Every Game Doesn’t Have to Be a Classic: The Joy of Games That Are Just Good

Every Game Doesn’t Have to Be a Classic: The Joy of Games That Are Just Good

Josh Wise

Did you ever play that game with the guy and the gun? You know the one, the survival horror from 2005. He had to save someone’s daughter, on foreign soil. For an action hero, he was unusually pretty; he wore a stylish jacket, and his hair was combed into curtains. The camera hung close to his back and peered over his shoulder as he took aim. Plus, his gun was fitted with one of those nifty laser sights. It shone on the crackable heads of his foes, who were once normal folk but who had since staled and paled into anything but. I am talking, of course, about Cold Fear. And the reason that it sprang to mind, this week, is because of its long-held refusal to stick in – let alone spring to – anyone else’s.

Its hero was Tom Hansen, a member of the United States Coast Guard, and his life jacket was the crisp, ringing red of a London telephone box. His job was to poke around on the good ship Eastern Spirit – a Russian whaler, adrift in the Bering Strait and likely not so good any more – and find out why nobody has heard back from the Navy SEAL team that went in to investigate hours before. Cold Fear was published by Ubisoft and made by Darkworks, the studio that turned in the sturdy, if unastounding, Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare. Like that game, this one was also in hock to Resident Evil, specifically Resident Evil 4; and, though the result was impressive (I’m always a sucker for a doomed ship, shocked by lightning and whipped by cappuccino waves) the problem was that the nightmare wasn’t new. Leon Kennedy had leapt onto the GameCube that January and made Tom Hansen look fit for retirement.

But here’s the thing: Cold Fear was good. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t a masterpiece that made short work of our expectations and chewed its genre into rubble, changing the way that games would unfold for the next two decades. It was a solidly built thriller, with a couple of good spooks and a handful of decent set pieces. It wasn’t truly scary. It lacked that compound of panic and clammy psychological chill that seems solely the reserve of Japanese studios – the Eastern Spirit with which things like Silent Hill 2, Siren, and the early Resident Evils are rich. But you could fill a weekend with the slosh and heave of Tom Hansen’s bad day and go into Monday, after an untroubled sleep, with a smile.


There is much to be said for this. And much to be said for games that are unburdened by genius. They require no grappling with, no realignment of one’s expectations; they hit their marks, and they make no fuss. In short, we ought to take a moment and pay our homage to those games that are simply good. For one thing, we are hardly drowning in them; there is a sea of crummy titles, in any given year, and there is much to be gleaned by playing Coast Guard and fishing out the ones that warrant, if not our adoration, then our satisfied approval. Forspoken came out last month and earned the ire of many, for what sounded like crimes against humanity but what was, in fact, some mildly cringe-worthy dialogue from its heroine, Frey Holland. If we directed our spleen at every game that was filled with that, we would hardly ever come up for air.

Days Gone was similarly maligned. To venture praise for the exploits of its hero, a biker by the name of Deacon St. John, seems terribly unfashionable, especially in light of how revved-up some of its critics were. But I consider it nothing short of a fun time, with an itchy central performance by Sam Witwer and a nice, fuel-injected spin on the crusty conceit of a zombie apocalypse. Both games were PlayStation exclusives, cushioned and boosted with cash, so their failure to reach the rarefied heights of, say, God of War or The Last of Us may have felt more like a plummet. But there is a deeper urge, I think, to either push our praise to its lung-busting limit or else to lavish a game with our unfiltered scorn. Anything in between could risk coming across as either boring or as if we were hedging our bets.

There are also occasions when something arrives that happens to be merely good, not great, but which hails from a hallowed lineage. This was the case with Halo 4 and Halo Infinite (speaking purely to their campaigns, at any rate), whose predecessors were ringed with gleaming praise and dramatically altered the way that shooters – particularly the online variety – worked on consoles. That’s an awful weight for a new game, even if the one shouldering it is Master Chief, the jolly green giant that guided those older entries to success. I remember playing those newer Halo games and considering them a crushing, Bungie-less fall from grace; viewed in direct comparison, perhaps they are. But the fact is that they still trump plenty of other shooters, and they gave me a string of pleasant hours in which my spirits were raised by the boot-up hum of the Chief’s body armour.

It isn’t just that not every game can be a chunk of unremitting genius; it’s that we wouldn’t want them to. There are some weekends on which genius is an unappealing proposition, and what we need is solidity – a healthy strewing of the trashy along with the treasured. Moreover, our recommendations of these games, to friends or to people further afield, need not be doled out with radioactive fervour. Otherwise, we lose the middle ground; we lose the ability to alight meaningfully on the worthwhile. So here’s to Deacon St. John, Frey Holland, and, yes, Tom Hansen. They were good.

  • I think you just have to hold certain devs and series to a higher standard.
    Yes, sometimes you may just want to play some mindless middle tier game and thats fine, but it shouldn't be the biggest teams with the biggest budgets providing these titles, it should be the B-tier devs.
    Like sometimes I just wanna eat some Junkfood, so you go to Burger King or whatever but if you want something fancy you go a 3-star restaurant, but now imagine the 3-star restaurant only serves you a slightly better Whopper you feel underwhelmed. Where would you get your Entrecôte-Steak with green asperagus and chimicurri, if not from the high tier restaurant?

    I think the B-tier games are mostly ones where a quite average game is created about a few often even novel/innovative core ideas, may these be mechanics, narrative or set-pieces, like playing a cat (Stray), Skill Kills (Bulletstorm), On the fly character changes (CB Jericho), Darkness Powers (The Darkness) just to name a few. The triple A developers should then go around and look what mechanics are good and work and finetune and polish them. More often than not have great games regarded as classics not really invented a whole lot of new mechanics, but brought different things together in a coherent and well polished package.
    Just like Steve Jobs didn't invent stuff, but took different ideas and bundled them in an appealing mass-market friendly package.

  • @1 I think the point is that just because a game like Halo Infiniti isn’t the best Halo ever, it’s still a functional AAA game. Same for Days Gone. They aren’t “B” tier games. What the writer is speaking to is a societal problem, fueled by the level of open communication on social media, that everything has become so polarized. Everything that comes out, either movies, music, games, etc.. has to be either loved or hated to extremes. People also have issues parsing out “this game was horrible” and “I didn’t prefer it”. Just look at the likes of game of the year winner Elden Ring. Read any thread on Facebook of people discussing the game and you will see both extremes of the conversation. A well made game with tons of detail and developer love, gets called “horrible” and “worst ever”. You apply this same stuff to games that are good but not “best ever” and it can have pretty big impacts of the success, and future availability of “good” games. I agree that the market needs developers that innovate and developers that improve on innovations, but just because a game doesn’t do either doesn’t make it inherently bad, or “A” or “B” tier. On the same foot, just because one doesn’t enjoy a game doesn’t inherently make it bad or a certain tier, and we would go a long way as a society if we could start understanding that.
  • To clarify: I use the term A and B-tier in the sense like the term AAA is used, which refers to production size and budget, not the quality of the end-product, even though both are likely loosely correlated, at least when it comes to craftsmanship, not so artistic value though (imho). AAA is just marketing mumbo jumbo for "even more A-tier than your average A-tier" and you also don't use AAA to refer to quality, but later do so with the terms A & B -tier.

    That being said, it may be the case that Josh Wise meant, what you wrote, or what I wrote, still what you refer to is neither a recent phenomenon, nor limited to gaming. You can find papers on market research from even before the internet, that consumers of a product or service are way more likely to voice their opinion if they fall on an extreme of the rating scale, so they are multitudes more likely to voice their opinion/provide feedback if they find a product very good or very bad. The vast mayority of customers fall in the middle and just use the product without commenting on it either way.o.

    You don't have to place too much emphasis on certain comments, that call game xyz garbage or trash. I'm sure if you sit down any of those commenters and ask them to elaborate you'd get a more nuanced take. I'm sure I've called games trash as well, that I don't really find like absolutely horrible, probably even up to 5/10 games or so. I kind of semi-regularly do this for example with modern AAA-games, not because I wholeheartedly think they are bad games, but mostly because I strongly dislike certain aspects so much (i.e. generic/corporate blandness, unethical monetization, forcing a political agenda, etc.), that they in my opinion overshadow all the things these games do right. Its probably mostly in cases of were the exact quality of a specific game isn't the main point of discussion.

    Then there is just venting frustration because you failed to beat a challenge in a game, encountered a weird bug, etc. that makes you pissed off in the moment.

    That all being said, I don't see a problem here. If there is a place on the internet to fling shit at something even if its undeserved, so be it. Even then I doubt that these takes are their well thought through opinions, but rather comments to vent frustration, provoking people for shits and giggles, comedy, or whatever the case may be. There are plenty of places where you can get reasonable and nuanced takes and discussions on games if you try to decide which game to buy, possibly even the reviews on this very site.
  • When I used to co-host a boardgaming podcast where we played and reviewed board games, I always held the ideology that a game doesn't need to be a juggernaut of "game of the year" quality. Hell, it doesn't even need to be great, it just needs to be fun.

    However, this is always a tough one to gauge... Top tier games originally start small. They become top tier because of it's popularity gained for being a good game when they were small. Remember, CoD was that little WWII shooter to rival Medal of Honor. Battlefield was that little military shooter to rival CoD when it became popular. Halo was that little sci-fi FPS launch title, and the same for Gears of War.

    This is where people then develop standards for those games, which I guess is only natural, and I get where one would think to hold those now popular games to a higher standard, but one must also understand that you can't always capture lightning in a bottle just because a good game was made the first time around. Different games from a series can be liked for different reasons.

    This also doesn't mean we should accept sub-standard quality either, which is why I say this will always be hard to gauge. An exceptional game gets made, you expect the next one to be exceptional, too, but also know they all can't be exceptional.

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