Gray. Dingy darkness as far as the eye can see. The sky is gray. The mountains are gray. Even the snow looks as though Mick Jagger tried painting it black and got bored half-way through. A gruff voice struggles to be heard through a radio, practically clawing its way out of the speakers. “I'm in position! I won't be able to hold it for long!” Helicopters swoop in as orchestral music swells in the background. This should be big. This should be epic. But it isn't, because you're a gamer, and you've been here a million times before. Oh, and here's the kicker: the thing I just described? It's the sequel to a colorful, over-the-top snowboarding game.
Announced during last weekend's Spike TV's Videogame Awards (a whole other can filled with equal parts worms and disgrace), SSX: Deadly Descents is pretty much everything that's wrong with big-name, triple-A game development these days. It's gray! It's edgy! It's realistic! It's... so damn boring that I'm going to stop describing it for fear of falling asleep mid-sentence. Most depressing, however, is the fact that it's certainly not alone. The grand majority of big-budget mega-games – almost regardless of genre – seem to be pandering exclusively to the testosterone-fueled manly man who thinks Michael Bay's filmography is the height of human achievement. Creativity may not be dead, but it's whistling an all-too-merry tune while digging its own grave. Call of Duty: Black Ops, Medal of Honor, Killzone, Gears of War, Resistance, Halo: Reach -- what do they all have in common? They're the same stinkin' game! But their wide variety of three whole character stereotypes, two level patterns, and one color palette is where the money's at, and when budgets are this over-inflated, one wrong move will make the bubble burst. The bottom line? Caution. No unnecessary risks. Applying the same old formulas to new products over and over and over and over and, well, you get the point.
But hey, there's a silver lining here – and a big one at that. This potentially fatal gaming industry disease has managed to quarantine itself almost exclusively to consoles. And that's why – when interchangeable big-name mega-bucks publisher number 127 declares PC gaming “dead” or decides not to port its new game over – I jump for joy and shout praises to the heavens. It's such an exciting time to be a gamer right now – just not in the big-budget sector. On PC, we've got out-of-nowhere indie sensations like Minecraft, inventive (and free!) mods from the game development rockstars of tomorrow, cloud and browser-based games changing when, where, and how we can play, and access to all our old favorites thanks to services like Steam and GOG.
And then you've got mobile gaming, which – despite the attached “casual” stigma – has become one of the industry's foremost breeding grounds for rapid-fire, easy-to-access creativity. Developers don't have to spend as much money and neither do customers; it's a win-win. Whether you want “hardcore” experiences like Epic's Infinity Blade or “casual” ones like Chillingo's Cut The Rope, you can count on tons of brand new bite-sized options each day. Sure, some of it's bottom-of-the-barrel, barely playable scum, but there's so much brilliance sprinkled on top that I'm more-than-willing to reach a hand in and hope for the best.
Hell, even social games (think Facebook) are breaking new ground, and even though they're not really my thing, I can acknowledge that they're bringing new types of games to new audiences. Point is, creativity's everywhere, and the Activisions, Microsofts, and Sonys of the world are just bloated, lumbering dinosaurs that don't even notice the fiery meteor of inevitability sneaking up behind them. It's disgraceful, really. Microsoft recently tried to hide the Xbox 360's indie game tab under it's “Specialty Shops” section – resulting in all sorts of developer outcry – and Activision's been treating its indie game competition with so little fanfare that you'd think it's ashamed of the poor thing.
Downloadable console games provide a thin ray of hope, but when you only get one or two big-time innovators like Braid or Limbo per year, the situation is most certainly not ideal. Unfortunately, it seems we're back in grade school all over again. The popular kids are accomplishing nothing of note while the dorky, creative types get sand kicked in their faces.
Enough doom and gloom, though, because we're getting all the good stuff. Now then, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go play Octodad. It's a game about an average, everyday family man who's also secretly an octopus. Yeah. So long as games like that continue to exist, I think the gaming industry's in pretty great shape.