You know those old clichés that have countless versions? These phrases will feature words swapped out here or there, yet the meaning always remains the same. They made you roll your eyes every time your parents used them to give you advice (my father never hesitated to let me know that “the world is a mirror.”). One of my all time favorite old-person generalities directly applies to a disturbing trend we are seeing from publisher Square Enix:
“Once is a mistake. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a pattern.”
In just over three months, Square Enix has published three titles that run less than perfectly: Thief, Drakengard 3, and Murdered Soul Suspect. Each one of these games suffers from one or more unforgivable technical issues, be it excessive loading times, texture pop-in, abnormally poor texture work, framerate drops, and lip-syncing issues. When Thief was released, its issues could be brushed off as an aberration; Drakengard 3‘s problems could be considered happenstance. With the release of Murdered: Soul Suspect, this has become an issue that should lead gamers to wonder whether or not, as a publisher, Square Enix has lowered their performance standards.
Perhaps the most disheartening 2014 Square Enix title, Thief felt more like a money-grab than a true reboot to a beloved franchise. When it was released on February 25th, it was the lone AAA title to be found during a painful PlayStation 4 and Xbox One game drought. The numerous bugs and technical faux pas that plagued the promising first-person stealth title signaled that Thief should have probably been delayed by six months to a year. This was a game that had PlayStation 2 era lip-syncing quality; characters’ mouths would continue to move long after their words had ceased. It had loading screens that channeled images of being at the DMV, as even entering one-bedroom apartments was met with a two minute wait. The framerate dropped at such a steady rate that one could say the game was locked at “? FPS.” Oh, and the textures, sweet Mother of God. As a whole, Thief was a moderately decent looking game, but when one dove into the nitty gritty, they could see a number of unforgivable sins. Easily the worst offense of all was the presence of blatantly repeating stain patterns on the city’s stone walls and numerous cabinets. Simply put, Thief was not ready, yet Square Enix felt it was acceptable to charge $60 for an obviously unfinished product.
Drakengard 3 generally plays well, as it received a solid score in our in-depth review, but its somewhat captivating story cannot distract players from a number of embarrassing technical problems. Boasting some incredibly beta-esque texture pop-in, Drakengard 3 also feels like an unfinished, unpolished game. Built under the assumption that the player will never turn around, it boasts some of the worst in-game loading in years. During his playthrough, our reviewer Geoff Thew found the pop-in almost comically terrible. “At one point, I turned back to look for a treasure chest and found that the entire level had disappeared behind me,” he states. “I could simply jump off a ledge and run around in null space.” Completely unable to handle slope physics, Drakengard 3 frequently features the type of hilarious glitches we witnessed during the dawn of 3D gaming. Seeing objects floating above you during a downhill chase and witnessing the world completely disappear are issues that should not be present in a small downloadable title, let alone a $50 retail release. Add numerous loading times to the mix and we have our coincidence before the pattern.
June 3rd’s Murdered: Soul Suspect, a game I personally reviewed, attempts to sneak its numerous technical problems by players. It almost assumes that we, as gamers, are too stupid to notice their presence. Instead of letting players know that the game is loading, it will produce a white flash that curiously lasts up to thirty seconds. Granted, there are more traditional loading screens in addition to their sneaky, white counterparts, but they are also suspiciously minimalist. Murdered: Soul Suspect generally looks competent, but some of its worst textures are in plain sight during its campaign. During one cutscene in the middle of the game, the camera pans to a secretary’s blurry, two-dimensional keyboard. Players can tell that it is supposed to appear three-dimensional, but instead it looks like someone attempted to draw a three-dimensional object on paper rather than render it in-engine. When the player has to examine a wall covered in drawings, he or she would be hard-pressed not to notice the blatant pixel presence within the sketches. The game’s numerous framerate issues, lip-syncing oddities, and straight-up freezing compound its problems to the point where one has to wonder how much clipping is hidden by its ghost mechanics. Murdered: Soul Suspect is perhaps the worst offense of all, as it shoves incompetence in our faces and assumes we are woefully dumb enough to accept it. Its performance issues are insulting enough to show that this has become a trend that should end sooner rather than later.
I don’t place blame on the various development studios behind these three titles, as Eidos Montreal, Access Games, Airtight Games, and Square Enix Japan were almost assuredly under time-constraints. No developer wants to make a game that runs poorly, as every studio likely dreams of creating magic. Square Enix, as a publisher, needs to be held at fault for this disturbing pattern, as their games are starting to look more and more like blatant cash-grabs than finished products. If this trend continues, Square Enix fans should start to grow concerned about major upcoming titles like Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III. Here’s to hoping that this unfortunate sequence is promptly nipped in the bud, being that a fourth offense may transform this pattern into a full-fledged assumption.