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What makes a game truly great?

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Having finished playing The Last of Us, I have been contemplating great games I’ve played.  There have been many, but which of them are really memorable, and why?

For a long time, I was convinced that it was fantastic plot with believable characters.  Give me a great story with some cool people and it should make for a great game.  Yet this isn’t always the case.  I mean, look at Dragon Age 2.  It wasn’t a bad game, and it had an interesting plot and a whole range of intriguing characters.  But the gameplay was just wrong – too much back and forth, repetition and the one dungeon that was recycled throughout.

So maybe all we need are good game play mechanics.  But no, I can’t say that either.  I mean, I thoroughly enjoyed Prototype (I know, I’m the only one), but it was so weak on story and character that the rest of the game fell apart – somehow the “you are mutant, go!” approach to plot didn’t resonate with gamers.

Then we have some great games, such as Beyond Good and Evil.  It really wasn’t anything special regarding graphics, or even game play or plot.  Yet the way the story was woven together, and how the game play was used, made for a truly unique and exciting game.

Or there’s The Last of Us, which goes beyond any game I’ve played in years, if not ever.  Why?  The plot isn’t particularly brilliant, and most of the game play borrows from one game or another.  And yet, the relationships, the attention to detail, the realism, they all come together to make it such a special game.

Now, I’m not saying that a game needs to be great to be enjoyable.  Sometimes, all you want is pwnage, and there are games you will reach for again and again just to blow of steam and relax.  Yet there are games that define gaming for you and raise your level of expectation.  So I ask you, what makes a game go above and beyond?  What takes it from the level of being “a good game” to being memorable, exciting or even reinvigorating as a gamer?

Last Updated: June 28, 2013

49 Comments

  1. HvR

    June 28, 2013 at 15:06

    Combination and different levels of good plot and good game play. Most important X factor is uniqueness I think everybody wants to play something they have before.

    Reply

    • Ultimo_Cleric N7

      June 28, 2013 at 15:24

      Agreed, its the combiniation that makes it. But to me a truly amazing game is one that the player is ENGAGED in. Something that sucks you in. INNOVATION is another thing. If you dont change things up during the gaming experience, people will get bored fast.

      EDIT: Look at ME2, DA:O, Deus Ex: HR, GoW 3, HL 2

      Reply

  2. Zubayr Bhyat

    June 28, 2013 at 15:08

    I’d say anything that differentiates itself enough to feel fresh (and not go weird) while keeping the rest competent and tight with a good plot. The flaws will be there, but if something is executed well enough it becomes legend.

    Thief’s a good example.

    Reply

  3. OVG

    June 28, 2013 at 15:09

    ATMOSPHERE.

    Reply

    • OVG

      June 28, 2013 at 15:16

      Dark dense and thicker than a syrup ATMOSPHERE jacket. DRIP DRIP DRIP DRIP
      That is why The Last of Us is pure fcking immersion. DRIP DRIP DRIP.

      Reply

      • OVG

        June 28, 2013 at 15:19

        Metro Last light could have nailed it but they fudged it with all the tits and childish DUKE NUKEM teen boner humor.

        Reply

        • OVG

          June 28, 2013 at 15:24

          Even Abe’s Oddysee drips in atmosphere.

          Reply

          • Skyblue

            June 28, 2013 at 15:48

            Second that and that’s why System Shock 2 is still my favourite SP game of all time. Pure ‘shit your pants’ tension and complete immersion. Other mentions go out to Thief, Unreal (1), Bioshock (1), Demon’s Souls and Half Life.

          • Skyblue

            June 28, 2013 at 15:50

            Almost forgot Alan Wake, also very good.

          • OVG

            June 28, 2013 at 15:53

            That OOOOOOOOOOZED atmosphere from start to the VERY memorable credit music.
            Narrative should always be on par with addictive gameplay and it worked.

          • Argentil

            June 28, 2013 at 15:50

            +1 for Demon’s Souls and Half-Life.

            It’s been a while since a game has made waves as big as HL.

          • Trevor Davies

            June 28, 2013 at 18:05

            Shodan has the creepiest voice work EVAR

  4. ElimiNathan

    June 28, 2013 at 15:12

    Zoe, your articles are really good, we can tell you really love gaming. Big ups to you

    Reply

    • Zoe

      June 28, 2013 at 15:27

      thanks so much! really appreciate it 🙂

      Reply

  5. ElimiNathan

    June 28, 2013 at 15:16

    I think its all in the details

    Reply

    • Zubayr Bhyat

      June 28, 2013 at 15:25

      The details are everything. I think the key is to make the connection with the gamer enough to get their attention and form a bond with millions of lines of code. Deus Ex (the first, not HR) had crap combat but the story and plot combined with excellent damage system (even in its time) kept me playing it at least ten times over.

      Reply

    • OVG

      June 28, 2013 at 16:04

      The devil is in the detail 😛

      Reply

  6. RinceWind

    June 28, 2013 at 15:19

    Good question. Look at Farcry 3, meh story, but one of the best bad guys in any form of media that I can recall. The mechanics were good, nothing new, but I didn’t have to fight with it. FF8, emo story but what a story it was. Time spent, 100 plus hours levelling up. Bioshock Infinite WOW. Story, visuals, my wife Elizabeth (and I wouldn’t cringe so much saying that if my mother wasn’t also called Elizabeth, Electra issues, much?) Batman Arkham Asylum. Wow, story, mechanics, beautiful world! I don’t think there is any one thing, no quintessential sweet spot as it were that one has to ensure is done right to make a brilliant game. To me asking that question is like asking ‘why are here, what is the meaning of life?’ And to me? “I’m not a gamer because I have no life, I’m a gamer because I want to have many” (stolen).

    Reply

  7. brad coetzee

    June 28, 2013 at 15:20

    Um, Prototype is my 2nd favourite game on my xbox. I’ve played it through 3 times. Alex Mercer is like the Hulk mixed with Spiderman mixed with Mystique. Just absolutely fookin deadly. So the story was kind of weak/generic but jumping a 100ft through the air and hurling an M1 Abrams at an Apache more than made up for it.

    Reply

  8. Argentil

    June 28, 2013 at 15:24

    For me, there were a few moments where I just had to stop and think. Most of it was story or character-inspired thought, but there were times when I thought to myself that tackling a level in an unconventional way was really brilliant. The Last of Us does a lot of things well, it does other things in such a way that you’re left a bit flabbergasted, in a good way. I think it will be different for everyone. I had quite a few moments of awe while I was traversing a level, like how impressive the algae looked in the water Joel was trudging through, or how brutal the animations were. There were elements in the bones of the game that I appreciated, as well as the meat itself. This is what makes this game what it is. Technical mastery, emotional weight, characters with believability and depth, a setting and tone that leave you gasping for more by the time it’s over, and themes that get you thinking outside of the context of the game alone.

    Reply

    • OVG

      June 28, 2013 at 15:47

      You share today’s BELLS with Darren Peach.

      Reply

      • Argentil

        June 28, 2013 at 15:48

        Why thank you.

        Reply

        • OVG

          June 28, 2013 at 16:15

          No, thank you 😛 We need more of this on gaming sites where us gamers can talk about the game in depth. I am tired of all the politics. I want more games debated like this.

          Reply

  9. Tbone187

    June 28, 2013 at 15:43

    Depends on the type of game but : Gameplay mechanics, fun factor, sense of achievement, realism(both graphics and gameplay) and story lines…combined, and you have a deadly cocktail worthy of legendary status…

    Reply

    • Argentil

      June 28, 2013 at 15:49

      I wouldn’t factor in realism. Journey, as an example is one of the best games I’ve ever played, but it trumps two of those conventions. The story is implied for the most part, with some short cutscenes to give you a general historical overview of the setting. It leaves you with a strong feeling that you’ve experienced something moving by the end of it. The best games are unforgettable experiences.

      Reply

      • Tbone187

        June 28, 2013 at 16:11

        Not sure hey…some of the most memorable games incorporated realism…res evil2, mgs, heck even the blood in MK was memorable for the time…Racing games like Sega rally & Daytona USA added realism to racing…Tekken in fighting could be used as an example as well…but you also get memorable games like bubble bobble, pac man and the like that simply excelled at fun factor with no story or refined graphics…So I’d say it’s too vast to pin down to specifics…

        Reply

  10. Warren Ross

    June 28, 2013 at 15:48

    The best games have conviction: they may not be technically superior in any way, or even be particularly original, but you can feel when you’re playing something that was created by a group of people with a genuine love for the material. Batman – Arkham Asylum, Bioshock Infinite, XCom, Mass Effect…going further back there are games like Full Throttle, Star Control 2, Doom, Civilization, System Shock, Ultima VI, Wing Commander 2, Diablo, Dune 2 etc.

    So many great games, so many different genres…but all of the best ones were crafted by people that completely believed in what they were creating; people who truly bought into bringing a particular vision to reality.

    Reply

    • OVG

      June 28, 2013 at 16:07

      hear hear. Like Hotel California. It just ooooozes soul no matter how many times one listens to it. Just 1 example of a billion pieces of art where the passion is followed through like a little parasite. One can just tell.

      Reply

      • OVG

        June 28, 2013 at 16:11

        Or one can enjoy music from Paris Hilton’s computer generated trash.

        Reply

  11. Galbedir

    June 28, 2013 at 15:56

    Give me a game containing a character with feeling and emotion that you connect with, a story with twists and surprises that keeps you wondering and a decent gameplay time (Non of this 6-8 hour trollop!). Then you have a game I will throw money at. One particular game that comes to mind in the past are…Soul Reaver: Legacy of Kain series (God I miss these)

    Reply

  12. OVG

    June 28, 2013 at 16:02

    But does ICO and Shadow of the Colossus share the same mantel?
    Even the language was made up.

    Reply

  13. Umar Kiiroi Senk?

    June 28, 2013 at 16:23

    Feels….a game that leaves me with many feels…thats a great game for me……i remember playing chrono trigger when i was young. And seeing chrono die was just so perplexing for me as i felt things i never didbefore in a game

    Reply

  14. ALKi1234

    June 29, 2013 at 08:42

    It would be a crying shame if ND choose not to make a sequel……please ND for history’s sake!

    Reply

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