When I write a feature like this, I like to get emotional over it and I try to avoid just giving a dry re-listing of my favourite games complete with the hows and whys. I’m passionate about games, so I try to get passionate about my games writing.
Passion however didn’t make my approach to writing this article easy. Instead, it made it harder because there is so much I want to talk about that can stem from the idea of a gaming retrospective. I could spend pages and pages just looking back at any one of a hundred games.
Instead though, I want to talk about games in general. A pan-genre retrospective that looks at where modern gaming has come from, why it didn’t get there earlier and where it’s going afterwards.
And if I end up referencing System Shock 2 every other paragraph then you’ll just have to bloody cope with it, m’kay?
Something I heard a lot last year was the jubilant and excited cry that 2007 was one of the best years for gaming in recent history – PC gaming especially. And you know what? Last year was a good year for gamers and we saw a run of some truly fantastic stuff from indie titles like Audiosurf right through to Half-Life Episode Two.
Last year was so good in fact that it’s worth talking about even now, if only so we can figure out why all years in gaming aren’t that good and whether or not this year will be better.
Like they say in The Sound of Music though – which I’m not ashamed to admit is one of my most favourite films of all time – let’s start at the very beginning because it’s a very good place to start. Or, in more masculine and less flamboyant words, the first thing to do is try and figure out what made last year so great.
So, go on, you go first. Why was last year so good? I’d love to hear your thoughts. We’re talking about a good ten or so games though, so saying “good levels” or “great graphics” probably isn’t going to cut it. Even the good games like BioShock had some pretty shockingly bad level design at points. Hephasteus, anyone? Didn’t think so.
Personally, I think the most important thing about last year’s games was that they tended to offer a level of variation – but, critically, one which didn’t exclude people who didn’t like change. It’s difficult to explain, like trying not to blush when you’ve locked yourself out of the house in naught but a too-small towel again, but bear with me.
The best way to express this is to look at two fairly different games directly. Take the graphic card massacring kersplodathon Crysis and compare it to the graphically bleak but hugely puzzling Portal. The two titles are pretty different from one another and while Crysis goes to a huge effort to present you with aliens and super-troopers and keep the whole experience fast-paced, serious and believable, Portal does the opposite. With a focus more on puzzle-solving and slow, cerebral gameplay Portal uses pitch black humour and a mostly enemy-less scenario to keep you engaged. One is an open, tropical sandbox with lots of guns and cars; the other is claustrophobic and totally linear, with only one non-lethal weapon.
Yet on a fundamental level they’re both pretty similar. They are both first person shooters and they both use similar and fairly simple controls. They don’t layer things in with super complex tutorial sequences – they both jump straight to the gameplay and introduce their single main mechanic quickly, which is either the Nanosuit or portals depending on the game.
One may be a puzzle game, but they’re both simple and uncluttered FPS’ really and that’s a large part of what makes them fun and accessible for a very, very large portion of the market. Accessible. Remember that word. It’ll be important later on.