I’ve playing MGSV obsessively at the moment. You might have noticed. This is a statement which would make 2005 me punch 2015 me in the nose. A decade ago I was so much more forceful and intolerant in my opinions about videogames, and one of the recipients of that unyielding ire was Metal Gear Solid. I played some of 2, felt as though it was simply wasting my time, and that was it, the entire series was irredeemable. Everything I read now suggests I’d still feel that way about MGS2 particularly, but in the wake of Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain, I do realise that in decrying the entire series, I did myself out of some particularly excellent stealth gaming, and a playful streak a mile wide. Which leaves me thinking – what else did I dismiss - or praise - out of hand and now regret?
I never actively disliked Thief, but I didn’t bother with the first two games because sci-fi obsessed teenage me decide bows and castles were basically boring. By the time Deadly Shadows wheeled around I was both a touch more open-minded and aware of the link between it and Deus Ex, which I adored. I bounced hard off the first level, which initially left me thinking Thief games were even more tedious than I’d imagined. Why? Because I misinterpreted its talk about loot-collecting, believing it was this high-speed exercise in 100-percenting, grabbing diamond after diamond after diamond like some poorly-illiuminated sonic game. I was probably drunk at the time, but even so. Fortunately, a return visit a few days later finally made me realise what I’d failed to pick up on for so many years: these games were about acute tension, this remarkable atmosphere of danger and anxiety, and of a complete dedication to a particular state of mind. Back then, I just wanted to shoot things. Now, I embrace stealth wherever possible, desperate not to shoot things. Well, unless it’s with a tranquiliser dart.
2) The Witcher
Ridiculously short deadlines meant I wasn’t able to get anywhere near finished the first game when I reviewed it for a magazine, which meant I saw little of what made people love the first Witcher and gave it middling, snark-laden review. In my defence, it is front-loaded with a steady stream of abysmal, clumsy and/or obnoxious elements, but all the same, I regret not managing to commune with its carefully amoral, lowish-fantasy world, the completeness of its setting and history, and its resolute avoidance of so many Tolkien tropes. Though 2 had its moments, I don’t think the series truly found its voice until this year’s Witcher 3. That game still retains at least some of what made me so severely dislike the first game, but good overwhelms bad by a large margin. I regret that the world and history mean so little to me because I never gave myself fully to the preceding games.
This was an odd series to (at least only briefly) dislike, given I gave the first game (and especially its spin-off Colonization) so many hours in my pre-teens. But by the time Civ II rolled around, I was deep in the aforementioned sci-fi period and wouldn’t go anywhere near anything with even a whiff of the historical to it. Even by the time I was working a computing & games magazine, I openly mocked the colleague who delightedly volunteered to review Civ III. It was for beardy weirdos, right? It wasn’t cool. Inevitably I played it a few days later and was sucked in entirely. I’ve been an enormous fan of the series ever since. What a stupid, feckless teenager I was.
4) Final Fantasy VII
On the other side of the coin, back in the late 1990s I was convinced that FFVII was humanity’s greatest accomplishment. So accustomed was I to games with the most perfunctory tales, routine escalation and nothingy cast that something of that scope and scale, with all those secrets and all those weird and wonderful cast members enraptured me. I genuinely screwed up one exam because I spent two solid days on FFVII instead of revising, and wound up missing out on scoring a First in my English degree because of it. It’s a poor decision which still gives rise to regular (and oh so stereotypical) exam nightmares.
These days, I’ve switched completely to the other camp, and feel FFVII is an ambitious but arbitrary onslaught of ideas and styles, punctuated by tedious, grindy combat and a posturing plot which crudely hammers at broad emotional buttons. It's impressively unpredictable, but also indulgent and appallingly-paced, and I worry it gets a free pass on a lot of stuff both because of cultural fetishism and that so many of us first encountered it at an age when we wore our hearts on our sleeves - and, of course, because precious few game-tales of the time had evolved far beyond 'kill everything'. I don’t hate it, and hell, one day I’d like to play it again just to get my concept of it straight again, but I’m deeply troubled by those who hail it as some high watermark for the medium. It was of its time, and so much of it looks and feels ridiculous now – by which I don’t mean its technological age. I don't disagree that we needed it, back then, but we sure don’t now.
Part 2 will follow at a later date. Meantime, what about you? What oversights or knee-jerks do you most regret?
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