Itís been a long time since I have been truly hyped for anything game related. Iíve enjoyed a lot of games lately, but none have had me counting down the days on a calendar to a much anticipated release date. Sure, there are a tonne of games Iíve enjoyed, and even ones Iíve bought on release day, but none that have raised the same levels of anticipation that the games of yesteryear have managed.
The last game I was truly hyped for was Doom3 for the original Xbox. Having only recently delved fully into first-person shooters, Doom3 was to be a change of pace from Halo and its sequel. Halo 2 had me hunting down a copy on the day of launch, eventually securing one from Sainsburyís (a UK supermarket chain) at a reduced cost from the specialist stores. ďHaĒ I had thought, ďNot only have I managed to get my hands on the best video game yet, but I bought it cheaper than most peopleĒ. I was more naÔve at the time. At only fifteen years old, my gaming life focused solely on one console at a time, and I was lucky if I could afford more than one game every two months. Purchases counted for more, as I was going to have to spend many hours on this game, and if it wasnít the best one out at the time (or at least the second best if I already owned the best) then what was the point? Things seemed much simpler back then. I took what the gaming magazines said to heart. If they thought a game wasnít worthy of a 90% or over rating, then it wasnít good enough for my hard saved cash from my Saturday job. As youíd expect, being under exposed to what I would later learn of many PC and Sony exclusives, such games as Halo 2 were simply amazing. Each few months, something would come out that was just a little bit prettier, and that was enough for me. I had to own it. Magazine articles on upcoming games built up a little flutter in my chest as I eagerly read about a strange FPS/RPG hybrid called Deus Ex: Invisible War (which got a perfect 10 from my preferred publication) and the sequel to my favourite Dreamcast game ever; Soul Calibur II.
The last gaming purchase I ever ran home with.
But Doom 3 was the last one to garner as much of my attention. I rushed to Gamestation and pre-ordered the limited edition steel case version, securing a small piece of gaming history for myself. Finally, that dark and scary game Iíd watched my friend play on his PC a year ago was coming home, and I was going to savour every damn minute of it. It was around a month to go until it arrived. Iíd put two crisp £20 notes in a jar on my windowsill, ready for the big day. April 8th, 2005. I spent much of that month replaying Jet Set Radio Future, the game that had made me so excited to buy an Xbox in the first place. I dipped back into Halo: Combat Evolved after watching videos of people dropping dozens of grenades under the warthog jeep and sending them skywards. Such sights were truly epic in my younger eyes, and the incoming horrors of iDís port were sure to hold equal, if not better delights.
The day came. I walked briskly to the store after school, did the usual song and dance of finding a willing adult to buy it on my behalf, and rushed to the bus, eager to get my obligatory two hours of study out the way and fire up this monstrosity.
It was amazing. Aside from Splinter Cell, no games I had played had used darkness as effectively at that time, and as I cautiously moved through the sprawling corridors of the UNSC base, Iím fairly sure my face was a mixture of pure delight and ďOh no! Iím far too old to piss myself in terror!Ē. I loved that game, and had no regrets about my purchase. I finished it twice before I picked up a magazine and started browsing for what I ought to pick up next. By this time, Deus Ex: Invisible War had received a price cut, so that was my favourite candidate.
But whilst Deus Ex: Invisible War certainly didnít disappoint me, and put me off the medium, I found that my metaphorical calendar was no longer covered in little red Xís which led anywhere game related. This was about the time that the Xbox 360 and the Wii were starting to emerge, and screenshots of Perfect Dark Zero and Twilight Princess sure looked good, but failed to excite anything like what Master Chief and the Mars demons had.
Have games changed? Considering Call of Duty has an annual queuing party at every game store I come across on late nights coming home from work, I'm tempted to think they haven't. Kids today still get excited about Halo: Reach and must already be writing Christmas lists with just ďHalo 4 plzĒ in big letters with a smiley face and an offer to wash one thousand cars if it sweetens the deal. Games still have the power to bring excitement and anticipation, just like they always did.
Perhaps itís the journalistic aspect of the industry. Now we have an uncountable number of sources of information and opinion about upcoming releases. On one side, you have the big names like IGN which report every aspect of news that comes their way. Peter Molyneux has a haircut, David cage said something stupid, Activision hates you and wants your money. Meanwhile, bloggers and other gaming personalities weigh in on topics and paint whole new canvasses portraying aspects of the gaming world we as consumers and gamers wouldnít have worried about before. When I think of gaming now, do I think of my excitement for Assassinís Creed III, Borderlands 2 and Dishonoured? Or do I instead worry about whether the Vita is going to be competitive enough against the 3DS, whether smartphones are going to see off portable gaming as we know it, and whether Microsoft and Sony are going to kill off Nintendo and our wallets in one fell swoop of over-competitiveness and dirty tricks (On-disc DLC and anti-used methods being examples) Weíre now bombarded with so much information, its hard to stay focused on games themselves. Every upcoming game release is hindered by news that some bastard in the company said something evil, making my metaphorical gaming wood disappear.
I donít mean to suggest that we should have less gaming news outlets, less attention to detail from them, or that we should stick our fingers in our ears and ignore it. Gaming today has a lot more issues than it did before, and as devoted hobbyists, we probably ought to know what weíre in for. All Iím saying is that perhaps such an influx of information kills a lot of the magic of a date circled on a calendar, and I miss eagerly turning the pages of a single magazine, becoming increasingly hyped for some game or another.
In todayís modern internet based gaming journalism, news seems to come at you more like this.
But perhaps the biggest reason Iím not skipping around in circles waiting for Grand Theft Auto V is me. Iíve changed. My world has got a lot bigger and more complex as time has gone on. Yes, games remain an integral part of my personal time, and has influences and benefits to my social and family life, just like it did for the socially awkward fifteen year old me with bad hair who loved to go round friends houses and slaughter them in one-on-one Halo matches. Games are still, and for the far foreseeable future, will remain as my primary entertainment form. But now Iím twenty-three; still young I know. I may not have kids and mortgages to worry about just yet, but the world is a bigger, scarier place. Instead of counting down the days to a video game, I find myself worried about my lack of financial safety nets, the shaky future of my career in the public sector, but looking forward to weekends off with friends, day trips in my car, which itself has opened all kinds of doors. Casual drinking, music, further education and a wealth of other activities are now viable options for my weekend or my year. Games will always be a part of that, but now, I take them as they come.
Maybe its that each purchase is no longer an agonising decision which will affect me for weeks to come. Much higher levels of disposable income mean game or console purchases are no longer something to dwell on too long. If I donít like a game I buy, I buy something else. If I really like something, I finish it and move on to something else. Iím no longer stuck with one game for extended periods of time, for better or worse, and perhaps that takes that preciousness away from each individual experience.
My heart doesnít give an extra beat of excitement until Iím putting the disc in the tray. Dead Space 2 was one rare exception, with its advertisement with ďBullet with Butterfly WingsĒ playing over some scenes of pure epic-osity (I always loved that song, and the idea of jetpacks in my legs). Aside from this, games just donít have the same pull on my upper spinal column they once did. But they didnít change, the industry did, and more importantly, I did. Yes, I miss the excitement, but hey, got stuff to do, so Iím going to go polish the car and cash my tax rebate, and then when I get back, maybe some Metro 2033 and an ice cream.