My most recent column for VICE magazine didn’t run, due to a clerical error. It’s quite alright, and I certainly don’t take this kind of thing personally. But as the piece was written for print, it’s a little out of date (now) to make the move to the VICE website – and it also echoes some of the sentiments I already expressed in an online article explaining why right now is a golden age for video games. So I’m posting it here, in case you’re the slightest bit interested.
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I’m a believer that the best is yet to come in gaming. The medium is so young still, with each hardware generation opening new possibilities, rich with staggering potential. And I don’t simply say that with reference to the epic scale of modern role-play games, or the detailed “realities” of Grand Theft Auto V or the forthcoming Batman: Arkham Knight, which will feature an interactive Gotham as you’ve never played it.
Today, games tell stories that can choke you up (I’m still recovering from The Last Of Us: Left Behind), and provide an essential escape for those feeling the weight of the everyday grind. They take you to places no other entertainment can – and you can be in the pilot’s seat. It’s generalising, but video games aren’t the toys they once were – just as the press of an A button is context sensitive depending on the circumstances, so too can a video game stir any number of contrasting emotions in the player. Our favourite games of right now regularly provide the feels, where once upon a time we merely felt our way through them.
Which is why I started the year by writing a piece for VICE online on how today is a golden age for video games – because, as clichéd as such a phrase is, there really is something for everybody out there, and while some genres might seem stale at surface level, (relatively) recent releases have gone a great way to shaking up tried-and-tested formulas.
Spec Ops: The Line dosed the third-person shooter up on heavyweight heartache; indie affairs like Braid and Limbo took puzzle-platforming in unique directions; Wolfenstein: The New Order brought real heart to first-person blasting; and Telltale have revitalised the adventure game with releases like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us.
Looking ahead, into 2015 and beyond, I see more of this – a pronounced transition, an elevation of the art of video game making, as even ages-old franchises like The Legend of Zelda, Elite and Silent Hill are refreshed for players who want the big experience, sure enough, but with intimacies, too. The colours run and mix in a way that a picture resolution of 256 x 240 could never convey.
I like the old classics, the evergreens, the foundational inspirations. But no period in gaming’s evolution to this point should be regarded as a golden age, because we have it better than ever right now. It’s the contemporary scene that is producing the most arresting experiences. I think so, anyway. Not everyone agreed with me, which they are completely entitled to do. But I did want to pick up on a few comments, and offer some feedback.
Wrote David Mobley, in the comments section of VICE’s US site: “The greed of publishers has ruined gaming in 2014 and beyond. We’re in a horrible age of gaming, and it’s only getting worse because people keep paying for it.”
I’m sorry you feel that way, David, but you raise a very valid point: some of the bigger publishers have taken the piss lately. Foremost amongst them is Ubisoft, which in 2014 put out the basically broken Assassin’s Creed Unity, and spoiled the potential of free-roam driving game The Crew by throwing an assault of repetitive micro-missions at a barely-there plot. I wanted the open road; I got offended, quickly.
The Crew also incorporated a currency called Crew Credits, essential for acquiring the very best vehicles. These could be earned, but also bought with real money, Polygon calling this economy “occasionally downright contemptuous”. As for Unity, there’s not enough space in this whole magazine to go into how much of a middle finger its restricted unlockables were to fans of 100% completion. What’s that? I can buy my way to better stats, necessary to pick all of these locks that remain otherwise resistant to my skills? See this? This is me, turning your game off.
The thing is though, David, so badly received was Unity that the next Assassin’s Creed really needs to excel, as buyers burned this time around simply won’t spend their hard-earned on another unfinished title that needs a series of patches to bring into a playable state. I genuinely believe that AC is in trouble: the Victorian London-set Victory had best deliver, but it need not be in 2015. If Ubisoft rush that out as they did Unity, and it’s just as buggy, it’s surely game over for the franchise.
Casey West, writing just below David, offered: “Ever(y) game… is a summer blockbuster… Pretty but shallow. My PlayStation 4 is a $400 Amazon Prime box. Video games are dead.”
Quite the striking statement there, Casey. I won’t get into an argument with you over how you use your PS4 – hell, I watch telly on mine, too. But I will point out some rather great-looking games that are coming out for the system in 2015, none of which are likely to fit your “summer blockbuster” description. You ready?
There’s the slasher-movie tension of Until Dawn, challenging dungeon crawler Deep Down, the colourfully Ico-recalling Rime, the breath-held stealth of Volume, the hands-on pleasure of Tearaway Unfolded, all the pixelated blood your retinas can take with Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, and the handsome but hardcore retro-RPG Hyper Light Drifter. I’d include the very indie No Man’s Sky in there, but there’s so much hype for said game that it can’t not be a big hit, whenever it actually comes out.
I could continue, but “Weaponized Messiah” is on Twitter: “I come back to VICE saying that this age of nepotism, corruption, broken and overpriced games is a ‘golden age’… we need #GamerGate.” Well, Miss or Mister Messiah (it’s hard to tell, what with your Standard Anime Avatar), all I can really say to that is: we need #GamerGate in 2015 like we need a 60fps-locked HD remake of Kabuki Warriors and a reboot of the Postal series. Happy new gaming, everyone!