It’s been a busy year, and I haven’t always got round to discussing the video games I’ve played. But it’s also been an excellent year for games, so a few that certainly deserve a mention along with some brief thoughts:
Mass Effect 2: Played round a friends house, which means time was a little limited and though we got most of the way through, didn’t complete it or truly pick the teeth like I might when sitting sadly on my own late at night. Still, played plenty enough to see that it was pretty damn good. Big, involving, with some great moments and a rare feeling that you could play it being evil and it would make some sense and actually be worth it. Side characters feel nicely fleshed out, the game world feels as vast and concrete as one would hope for from an interstellar roleplayer, I guess it just isn’t the type of game world that necessarily floats my boat – I’m more a Dragon Age type of guy from that standpoint (who knew). It also felt as if they’d dumbed down the roleplaying aspects somewhat – the skills and equipment was much simplified, and though that was an improvement in many ways and, I’m sure, for most users, I slightly regretted it. Still an excellent game, though.
BioShock 2: Hmmm. As with the first BioShock, it’s unmatched on setting, atmosphere, political commentary and underwater art-deco stylings. But one can’t help a slight feeling that this game was cobbled together out of the bits they didn’t use for the first game, and I’m not sure I actually liked the first ALL that much. Perhaps it’s that, despite some great set-pieces, some nifty characterisation, some clever plotting, and the aforementioned awesome underwater art-deco stylings, it’s always felt to me like a bit of a mediocre first-person shooter beneath the dressings. Kind of clunky and claustrophobic in gameplay and, as so often, the much-vaunted complex moral choices pretty much boil down to NICE or NASTY. But no doubt an IMMERSIVE experience. A haw haw.
Batman – Arkham Asylum: I know it came out last year, but I played it this year, so there. Film tie-ins are always shite, aren’t they? Which is why it’s taken this not directly film-related effort to finally make a brilliant game out of Batman. It’s one of those games that knows exactly what it’s after and completely nails it. The gothic setting, the range of villains, the crunching mixed martial arts action, the perennial darkness, the way the camera swoops in to capture details, the whole feel is just great and, better yet, indefinably batman. And Mark Hamil’s voice acting of The Joker is unbeatable.
Demon’s Souls: I was reading something somewhere about how one of the most common complaints voiced about films and books is that they are too difficult, whereas one of the most common complaints about video games is that they are too easy. Which is to say, video gaming seems to be the only form of media in which difficulty is generally celebrated as a virtue these days. The most massochistic gamer could not complain on those grounds about strange-o Japanese roleplayer Demon’s Souls, because it is frighteningly, punishingly, scrotum-witheringly difficult. You can die so easily that you have to keep an iron concentration at all times, and that is pretty refreshing. It’s also an atmospheric and interestingly bleak world that’s presented, though with the slightly clunky gameplay typical of the third-person “action” roleplayer (Gothic was similar in that regard). The upside is that, frequently, when you finally conquer a given section with a particularly clean and effective passage of play, you do feel an unrivalled air-punching moment of satisfaction. The downside is that at times Demon’s Souls seems just wrongheadedly, unfairly, unfeasably difficult – fighting through the same section twenty times so you can face a boss monster that for no apparent reason is only vulnerable in one tiny area that you seem to have no chance of finding because you get killed almost the instant you enter the room. You come to rely on sneaky workarounds and little cheats – fighting one boss I found a tiny pillar from behind which, because of a peculiarity of the animations, I was safe but could zap away at my enemy with impunity. Later I found a place I could rack up a mass of experience by shooting a monster from far off with arrows then throwing myself off a cliff. Dozens of times. After that it was all a fair bit easier. Though still nearly impossible. I got nearly right to the end, I think, but having been killed instantly by the final boss, I just couldn’t be arsed running through a load of monsters in order to get to him again. Maybe a game can be too difficult…