Walking the show floor of the LA Convention Center, you see games that take you by surprise. Maybe these games didn't have the budget to promote as vivaciously as another company, or maybe they promised a slow-burn experience – something difficult to demonstrate when press meetings usually last 15 to 30 minutes – or maybe they were simply tucked into a corner, away from the hustle-bustle foot traffic that a crowd of 48,900 people brings.
Whatever the reason, these E3 participants get passed on, skimmed over, or ignored in favor of the bigger flashier games with the recognizable names. I realized, on that show floor, if we want new experiences, we have to step outside the comfortable, the mass-marketed. Take a chance once in a while. I will, because Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments convinced me to take one.
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Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments (E3 2014)
As Joystiq Managing Editor Susan Arendt has already written, the game allows for failure. You can miss clues, misinterpret testimony, and you can send the wrong person to jail. Where other games might turn clue-hunting into a mini-game confined to a small area of the map or block a player's progress until they've collected all the breadcrumbs, Crimes and Punishments lets players stand – or fall – on their own two feet. It's a refreshing feeling, to be handed a problem and not be led through it step by step, for someone to trust your intelligence and more or less say, "You're the great detective, you figure it out."
We often lament – or if not us, hear others lament – that the games industry suffers from a lack of creativity or of differing visions. Too many grizzled white dudes with chins down, eyes up, holding a gun. Too many chest-high walls. Too much over-explaining and hand-holding. While those are valid concerns to have, I wonder if sometimes we don't miss the forest for the trees. Or in this case, the niche detective games for the 20-foot tall monster statues.
Before I start sounding too self-righteous, know that I'm guilty of this myself. The truth is, discovering Crimes and Punishments was an accident. It was Susan who wanted to see the game and had history with the series; I've never even read a Sherlock Holmes book (sorry). If we're being honest, I only saw the recent movies because they starred Robert Downey Jr., who is one of my favorite actors. In other words:
I was my own biggest obstacle to discovering something new and exciting. I'd bet money I'm not the only one.
The games industry watches what you do and makes conscious choices based on what it sees. We may voice concerns via internet forums and comment sections about the homogeneity of games, but it's sales that matter, and games with grizzled white dudes holding guns sell. Just ask Ken Levine; the cover of BioShock Infinite - a game featuring racism, religion and a city in the sky - was boiled down to protagonist Booker DeWitt looking solemn as he slung a shotgun over his shoulder so that it would have wider appeal and thus, better sales. It was a safe bet to market the game that way, and 2K Games is hardly the only company doing it.
It's in our nature to seek out the safe and familiar, and that's not a bad thing. But we have to be careful not to let ourselves get stuck in a cycle of moving from one carefully-marketed, familiar game to the next without taking a moment to see what's around us. We perpetuate the cycle, but we can also break it.
Focus Home Interactive's E3 booth alone also housed Mordheim: City of the Damned, a turn-based tactical game set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe featuring giant wererats, Farming Simulator 15, and a logo teasing the upcoming Call of Cthulhu game. You won't see any of these games on stage during an E3 press conference, but they are out there.
It's too early to say for sure whether or not Crimes and Punishments will be worth getting excited over. But even if it's not, I'm glad it reminded me that when I sit my butt down and gorge myself at Buffet La Video Game, it's okay to scoop something new onto my plate.