A Gamer’s Perspective: 2012 Retrospective
2012 was a pretty memorable year no matter whose pants you were wearing. I’m not entirely sure how the ownership of your currently-employed pants would change your experiential perspective, which is probably why that sentence made sense (if you’ve got any suggestions, do feel free to keep them to yourself).
Osama Bin Laden got shot in the face, life was discovered on Mars, Half-Life 3 still didn’t get confirmed and the only thing hit harder than Japan by a wave was good literature everywhere by the explosive success of EL Stine’s Fifty Shades of Grey. At the same time as all of this (well, roughly speaking – that didn’t happen that slowly), the barely recognizable remains of My Life emerged from below the wreckage of nigh-on a year of intensive* StarCraft, dragging the mangled remains of my social life behind it in a very Triangle Head-esque fashion, all the while slurring “Aah aynt durrn weeth yew yeht,” in an extremely convincing yet completely incongruent Southern accent.
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*Some would say ‘excessive’. They should go back to collecting stamps and reading Jane Austen novels.
Much to my parents’ delight and my dismay, it was a battle I lost. Listed under the Terms of Surrender (which I could nothing but assent to) was my transition from a self-styled ‘hardcore gamer’ to low-class, impure-blooded, misled, uninformed, puppy-killing, common, all-around degenerate, SIXAXIS-wielding*, peon-esque heathen. Also known as a *shudders* casual gamer.
*I didn’t, and still don’t own a Playstation of any description, but if I don’t take a swipe at the consolefags at least once per column people are going to start thinking I’ve gone soft.
Circumstance forced me down from 10-20 hours of gaming per week to an average of the same amount every month. And that was in a good month. Those who followed my columns last year will know that I spent many of them talking about the mechanics of entertainment: what affects how much we enjoy the games we play, and how we can get more out of them. Stuff like the conversion ratio between time spent and enjoyment attained, psychological factors (like preconceived notions of a game) affecting how much we actually end up getting out of a particular game and other such nonsense. These were all the brainchildren of me being forced to fundamentally reconsider what I needed to do in order to get the most out of my now significantly diminished gaming time.
This re-analysis of the fundamental principles underlying how I went about one of my favourite pastimes was the first contributing factor to me having such a damned good time with the games I did get the chance to play this year. The second was more circumstantial than deliberate.
Because my gaming sessions became so much fewer and further between (with me hardly playing at all during the first half of the year), when I did get the chance to sit down, put my
records headphones on and jam, my sessions were inspired by a never-before-experienced sense of wonder. Not the childlike wonder of initial discovery which takes place the first time you ride a bike, taste your favourite food or see Cavie’s head photoshopped onto a picture of Master Chief; more the wonder which comes of rediscovery, and often during my unadulterated thrill at one barely-believable feature of a game or another I felt likened to the wizened old man who thought he’d seen it all exclaiming in stuttered disbelief to his grandson: “You’re telling me I can point this thingamajig here, click this doo-uh-muh-hicky and sever multiple limbs from his torso?”
Yes, I came to realise, yes I bloody well could.
Counter-intuitive though it may seem given how little time I had to play, 2012 was (despite my initial presuppositions) one of my personal best years in gaming to date, and for that reason I’d like to share some of my personal highlights from it with you. As ever, I more than encourage you to respond in kind.
This game first caught my eye in a NAG review a few years back when they gave it a 90/100. This was before Azhar converted me to the Engineering Honours Student’s review creed (no numbers), so I figured that meant it was pretty good. Needless to say, when I saw it go on sale on Steam I got a little bit more interested and then, well… we’ve all been there.
This was my first outing into the horror genre, and as such I was about as sceptical of a game’s ability to be ‘scary’ as you might expect (that is, too sceptical). I closed the door, shut the blinds and donned my headphones, eager to put myself out of my comfort zone.
About fifteen minutes in, I was walking the ghostlighted (ghostlit?) corridors of the Ishimura like any good engineer would be doing in my situation, yet to encounter anything even vaguely resembling an enemy (outside of a cutscene, that is). I distinctly remember thinking “Hey, this isn’t too bad. That reviewer must’ve been a pussy!” precisely three seconds before a necromorph burst out of the wall behind me and took a healthy bite out of my collarbone before I even had time to yell, “That’s an unwelcome invasion of my personal space!”
Pants were shat and curtains were swiftly opened. I kept the door closed, though, to muffle my screams.
It’s difficult to fault a game where you get to shoot, hack and otherwise part the limbs off of such undeniably deserving creatures as Necromorphs, with heavy industrial ordinance. And I’m not about to try. Apart from the sheer gore-tastic awesomeness, the scene construction was the other aspect of the game which really stuck out to me. The game doesn’t just use events and narrative to put you on edge and scare the crap out of you; musical score, lighting and ambient noises are combined in a truly artful display of scene-creation genius to make the audible and visual environment significant contributors to the game’s (already significant) scare factor.
All in all, Dead Space is a pretty frightening game. Despite that, I think you could get away with playing it by yourself – perhaps even at night. You should be able to rationalise away fear of Necromorphs alright if you’re on planet earth, after all. If you’ve got a trip to space planned any time soon, however, don’t flipping touch it unless you want to be soiling your pants all the way from here to Mars (that would create the wrong kind of curiosity, if you know what Amien).
Suffice to say, the relationship between the original Borderlands and me was comparable to The Notebook on steroids. Sure, it had about as much story as a $2.99 erotica eBook, but what is love if not the ability to be blind to the faults of another? The addictive shoot-and-loot gameplay, Lilith, excellently integrated drop-in/drop-out multiplayer and, of course, Lilith provided more than enough glare for me to be able to be blind to those faults. When Borderlands really caught my attention, though, was when Gearbox released the first pieces of DLC. What blew my mind about them was the fact that, contrary to popular industry practice, Gearbox had listened to their community and actually tried to fix their mistakes. The Secret Armoury of General Knoxx was probably the crowning achievement of their DLC offerings, giving the consumer not only a legitimately interesting story which still retained the quirks Borderlands was now renowned for, as well as bazillions upon bazillions of guns (DAE dat armoury?).
By setting a precedent which already puts them head-and-joystick above the rest of their competition, Gearbox had my interest from the announcement of Borderlands 2, so much so that I actually pre-ordered the game (my first and only pre-order to date).
It didn’t take long for me to realise I was in love; as soon as I got the call from Handsome Jack telling me he’d named his horse (Butt Stallion) after me, I was besotted. Those who’ve played the game will know exactly what I’m talking about, and those who haven’t, well, what the hell are you doing not playing it? I don’t care if you have to sell an appendage on the black market to do it, don’t come back until you’ve played that game.
Borderlands 2 was a memorable experience for me from beginning to end, but what really made the game for me was the multiplayer. Seriously, good multiplayer interfaces are depressingly few and far between these days, but Borderlands 2 has one of the most user friendly ones I’ve come across in a long time. And you’re definitely going to want to use it – Borderlands 2 is pretty freaking good on its own, but with a co-op team it becomes, well, about a bazillion times better (a notable example which springs to mind was me unwittingly driving myself and a friend off a cliff into the sea which served as the border of the map. We died, and for the next five minutes all that could be heard in the TeamSpeak channel was our distorted, frighteningly girlish laughter).
Overall, Borderlands 2 was probably one of the best (in terms of being the most ideal) sequels the gaming world has ever seen. It stayed true to the original game in terms of keeping the good gameplay aspects (excellent multiplayer design, addictive lootgrabbing, crazy enemies and its own unique brand of humour and insanity) and improved on it where necessary (adding a freaking storyline, adding a freaking storyline and adding a freaking storyline). When you think about it, that’s pretty much everything you need from a sequel.
The only criticism I can raise against Gearbox’s second instalment to their flagship series is the one seriously implausible aspect of the plot [SPOILER ALERT!]: Lilith would never get with Roland. She’s already engaged to me.
If you’re searching for more proof that the rest of the eGamer staff are full-blown psychopaths (though I don’t know why you’d need it, to be honest), you need look no further than the fact that none of them have played DayZ.
Arma II (the game on which DayZ runs) has been on the Steam Top Selling list for pretty much forever (well, since DayZ released, at least), so I don’t know how on Earth you wouldn’t have heard of it. In case you’ve had your head in the dirt for the last six or so months, here’s how it works:
You log on to the server. You spawn. It’s the Zombie Apocalypse. You have to survive. There are zombies. Many zombies. Occasionally, you find other players. You pick up weapons for when you need to murder the anus out of the aforementioned players and zombies. If they happen to murder the crap out of you instead, you die. When you respawn, you’ve lost it all – every single bit of gear you’d collected on your previous character. Sound harsh? You’re a pussy.
Some would criticise the game’s lack of an overall objective – they’d be idiots. The freedom to do whatever the hell you want without worrying about lost experience points or quest progress is probably one of the game’s greatest assets. Whether you’re going solo or are part of a group, you get completely sucked into whatever it is you want to do. Maybe you’ve decided you’re going to find a vehicle and raid one of the Northern Airfields for better weapons; maybe some prick murdered your last character and you’re on a vendetta to murder him sideways, or maybe you just wanted to help bambis (new players) learn to get by in this dog-eat-dog world of zombie-infested fantasticness. Whatever it is, you will find yourself immersed in it like no game you’ve played before (immersion being the mother of true entertainment, as we all know). In addition to that, the game’s harsh, unforgiving nature is a breath of fresh air in the hand-holding, checkpoint-saturated world of contemporary gaming we now live in, and the game thrives all the more for it.
If this is all sounding like an inventive way to emotionally torture yourself, you haven’t spotted the converse yet; sure, defeats suck in DayZ – losing all your hard-earned gear when you die is bleak, being betrayed by players who originally told you they were ‘Friendly’ sucks and sometimes the amount of time it takes to find a weapon convinces you that the game is intentionally torturing you, but all the high stakes really mean is when you do achieve something your mind is blown by the savour of your victory. A seamless airfield raid where you’re rewarded with that oh-so-elusive AS50 makes you feel like the most unequivocal badass in all of known history; finally giving that son of a gun bandit what he had coming is the sweetest taste of justice you’re ever likely to have, and the feeling of sheer accomplishment that comes of driving away in the vehicle you and your friends spent the last six hours finding the parts to fix, dying three times each in the process is one I’d take over winning the lottery without hesitation.
As a friend reminded me during the draft stages of this column, DayZ is the game I turned to when I was bedridden for a week after tearing the ligaments in my ankle, and after forty hours of play over three days all I wanted was more. I was sure of it before, but with that anecdote in mind I’m twice as resolute on the fact that DayZ is the most deserving choice for Game of the Year, 2012.
2012 may not have been of the same calibre as 2007, or as ridiculously triple-A filled as November 2011, but it was a year I’m extremely glad I didn’t die during nonetheless.
(Does it look like I care that DayZ is a mod?)