I’m tired. Tired of the fact that it seems all you need to do these days to secure a reputation as a games journalist is to wax philosophic once-monthly about the noir themes of Deus Ex, or talk about how scary the zombie monkeys were in System Shock 2. A mere mention of a few classic franchises is all it takes to establish a fanbase in the massive community of gamers who have firmly entrenched themselves in their own nostalgia. And I don’t think that’s too cynical an outlook to take.
Despite the title and everything else in this article, I do actually love Deus Ex (it is my favourite game) and Beyond Good & Evil and Thief and all those other games that get mentioned by people like me in places such as this. They are fantastic games – but fifteen years on, I question whether we really still need to be reminded about how scary SHODAN is. When is enough going to be enough and when can I open a copy of my favourite PC gaming magazine without seeing a retrospective feature on Deus Ex or PlaneScape: Torment? When will everyone start to realise that just because a game is their favourite doesn’t mean that it’s the best?
It’s occurred to me recently that, even though PC gamers claim to be a group that wants innovation over anything else, all we really want is more of what we’ve had before – and that we’re so favourably inclined to the few titles that have achieved that aim that we’re in danger of running those memories into the ground. What’s the point of putting these games on a pedestal if we’re not willing to let them be knocked off by newer ones?
How Deus Ex is remembered
It's something I've been guilty of in the past, collating features almost solely around getting the chance to sing Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodline's praises. As time goes by though it feels like the motivation is being slowly perverted and that my nostalgia for that game may be affecting my judgement. That shouldn’t happen – people got over The Beatles faster than this!
The endless harking back to the likes of Deus Ex or System Shock can't end well. Increasingly I browse forums and find that gamers can't even look pleasantly on new games cast in the same mould as those classics without blasting them for their modernity. Not long ago I saw someone actually saying that the clunky graphics of System Shock 2 were a primary reason why it was a better game than it’s spiritual successor, BioShock. Regardless of how you feel about BioShock and how it compares to System Shock 2, it’s hard to deny that there’s something wrong there.
Mr Internet Man; you're wrong. Plainly, simply, wrong. You personally may have come to form an emotional bond with System Shock 2's low-poly models, but that doesn't make it a better game. Worse, you've become blinded to that fact. That is A Bad Thing. You've become so hopelessly enamoured with that game that you'll find it hard to enjoy any other title from now on, I think. BioShock may have been littered with concessions for the console crowd and the ending of the game may have been a disappointment compared to the Ayn Rand inspired beginnings, but System Shock 2 had weaknesses too, you know?
How Deus Ex was
That's the bit that nobody ever seems to focus on and, increasingly, it's the bit that drives me around the bend; the idea that these games were totally flawless. They weren't. We just think they were. Even my beloved The Secret of Monkey Island had problems and the fact that I can't actually think of any of them doesn't mean anything other than that I look at the game through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. It proves my point – which is that nostalgia is a dangerous thing for those who want to appreciate games to their fullest.
If we go around pretending that this bias doesn't exist then we're just setting ourselves up for endless disappointment. It'd be better to meet things with the cynical, lethargic neutrality that we Brits usually treat everything else with, I think. So, that’s what this article is about – reassessing some of the old ‘classics’ and outlining all their flaws and how they’ve been surpassed since then. It’s about murdering the heroes of PC gaming in pursuit of a more honest and open perspective.