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It's not strictly a 'game' thing, but fuck it. It's got guns, violence, dudes in power armour, and it had several videogame tie-ins on its release. It counts.
Anyways... certain schools of thought would have you believe that the original Robocop is a high point of social satire in film, and none of the sequels were fit to even oil it's titanium boots. Well, last night I watched the first two films back to back on Netflix, and you know what? While it doesn't quite match the wit or intelligence shown in Paul Verhoeven's original, Robocop 2 is still not only a worthy sequel, but a great piece of sci-fi cinema and a wonderfully dark piece of satire all of its own. It has flaws, and quite major ones at that, but it also has charm and smarts and a wicked sense of humour.
What makes Robocop 2 such an interesting sequel is just how subversive and meta it is. One of the overarching themes is the idea that Omnicorp are themselves trying to create 'Robocop 2', the next in their line of police-enforcement cyborgs. The fact that the film Robocop 2 is an occasionally jumbled and awkward piece meddled with by executives is somehow reflected in the film, the Robocop 2 OCP project being a bungled awkward mess meddled with by executives. Nowhere is this better shown than the scene where the Robocop 2 prototypes are revealed as part of a company demo, a scene which is possibly the best bit of physical slapstick in the entire franchise:
It's silly and unrealistic, but it's also black humour of the best kind, and Robocop 2 excels at providing comedy that is not only darkly hilarious, but that also fits within the themes of the franchise. The 'Robocop 2 demo' scene works not only because it revolves around cyber-policemen killing themselves, it also reinforced just what kind of character the original is. After watching the new products repeatedly commit suicide, Omnicorp's Doctor Faxx hypothesizes that the only reason Alex Murphy was able to become the original Robocop was because he was utterly driven by loyalty and honour, something that few other policemen can match. Any attempt to merely replicate him will result in dead cyberpolicemen going mad and shooting up more Omnicorp staff. As a throwback to the ED-209 boardroom scene from the original, it works, but it also has its own justification and logic. ED-209 shot up a board member because of a random glitch in its programming. The Robocop 2 prototypes shoot Omnicorp staff because they're literally driven mad by the process of being brought back from the dead and turned into machines. None of them have the same reason for existence as Robocop 1, which solidifies why his character is so unique.
In fact, if there's another thing that makes Robocop 2 the film so interesting, it's where it decides to go regarding Alex Murphy's character. Some fans of the original disliked the second for what they saw as the 'undoing' of Murphy's humanisation at the end of the first, but I would argue that this is an incomplete reading of both films. At the end of the first film, Murphy has certainly regained some of his humanity, but he is still unable to adequately remember his life before being a machine ("I can feel them... but I can't remember them"), and he is still unable to act against the Directive 4 protocol in his programming. It's only a quick staff firing by the CEO of Omnicorp that allows him to nail the bad guy, not his humanity. And right at the end, when asked his name, Robocop says "Murphy" only for the film to instantly plaster "ROBOCOP" in giant metal letters over the ending credits. It's an instant subversion by Verhoeven, making sure that the image of the character you leave with is the giant metal tin-man, not the honourable cop. Murphy hasn't regained his humanity at the end of Robocop 1, he's simply become less of a machine. And it's that idea what Robocop 2 has endless fun playing around with.
Partway through the film, Robocop is disassembled bythe villains piece-by-piece, and sent back to Omnicorp for reassembly. As part of Doctor Faxx's plans to replace Robocop 1 with Robocop 2 (can you say 'planned obsolecence'?) a focus group is brought in to rebrand Robocop and make him more approachable to the public, specifically children. One member of the group in particular dislikes the potential message children might get from seeing Robocop use violence as the solution to all problems, and he is reprogrammed to obey hundreds of family friendly directives, instead of the usual four. What makes this genius level satire is that the film is predicting the franchise's own fate: following Robocop 2, subsequent films and television series retooled the character as a child-friendly saturday morning mascot perfect for lunchboxes. The film predicts the ultimate fate of its own character, and shows how utterly useless it is to try and retool Robocop as a kiddy mascot. While his partner Lewis goes round treating violent crimes with the necessary force required, Robocop is reduced to reading citizen's rights to dead crooks and giving children bastardized self-help proverbs. As with the 'Robocop 2' scene, not only does it have something interesting to say about the character, it's also just incredibly funny. Robocop makes for an entertaining comedic straight man, and the sight of him out of his depth in even the most mundane crime scenes results in some genuine laugh-out-loud writing. For fans who are enamoured with the idea of Robocop as a stoic badass, perhaps that's too much to stomach, but as someone who thinks the franchise works best when it's mixing violence with comedy, I genuinely loved what these scenes added to the film.
Following on from the above, the film's treatment of children is perhaps its best satirical element, and where it gets most subversive. The film was actually decried by critics for the manner in which it showed children behaving, but it all fits naturally with the ideas the film is trying to tell us. It's typical for Hollywood films to portray children as 'little darlings' (also known as the 'Spielberg child character' effect), and even to start trying to court children as potential viewers. While the later franchise entries would certainly do so, Robocop 2 makes it quite clear that it doesn't give a shit about kids, and holds them just as accountable for the shitty state of things in-universe as adults. Partway through the film, we're shown an act of robbery in progress. The shop owner is lying on the flor, his head bashed in with a baseball bat. Yet the perpetrators aren't hardened criminals, but a foul-mouthed group of baseball kids, led by their instructor. When Robocop turns up to apprehend them, as soon as they learn he's been de-fanged, they hurl abuse at him before legging it. Another group of kids swear at and insult him, while drawing graffiti on his back.
Hell, one of the main villains is a kid named Hob, a kid whose voice hasn't even broken, yet who deals out drugs, guns and cusswords like they're poker chips. Hob for me is one of the most interesting characters in the entire franchise. We're quickly led to believe that if he were an adult, this is a character we wouldn't give the slightest fucks for, yet because he's a kid, he naturally has some of our sympathy. And the film brilliantly plays on this. Towards the end of the film, Hob is gunned down by OCP's new cyborg operative, and there's a touching scene which is probably the most grounded dramatic moment in the entire story. If Robocop 1 had the scene where Murphy tries to remember his past life and fails, Robocop 2 has the scene where Hob realises he's going to die, and Robocop consoles him as best as he can. It's wonderfully unsentimental, yet still touchingly done. Hob realises that he's about to die, and looks to Robocop for some sort of support, knowing that he has already died himself. His last words are "That sucks!" and then he's gone, another dead crook in a warehouse of dead crooks.
Very few films would have the balls to make a drug,dealing, arms-selling villain a kid. Even fewer would then have the balls to kill that villain off with very little in the way of redemption or salvation. Robocop 2 does both those things, and somehow manages to do so without being needlessly tasteless or crass about it.
Where else does the film succeed? Well, it's still violent and gory as hell. If anything, it may be even more violent and gory than the original. There's a wacky and funny scene where the main villain is getting his brain removed to be stuffed into the latest Omnicorp robot, and we see it being stored in a jar, along with his vertebrae and for-reason-unexplained both eyeballs still attached to their stems, looking dolefully out into the science lab. It makes no sense, and yet in the Robocop universe, it makes perfect sense. Heads get filled with bullets, faces smashed against furniture, chests cut open by leering bad guys. In the UK, Robocop 2 went all the way to an 18 rating, where the original was only a 15.
On another story note, there's also something wonderfully prescient about the idea of Detroit city declaring bankruptcy, and being bought out by private investors. If that idea seemed crazy in the early 90s, recent events have shown that the idea of an entire city becoming bankrupt is less outlandish than it might seem. If good sci-fi is judged on how well it predicts which direction events will go, Robocop 2 is scary in how it predicted Detroit being forced to its knees by private investors. It's presented as comic book villainy, sure, bur Robocop has always been at its best using larger-than-life archetypes to make social satire, and the Omnicorp storyline in this film does just that.
And if nothing else, the film also has some incredibly well done setpieces. The film really manages to sell the idea of Robocop being this hulking metal giant who never moves above walking pace, yet take down crooks with lethal efficiency. One shoot-out has him pulling off trick-shots like it's a Clint Eastwood western, and he is all the more awesome for it. There's another scene with Cain escaping Robocop in an armored truck, which is full of the sort of practical stuntwork that makes your buttocks clench. The final showdown with Robocain is among the best go-motion puppetry that Phil Tippett ever produced, and if it doesn't quite hold up today, it still holds up better than the scene of ED-209 on the stairs in the original.
Seriously, look at that thing.
So where is it the film trips up? For me, two areas. Firstly, the soundtrack doesn't hold a candle to the original. Where the first film had strong themes and fanfares that drove home the action, the music in the second film is largely forgettable. Not outright bad, but nowhere near as memorable as a Robocop soundtrack should be. Secondly, the film picks up and then drops a subplot regarding Murphy's family. At the start of the film, we see Murphy outside the house of his old wife. We then learn that this has been a recurring problem, and it's driving Mrs Murphy to some level of despair. There's a touching scene where Omnicorp arrange a meeting between Murphy and his wife, another where he watches her from afar as she gets into a car... and then that's it. She's never heard from again, nor does Murphy ever reference it. If this is a problem for the film, it's only because what little subplot is there is actually pretty dang good, and it deserved to be brought to some kind of resolution. Seeing Murphy tell his wife with a stone face that her husband is dead and he's nothing more than a machine in his image is pretty harrowing stuff, and it's a shame the film never brings any kind of resolution to that arc. Nor does it do much with the character of Lewis, who in this film is reduced to being the second part of the comedy duo between her and Robocop.
But none of those flaws are dealbreakers, and none of them undermine the overall successes that the film brings. It may not be the pitch-perfect masterpiece the original was, but Robocop 2 is still a pitch-black piece of satire. Watch it back to back with the original, and it's clear what a great follow up and companion piece it makes, the two of them acting as a wonderful Opener and Closer on the story of the steel-clad law enforcer. It doesn't make up for what happened to the franchise later, but then it shouldn't have to. Robocop 2 predicted where the franchise would later head, and boldly stuck two titanium middle fingers up to anyone who thought it should be a family friendly affair. It brought it's own sense of black comedy, it's own criticisms of corporate culture, modern society and pop entertainment, and it's own brand of over-the-top violence. If it doesn't quite live up to the original, it still doesn't deserve to be grouped with the rest of the dross that came afterwards.
A title like that is of course a fighting statement, so I'd best get me some good fighting music going in the background...
It's weird though. I know that Smash has got a big following in the fighting game community (if somewhat fractured), and I understand the appeal of watching a tournament of high level players beat the snot out of each other. When Mega Man showed off his moves at the E3 tourney, I enjoyed as much as anyone the "SUPER FIGHTING ROBOT! FIGHTING TO SAVE THE WORLD!" stuff as much as anyone. I may have even quoted it once or twice in Dtoid comments.
Seriously though, that was awesome...
But what I don't understand is this weird obsession that exists among a certain section of the Smashbase, an obsession with this idea of Smash as an uber-competitive thing with meta-game to rival Street Fighter. It's the same mindset which holds that Melee is some pinnacle in the fighting game genre, and everything since then has been a pile of hot crap. The mindset which places a huge amount of emphasis on metagame exploits and glitches and Devil May Cry 4-tier comboing, and no emphasis at all on just dicking about. The reason I don't understand it, I guess, is because of how I view the Smash series. I've been playing since the N64 days, and I've never ever considered Smash a 'real' fighting game. It has fighting game elements, sure, but that doesn't make it a proper fighting game, in the same way Mario Kart having customisable cars doesn't make it a driving sim. For me, Smash has always been another one of Nintendo's local multiplayer party games. It's something to crack out when you've got some friends over, have a few tins of lager on the go, and want a game that's as rioutously funny as it is fun to play. It's something you play at weekend meet-ups, or birthdays, or house-warmings, or New Years. You load it up, pick a character, then beat the snot out of your mates using hammers, laser guns and Poke balls.
The first time I played Smash 64, I was still in primary school, and I played it round a friend's house on his N64. He used to trounce me as Mario, until I started learning how to spam Pikachu's Thunderbolt attack, and lob Pokeballs at him any chance I got. Melee, I used to play as Link just because I enjoyed the sword animations, character rankings be damned. Whenever I played a Smash game, it was never about trying to pull off high-level super moves, and more just lobbing anything I could at other players to try and win a round. Magic wand? Super. Laser cannon? Even better.
The idea of 'competitive' Smash is as strange to me as the idea of competitive Mario Party, or competitive Nintendo Land. I mean, I get the innate appeal of seeing high level players play competitive multiplayer against each other, but where I get lost is this idea that the quality of Smash Bros lives or dies based on how it's recieved by the fighting game community. You wouldn't ask the Gran Turismo/Forza community for their collective opinion on Mario Kart. You wouldn't ask high level FIFA or Tiger Woods PGA players for their collective opinion on Wii Sports. And I don't get why Smash has to have so much of its own identity tied to a genre which it only shares superficial-at-best elements with.
I mean, this isn't some mid-series direction change or betrayal or anything. Sakurai has always been adamant that Smash is a party-game franchise, not a competitive high-level fighter. It was one of Nintendo's first forays into making a three-dimensional multiplayer game that four players could load up and goof off in together (alongside Mario 64 and the original Mario Party). And it's a damn good party game, one of the very best in my opinion, but why is it that we can't allow it to be just that? Why do gamers, any time Sakurai makes a tacit nod towards the franchise's party-based roots, scream bloody murder and lament the game isn't more like Melee?
"Titus, are you talking about tripping?"
Alright, let me just clear this up: while I'm not particularly sad to see tripping go in SSB4, I will defend it as an absolutely hilarious dynamic to the party-based gameplay of the series. Tripping is an absolutely douchey mechanic to include in a game, something made just to wind players up, but it is also funny as hell. Genuinely. If you're playing in a living room with a bunch of other guys and gals, and you see someone talking smack only for their character to then trip and fall flat... it's pure comedy. It's the Smash version of the Blue Shell, a cruel mechanic that exists only to bring low cocky players and allow everyone else to have a laugh at their expense. And in a party game, that's exactly what you want. Yes, when it happens to you, it's a shameful and infuriating experience. But when you see it happen to someone else, you get to laugh at the inherent tragedy of their situation, and drink their salty tears and cried of frustration for your own amusement. Same with the wonderful amount of items and assist trophies you get, gameplay additions that can be the embodiment of 'dick-move' in a game, yet provide the people playing it with some wonderful entertainment. If it means one player has to sit in a huff for a few moments because the game screwed them over, well, the law of averages means they'll probably be the one laughing next time it strikes.
I guess this is what lies at the core of why I don't really get the competitive thing. It's like taking something that was designed as a children's playground, then demanding it be an army-tier obstacle course. I get that Melee, as much through chance and exploits as by design, ended up being this wonderful game for people to play at fighting tourneys. But I don't see why that one game has become a cross for the entire franchise to bear. I want Sakurai to keep focusing on making each new Smash game as unique, fun and downright entertaining as possible. I don't give a damn about on-hit-cancelling or wavedashing, and I don't see why these are the things that the series is now judged on. Just because a game or series has the potential to be played to a highly competitive level, that doesn't mean it should be judged only by its competitve level. To me, it just seems to make more sense to let fighting games be fighting games, and party games be party games. Yes, if someone wants to throw a Smash tourney, that can be entertaining to watch, but that shouldn't be the one thing on which the worth of the series is judged. Not when, judging by the insane number of mini-games and diversions added in by Sakurai this time around, his interest and intent still lies in the chaotic, lawless, entertaining gameplay that can be created by a local multiplayer game played by friends with booze and party food to hand.
Party games thrive on chaos. They are made so much more entertaining when there are elements beyond the players' control, elements which serve to make things more comedic and funny for observers and other players, even if it comes at the momentary expense of a player. Conversely, fighting game fans seem to crave control. They want to be able to extablish mastery over every single part of a game's constituent parts, to have all the components clearly understood and organised by type. The reason, I think, why Smash has the relationship it does with so many fighting game fans is precisely because Sakurai has always designed certain elements to be beyond the players' control, to act as deus ex machini in game mechanic form. They act as the element of unpredictability that is necessary to giving a party game its innate appeal and longevity. They're there to make sure that no matter how good you get, you'll never quite have a guaranteed win against three less experienced players.
I mean, look at this...
...If you were sat next to the dude playing as Sonic, and saw him make such a stunning pratfall, you'd be pissing yourself laughing. Maybe he'd be forced to take a shot for the game's blunder. Maybe he'd have to go refill the crisps bowl. Maybe he'd even have to take control of the next booze run. Either way, seeing that sort of cock-up in a local multiplayer environment would be enough to have most people in stitches. Is it wrong if that's all a series was intended for?
I like Melee well enough, but I don't play Smash for the Street Fighter level meta-game, and nor do most other gamers. As wonderful as it is to be able to play the series at tournaments, I really don't think it's anything that should have any real effect on the direction or gameplay of the series. I want Sakurai to keep taking the franchise in new, interesting and hilarious directions, not trying to iterate or clone a game he already made thirteen years ago.
Because if there's one thing all Smash players can agree on, competitive and casual alike, it's that we need less clones in the world.
So, have you heard that new song Paul McCartney recorded for Destiny? It's a bit crap. Vacuous lyrics about nothing in particular, dull arrangement, and for some reason every instrument is drenched in enough reverb to make even My Bloody Valentine jealous. Still, at the very least being part of the soundtrack to 2014's Big AAA Gaming Event will give Macca a boost of relevance he's not seen since the early days of Wings, and a shot at actually selling records to young kids again for the first time in forever. It's certainly a step up from his previous attempt at being on the cultural pulse, flogging a collection of po-faced jingles through Starbucks.
Pop song tie-ins are a funny phenomenon. A good pop song used well can elevate a scene with its placement. Stuck In The Middle With You. Where Is My Mind. The End. If you're even moderately aware of film, hearing those songs mentioned will likely bring up some iconic cinema moments. Gaming is a little trickier. Since ascending to the upper echelons of contemporary pop culture, we've seen publishers take a much more conservative stance. Classic pop songs tend to just be used for trailers (see Black Ops' use of Gimme Shelter), and any pop song featured in a game tends to be something contemporary that record companies are looking to promote. When FF XIII was released, for instance, Square decided that the game itself wasn't enough of a punishment for long-time franchise fans, and gave us an equally tedious Leona Lewis tie-in single to promote the game/punish our ears with. Mirror's Edge made heavy use of Still Alive, a pop song by Lisa Miskovsky, whose accompanying video was essentially a demo reel for the game's art and graphics department. EA tends to use its various racing franchises and sports games as an advertising billboard for whatever artists major labels are looking to flog currently, complete with pop up label notes. Every now and then you'll get a game like Spec Ops, which used classic songs by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Mogwai in-game to help set mood, but those games tend to be fewer and further between. Licensing music can be expensive, and most publishers would rather use licensing as part of some form of promotion or advertising, rather than just for a game's own improvement.
It's a shame. Because every now and then, you'll find a game and a song that feel like they just belong perfectly together. Paul McCartney's guff may seem awkwardly shoehorned in over the Destiny credits, but a Daft Punk B-side from the Tron Legacy soundtrack? Or a new Glitch Mob single with spacey synths and punding drums? That could have been awesome. Well, in the name of imagination, here are some other examples of music and game that really should have got married somewhere along the line, and never did.
Bayonetta & David Bowie
Just to be clear, Bayonetta already has a phenomenal soundtrack. Platinum generally don't fuck around when it comes to getting good music to go with their games, whether it be the Nu-Metal guilty pleasure of MGR's soundtrack or the bombastic fanfare of Wonderful 101, and Bayo is no different. But if the game soundtrack was missing one teensy little thing, it was a bit of the Bowie. Think about it: Bayonetta is an extremely self-assured, sexually adventurous, extroverted Umbran Witch who enjoys nothing more than putting on a spectacular show for everyone. David Bowie is an extremely self-assured, sexually adventurous, extroverted musician from Brixton who enjoys nothing more than putting on a spectacular show for everyone. The two were made for each other. And just to seal the deal: Bayonetta prances around the game with the grace and athleticism of a prize dancer. No, seriously. A lot of her moves were actually based on dance moves. And we all know what Bowie thinks of dancing:
Magic Dance is a song about how dancing is quite literally magical. Bayonetta is a magical Witch who dances. The two go together like Red Bull and Jagermeister. Plus, the full song has a bitching guitar solo, and the ever-present associated image of Bowie's Labyrinth-era bulge, a picture that fits right in with Bayonetta's aggressive, in-your-face approach to sexuality. Next time you play Bayo, turn down the volume and stick this song over your speakers. Heck, put on the video in a Yotube tab or something. The combined crotch-in-face imagery of Bowie and Bayonetta will make your eyes water. Or should that be Bowienetta?
The Last of Us & REM
The Last Of Us is a dour, serious game about big, meaty themes. It is Scrunched Furrows: The Game. REM were a chirpy band who made upbeat college radio hits with strummy guitar parts and singalong choruses. You might think the two couldn't be more different. But that's the key. Not only does It's The End Of The World cover apocalyptic themes, it does so in a way which would provide TLOU with artistic cred that no-one could deny: dissonance. Think how many famous films have contrasted chirpy or major-key music with scenes of quite horrible violence or sadness: Resevoir Dogs, Wall-E, Dr Strangelove... if you want to be recognised as a Big Artistic Deal, soundtrack dissonance is almost a requirement. TLOU may have won 200 GOTY awards. Think how many it would have won if it had REM playing over the sight of Joel cracking skulls in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
All of them. It would have won all the GOTY awards. Including the one Gamespot gave to A Link Between Worlds. Speaking of Zelda...
Skyward Sword & Tom Petty
There's no thematic subtext or anything fancy here. Skyward Sword is a game where you go skydiving in order to find your bird. Free Falling is a song where the main chorus hook is "I'M FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!/FREEE FAAAAALLLIIIIING!" Nintendo wouldn't even need to include the whole song, just that chorus anytime you jumped off Skyloft would have been fine.
...heck, Link could even pass as an anime fantasy version of a young Tom Petty.
Wolfenstein & Tool
A more obvious reader would perhaps have thought of Rammstein as the go-to music for Wolfenstein's Nazi killing madness. For me, Die Eier Von Satan is a far better match. It's a thumping piece of industrial clatter so full of gristle you could choke a donkey on it. It's fstuffed with ominous German that sounds sinister as hell, complete with crowd chants and rally cheers. It's even got Satan in the title. If early-90s iD was a band rather than a game developer, this is the sort of music they'd be making.
And as any Tool fan knows, in a wonderfully meta-twist, Die Eier Von Satan is actually a rather comical song. The German heard in the song is singer Maynard reciting a recipe for cookies from a German cook book. The industrial sounds and rallies chanting are simply put in there to make aural allusions to Nazism that don't exist, and the Satan in the title is just there to make things sound more evil. It's a wonderful example of a band encouraging listeners to hear things in a song that aren't there. In practise, the song is about as pro-Nazi as Eisenhower. Which makes it a perfect fit with Wolfenstein, a game that has had no small amount of controversy regarding violence, but which at the end of the day has said nothing more confrontational than Nazis are evil, dabbling in the occult is dangerous, and robot Hitler should be destroyed. A message I think any right-minded person can get behind.
Especially this guy...
Super Mario & Queen
...wait, someone already did it? Dash nab it! Ah well, nothing better than confirmation of how well the creative genius of EAD Tokyo and the mercurial sound of Freddie & Co go together. Enjoy!
The Wonderful 101 & The Beatles
Because dramatic irony is a wonderful thing. I Want To Hold Your Hand is a song by the Beatles where Lennon and Macca sing about how much they want to hold your hand. That's pretty much the lyrical entirety of the song, in fact. Whereas The Wonderful 101 is a game which makes clear from the outset that it does not want to hold your hand. At all. Not even a little bit. Not even a pinkie. Tutorials are for the weak, and essential abilities like Dodge should be bought from the shop. If you want hand-holding in your hackey-slash games, go play DmC, or God Of War, or something. Kamiya cares not for your feeble cries for tutorials, the Wonderful 101 is a game for only the hardest of the hardcore!
Of course, W101 is such an insane game that you could equally choose Happy Mondays to play over it, and it would still be just as fitting.
"Twenty four hour party people!"
So there you go. A bunch of games with pop songs that would fit like a velvet glove. If that's not enough to cleanse your mind of Paul McCartney's earnest gurning in Destiny... well, I've heard good things about prozac recently. Go try it out. Or just listen to some prime Marty O'Donnell, and just be glad that Mick Jagger never got to foist a comback single into any of the Halo games.
See, with all these blogs going up about the community's various favourite games, I thought I'd try something a little different. A piece on my most unfavourite game of all time. Morrowind. The high point of the Elder Scrolls franchise. The great white hope of western RPGs. The fantasy sandbox by which all others are measured and found wanting.
Now just to be clear, an unfavourite game isn't a game I think is the worst ever, or that I think should be held to some objective standard of general shittyness. I think Oblivion is a far worse game than Morrowind, for one thing, and there are games more broken and buggy than either games out there to be experienced. A game like Bubsy or Superman 64 can be unredeemingly awful, yet take up the same amount of space in my brain as Latin, or Gamelan music, or Thatcher/Reagan slashfic. Morrowind, however, sits on the shag carpeting of my mind like a craggy turd, its mere presence leaving a smell it's impossible to shake off. It's a game that I have tried to get into no less than five times. I have bought it twice, installed every mod known to man, and spent countless hours trying to pierce its chitin shell to find the sweet meat underneath. I have wanted nothing more than to love Morrowind, and on some level I still do. There's something about the idea of Morrowind which is amazing, something I really want to get into and lose myself in... but everytime I've tried, I've found myself utterly underwhelmed by the entirety of the experience. Each time I've tried to get into it, I haven't managed to get more than a few hours into the story, yet collectively I've probably spent a dozen hours or more in the game. I've spent less time in Arkham City and Metal Gear Rising, games I enjoy munreservedly, than I have wandering the swamps of Vvarvendell, waiting for the next crab or rat to get the jump on me.
What is it I don't like about the game? In a word: everything. As soon as I fire the game up, every facet of the game's structure sets my teeth grinding, wishing it could be less arduous. The game presents you with a huge open world to explore, but your character walks with all the speed of a tectonic plate. You can sprint, but your stamina bar is so low that anything more than ten seconds spent running will bring your character back to a crawl. And if you get attacked by antyhing, then the best of luck to you, as you've rendered yourself too knackered to properly put up a defence. The game promises you a giant setting to explore, then makes the very act of exploring as tedious as it possibly can. You can fast travel, sure... but fast travelling around the map requires money, and that's the one thing you don't have when you're first starting out. For the first section of the game at least, you're faced with either going penniless, or slow marching it from town to town, city to city, sort of like one of the Canterbury pilgrims, but with an infinitely more boring story to tell:
" A tale of woe I shallen tell thee/Of a prisoner's endless misery/That whilom was kicked from humble boat/And cast asunder, with nary a groat/Nor raiment, food nor arms to bear/No horse to ryde, no humble mare/Left to walk the lonely road/Attacked by rats and crabbes and toads/Till pon a chance he saw the lights/Of a friendly city in the night/He marched his feet with greaten haste/And was struck down by one of the cliff race"
If the combat was great, then that perhaps could make up for the general tedium of exploration, but it's not. The combat in Morrowind is legendarily broken, which is what makes the experience even more frustrating. You slog from Point A to Point B, hoping for something to add a little spce to proceedings, then when a monster jumps you, you're left to realise that even the spice in this game is a bit bland. Everything is done on dice rollls, yet you're left to swing and flail like you're doing the Time Warp at a LARP convention. I like combat in RPGs/ I like fighting monsters, and getting stronger by defeating them. I like swinging swords and casting fire spells. But somehow, Morrowind takes the basic primal appeal of swinging a sword at a giant troll, and makes it a game of chance where all the numbers are rigged against you. Combat in Morrowind isn't something to be experienced, it's something to be suffered for wrongdoings in your past lives. It's penance for a life lived in sin. It's nothing but punishment, with not even funny animations to give it some kind of humour or levity.
And this is the thing: if the story was better, I could endure dodgy gameplay. I've played through JRPGs that had less-than-stellar gameplay to experience a ripping yarn, and can overlook mechanical defects if the themes and drama make up for it. But Morrowind doesn't do that. It does the one thing I absolutely hate in fantasy and sci-fi games: throw a load of lore at you, and expect that to do most of the story. Now, I hate lore. I hate it when a game throws encyclopedias of made-up nonsense to wade through, and calls that a valid trade-off for some good characterisation or emotional writing. I like my fantasy fiction to have the basics of narrative down, like characters and arcs and ideas bubbling away under the surface. Making up a load of backstory, then dumping it into the game to be waded through like fish guts on the deck of a trawler, has no appeal to me. But that's where the meat of Morrowind's story lies: going through endless bloody books, flicking through scrolls, scanning journals for anything interesting or entertaining. I like fantasy settings that are well realised, don't get me wrong, but I also like some immediacy to proceedings. I don't have an endless amount of spare time, and if a game is going to demand so much of my attention, I want something other than backstory and lore to work with. Give me a great story, or great gameplay, but give me something to get some immediate feedback from.
On every level that matters, Morrowind goes against everything I enjoy in games, be it its approach to narrative, or the broken fundamentals of its gameplay... and yet, for some utterly inexplicable reason, I still want to like it. Love it, even. There's something about the idea of Morowind which I want to be in love with, something about the idea of getting lost in a world of giant mushrooms and weird insects that fundamentally speaks to me. This says just how much I want to like it: I bought the game as a teenager on a Sold Out software disc, then when that disc disappeared, I bought the GOTY version, even though I already knew I didn't like the game. Maybe it was the idea that the expansions could fix some of my problems with the game, maybe it was just the basic idea of wandering alone in a fantasy world, but I bought the game again, installed it again, fired it up again, and within three hours was utterly confused as to why I had done it. Even now, writing about Morrowind, I can feel the urge to fire it up once more, install some graphics mods, and go exploring. And I know what would happen if I did: I'd start a new game, marvel at how nice the new texture mods and graphics tweaks look, and get bored of the game before the evening was done.
No other game has this effect on me. There have been games I've hated, and never played more than once, and there have been games I've loved that have taken up hours upon hours of my free time, but never has a game had quite the same love/hate relationship with me. It's like meeting a woman, and falling in love with the idea of her, rather than the reality. I know that Morrowind is a broken, buggy mess that has nothing of what I look for in games, but I just can't quite quit it. It's stuck in my conscious like a splinter, irritating and impossible to remove. I have many games that I would consider as my favourites, but no games has ever had the singular success of so resolutely being my unfavourite: a game I want to love, but which I cannot find a single thing to love. Other people love Morrowind more than words, and that's absolutely fine. I would never begrudge anyone the hours of enjoyment they've got from exploring Vvarvendell and all its mysteries. On a subconscious level, I may even be slightly jealous. The sort of joy those gamers have got from the game is exactly what I want for myself. It's why I refuse to get rid of my discs, why I eye the game up everytime it goes on a Steam sale. Morrowind is the bad first sniff of cocaine that still leaves me itching for more. It's that bad LSD trip which leaves my brain on the floor, yet still has me wanting to return to the psychedelic realm. It's a tick that sticks my psyche with its mandibles, grabs on, and is then impossible to shake loose.
Fuck it, I've still for the disc in my drawer. What harm could one more reinstall do...