Last week, in the wake of MGSV opening my eyes to a series I’d long disdained, I shared a quartet of games I now feel I either dismissed out of hand or unreasonably feted. Here’s the rest of that list, though I suspect if I sat down and went through every review I ever wrote over the last 15 years, I’d find quite a few more. I’m not going to do that, because making me read 15 years of my own writing is pretty much the worst thing anyone could ever do to me).
Far Cry 2
I’ve already written about my initial intolerance for Ubisoft’s brutal, unheroic open world shooter sequel and how that changed, but it bears repeating as a demonstration of the dissonance between young me’s flighty preference for instant thrills and old me’s preference to sink into something strange slowly. In 2008, I couldn’t see past the gabbled dialogue and artificial respawning, or at least that’s what I outwardly claimed. What I truly couldn’t come to terms with was how ignoble it made me feel. I wanted to be Heroman, a superhuman foiling evil. Being a human performing amoral mercenary contracts felt so wrong. Now, of course, it feels so right. And more honest. It’s a journey into the heart of darkness, and a disorientating plunge into a life of bitter war where the end goal doesn’t matter: this is, simply, your existence. I can see a fairly direct line between Far Cry 2 and Metal Gear Solid V, and it’s the garish preening of Far Cry 3 and 4 which now seem like the odd games out.
Yeah, they got me. I was one of the many teenage boys who totally bought into the preposterously testosteronal marketing of John Romero’s years in the making, much-ballyhooed post-Quake project. Truth be told I didn’t entirely know exactly who John Romero was (other than the disembodied head in Doom 2), and I definitely didn’t want to be his bitch, but I had felt Quake and especially Quake II were a bit dull compared to the speed and colour of Doom. This was also a time of tall tales at school, when boys’ imaginations far out-stretched what games were capable of, let alone actually included, and the many ridiculous promises of Daikatana’s long marketing campaign fit right into that. This was, surely, going to be The One True Game, the one which lives up to all our grisly hopes and prayers. Fortunately (for me) I shipped off to university during the long wait, and totally lost interest as my mind temporarily switched to preoccupation with booze and girls who would never want me instead of games. When I finally got around to Daikatana, it was with morbid curiosity, and a faint regret that the dreams of youth would come to this.
I couldn’t entirely see past my disappointment that BioShock’s first sequel was more of a remix than anything else, so desperate was I to see a pre-fall Rapture and for dangling plot threads to be resolved. My expectations got the better of me, and I felt BioShock 2 was capable enough but broadly a let-down. With time, I was less admiring of BioShock 1, a game which hits great heights but which is a deeply uneven experience both in combat and plotting. BioShock 2 mightn’t ever soar in the same way, but as a start-to-finish shooter it’s far better maintained and sustained, as well as complete-feeling. It doesn’t try to raise its eyes out of its own central tale or wrap itself in too many mysteries, and succeeds for it. It even manages to be moving, giving humanity, purpose and loss to its protagonist in a way the first game didn’t really attempt until too late, and in such a twist-heavy way. It has heart. Bioshock 2 is the best of the BioShock series so far, even if it is entirely dependent on BioShock 1.
Every game I’ve ever given a score to
I don’t object to making it clear if a game is good or bad. I could almost deal with a star rating if I really, really had to. But the more granular ratings systems, those which pretend there is real maths rather than gut feeling which goes into the ranking of one game against another, those are the very devil. As well as being inherently unhelpful – is this game worth paying money for or not? – they’re just fuel to the undying flames of fanboys and partisans, paralysing writers who have to endlessly compare similar sequels to each other, creating a false sense that there is some great hierarchy of games, that some are born to greatness and others must be put in their place, that platforms matter, that publishers matter, that ‘respect’ outweighs opinion, that the ‘wrong’ number is unethical. Is the game any good or not? I hereby apologise to any game I have given a score to during my first decade in this job.