. These games might be good on some level , but suffer some tragic flaw, something irritating or disappointing enough to render the experience less-than-optimal, but that might – just might – have been avoidable. We call these games “nearly great,” and this issue of The Escapist, Issue 244, “Needs More Cowbell,” is dedicated to them: those games that needed just a little extra, some indefinable something, to take them from “meh” to “fuck yeah.”

When I think about “nearly great” games, one big one comes to mind: Red Dead Revolver. Rockstar’s homage to Western films had all the makings of a great game. It could have been wonderful – and yet it wasn’t. Why, exactly, is a little hard to say.

Yeah, it had gameplay issues. Yeah, the levels were kind of stale. Yeah, maybe the A.I. could have been better, but you can forgive a lot when it comes to Old West games. Take repetition for example. It’s not like you’re working with the industry’s largest selection of weapons and enemies in a Western. If you get the six-shooter right and supply plenty of guys with mustaches to shoot it at, then you’re all set, and Red Dead Revolver nailed that aspect. And yet … it just wasn’t fun.

I’m tempted to say it needed a clearer design direction, that the levels could have used more work or that the gameplay mechanics could have stood to bake a little longer. But if I said that, I’d just be nit-picking. What the game really needed was more cowbell.

Russ Pitts

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