Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Worst Videogame Break-Ups

We've all been there, right? You meet someone, you find them to be fantastic, certain inexplicable arcane forces cause them to find you tolerable too and you both decide to stick with each-other for a while. Completely natural, right? So you spend some time together, you're having fun and you're beginning to wonder if this might be a long-term deal. Then something happens, be it the emergence of a subtle irksome detail or a disagreement that blasts you apart, and suddenly an avalanche of disillusionment has crushed your affection under its inescapable suffocating blanket. You can't bear another second unless you get away, so you do. Cue depression. We've all been there right?

Well I haven't. Ha.

While I'm sure having no romantic ability whatsoever has its fair share of downfalls, I’m convinced that the advantages of not having to deal with romantic love outweigh the disadvantages, if that weeping beachside hobo stuffing octopi into his pants is to be believed anyway. That said: I'm no robot. I doubt you can be truly human unless you've got something to love, and don't I just love the hell out've videogames to the exclusion of all else? However, just because they're pulse-less, soulless piles of data shoved into a magical electric box, it doesn't mean they can't do a guy wrong. I've had countless relationships with videogames over the years (not the digital characters in videogames, mind you. That would be weird), and most of them begin and end fairly amicably: fun while they last, and ending because eventually I just want different things. But sometimes things are a bit messier than that. Sometimes I find a game that I fall suddenly and madly in love with before it brutally tears my nearest approximation of a heart out of its socket and crushes it between its cold digital fingers. Here are a few of those "sometimes".

Fallout 3
Some guy once said that you could never have too much of a good thing. This guy was a blithering moron for many reasons, but the most crucial flaw in his theory is his failure to account for repetition’s constant exposure of shittiness: That is, the universal truth that enjoyment of a subtly flawed experience, no matter how initially enjoyable, will gradually and constantly decline as it is repeated since good aspects lose their novelty while shitty aspects seem more grating every time they’re seen.

Also known as the HIMYM factor.

After hundreds of hours of blowing mutants of varying levels of ‘super’ into tiny bits with my inexplicably green slow motion powers, my love for wasteland-murderin’ has run drier than Helen Zille’s bathing suit area and only the game’s increasingly prevalent crap makes any impact on me. Intense bazooka duels in the ruins of the Lincoln memorial? Been and Done. Dismembered a swarm of zombies with a miniature nuke? Old news. Occasions on which I stuck a chainsaw up the power-armoured ass of a US army marine so as to steal his plasma rifle and blast his pet Deathclaw into goo? I’ve lost count. Now whenever I even think of the game, all I can see is the grimy textures of the endless wastes, the stiff animations of a hundred forgettable NPCs, and all I can hear is the sound of those three guys they got to do the voice acting, their NPCs’ faces frozen in a soulless stare, casually suggesting that I kill some giant mole-rats for them.

Real-Life Counterpart:


I could write countless essays on how bad this game truly is, and I plan to if I’m ever in a bad enough mood, but here’s the short of it: Bioshock, despite having interesting (albeit unoriginal) combat mechanics and excellent atmosphere up to a point, has the stupidest and most insulting storyline out of any game I’ve ever played. And I’ve played an adaptation of Spiderman 3.
For you see, my vastly intellectual colleagues, the stiff, unconvincing, and extremely repetitive enemies are supposed to represent the...oh wait, the game's just shit. My mistake. moving right along.

After hearing the endless multitudes of game reviewers and cavalcade of people with low standards claiming that Bioshock’s story was the most awesome thing since Big met Bang, I picked it up at a bargain price and played through it. Now, the geek code forbids me from saying any spoilers here, even though this story hardly deserves to be preserved for the lucky ignorant. Suffice to say, the game comes up with the most ass-derived idiotic twist imaginable to justify its painfully linear progression, before trying to convince the player how stupid they are for falling for it. It was kind of like George Lucas showing up at the end of the Star Wars prequel trilogy and going “Hoho, for you see, I made Jar Jar Binks specifically so you would hate him and embrace your anger, going down the path to the dark side alongside Anakin Skywalker! Now don’t you morons think I’m just the smartest fucking man alive?” When writers try to justify their own hack-itude with claims on the audience’s stupidity like this, rewarding them by slapping on game-of-the-year awards isn’t painting much of a future for the games industry, guys.

Anyway, after a first playthrough in which I kind of enjoyed the game but was indifferent to the story, and a second playthrough in which a good think about the idiocies of the game’s plot made my blood boil over like racial tension on Paul McCartney’s piano, I left the damn thing alone for good; only to be tormented by the still on-going singing of the game’s undeserving praises.

Real Life Counterpart:
That girl who initially seems intelligent, arty and interesting, but proves to be a shallow manipulative bitch with a god complex. After the inevitable breakup, you slowly driven insane by an endless stream of pretentious morons chastising you for not appreciating what you had, and refusing to believe that what you had was a girlfriend who repeatedly kicked you in the nuts so as to make an ironic artsy statement about the downfall of modern masculinity.

Tropico 3
I lent it to a friend and he won’t give it back.

Real-Life Counterpart:
“Hey, just because we got an open relationship, doesn’t mean you can move in with my best friend just because of his superior gaming rig and ability to punch me into paste. You’re so shallow. God!”

Fire Emblem

For me, the Fire Emblem series has a lot of things going for it. A turn-based strategy game with RPG character progression has pretty much been my dream-genre ever since I played Shining Force on a friend’s rapidly disintegrating Sega Genesis. Unfortunately, whenever I try to get back into Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, my favourite in the series, I’m mercilessly slapped down by the game’s brilliantly sadistic methods of getting me to bust out the crying snacks.

You see, the series seems to pride itself on the fact that if one of your (fairly few) characters dies in battle, that character can never be used again. This mechanic has some upsides, since it encourages players to use defensive strategies such as forcing enemies to only attack tougher units, and gives every move an underlying sense of tension and dread. On the other hand, battles can take up to two hours to complete and have no check points. Also, units have a varying chance of scoring a critical hit which triples the amount of damage done, and considering most scuffles are live-or-die affairs as is, this is a death sentence for anyone not covered in at least three tanks.

Only he is safe.

That’s not really the problem though, difficulty I can deal with. It’s the way that the game sadistically dangles fantastic (and necessary) rewards in front of my nose while devising impossibly hazardous requirements to get them. For example, in an early mission you are given the option to recruit one of the strongest characters in the game. Problem is, he starts as an enemy unit, an enemy unit that makes a bee-line for only your weakest units, insta-killing them with a sword designed for the aforementioned critical hits. The only way to recruit him is to get one specific character, a completely defenseless cleric chick, to walk right up to him and talk to him. He subsequently FLIPS A FUCKING COIN to determine whether he joins you or slices the cleric up right there.
The fantastic strategic combat, creative animation and (surprisingly for a Japanese-translated game) great dialogue just can’t hope to detract from the fact that in the final minutes of a three hour battle, where through a glorious but painful push filled with countless close calls, I had decisively crushed the enemy’s defensive lines and prepared for victory, only to have a squad of Pegasus-knights with critical-hitting weapons unexpectedly swooping in from outside the map to brutally and permanently gut both my favourite wizard and those three hours of my life.
And I retry the goddamned mission anyway.

Real-Life Counterpart:
That gorgeous, brilliant dream-girl for whom you feel deep uncontrollable affection even though she takes every opportunity to think up and execute new abuses and tortures that scar you down to the deepest recesses of your soul; but you take it anyway. Also she has a bear trap attached to her vagina. True story.

Dragon Age: Origins

DA:O differs from the other games on this list in that it is in no way to blame for our strained relationship. In all honesty, this game has everything I’ve ever wanted in a game: Deep, complex characters, intense and dynamic tactical combat, in-depth character customisation and progression, the ability to play a character with a personality truly of your choosing, gorgeous locations and a fully realised world-mythology. The game is an absolute dream that I could easily lose myself in for endless hours.

That’s the problem.

After my soul-crushing over-playing of Fallout 3 led to my utter inability to grasp anything of my past affection for it, I have become terrified that should I play any more of Dragon Age (a game for which I have nothing but the fondest memories) the same thing will happen, forever killing the brightest spark in my otherwise cold and shrivelled heart.

Real-world Counterpart:

The perfect woman: gorgeous, intelligent, kind, strong-willed, available and actually interested in you, but who you’re terrified of getting close to because you just can’t bear to be hurt again.

Well, that’s by closet-shoebox-of-relationship-doom for you. I don’t know if my experiences truly relate to the standard human-on-human deals the rest of you seem so fond of, but if yours hurt anything as bad as mine, I’ll pass on the extra heartbreak that genuine human bonding might bring to the table. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m on my third try of the last mission on Fire Emblem and I’m almost sure the game won’t randomly spawn a legion of Elite Fo’kyu Knights to tear apart my irreplaceable back-lines this time.
Actually no. No I’m not.
And I love her for it.

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