Monday, 28 May 2012

The Trouble with Meal Deals - By Michael Dodds

As has happened perhaps a few too many times in my life, I found myself on the phone with a friend who was seeking enlightenment on a recently purchased Xbox 360 from a suitably geeky guru.

Among the confusing mass of wires, manuals and online instructions, there were three games that came with the Meal Deal, which the amateur gamer so wolfishly sinks their teeth into. The latest update of Fifa (Fifa 20.1.2?) was of course present, as was Max Payne 3 and Mass Effect 3; all new releases.

I could not think of a worse combination of games for a new gamer.

It’s not that these games are bad. Mass Effect 3, which I have yet to play, is tipped as one of the best games so far this year, while Max Payne 3 has been receiving flattering reviews. Concurrently, Fifa is like white toast with margarine. Uninteresting, but somewhat satisfying, and the bulk of many amateur gamers’ diets. Fair enough.


I just had a problem with the lack of variety. What happens if you get sick of shooting aliens in Mass Effect 3 over the shoulder? I suppose you could stick Max Payne 3 on and shoot some Brazilian gangsters over the shoulder. Or just play Fifa, an update of that game you’ve played since you were 5. Hardly stimulating.

I remember unboxing my Nintendo Gamecube when it was released in 2002 (I was 9 at the time). Included in the bundle was Luigi’s Mansion, Star Wars Rouge Squadron II, and a relatively unknown gem of a game, Cel Damage, which involved racing around a cartoon world eating up other cars with a wood chipper. Marvelous.

I didn’t purchase another Gamecube game for about six months. I just didn’t need to. The variety of the games I got with the bundle meant I never got bored of playing. Luigi’s Mansion remains one of my favorite titles to this day. Even at age 9, I enjoyed feeling like the underdog, on his own big adventure. Hours were spent racing around the mansion, bellowing Mario’s name by mashing the A button. The whole point of the game was to rescue the character who was actually important. It was true genius, though I digress. Rouge Squadron II was the challenge. I haven’t forgotten the satisfaction of blowing up my first Star Destroyer after being blasted apart by laser fire for the umpteenth time. Cel Damage, as I’ve mentioned, was just stupid multiplayer fun.

I'll give you a clue, this still did not come from "Luigi's Mansion"

This is a good formula, which I’ll call the Law of Profitable Bundles. A game bundle of 3 should include a game which is challenging, a game which is immersive, and a game which is ridiculously fun to play with mates.

Today however, game bundles offered by most major retailers let you shoot things, (Halo Anniversary, Mass Effect 3 etc.) or kick something (Fifa 12, Fifa Street, UFC Undisputed 3). Its understandable that they are catering to the market of first time console buyers, who are likely to play these games in comparison to the nerdy folk who have been glued to their controllers since leaving the womb. It’s just a shame. It’s a shame because it means most people don’t get the very most out of their game console, which, for the money they paid, they should.

There is also an annoying tendency to sell sequels to story driven games in console bundles. Mass Effect 3 is the classic example here. How can you fully enjoy that game without understanding the previous trials of Shepherd and his crew? Your Shepherd, and your crew? It does nothing but constrict the personal enjoyment of an otherwise excellent game.

"Fuck it, let's just skip to the end!"

So, if, by chance, you are reading this, and were on the verge of buying an Xbox 360, do it, and by all means get the Meal Deal. Go large. I don’t mind. However, do you want to play some truly amazing, and fairly recent releases with all the variety of a Victorian Freak show? (bad analogy) My advice to you, then, is to avoid the bundles, and purchase the following:

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (The challenging)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (The immersive)
Rayman Origins (The stupid good fun with mates)

Thank me later. 

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