The Best Gifts In Gaming

There are many gifts in gaming. I could argue that the entire loot system that underpins so many RPGs is based on the same kind of pleasures as unwrapping mystery boxes in the festive season. We’re all hoping for a +1 version of whatever gadget we received last year and we all have that one relative who gives us a collection of pungent bathroom items that we’ll never use. Those are the mana potions that your warrior simply does not want or need.

I’ve ignored loot. In fact, I’ve ignored just about anything of value. Searching my memory for the most memorable gifts in games led me to reminisce about post-apocalyptic survivalist Worms, a hideous Spectrum game, office party orgies and boxes of shit. Merry Christmas one and all!

The Ones That Make People Love You

It’s fortunate, really, that Christmas gifts don’t work like gaming gifts because an exchange of Secret Santa presents at the office party might turn into a full-blown orgy. There’s a tradition in games that sees the act of giving a gift as the most romantic gesture in the world. Personality and social interactions be damned, give the right person the right present at the right time any time whatsoever is the key to their heart, whether the time be over the fresh steaming corpses of your enemies or while sitting around a campfire during a magical apocalypse.

Romantic gift-giving ranges from BioWare’s inter-party relationships to Dead or Alive Extreme’s bikini-hoarding. It’s romance as seen in Swarovski adverts – all of the power is in the gift itself, and not the giver or the manner of the giving.

The Ones That Drop From The Sky

These aren’t your traditional gifts in gaudy wrapping but they still count and at this magical time of year I quickly become convinced that they’re falling from Santa’s sleigh. I’m talking about weapon drops. When I think of crates of explosives parachuting from the sky, my first point of reference is Worms. I used to love tweaking the settings so that weapon crates would only drop once in a blue moon. Combine that with reduced ammo counts for every weapon bar the shotgun and pistol and you create a game in which the scramble across terrain to grab a handful of grenades is of vital importance.

Yes, I tried to turn Worms into a post-apocalyptic combat game.

The most impressive weapon drops might belong to Metal Gear Solid V, although it’s also possible that I’m saying that because memories of trucks drifting gracefully down to the battlefield are still fresh in my mind. Snake can even attempt to make a present of himself, crouched inside a box. If there aren’t giant Christmas-styled boxes with ribbons and bows in the game right now, Konami have neglected their festive duties.

The Ones That Are Basically Just Boxes Of Poo

Maybe we should have a “worst gifts in gaming” list so that the presents that Isaac remembers as he suffers in the basement could take the top spot. Between floors, Isaac remembers the various indignities of his life to date. A poo in a box, given as a birthday present. In the basement he can find a lump of coal, the present for bad little children everywhere, and collecting that increases the potency of his tears.

The Ones That Choke You Up

Agent 47 makes a killer Santa Claus. In the wonderfully titled “You Better Watch Out…” mission in the series’ best entry Blood Money, the bald one can snag a Father Christmas costume and gain entry to the VIP area of an exclusive party. Rather than delivering explosive parcels or rigging up Christmas lights to electrocute his target, Killer Claus uses the costume to gain access to places otherwise forbidden rather than for seasonally themed slaughter.

I’m one of those silly twits who enjoys buying Christmas stockings for pets. They’re packed with treats and toys, and most of the dogs I’ve owned have wanted to be involved in everything that happens in the house, whether it be appropriate or not. To leave them out of annual gift unwrapping seems unfair.

47, in his Santa garb, can give a treat to the level’s guard dog. It’s a sausage. That he has filled with poison.

The Ones That Got Away

The worst gift I ever received was a game. A game about gifts. Summer Santa, on the ZX Spectrum, is a horrible thing. I don’t remember finding the boxart particularly disturbing, which means I might not have seen the boxart. Because look at it. Look at the eyes.

And the whole thing is based on a false premise. There you can see Santa chilling out on summer vacation while in the game he seems to have become confused and is running around delivering presents in an abomination of a stealth game during the summer months. As Your Sinclair pointed out at the time, the entire game seemed to have been hastily and half-heartedly repackaged when it failed to arrive in time for Christmas.

A program arrives at Alpha Omega, featuring Santa Claus. What to do? Wait till Crimble to put it out? Call it Summer Santa and release it in the middle of a heatwave, hoping nobody notices the incongruity? That’s more like it!

Summer Santa is the worst gaming gift I’ve ever received. The best was a boxed copy of Ultima VII, with cloth map, years after I lost my original.

In advance of the big day, merry Christmas to those who will be celebrating. And may you receive a better pile of gifts than this miserable lot.

11 Comments

  1. caff says:

    The best present I ever got was Monkey Island. I don’t think I left my bedroom for a good month or so. Adventure games were bastard hard when you didn’t have the internet for cheating.

    • Lycan says:

      Best gaming present I ever got was Neverwinter Nights 2 – was my first Obsidian RPG, and I happily slogged through it (never realising what an utterly gimped character I had built as a Cleric on his way to becoming a Warpriest). I reached the final battle before giving up that playthrough. A few months later, a patch came out in preparation for the superb expansion MotB, and included many fixes and (thank heavens) an auto-sort feature for the inventory. Started a new character in the same happy-go-lucky I’ll-have-little-bit-of-everything vein, except I named her Cutie McPatootie, gave her rosy cheeks, green eyes and a bow this time (the kind that fires arrows). Never looked back. She spent most of the original game as a ranger with one level of bard (to unlock Red Dragon Disciple as a specialisation), and in MotB she was an absolute powerhouse with any bow that used the “Mighty” property (strength-enhanced damage), as her RDD levels started kicking in with stat boosts. I absolutely *loved* the story and writing of Mask of the Betrayer, without ever realising (or even knowing) who Chris Avellone was. Ah, those were some happy memories. Assaulting Kelemvor’s realm itself, with a floating skull, a fallen angel and a kindly dragon in tow… I digress. Worst gaming gift I ever got (for no fault of the givers, they explicitly asked me what to buy), was Empire: Total War. Put me off Total War games for a few years, that one…

  2. Sleepymatt says:

    “Because look at it. Look at the eyes.”

    And yet no ‘staring eyes’ tag?? Can’t unsee! O.O

  3. popej says:

    I swear that Summer Santa box art has been lifted straight from one of Raymond Briggs books.

    • Llewyn says:

      I’m pretty sure Briggs didn’t specialise in Edwardian horror, even if you factor in Aled Jones.

  4. leeder krenon says:

    Just look at that lovely YS review from 1986. 30 years on and the influence still warmly felt on this site. Good jawb RPS.

  5. VanDerSpar says:

    The Ones That Make People Love You

    While I’ve never played the game, and never intend to, I have had plenty of fun reading reviews/recommendations for Huniepop.
    A game that truly fits on the list of the topic above. Give a “black beauty” a watermelon and BAM she’s in love with you. Give a latin american girl a couple of marracas, you will truly win her heart.
    Don’t worry my dear fellow men. Don’t be shy to think inside the box. Give girls the most obvious gift and you will have a waifu at the end of the day.

  6. RaunakS says:

    Playing The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game (the BBC one) for Christmas with my aunt all those years ago remains my most abiding memory of any holidays. Then she surprised me with the entire 5 book pentalogy a couple of years later. So good. RIP auntie Tia.

  7. Improper says:

    My best gaming gift was from my dad. I got to choose one new PS1 game for my birthday and got all hyped for that X-Files game that I’d seen in games magazines and whatnot, though Dad wasn’t so sure. Thought it might be too nonsensical or scary for me.

    So when we got to the store, he looked around a bit for alternatives. “Doesn’t this look better?”, while I tried to make sense of the title (being like 8 or 9 years old and not a native english speaker): TACTICAL ESPIONAGE ACTION METAL GEAR SOLID. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, it didn’t feel as cool as X-Files which was still everywhere at the time. Years later, I’m a hopeless MGS fanboy. Also I’ve watched through everything that has to do with Mulder & Scully but I’m kinda glad I skipped that particular game.

  8. cpt_freakout says:

    The ‘it came from an unseen will above’ Worms section got me thinking on some of the historically religious aspects of gift-giving, and consequently on god games. The player is, in many ways, a great gift-giver in Populous, but perhaps an even better one in Black & White, thanks to the relationship with the avatar/creature. It’s funny because what you expect in return for your pretend absolute free will is for the world to use those gifts well, or for your creature to be a good communicator of it. That’s also something I thought Skyward Collapse didn’t get quite right: I felt like an administrator, following all sorts of economic rules, and not like an entity with weird whims or significant accidental failures (can’t tell you how many times I slapped my creature around in B&W without wanting to; or how many little people on my side died because I didn’t plan that volcano right in Populous 3). Anyway, good stuff.