As the New Year begins, reflection of the Old Year takes precedent. The World Wide Web is awash with Top and Bottom lists of Games from 2014. The general consensus seems to be that last year saw a few excellent games hovering above a majority of… games of a significantly lower calibre. Big promises were left unfulfilled, which left the community somewhat dejected. I personally had a good year of gaming, but I have spent the last two months playing Skyrim… so my opinion probably doesn't count.
I'm quite often late to the party when it comes to games. I'm a patient sole whose always been taught to save the pennies. The only game I played on its release date last year was Destiny, which was a gift from my fiancé. Otherwise I've been enjoying my time playing Xbox 360 and PS3 games that were released months and, in some cases, years after their release. This has often meant that I have played a videogame long after the media hype or critical sneering has died away.
Even when opinions are taken out of the equation, it can still be difficult to enjoy videogames. It might be that it isn't your usual type of game, or that there's an aspect of the games that bug you, or something feels missing. Either way, having simple fun with a game isn't always so straightforward. Below are a few videogames that I've struggled to settle into, or enjoyed only because I was in the right frame of mind. Have a read, and consider just how easy you find it to fully enjoy your gaming.
I started playing Dead Space 3 long after the initial scathing and derision was over. There was a lot of gamers disappointed by the direction the franchise went in: the horror element of this series has been increasingly supplanted by action; the unwelcome growth of the micro-transaction; odd little changes to the inventory. The third iteration is hardly a massive alteration of the franchise, but there were just enough minor changes to rub gamers the wrong way.
I tend to agree, to a lesser extent. I'm not the most ardent fan of scary games, but I liked the way Dead Space would scare me. The game put you into a desperate situation, but gave you just enough power to fight that desperation. In Dead Space 3 I was practically shedding ammo and small med kits and the tension gradually fell away too. My personal grievance was just how lazy the jump-scares were becoming. When the Necromorphs are popping up out of the snow every two seconds, the scare isn't really there.
How I enjoyed it: Knowing that the game was going to be more action-based, I found myself considering the series from Isaac Clarke's perspective. In Dead Space, Mr Clarke was terrified of a new monster made of blades and dead colleagues. In Dead Space 2 he's come to turns with his role as monster-killer. Despite his early complaints, the Isaac of Dead Space 3 is more at home amongst the Necromorphs than a pig in mud.
Whilst it's not nice to see a horror franchise forget it used to be scary, the action-shooter aspect of the game is as strong as it ever was. So, following Isaac's lead, I revelled in the killing of monsters rather than waiting to be scared.
Once I was in the right frame of mind, Dead Space 3 became fun. The gunplay is still immensely satisfying, and each weapon is wonderfully entertaining. I'm quite fond of any game that lets me build and modify my own weapons, and Dead Space 3 let me attach a flame thrower to the bottom of a rocket launcher. Unfortunately, I can't quite explain how they both take the same ammunition…
Providing I hold back my disappointment concerning the absence of horror, the Dead Spacefranchise remains an enjoyable romp, and Isaac Clarke is a suitable central character. He's not scared anymore, so neither am I.
I should completely adore Sniper Elite V2. I'm fond of any game set in an historic setting, and the whole notion of a lone soldier sneaking around with a sniper rifle has instant appeal. Despite this, I do struggle to fully enjoy the game, largely because it suffers from repetition.
Sniper Elite V2 has a very focused gameplay style. You find a spot to shoot from, and watch as the game takes absolute delight in showing the slow-motion, x-ray vision view of every kill shot. Each time you make a successful shot the game reacts like it didn't think you could do that. The only way the game could further emphasise how awesome you are is by awarding you points every time you kill- oh wait the game does that too. The game does a very good job of making sniping entertaining and rewarding – which is great for a game about a sniper – but after a while there is a feeling of 'rinse-and-repeat', taking out enemies in the same fashion, with only minor changes to scenery.
How I enjoyed it: I rarely play Sniper Elite V2 for more than twenty minutes. It makes a great break from the work I bring home, and passes the time if I'm waiting for friends to join a multiplayer session. If I finish a game and there's time left in the evening, this game gets brought out. I play it just long enough for the act of hiding and sniping to entertain and not become stale. It also makes for a wonderful stress reliever.
This blog could easily become a smug reflection on just how great I am for enjoying games for what they are, so let's balance things out with a game that I tried to enjoy and failed hard. I never quite found a way to appreciate Crysis 3, despite getting along with its prequel.
I played Crysis 2 to its fullest, and very much enjoyed the journey. I tried my best to follow the stealthy approach, and I'm the kind of person who fails miserably at sneaking. I was much more at home with the second option: gunning down enemies behind reinforced armour. Despite my ineptitude at stealth, I still appreciated the game mechanic. The fact that your invisibility has a limit, and weapons fire nullifies its effect adds a very real need for strategy and quick-thinking.
Why I didn't enjoy it: I was therefore disappointed to discover that the game developers had attempted to undermine the primary game feature – the Nanosuit - by adding a new feature that shuns its very premise. The Predator Bow lets the player stay invisible after firing off a shot, thus negating any need to sneak around, picking enemies off. On top of this, the bow is inexplicably powerful, thus rendering all non-stealth weapons pretty much unnecessary. The player can simply stand at the edge of an arena, fire off kill-shots one after the other, and then sneak around collecting the arrows to repeat the process. The games core gameplay was now made almost obsolete.
Now I know I could have ignored the existence of the Predator Bow and done things the old fashioned way (the kind of old-fashioned that uses guns instead of a bow…) but what bugged me was just how much emphasis is placed on the Bow in-game and in its advertisement. "I have a bow now!" the game beams, "and bows are cool. Everyone likes bows and this one's from the future. All the cool kids like bows." I was therefore facing two options, play the game without the bow and ignore a focal point of this iteration of Crysis, or use the thing and make the game tedious. It was at that point that I realised that I was having to overthink a game that features a dead dude in an alien suit and I lost interest.
Every possible opinion that could be expressed about a videogame has been linked to Destiny. The sheer magnitude of debate and diversity of reaction around this game has been extraordinary. Saying that I quite enjoyed the game feels quite out of place amongst the many, heated arguments, but I found Destiny to be a good game. Not quite good, not very good, just a good game. Those that criticise the lack of story our correct, but those that argue for the effective core gameplay have it right as well. This was the one and only videogame that I played new this year, on release day at that, and simply playing and enjoying the game was challenging at best. Even when I joined a strike team currently in session, the people in my group playing the game would often argue about the quality of Destiny.
Whilst I did enjoy playing, you might also have inferred that I am not playing it any more. I sank many a happy hour into the game, and enjoyed completing and re-completing (and re-re-completing) each and every mission. The main reason I felt I could do no more with the game was that I couldn't complete the 'raids'. As a teacher my work can carry on into the evening, so I can't promise a group gaming session in advance and certainly can't give a game more than a couple of hours in an evening. I didn't stop having fun, but I reached the limit of what I could do with the game. Once I stopped playing, the need to play subsided.
How I enjoyed it: I've always described Destiny as if it was a spinning top. It's simple, colourful, and when you get it going it's entertaining in a straightforward away. If you keep the top spinning, you won't see anything new, but it's still wonderfully cathartic. Apart from getting a little bit better at spinning, you don't really achieve much. As long as you find the motion entertaining, you'll keep spinning, and it will keep your attention. Once you've lost interest, it can be easily put to one side or replaced by a new toy.
I played Destiny because, despite its flaws and 'unfulfilled potential', it was a very fun experience. Just like a spinning top, it isn't a toy I will remember too fondly or want to play with again, but it was entertaining at its core like every video game should be. Some people will play it until they've levelled and unlocked what they can, others will play for much longer because that core gameplay entertains them. I won't likely return to Destiny because I feel that I've had all the enjoyment I can.
The act of sitting down and purely enjoying a videogame isn't always easy. The more we think about games, the more we dissect them. A single fault with a game can override our ability to appreciate the strengths. Time and concentration we can afford a videogame can vary wildly. If someone points out a feature of a game they disapprove of, that can be all you ever notice when you get your chance to play.
I'm curious to hear how easy you find it to enjoy a videogame. Does hype affect your outlook? How do you allow yourself to appreciate a game for what it is and not what it could have been? Are there games you won't play because "they're not your sort of game", or will your leap into a game that even the most positive reviewer has struggled to praise? Can you think of any games that you began hating and then learnt to love?