Is a slow start a dealbreaker for games?

Is a slow start a dealbreaker for games?

This week, I’m joined by Gameological contributor Drew Toal, who recently went and joined the hordes of people who own new consoles with nothing to play on them. For his first PlayStation 4 game, Drew grabbed Wolfenstein: The New Order. When he told me he wasn’t digging the game after playing for a bit, I suggested sticking with it because it gets better after an hour or so. Drew did, and he’s liking it more now, so that investment might have paid off. But for those of us with limited time to devote to games, is it a big problem for a game to have a slow start? Drew and I discussed the matter for today’s weekend thread. We’d love to hear what you have to say about it as well, and as always, tell us what you’ll be playing this weekend.

Matt Gerardi: What are you playing this weekend?

Drew Toal: I’ll be digging into Wolfenstein: The New Order. A few weeks ago, I decided to bite the next-gen console bullet and pick up a PlayStation 4. Only after I committed did I fully realize that there weren’t really any games I wanted to play. So I just kind of defaulted to Wolfenstein. I have also started playing Towerfall, which my wife Stacey helpfully pointed out looks like it belongs on an NES. Next gen!

MG: I’m kind of surprised you didn’t opt to start your pirating career anew with Assassin’s Creed IV again.

DT: I thought about it. I really took to that game in a way I never did with the previous iterations. And yes, I’m sure that it looks a lot better on PS4 than 360, but I think my pirating days are done for the time being. I feel like once I got the swords that were also pistols, there was nothing left for me to prove on the high seas. You know, because I could shoot and stab people at the same time. That shit is gangster.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

MG: So has Wolfenstein proven to be a good choice?

DT: Good question. My expectations weren’t super high, but I figured that icing Waffen SS dudes never really goes out of style. But the game started even slower than expected. I think maybe it wasn’t kitschy enough for me? I remember the story being a lot more cartoonishly awesome in the original. But I’m still playing, and once you kind of get through the opening sequence—which is kind of long for a prologue—it starts to get a little more interesting. You know, he wakes up 20 years later, and the Nazis have won. That would be like me being in a coma for 10 years, waking up, and having Ted Cruz as president. Total fucking nightmare.

MG: Topical!

DT: I read things.

MG: I felt the same way. It basically starts with a long D-Day-like sequence where you land on a beach and infiltrate a Nazi base. It just felt very pedestrian. We’ve seen it before, except this time there’s robot dogs.

DT: Right? You’re just kind of running around, blasting away, and there’s no real sense of why this game is any different than any other war game you’ve ever played. Generally speaking, I have confidence in Bethesda to make decent games, but the first half hour or so of this one is a total snooze-fest. And it’s already hard enough to get into new games. You’d think they’d punch you in the face in the first 10 minutes so you have no choice but to keep playing.

It does feel like they’re trying to be at least a little faithful to the old game. I think I just get a little tired of being an unstoppable killing machine—even when it’s in the service of defending Amurca. But complaining about that is almost as tired as, well, that. So I’ll spare you.

That being said, I think I started to get interested when you have to collect things to properly torture that one Nazi with the chainsaw. You know that part? When you have to find the goggles? “The goggles! They do nothing!” I really wanted him to say that.

MG: I hope those goggles did something for him. They were harder to find than they should have been. So the game really picks up steam after the time jump. But it takes a good hour or two to really get going. You and John talked about it a little bit last year when discussing The Last Of Us, but how do you feel about games with slow starts? This happens occasionally where you’ll be talking to someone about a game and they tell you, “Oh yeah, it’s great. You just have to give it a couple hours.” Or in the case of something like Final Fantasy XIII, at least 10 hours. That seems like a problem to me.

The Last Of Us

DT: I think it’s definitely a problem, especially now that I don’t have a significant amount of time to devote to huge games. John and I, I think, are of the same mind as far as that goes. There are definitely games where I’m glad I stuck with it—for instance, The Last of Us. But it’s really hard to tell someone they just have to kill 10 hours before a game starts to get good. These days, unless it’s Skyrim 2 or something, I generally want a game to be at least approaching the endgame by that point. Dishonored was pretty good at that. I think that game is criminally underrated. Dark Souls, as you know, is a tough game to get into—but pretty rewarding if you can get through the first five to 10 hours.

MG: And that’s a very different thing. Those early hours are tough because you’re learning a new skill. They’re like your crash course in that game. But for something like Wolfenstein, you’re not learning anything new. It’s drawing on things you’ve done and seen tons of times.

DT: Yeah, so what’s the problem? Is it purely a storytelling issue? Or just the tiredness of the “shoot first, shoot often” mechanic?

MG: In Wolfensteins case, it’s a little bit of both. The settings, objectives, and characters get more interesting as you get further in, but it takes too long to get there.

DT: But like I was saying before, I’m not sure we can realistically expect anything better.

MG: That’s a whole other can of worms.

DT: Yeah. I can tell it’s going to get better. I’m actually looking forward to playing the rest now, whereas before I was just going to sell it back to Gamestop and buy FIFA or something. Topical!

MG: Do you think the “slow start” is a bigger problem for games than other media? You can tell someone to skip the first season of Parks And Rec or the first few chapters of a book or something. You can’t skip the first few hours of a video game.

DT: It’s tough to say. I think there are so many demands on our free time now that it’s increasingly difficult to justify just going through the motions to get to something that might be good. You know, I just jump right into Hearthstone, and off I go. Obviously, that’s a different animal. But if I only have an hour or so to play at night, that’s what I’m going for.

So I guess my answer would be: Yes, I think it’s a bigger problem for games. I wouldn’t wish the beginning of Assassin’s Creed III on my worst enemy. I personally don’t feel that games are supposed to feel like work. But that’s just one lazy man’s opinion.

Assassin's Creed III

MG: Would you ever recommend a game with a slow start to someone and offer them that “Just give it a couple of hours” caveat?

DT: It depends on who I’m talking to, I guess. If it’s a friend of mine with, say, a young kid who only has a very finite amount of free time to play, then probably not. But if it’s someone who I think might get a lot of a game like The Last Of Us, I’d be okay recommending it.

To your earlier question, I feel like I run into this a little when people are watching Friday Night Lights, which I love. I have to warn them, though, that it’s important to grind through the whole Landry murder subplot. You know, the part that happened when the writers’ strike was going on. That was a difficult time for all of us. But it’s ultimately rewarding.

Now, is the slow-start game worse than a game that starts great and fizzles out? BioShock Infinite was kind of like that for me.

MG: Oh, absolutely. BioShock Infinite is the standard-bearer for that. The answer to that question seems obvious at first: It’s worse to fizzle. But I guess it really depends on the amount of fizzling versus the amount of early wheel-spinning, you know?

DT: Totally. It does kind of bum me out to think of games that are probably really good, but that I quit on because of the glacial start. It’s a tough line to walk, because the beginning is important for instructional purposes and setting the tone. I would put up Blood Dragon as an example of a perfect tutorial. That shit was hilarious.

MG: Maybe people should just try to make video games that are good the whole way through. That seems like a good idea. 

DT: That’s crazy talk. But it’s so crazy, it just might work.

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