I've been a gamer since I was 5, and what started as a fun hobby has now become an interest as well. I frequently write game critiques (many of my reviews are available on Audioscribbler.co.uk) and I'm overjoyed to see my hobby finally becoming accepted by the masses and media.
I love action / adventure games, first person shooters, graphic adventures and arcade games, especially the more recent downloadable titles, which are now worth more attention than some of today's desperate-looking retail releases.
In my spare time I write horror stories and comedy editorials (for fun rather than profit...at the moment), though I hate writing bios, hence the rushed appearance of this one. I'll pad this out by saying that The Damned are the best band ever, peanut butter Kit Kat bars are delicious, and Deadly Premonition must be played by absolutely everyone. Peace out, y'all!
So, yes; by my own admission, I am something of a gibbering wreck. Be it insects, the dark, heights or commitment, my phobias are numerous and irrational. When I was five, I refused to sleep next to my radiator as it made odd creaking noises during the night. I once spent a night completely restless at the behest of a large June bug which had nested behind the television. I eventually killed it with a can of raid and a large stick. I was twenty six years old.
Yet it’s by virtue of being such a juddering pussy that I so adore the horror genre; it’s the one time the mood is enhanced – rather than betrayed by – my nervous disposition. It’s an opportunity to enjoy, if not embrace, my penchant for fear. And ever since cutting my nine-year-old teeth on the original Resident Evil ( a covert, ‘don’t-tell-your-parents’ gift from my uncle ), my love for horror gaming has been huge. I’ve dismembered Necromorphs, outrun Pyramid Head through rustic hallways, and slunk through Amnesia with the lights off, the headphones at max, and my buttocks clenched like a vice.
Often, though, it’s those games that weren’t meant to be scary that have provided the most chilling scenarios. I once bought Thief 3 on the basis of the Shalebridge Cradle stage (one of the most effective and unexpected horror twists in any game last generation), whilst Half Life 2’s Ravenholm piled on the dread in its closing sections, utterly belying its somewhat cheesy opening act. Yet none of these instances can compare to that one small chunk of the comparatively gargantuan Tomb Raider. And no, I’m not talking about that bloody T-Rex.
Quit it with the stomping and the roaring, you bloody princess.
Of course, the concept of Tomb Raider was never all sunshine and rainbows; a shapely English woman, trapped in uncharted ruins, with only her own footsteps and the cold breath of death for company. Hell, the solitude alone, and the game’s ceaseless silence, is enough to send a chill down the spine of most rational people. But Tomb Raider’s ‘Sanctuary of the Scion’ stage holds a much crueller torment, one that stretches the limits of desperation far further than an errant health pack or the click of an empty gun.
It’s not as if the clues aren’t already there. When the entrance to the level proper is guarded by these suspiciously static cadavers, you know that the level designers had spent that day toking on torment and despair.
They’re going to move. They’re going to move. They’re going to move. They’re going to move. They’re going to move. They’re going to move. They’re going to move. They’re going to move.
Having despatched of the rotting mummies (they move, by the way), the level expands into this harrowing, darkness-soaked cavern that houses yet more conspicuous delights – the most glaring being this colossal sphinx…
Oooh, get you with your ‘come-hither’ doorway between your outstretched paws. You’d just love for me to see what’s behind there, wouldn’t you? You goddamn tease.
Of course, opening that oppressively oversized door isn’t a simple case of knocking and entering, and Tomb Raider’s usual blend of clumsy jumping, block-pushing and lunatic trigger-fingering soon greases the hinges wide enough to let Lara inside. Want to know what’s behind the door?
Uh, no. Fuck that.
Having learned by now that Lara’s body isn’t quite made of goodwill and titanium, that first leap into the unknown doesn’t quite seem like a barrel of laughs. Yet it’s what’s at the end of that cruel plummet that shook my ten-year-old self to the core…
…Lara falls screaming into a cave, deep beneath the sands, the unfathomably deep water breaking her fall. Those waters are shrouded in darkness, the only certainty being two colossal statues, their demeaning stare from just above the waters daring – nay, demanding – that she risk her life beneath those murky depths.
“Oh, hey. Welcome to your doom.”
It didn’t matter to me that my last save point was a good half-hour ago, nor that another was nowhere in sight; I couldn’t turn that Playstation off quickly enough. I had braved Resident Evil’s zombie-filled mansion on my last school holiday, having only been jarred by the now-infamous “dog-meets window” scene - yet this particular location filled me with a dread as pervasive as it was instant.
Yet it wasn’t just the tomb itself that truly terrified me - it’s only now, as I recall my instinctive shock, that I realise that very moment as my first brush with psychological horror. For as my adolescent self stared into the faint grey hum of my blank TV screen, my ten-year-old mind deconstructed the situation, point-by-point. No way of climbing back up. No way of knowing what’s below. Two gargantuan statues of the Gods, reinforcing my insignificance beneath their forbidding stare, and a slow yet inevitable death unless I risked my life beneath those waters. The cruelty of the situation was only bolstered by just how foreboding that colossal tomb appeared.
Oh sure, it’s the lack of polygons that you guys are most afraid of. For me, it’s…oh, I don’t know. EVERYTHING ELSE.
I considered what my options would be outside of the game’s logic and the answer was immediately clear; take that pistol strapped to my curved thighs, press it against my temple, and pull the trigger quicker than the bullet could enter my brain. I was ten years old and already, I was contemplating appropriate scenarios for my own suicide. Up until this year the most psychologically simulating game I’d played had been Jumping Flash. Jesus Christ.
I’ve played through the original Tomb Raider multiple times, and to this very day, that damn tomb requires more mental preparation than I’ve needed for any other game. Thank God that Tomb Raider Anniversary’s remake of that same cave isn’t anywhere near as terrifying.
Oh, please. That water’s as clear as glass.
This was always a much more interesting scare than anything I'd seen in survival horror, before or since, because it seemingly struck from nowhere, during a game that didn't sell itself on shocks or thrills. It's likely, too, that this room wasn't intended to strike fear into people like it did myself - but that personal affect only made that horror chord strike deeper within me. Horror developers mold their experiences to all - this was an altogether more intimate fear, one that shook my nerves and mine only, furthering Tomb Raider's overwhelming sense of isolation.
Bravo, Core Design. You're the first and only game developer to strike genuine unease into my fragile conscious. However far from grace you have fallen, know that somewhere out there, is a man whose fear of your huge sphinx can only be offset by seeing Lara skiing childishly down its side.
In my twenty years of gaming, it’s not the wealth of useless game knowledge under my belt, nor the massive collection of consoles I’ve accumulated over the years, that I’m most proud of. What I’m most proud of is my ability to tell a good game from a bad one. If you’d have told my 12-year-old self that Gex 3D: Enter the Gecko wouldn’t be fondly remembered and that, when I got older, I’d realise it was in fact a terrible game, I’d have been shocked. Lo and behold, over a decade has passed and the game is - and always was - bloody wretched.
This may not seem like such a great achievement to a number of you. After all, we all know our Gears of War from our Quantum Theory, our Splinter Cell from our Rogue Warrior and our Bayonetta from our X-Blades. Time has kindly bestowed the gift of taste on us older gamers, and we’re a lot more discerning than we were as kids.
However, I can’t look at Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time with the same doe-eyed love as my fellow gamer, and because of this it feels as if all my gaming knowledge and experience has been for nothing. Because Ocarina of Time is a game that I simply cannot enjoy. And it’s beginning to feel like that’s my fault.
It’s not that I haven’t tried, or even that I’m not a Zelda fan. After fond memories of A Link to the Past, I tried Ocarina of Time on my friend’s N64. Years later, I tried the game again on my Gamecube when it came bundled with my copy of Wind Waker. When it was remade on 3DS, I bought it again – fully aware that I didn’t enjoy it the first two times – because I was determined to unearth this so-called magic that my fellow gamers were constantly talking about. But for me, there is no magic. There is no ‘Best Game Ever’ within the grooves of the optical disk, or the pins of the cartridge. Hell, it never came close to being the best Zelda ever. For me, it’s easily the worst.
I first experienced Ocarina at a friend’s house. I’d skipped the N64 in favour of the Playstation, and having just finished Metal Gear Solid, Zelda was already looking rough around the edges. The frame rate barely held up, and the textures looked far too blurry. I was growing up at the time, and the mature nature of Metal Gear Solid coupled with the cinematic presentation meant Zelda looked positively dated by comparison. What’s that? Text bubbles instead of speech? Pfft. Get with the program!
Thank God for hindsight. If I’d have known the importance of a mute central character back then like I do today, not to mention the importance of art over technology, I’d have given the game a fair chance. That chance arrived years later when the game resurfaced on the miniature disc bundled with my Wind Waker Special Edition.
To this day, I remember opening the box and eyeing the disc cautiously. Even seeing the Ocarina logo on that shiny surface elicited memories of disappointment and indifference. But I was older now, and the game had achieved classic status. It deserved another chance, surely?
I could get past the blurred textures. I grew to appreciate the lack of voice-acting. Yet there was still something missing. Hyrule felt empty, vacant, vast expanses with little to explore. Not like Link to the Past, where every scroll of the screen had bushes to hack away at, holes to fall into, hidden passages behind walls, and enemies on every screen. And yet here, in Ocarina’s dungeons, I felt as if I was battling the camera more than the puzzles. The dungeons themselves were mazes of repeating textures, the camera frequently disorientating me with every swoop and swivel, and every few seconds bought with it the rhythm-breaking jingle of the pause sound effect as I checked the map for the umpteenth time, just to check what direction I was facing. There were more than enough buttons on the N64 and Gamecube pad to facilitate camera control, and I’d seen expertly-crafted dungeons in A Link to the Past that took all the confusion out of navigation. I pushed on as far as the final dungeon before it occurred to me that I’d got this far through perseverance rather than enjoyment. I stopped playing.
It had to be the Gamecube pad, right? I mean, this was a game built for the wildly different N64 control scheme, surely? That had to be it. I was just playing this game on the wrong console. If I’d taken the time to play the N64 original, the game would have been a much smoother experience, of course? Of course.
Time passed, and my appreciation of the Zelda series didn’t subside. I played Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, Phantom Hourglass… and I loved them all. When the Skyward Sword reviews came in, I began to wish I’d kept my Wii.
After years of being a 360 owner, the cravings for another Zelda began creeping in. Darkstalkers came closest to the Zelda experience, and even became a surprise favourite, but nothing compared to seeing that young adventurer take up his green hat and sword for another quest. I caught myself eyeing up my 3DS, long-since retired since I finished replaying Phantom Hourglass…
…You know, there’s always the Ocarina of Time remake.
My work isn’t always busy, and there’s plenty of quiet periods. A handheld game would make those silent moments all the more tolerable, and hell, I’d been craving another Zelda game. And this one’s no remake. It’s built from the ground up to take advantage of the 3DS features. It’s got to be good this time around, right?
Apparently, I’m a real sucker. I bought Ocarina of Time again. It lasted a week. I found myself going as far as Jabu Jabu’s belly, before realising the Z-targeting still hadn’t improved, and I was missing targets from arm’s reach due to the game’s demanding targeting system. Link frequently flung himself from edges at odd angles due to the overly-sensitive nature of the 3DS circle pad. And compared to the rip-roaring orchestral soundtrack to my other favourite Zeldas, it occurred to me that this one felt tepid in comparison – not even LttP sounded this underwhelming.
Don’t get me wrong. Ocarina of Time is an epic quest with plenty to do. Heck, it was even emotional seeing Link grow older with each pull of the Master Sword. But a classic game should stand the test of time, and for me, Ocarina of Time simply doesn’t. Various games, Zelda titles or otherwise, improved on Ocarina’s groundwork, and even then, games from Ocarina’s generation frequently did it better. The childhood joy of seeing Zelda in 3D was no doubt exciting to all of us. But that’s all it was – a childhood joy. My discerning tastes, my critical eye, and the fact that I’ve revisited Ocarina of Time a good three or four times over the years since its release, have only proven that it simply doesn’t hold up in this day and age. Fond memories don’t always equate to a classic.
Ocarina of Time isn’t terrible. There’s plenty to appreciate. Ironically though, like the fictional world within Ocarina, it becomes more dilapidated under the cruel lapse of time itself.
Yet the worst part for me, after years revisiting timeless classics such as Shadow of the Colossus, Guardian Heroes, Chu Chu Rocket, Ikaruga and Deus Ex, my inability to enjoy the one game that numerous critics call ‘The Best Game Ever’ makes me feel as though my time spent researching, revisiting and remembering these favourites of yesteryear has been for nothing if I can’t appreciate the purest gaming experience as named by all.
When the Monthly Musing asked us to think about just how bad we thought 2010ï¿½s gaming scene was, I struggled to think of anything particularly laudable. I could sit all day and talk about the mess that was Quantum Theory, the rush-release that was The Oddbox, or the wasted potential of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, but weï¿½ve read these opinions, and we've heard the complaints countless times. We may have disagreed with them, we may have disputed them, but spending so much time writing a blog about how wrong a certain review was, or how disappointing such-and-such a title was is predictable, not to mention pointless.
Thatï¿½s when it hit me. 2010 was an excellent year for gaming, with such stand-out titles as Alan Wake, Dead Rising 2, the relatively low-profile Amnesia: The Dark Descent, even the rickety yet endearing Deadly Premonition. Yet browse any online forum or comment section and youï¿½ll find that many gamers cried foul of certain games, or accused reviewers of ï¿½biasï¿½ when their views didnï¿½t match their own. Heated disputes ended up spiraling into full-on flame wars, with users hiding behind their internet anonymity to hurl abuse; a cowardly attack in a conflict of little consequence. Obviously, with 2010 baiting so much controversy, it dawned on me that perhaps there really is no worse time to be a gamer. Because, you see, in that short year, weï¿½ve proven ourselves to be juvenile, hostile and ungrateful.
The games of 2010 didnï¿½t suck, but the gaming community certainly did.
What did 2010 bring us, especially? Well, with the arrival of the Kinect and Playstation Move, we had motion controls bought to every major console, making gaming yet more accessible to non-gamers and expanding the choice for the core crowd. We had major new games and consoles revealed, including established favorites like Zelda, or exciting new hardware like the 3DS. We even had Sonic the Hedgehog revived in the 2D adventure we waited over 16 years for.
How were they received? Kinect and Playstation Move made gamers react as if Sony and Microsoft had kicked a heroic puppy down a stairwell. They panicked for the future of gaming, terrified that motion controls would replace our beloved joypads, that the hardcore crowd would be forever left in the dust. Not once did anybody think, reasonably, to let their money do the talking. Nobody was forced to invest in these motion controllers, and ï¿½coreï¿½ games such as Fallout: New Vegas and Call of Duty: Black Ops continued to fly off the shelves. If weï¿½ve waited so long for gaming to no longer be stigmatized as a hobby for geeks and children, can we really complain when the mainstream are given an opportunity to game alongside us, without having to meet the expectations we set for them?
The long-awaited returns of certain franchises spurred equally ludicrous complaints and outrage. Sonic the Hedgehog 4, while far from perfect, was the subject of uproar after a mere 30-second promotional clip was released. You see, the problem was, his eyes were too green, a point so often bought up that I risk contradiction if I delve into the argument myself. The game itself was a fun yet short romp, and, yes, I too noticed the somewhat clunky physics. What I didnï¿½t do, however, was take to the internet in a strop, like this distinguished gentleman:
Sonic 4[/i] may not have been perfect, but the complaints arrived long before anybody had any right to dismiss it, and the resulting frenzy no doubt spurred more over-the-top reactions like the video above. It wasnï¿½t the only reboot caught in the knee-jerk crossfire of elitist fans - SSX, Tomb Raider and Devil May Cry were all given dramatic reboots - and all received a pummeling from angered traditionalists, basing their opinions on aesthetics that were yet to be finalized or given any opportunity for context. Is this the same crowd that are constantly denouncing the lack of originality in gaming? Or are these two sides of an internet argument thatï¿½s yet to reach boiling point?
Still, the gaming cultureï¿½s descent into idiocy canï¿½t be blamed entirely on the gamers, as developers too have proven themselves to be experts when it comes to the violent removal of toys from prams. Hydrophobia developers Dark Energy Digital are well-documented for having demanded answers from (or implied the out-and-out incompetence of) game critics everywhere, harassing the reviewers of various magazines and websites with letters and insistent phone calls when their game didnï¿½t get the glowing reviews they expected. Entire companies, such as Activision, filed lawsuit after lawsuit under glaringly facetious circumstances. Microsoft and Sony got themselves embroiled in a hyperbolic tug-of-war, constantly denouncing one another in the race for motion-controller supremacy, far too insistent on cut-throat slam-dunking to let their products do the talking. Competitive marketing has been around ever since the Genesis had done what a Nintendidnï¿½t, but the 90ï¿½s are long gone, and gaming is no longer marketed to boisterous adolescent malesï¿½
Do developers and publishers think so little of us to assume we're susceptible to such trite advertising as this? Or is this as good as we deserve when we've proven ourselves to be a gaggle of bickering, spiteful...well....Marcuses? Neither answer is satisfying, but either is a possibility. Both, however, demonstrate the atrocious attitudes of both consumers and publishers.
There was a time when my hobby of choice was met with laughter and ridicule, but now that gaming has just started to captivate the masses and gain recognition as a profitable, fast-evolving art form Iï¿½m overjoyed to see my hobby being shared by so many - I can work alongside people who will laugh along with me when I share my Left 4 Dead anecdotes, or talk in equal excitement over the plot of Mass Effect 2. But if we continue acting like spoilt children, that mainstream audience weï¿½re so eager to captivate may not like what they see. They may well learn of the selfish, immature nature of the community, and the industry, and once again write our hobby off as geeky and childish.
And no doubt, when that happens, weï¿½ll have a good old-fashioned whine about it.