maanantai 14. marraskuuta 2011

Choices, and how making them has changed


November 15, 2011

Dear diary.

It's my payday today. After dungeon-hacking my way through the deadly labyrinth of bills, I'm left with an amount of cash just enough to get me through the next 30 days, and feed my soul at the local GameStop, located less than a mile away from my apartment. Yes, for the first time since I bought LittleBigPlanet 2 on pre-order back in January, I'm going to buy a game. Well, there was Dragon Age II, too, I suppose, but I didn't really plan that one, it was an impulsive purchase forced upon me by a couple of beers and the feeling of financial omnipotence they created. I'm skipping a trip to see my favourite band Iced Earth play in Helsinki because of this - and the fact no-one offered to tag along - so I'm definitely going to make this trip count. I'm going to buy two games, and while one of them's certainly Batman: Arkham City, I'm having real trouble in coming up with a "side dish". My mind is so full of alternatives that I wanted to do a story on them. Also, my mind travelled back to the 8- and 16-bit eras, how different buying a game or two was back then.

"This game stole my mind. Now I
want it back."
Back when I was eight or nine years old, I didn't care for reviews, not one bit, nor were there many actual reviews in the magazine I read back then; the magazine was more about promotion of Nintendo than true video game journalism. That being said, all a game needed to impress me was to have cool looking ads. Being somehow linked to an awesome movie also helped. I didn't care what real critics were saying about movie licenses - "LIES!" - I rented them anyway and at least pretended (to myself) to enjoy the games, just because the movies they were based on were so great. Sometimes, the worst case scenario became reality and I actually asked my mom to BUY me the game. That's how I ended up getting stuck with Total Recall for the NES, which is one of the worst games ever made. It had Schwarzenegger on the box. Schwarzenegger was the epitome of awesome. Schwarzenegger could have promoted cod-liver oil and I would've had my mom buy me gallons of the stuff. I don't know what exactly bombed my infatuation with Schwarzenegger the worst, the actual quality of the games his face promoted, or the movie Batman & Robin. I think it was Batman & Robin. That movie sucked even more than the Total Recall or Last Action Hero video games ever did, and that's a lot.

I lived in a very small town, and video games weren't as big as movies back then, so we didn't even have a store that would've specialized in video game sales. The town still doesn't have one; it did a while back, but the store was quickly closed down due to the lack of customers that had gotten used to buying games online. Back in the early 90's, video games were sold at supermarkets and home electronics shops. Due to the limited sales, only the biggest and most popular games such as Super Mario Bros. 3, plus some licenses based on some super-popular media franchise such as The Simpsons, were accepted for sale. That is why I rarely got any bad games for Christmas. Then I found the joys (and sorrows) of mail order. There was suddenly a whole cavalcade of video games right in front of me. You never knew what you were going to get when you bought a game that looked or sounded cool. There practically was nothing to give you a hint of what the game was about, or whether or not it was a quality product. We had the promotional magazine, and we also had Super Power magazine, whose editors at least attempted to write reviews. Super Power pretty much laid down the law for kids, and eventually for parents, when it first came out in 1993. But, again, they gave Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind 89 points out of 100; in retrospect, the magazine couldn't really be trusted. It was a very visual magazine, and many of my friends bought games that got bottom-end points just because they looked cool, so a single game's sales were still more about good promotion than critical reception. What's ironic is that some of the games Super Power basically slaughtered were very good, and are considered classics even today.

It's still one of a kind - a true classic.
I think it was the fifth generation of consoles (PlayStation / Saturn / Nintendo 64 / the rest) that showed the first signs of true changes in the video game industry. Games began to look more like movies, and in 1998, the release of Metal Gear Solid shook the foundations on which the industry was built on. All games that were to come were expected to live up to the cinematic standards of Metal Gear Solid. Now that the games had a cinematic standard, they all started to look the same. Not many ugly games followed. Now it was up to who had the better promotion. All of the even slightly respectable video game companies quickly met the standards in promotion. What was left to guarantee, or destroy sales? Critical reception, of course - something that game companies had dreaded for years. Many companies closed their doors and some got merged, or bought out. There were video game magazines to offer their critical take on games, there still are, but let's face it, most people turn to the bulk of online reviews, or if they're in need of an extremely quick rating with not much details involved, they turn to aggregate websites such as GameRankings or Metacritic when they want to know if a game is worth their money and time. That's what I'm doing right now.

I know a lot about games, and I pretty much know exactly what I should and shouldn't waste my valuable money and time on, but there are a lot of options out there, and I've sworn an oath to stick to the two-game limit on this day. Being that I decided on one of the games weeks ago, makes the choice even more difficult. I kind of miss the days when I didn't have these choices, or when I just bought games on instinct, win or lose. Then again, I don't; since I'm investing my own hard-earned money in a game, I need to know that it's good. No, not good - EXCELLENT. Also, since I've become a big fan of RPG's in the last 15 years, I naturally find myself putting very long and complex games to the top of the list. Bang for your buck, you know. In a nutshell, I'm much, much more of a tough customer than I was two decades ago. "Schwarzenegger?! You've got a deal!" has turned to "How are the controls? Slightly below perfect? Hmmm... well, how long does it take to beat the game and unlock everything in it? Less than 48 hours? Forget it."

I think his last adventure will be
worth the wait.
I compiled a list of games I could consider buying. I have a nearly instant explanation and reason for not buying some of them, but I wanted to bring them to light, anyway. First off, Assassin's Creed: Revelations came out today, and my friend is a very happy camper right now since he pre-ordered the Animus Edition of the game - remember all that talk about good promotion? As much as I'd love to see how the story of one of this generation's greatest video game characters ends, I know for damn certain that I'm going to have the chance before the end of the year, anyway, so I'll let ACR pass. If my friend doesn't let go of the game willingly, I'll just swing Arkham City around under his nose, and we've got a deal.

Then there's Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. Some months ago, I decided I didn't want to own DVD movies that are numbered sequels to movies which I don't own, so I sold my special editions of Star Wars Episode III and Spider-Man 2, something I thought I'd never do. This principle very soon carried over to my video game collection - of course I won't sell any of my games, though. Anyway, while I do have Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, I never got around to buying Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, because I pretty much gnawed it to the bone when I borrowed it from the aforementioned friend. It's a numbered sequel to a game I don't own; to make it absolutely clear, having games like Fallout: New Vegas even though I'm missing Fallout 3 doesn't bother me at all. It's just the numbered sequels that do. Besides, I'm pretty certain I will get the chance to experience this game before the end of the year, as well, without spending any money on it.

Then, there's the no-brainer option, considering all I have said about making choices thus far - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. First of all, this game is an exception to my "numbered sequels" rule, since it's commonly referred to as just Skyrim, it's not that connected to the rest of the series, and I'm 100% certain I'm never going to buy Oblivion. I know a lot of people are asking "for the love of God, why?" It's simple. I dislike playing PC games (it won't run on my current computer, anyway), and the PS3 version of Oblivion is downright infamous for not having Trophy support, not even the 5th Anniversary Edition released just a while ago has it; I will NOT pay for a PS3 game that doesn't have Trophies, ever again. It's not that I'm a whore for Trophies, the lifespan of any game is just so much larger thanks to Trophy support that I think it's unfair to ask for the same amount of money for a game that doesn't have it. Anyway, back to Skyrim. Secondly, it meets every standard that matters to me when I buy a game: long life, guaranteed playability, good all-around style, and good word from my fellow critics. It's also a game I have aimed to buy ever since its name was announced. The only thing that's against Skyrim is my personal nihilistic attitude towards the whole Elder Scrolls franchise; I've always thought it's severely overrated. Great, for certain, but not really my tastiest cup of tea. Be that as it may, Skyrim is the strongest nominee for "the other game" at the moment. There's a game that would definitely offer bang for my buck... but is that buck a bit too large if I'm not completely certain I'll enjoy the game just as much as everyone else on the planet? That question rings true in the case of many other new games besides Skyrim - and that is why I'm also considering the option of buying some used, older game... or a bundle of some of the best games in the world at a budget price, developed further with HD graphics, better controls and Trophy support. Man, this is going to get hard.

Is it just me, or is Pip-Boy one of
the creepiest characters in video
game history?
The first game on this other list is Fallout 3, which was already mentioned in another context. The standard game has nothing to offer me anymore - I've done everything there is in the game, and nailed every Trophy, BUT ever since the Game of the Year Edition was released, I've busted my balls hunting it down to raise my Trophy percentage to 100, and enjoy the game to its fullest with the power of five add-ons. These add-ons were damn expensive when they were first released as digital downloads, and I never owned the standard game so there was no sense in purchasing them. I got the three worst-selling ones from PlayStation Plus, and my subscription to Plus has long since expired, so I can't play them. I have beaten none of them, I have never even touched anything besides the weak Mothership Zeta and that really pisses me off. The Game of the Year Edition is such a definitive Fallout experience that it's extremely hard to find nowadays; no one in the right mind wants to sell it. Every time I go to GameStop just to browse, without any money on me, the Fallout 3 GOTY's there, as if to mock me. Every time I do have money, there's some little more lucrative game involved, or they're simply out of pre-owned copies of the GOTY.

I could also go online and order two of my favourite games of all time, plus a reportedly amazing experience I've never had, plus two classic 8-bit games, in high definition, for less than a fifty. Yes, of course I'm speaking of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, which has only been released in Japan and North America for now. I'm not a huge advocate of this whole HD business, which has been an evergrowing trend in game development for the PS3 since the release of the God of War Collection, but I can't argue with the fact that if some bundle of games is totally worth its budget price (and more), it's Metal Gear Solid HD Collection. The problem here is that I own two of the games and I've hacked them inside out; the only reason for me to play them, personally, is Trophy support. This brings us to the God of War Collection Volume II, which has two games I've never played and would like to experience due to their solid placement in Kratos' story; one of the worst things about God of War III was that it was so much based on events that took place in Chains of Olympus, which I had never played. I felt so ripped off, because I was totally consumed by the story in the first and second God of War games; I was sure that a game simply entitled God of War III would be aimed at those millions of players who never played the handheld games. Because there were millions of such players, they made this collection - great service, BUT are two HD versions of handheld games worth as much as two HD versions of the greatest games ever made for the PS2, an HD version of a game that is considered PSP's finest, and two games from the 8-bit vault in their true MSX forms? Maybe, because it's God of War, but...

I think I've went over the most important points I wanted to make, here. In a nutshell, buying games has become way more strategic and difficult. Back in the day, you just bought whatever looked the coolest. Today, making a choice between games comes down to so many factors, with critical reception - that virtually didn't exist 20 years ago - being perhaps the most important one. It makes me feel I'm doing something important with this blog.


And the winner is.
I ended up with... drum roll, please... Fallout 3 - Game of the Year Edition. There's still a collector in me, and I thought that if I don't buy the game now, I never will, and I'll regret it later. I'll get a new chance next month, and it's Christmas, so who knows, maybe I'm crazy enough to buy three games. I did ask the GameStop clerk if they had pre-owned copies of Skyrim, and realized how ridiculous the question was in the middle of the sentence. A brand new copy of Skyrim was a little bit too expensive, since I was already settled on buying Batman: Arkham City - which is pretty good, by the way. I got the Fallout 3 GOTY for about 35 euros; it was kind of expensive for a game of its age, as well, but it's a rare find at any retailer, so I'll forgive them.

I love GameStop more than ever. The guy who was standing in line in front of me had pre-ordered the Special Edition of Saints Row: The Third, and the Special Edition hadn't shipped yet while the Nordic Edition had. By ways of amazing customer service, this guy got the Nordic Edition FOR KEEPS to tide him over until his Special Edition has arrived. In other words, he could just sell the Nordic Edition right back to GameStop for a near-full price once he has gotten the Special Edition he was after. Then, it was my turn. I got much more of Batman: Arkham City I went to get, as the clerk just stunned me with freebies, with four Batman posters I thought they only gave out with pre-orders, and the Robin DLC I KNOW they only gave out with pre-orders; he said that they got some more of them Robin codes, so he thought "what the hell". Considering that all new retail copies of the game also have the redeem code for the critically acclaimed Catwoman DLC, this was quite a deal. I paid €64,90 for an amazing bundle of Arkham City that's easily worth something like 90 euros. Many kisses to GameStop, I'll never criticize your idea of customer service again.

I'm a very happy player right now, and what's best, I have two fine games here that I still haven't reviewed. Needless to say, you're safe to expect reviews of both games in the coming months. Thank you for your time.

Yeah, like I could resist the urge.

1 kommentti:

  1. I think Pip Boy is supposed to be creepy. I agree, there is just something that feels "off" about him.