Finding the Sweet Spot in Demos

Enslaved Demo

With the break we took on GamerSushi over the last couple of weeks, I suddenly played more video games than I’ve played in a long while. Correlation? Probably.

One of the games I sampled in my several week long buffet was Enslaved. The game was good, but not great, although I would still recommend it for anybody looking for an Uncharted fix with not-quite-as-good gameplay. Sadly, the game underperformed like crazy, and is reportedly one of the bigger busts of the year in terms of sales.

Part of me wonders how much of this has to do with the game’s demo. Like many games, Enslaved’s trial covers the first level of the game, which provides a basic introduction to the world and the main character, Monkey. And when I say basic, I really mean it. It’s meant as the set up for the story rather than the gameplay, with incredibly linear platforming sections and only the slightest of combat. Much of the game revolves around the co-op aspect with the AI partners you encounter, and the platforming and combat grow from there. The first level is in no way representative of the game as a whole, so it’s baffling to me that Namco Bandai and Ninja Theory would choose that as the sample that they wanted people to play.

In my mind, the best demos are the ones that are completely representative of how your game plays once everything is rolling. Let people taste the things that make your game what it actually is. We’ve talked before about the less-than-stellar Resident Evil 5 demo, and even Limbo’s demo was kind of strange for what the game actually was.

While many games choose their first levels, this doesn’t always give the best example of what to expect. Batman: Arkham Asylum, for example, is one of the best demos of a game I’ve played in years, and it drops you right into the thick of a section that lets you test both combat and stealth. From what I can gather, this is also how the Dead Space 2 demo works, inserting you at a random point in the game with just the right amount of context, minus spoilers.

So, in thinking about all of this demo madness, a question formed. A couple of questions actually. One, what are some of the best and worst demos you’ve played for games before? And two, if you could select levels from your favorite games to give people a taste of why that game is so great, what levels or sections would you pick?

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I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

3 thoughts on “Finding the Sweet Spot in Demos”

  1. The demos that most effected me are the ones that dont hold anything back but usually have a time limit. I must have played the Crackdown and Just Cause 2 demo more then Ive played some games Ive owned. Online demos usually convince me to get a game as well, when your playing an online match with your friends for free its hard not to look at the game in a good light, the original Bad Company wasnt even on my radar when I downloaded the demo.

    As for bad demos, too many to list. Go download the demo for some game called Apache something… I did in boredom and kinda jokingly and I cant believe its a real game.

  2. As a PC gamer, demo’s are a huge deal. Seeing how an engine handles on your machine, as well as how the mouse “feels” and how much customization they gave you is a big indicator on how much time they spent on the PC version of a game.

    Game play is really an after thought. A lot of the best games I’ve ever played I never played a demo (Half-Life / Half-Life 2). Best demo’s off the top of my head were Max Payne, F.E.A.R, Indigo Prophecy, and some PlayStation game that I can’t find anywhere. Remember getting “demo discs”? One year my friend bought me the Driver 2 Demo for $2 or something. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a payed-for demo since.

  3. BFBC2 had a great online demo. My friends and I played that more in the two weeks it was available than we played COD5 over the course of a year.
    Other great demos I played include Gitaroo Man, all three God of Wars, inFamous and Dynasty Warriors. Co-op on that game was fantastic.
    Less stellar demos include the first two Splinter Cell demos due to a lack of instruction, any Final Fantasy demo Ive played and timed free roam games. 10-15 minutes aren’t enough to get the feel of most other games let alone ones based around exploration (eg. JC2).
    Also, the Ratchet and Clank demos always give a great first impression.

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