The Importance of Demos

In a time where many of us gamers judge potential game purchases by reading reviews on Metacritic or the video game publication of our choice, I’ve noticed the growing lack of immediate support for demos on our main consoles. We’ve progressed past receiving demo disks in the mail; packed with trailers and excerpts of a handful of choice games that are poised to be out, because next-gen games are so large in size it simply isn’t feasible. Now that I think about it, this was the main way that I decided what game I wanted to buy when I was much younger. While Youtube bridges the gap between reading about a game and actually playing it, nothing beats test-driving a game where you can judge it yourself, devoid of someone else’s insights and opinions which are inherent to reviews.

Back in the day, demos for the hottest titles dropped months or weeks before their release date. This gave ample time for the intrepid gamer to check out a game, and if they liked it enough, they went out to buy it. Now that demos are digitally distributed through avenues like Microsoft’s Xbox Live, Sony’s Playstation Network, or Nintendos Wii Shop Channel, I’d assume these games would be much more available to us all (since most of us have an internet connection, right). Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that demos for a lot of big name titles don’t go up until months after the game’s original release date. Mass Effect 2 as well as both Call of Duty Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 are guilty of this. It costs a developer a significant amount of money to provide a demo for users to download, but I’m having trouble understanding why the likes of Bioware and Activision respectably took a while to get their latest games out for people to test out before buying.

As an aside, the only reason I ever considered playing Mass Effect 1 and 2 a few months back was entirely due to the fact that Mass Effect 2’s demo was released. If ME2 didn’t have a demo like ME1 didn’t, I’m quite sure I would have never played it at all.

This week saw the release of the demo for El Shaddai, an action adventure title that is said to blend the fighting elements of Devil May Cry, the platforming of Mario, with the visual style of Okami. After reading an article or two about it in a couple magazines, I was pretty excited to see that this game had been uploaded. My interest peaked after watching a gameplay clip followed by an interview with it’s producer. As I grabbed my credit card to renew my Xbox Live Gold subscription after 3 months of inactivity, I knew I was making the right choice. After completing the demo, I didn’t arrive at a definite conclusion about El Shaddai like I had expected. While the demo had brought something fresh to the table, I saw a couple problems that I knew I would be wrestling with if I went to buy the full game. Luckily, El Shaddai doesn’t release until July – people in my situation have will enough time to evaluate the game more, and most importantly, they haven’t missed the boat and are coming into a new game much later than everyone else. Although I’m personally unsure of if I’ll be buying El Shaddai right now, I still have the opportunity to play the demo as many times as I need to until I can answer that age-old question of “Is this game worth spending my hard earned money on?”

I think it’s very important for more games to do what El Shaddai did this week, regardless of if they’re guaranteed to reach astronomic sales like Mass Effect and Call of Duty does regularly. If there’s a demo to speak of, I believe it would be in everyone’s best interest that it should come out before the full game is released, so we can all play through it and decide to take the plunge and buy it, or choose to skip it. If more people are given the chance to support any given game, it’s preliminary sales would increase, as that demographic of gamers who still prefer trying a game themselves before purchasing them would be accounted for.

Repackaged, But Nothing New

It’s hard to imagine certain franchises will stick to their guns and remain exclusive to one console. This year has seen Final Fantasy’s highly publicized fall from grace, when Xbox 360 got its own version (a slightly underpowered one, at that) of Final Fantasy 13, which was released alongside its native PS3 counterpart. The ever raging console debate is just losing its momentum – the heavy-hitting big name titles that fanboys tout as the reasons to purchase a console are becoming moot, since it seems that both sides eventually get access to these previously exclusive games.

I unfortunately had missed out on the Mass Effect craze. Both games have gone right over my head, but I always wanted to check them out. Although I own every console, other circumstances always stopped me from taking the plunge. Even so, this series is pretty special. It’s clear that the story is modeled after the best sci-fi trilogy ever made, and it would be foolish to step into the second game without having played the first. This past year I’ve been trying to move my focus from my Xbox 360 to my PS3, and the unwarranted consequence to that was that I was going to miss out on Mass Effect

Until it was announced that Mass Effect 2 would be released on PS3.

Naturally, the Playstation camp is pretty ecstatic. This port of the main game also contains all of the downloadable content that was released for the PC and 360 versions of the game, all on the disk. Of course, this is all well and good, but a quick glance at the price turns me off completely. The core game is still largely the same experience, yet the mere 6 hours of bonus content (as it’s advertized on the box) boosts it to full price. Compare the $60 you’d spend for this against the astronomically low price for the PC and 360 versions, which are hovering around $15 now.

In the midst of having the privilege of playing this game, PS3 owners will be missing out on an important factor that this release will be lacking. One of the main factors of playing each Mass Effect game is that the choices you make in the previous game reflect in the next. For example, your main character’s class and reputation, whether certain characters are alive or dead, or the livelihood of an entire race, to name a few, are variables that can affect your experience. The rights to Mass Effect 1 are owned by Microsoft, so the chances of it appearing on PS3 are slim to none, but I hope this glaring problem is addressed somehow.

I suppose in the end, this was a good move for Bioware. When all is said and done, a new audience gets to play another excellent RPG. Past decisions or not, Mass Effect 2 is still a great game, but I’d be more inclined to play it if it wasn’t so expensive, just for being on a different system.