Community Spirit

I was looking at the improvements planned for Burnout Paradise earlier (£28.99 delivered on PS3 and 360), and what they're doing to prolong the life of the game is something that I can't remember seeing in any other game. Not only is the game extremely solid in itself - I recommend picking up a copy if you can, it's possibly my most-played game this year so far - the way that Criterion are committing to their game and their audience is just astonishing. You can read all about the changes and listen to their weekly podcast at the Criterion website.

As well as listening to the fans and working in modes that should have been in the game originally, such as online Road Rage and Marked Man events, there are also a host of features that most developers simply wouldn't bother with after launch. Motorbikes, for example, being added into the mix. Extra challenges for online play. And possibly my favourites of the new features - completely rebooting the ranking system to make it fairer based on community response, player-created or suggested liveries and routes, and the ability to assign special cars to whoever they feel deserves it.

The sense of community is something that I wish more developers would embrace. There is only the most thin veil of support for so many games, but the few who do support it do it so well that I'm surprised that no-one puts the effort in otherwise. For example, as well as Criterion, Bungie support the Halo 3 community constantly with their DoubleEXP Weekend events and the Bungie Favourites playlist, where they post their favourite films, snapshots, gametypes or level variants, downloadable straight from the game. Their integration with their website is also stellar - you can earmark any film or gametype from the website for download, and it'll automatically fire itself over to your Xbox the next time you boot up Halo 3 (£17.99 delivered).

And yet, some of the biggest games of this generation completely half-arsed its community features. As you'll know if you used the Rockstar Social Club in the first few weeks, it was criminally slow to update your statistics, and still doesn't register songs tagged in-game correctly. It's disappointing, especially since all it really is is a glorified leaderboard which displays information that is already available in-game n a different format. For something calling itself a social club, it's surprisingly closed off to anyone else. There's no forum for discussion about anything in-game, and as excited as I was about it when it was announced it just feels very hollow.

It seems like this sense of community is so very important now for gaming - not that GTA IV (£37.83 delivered on PS3 and 360) needed it to sell any copies, of course. But the reason I love my Xbox 360 so much are the community features that the others simply don't have. It's the first console I've owned where I don't simply go straight into the game as soon as I boot up - I'll spend five minutes seeing what my friends are doing, how they've progressed in certain games, whether they've beaten my high-scores or are further than me in the game I'm playing. And it's something that the PS3 can't quite match (at least until firmware 2.40 and Home are released), and the Wii will apparently never do.

I like that I can get together with my friends for Rock Band, but why can't I post a Drummer Wanted ad online and play with someone I would never get a chance to otherwise? We're coming up fast on E3 2008, and I really hope that instead of the hard and fast 'more immersion, better graphics' angle that we always seem to get, we also get a healthy sprinkling of 'community focus'.