This week saw the site turn five, I shared my thoughts in this editorial piece, but today in a change from the usual planning, we are doing Our Five Years in Games. We might do a Our Console Generation in Games next week, but this is a broader overview of the past five years. Read on, and enjoy.
5 years is a long time. I’ve got married, bought a house, moved jobs twice, and sired a son. In gaming 5 years is a veritable lifetime. I was trying to think of what large paradigm shifts have occurred that I’ve been apart of, or even felt the effects of in this half decade and I came up short. There have been blockbuster titles a-plenty, new consoles (announced), new tech and more importantly the explosion of indie titles and the subsequent flood of unique ideas and games. For me though, I think these last 5 years have been defined for me by My relationship with MMO’s and how that’s changed over this time.
I was late to the MMO party, only delving into Guild Wars in the mid-to-late 2000’s and even then, it took a while to take hold. I never fell into the World of Warcraft trap, and it felt no need to explore its periphery either. Guild Wars was enough for me and it served me quite well for a number of years. I made some very good friends, losing one too to illness which although most of us never met her in real life, affected us all deeply.
Even with a game as good as Guild Wars was, I grew bored and decided to move on. The ever present EVE online was there, and I spent many a happy day wormhole exploring and running/hiding from pirates in middle sec and to be perfectly honest, in the wormholes too… The backbone of the game though quickly revealed itself and I moved on. One job is enough thanks.
The next one to tempt me was Age of Conan and I promise it had nothing to do with the nudity…. In fact I think AoC was a terribly undervalued game with a very fun and rewarding combat system. The Achilles heel was the pvp server implementation which guaranteed you’d get banked within about 3 minutes of leaving an outpost.
It started to sink in that no matter the wrapping, the formula and the games were basically the same. This shattered the illusion somewhat.
There was nothing else until Guild Wars 2 came out, though truth be said, even that didn’t hold my attention for long. It arguably did more for the MMO genre than any other title since it’s predecessor, but even then I grew bored very quickly.
The MMO genre has a problem, especially now the indie’s are on the scene. They’ve functionally not changed for a decade. This, on the face of such rampant innovation and experimentation in the other genres may finally spell the end of the once giant of gaming.
So what’s the biggest thing to happen to me gaming wise in the last five years? They’re the years I fell out of love with MMO’s.
Now I’m off to play Spelunky again…
Of course, my thoughts were shared earlier in the week, and to be honest I have played and written about so many games in the past five years that I would struggle to do them justice. I will briefly cover some of my personal highlights though:
World of Goo was the game that really got me into writing back on my old evo-gamer.com blog. I had been trying my hand at writing before 2D Boy’s hit was released, but that was the game that really fired up my passions. I found it to be a magical experience, and I find myself wondering whether The Reticule would have even happened without that game.
When looking back at some of the reviews on the original site, The Path is certainly one which springs to mind. You can find my Verdict here, this was a lovely arty game of the style that would become more popular with Dear Esther and Gone Home. It had some horror elements, but really it was something on an eye-opener for what games could be.
Of more recent titles, Dishonored springs to mind as being a standout title, the core game was a wonderful experience and I really feel like the DLC was the clichéd cherry on top. Even if you strip away the combat and the stories you follow, some of the artwork and details about Dunwall are magnificent.
Finally Football Manager is extremely worthy of being mentioned. It is a game that I keep going back to, time and time again, year after year. The stories I have woven for myself during the years with this series has been thoroughly entertaining. Probably the only other game which can match this series for the amount of time I’ve been playing it is Battlefield 2. Who needs FIFA when you can have the depth of a game like Football Manager.
Five years should really be a long time when you’re trying to remember the entertainment you’ve consumed – you probably ought to remember useful stuff, like the birthdays of your new nieces and nephews, rather than letting even the most mediocre time wasters take up valuable synaptic real-estate.
Conveniently though, five years ago I know I was playing the first game in a series I finished playing this week. The original Bioshock was the first game I played on my new PC in 2008, and Bioshock Infinite just got sauntered through on essentially the same hardware (a new GPU fan notwithstanding – I was getting sick of the noise the old one was chucking out).
Five years is enough time for your gaming tastes to change, and my reaction to the Bioshock series perhaps underlines that. It now seems strange to me that the 2008 machine was built not only for Bioshock, but also Crysis – it was a time when my enthusiasm for FPS games as straightforward as that famous graphical showcase was at its peak. Soon, games like Bioshock spoiled me, delivering deeper stories and exquisite design, cementing an obsession with more complex first person sims that had been developing since playthroughs of System Shock 2 and the original Deus Ex.
Indeed, Bioshock inspired me to look to the past: in late 2008, I finally broke into the Thief series, games that echoed in the best of what I’ve played since – Dishonored and Human Revolution especially. Elsewhere, my love of shooting things eroded as I ran past conflict in Mirror’s Edge (well, most of it anyway), laughed through the hilarity of Portal 2 and rooted through a family’s bedside drawers in Gone Home.
I struggle to remember the last vanilla shooter I bothered with. I may have played Crysis 2 at some point? I kind of wish I hadn’t. But Bioshock Infinite? It surprises me just how much the game’s shift towards traditional FPS territory bothers me. Or perhaps it’s more of a case of that gameplay gelling far less perfectly with the story you’re being told? Rapture is a city on its knees because of the very same powers the player wields without hesitation – a fact called out in its most famous scene. Columbia is a city where magic powers exist because, hell, this city can fly for some reason, so anything goes. Talking dogs in biplanes strike again.
Yet, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that those five years played their part in my disappointment. In that time I’ve loved games that didn’t force me to fight every battle to its bloody conclusion, games that proved their intelligence through subtle writing rather than puffed-up quantum mumbo-jumbo, games where the ‘use’ key facilitates emotional engagement beyond “play animation that comforts pretty girl”.
It’s a disappointment that’s difficult to lose any sleep over, though. If five years of gaming can make you cynical about something as apparently unique as Bioshock Infinite, you can look forward to the kind of thing that will disappoint you in another five.
Five years? In five years, a lot can change. Five years ago, I didn’t have two children – I didn’t even have one child for that matter. Whereas now I’m lucky to fit in three or more hours a week, back then I was quite capable of managing the same in the course of one evening. Of course, back then I didn’t have an excuse for buying vast quantities of Lego, watching large amounts of children’s television or climbing around those crazy padded children’s play areas and jumping in ball-pits – Just a heads-up, people tend to look at you oddly if you do that without a child.
It’s difficult now to even begin to think about what I was playing back then. A brief look at wikipedia tells me that GTA-IV had just come out. Wait, what? I’ve been playing GTA-IV for FIVE YEARS? I suppose that’s pretty much entirely down to the modding community that’s grown up around it – I know I’d never have stuck with it for that long if I’d been stuck with solely the console version, and not only because I’m absolutely useless with a controller.
Also interesting to see on this list is Penumbra, an early attempt by Frictional Games to really grasp what it means to be terrified in games; an art they went on to practically perfect with their later Amnesia series. Would anyone have thought that such a small developer at the time would have gone on to produce one of the most sinister and unsettling horror-games in history after their fledgling ‘opening-door’ simulator?
We were also learning something new about traversing cities. Whereas prior to 2008 we were quite happy to be strolling around the streets at ground level, Mirror’s Edge and Assassin’s Creed finally revealed to us the true wonder of rooftops, a secret before held only by snipers and pigeons. Free-running became main-stream, and in many ways it now feels odd to play an open-world game that doesn’t allow you to scuttle up the side of a building using only your teeth.
Mass Effect. Five years ago I hadn’t saved the galaxy. Well, in fairness, ‘saving the galaxy’ might be a rather questionable interpretation of what I did to it, but five years ago no-one had heard the name of Commander Shepard, a name both celebrated and rued in equal measure due to the game’s epic story and rather controversial ending. In many ways Mass Effect has become a whole generation’s Star Wars, and it was a series I’m glad to have experienced at release.
Where will I be five years from now? Probably with an Oculus Rift inserted directly into my spine, struggling to keep up with my seven year old son as we traverse rooftops together in an attempt to escape a Lovecraftian monster intent on wiping the galaxy of life.
I can’t wait.