The annual Steam sales have a habit of cruelly forcing me to part with money for games that I don’t need (and yes, I’m aware that technically I don’t ‘need’ any games) . One by-product of this is that my steam account now has more than a dozen games I’ve never played. Generally the kinds of games I buy, then fail to play fall under one of the following categories:
1) I already own the game or borrowed the game from a friend, but do not own it in a digital format. Otherwise known as “Where’s the f**king box!? Bugger it, I’ll grab it in the next Steam sale”.
2 I like the idea of the game, but am daunted by its scale; usually my one and only attempt at playing these games ends after I realise the tutorial will take several hours to complete and is spectacularly boring. These games usually tend to involve Space oddly enough. Freespace 2 is lauded by many as the best space combat Sim of all time. It’s lauded by me as having one of the most lengthy, soul destroying, but also necessary tutorials ever. Galactic Civilizations 2 should have been right up my street, I love the idea of 4x games, but have rarely ventured beyond the safety of Sid Meier’s warm, loving embrace. On paper it’s the perfect game for me and armed with Tom Francis’ wonderful diary, I bravely strode forward and it was like OMG WTF DOES EVERYTHING DO?
3) The game is old(ish) and I feel a vague sense of guilt for having never played it. For instance I want to love the Hitman games, but I inexplicably missed them first time around and I have been weakened by the hand-holding of more recent stealthy titles. Also the contextual control scheme is pretty dire. Similarly, when X-COM was originally released, I was a little too young too appreciate it. I bought the full X-COM collection in a sale, in an attempt to plug this embarrassing gap in my gaming knowledge. But when people talk about old games in such glowing terms they have a propensity for papering over the cracks. Quite frankly the UI in the X-COM games is an appalling blocky mess, that seemingly gets worse with each iteration. My experience of X-COM Apocalypse literally consists of me opening the game, starting a new game then frantically jabbing Alt F4 to escape from the horrendous eye-stinging collage of impenetrable icons that take up the bottom half of the screen.
The most recent Steam sale saw me up to my old tricks, jumping on bargains before considering the wisdom of further inflating my back-catalogue. One of the games I splashed out on in an unguarded moment of extravagance was X3: Terran Conflict, which at the time of asking carried the hefty price tag of about £3 (it now costs £20 again). X3 is exactly the kind of game I usually buy then never play. I always want to like Space explorer/trader games, but I don’t usually get very far in them. X3 is huge, complex, has a horrific UI and the starting tutorial is laughably inept – if you choose a non-combat starting role you can’t even finish the introductory mission. Usually, confronted by this kind of inaccessible behemoth of a game I would at this point I start telling myself “Maybe I’ll give it a go later…” or “I’ll have a look online for some help, then come back to it…” In fact after starting up X3, both of those things happened. The weird thing is, this time I actually followed through.
I received some tips and hints from seedy internet forums – where space-grizzled vets were just waiting for a rookie like me to walk in, so they could impart their knowledge of setting up automated Universe Traders, and outline for me the best Laser set-up for forcing Harrier Pirate pilots to eject from their ship. Giddy with my new-found knowledge I ran back to the game and spent hours blindly stumbling around the galaxy, working out things as I went along. Eventually, I’ve managed to expand operations from a solo manual trader, into a small fleet, but this article isn’t a lets play of X3. Instead it’s a celebration of the sometimes random ways in which games can hook us in. There doesn’t seem to be a chemical formula for making a game fun to play, or even make a particular person fall in love with a particular title. X3 on paper is a game I shouldn’t even have bought, every game of it’s ilk (Freelancer aside) has left me cold, bored and bemused. But for some reason it’s slow and steady approach and ever-expanding possibilities have completely captured my imagination and it has maintained a vice-like grip over my free time for the last week.
Unfortunately, this has left little time for me to try the other notable purchase from the Steam Sale – The King Arthur Collection. Here’s to hoping it doesn’t have a lengthy tutorial with an appalling voice-over.