Monday, July 22, 2013

The dreaded backlog (and great games that stay great)

I'm easily distracted. That's really no secret. For someone who can multitask at work I'm horribly inefficient at it when I'm at home. My wife is a superhero. I don't see how she does it. My lack of focus has meant that many games over the years have gone unfinished. Part of that is having more disposable income, and thus more games. As a kid I remember having to save up my allowance for months to get a game. Because of that there was plenty of time between game purchases, which usually meant playing a game until I beat it. I was one of the few among my friends in middle school who finished Double Dragon on the NES for example (not an easy game).

I had finished so many games back then that I had a list. It was just a normal sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 notebook paper. But it was nearly full, front and back, with the games I had finished. I wish I still had it. I can remember the big ones. Zelda. Mega Man. Kid Icarus (I'm not sure if I could beat that today). It was an epic list. I had very little money, but I had loads of time (as most kids do).

Fast forward 25 years. I'm married, have two kids, and a full time job. My list of unfinished games feels like it's as long as that list of completed games I had when I was 12. At the start of this year I was determined to start going through this backlog of games. Nearly every one was amazing. I didn't stop because it sucked or it was too hard. Most of them are highly rated. Some were the game of the year the year they came out. But there were other games that came out within a month (or a few weeks) of it's release. Having more disposable income, I was able to buy it. And my vow to "go back to it after I play this new game" never happened.

I haven't only played games in my unfinished backlog this year. I played through the Mass Effect trilogy in January and February when ME1 finally made it's way to the PS3. I also played Ni No Kuni when it came out. Same with The Last of Us. But I played these games to completion. I didn't let myself get distracted. Once I started them, I played to the end.

So while I've played a few new games this year, my main focus has been on the unfinished games in my collection. The last few I've gone back to play have reminded me that there are some truly great games out there that need to be played by almost everyone. Games that earned awards the years they were released really deserved them. They're just as good now as they were then. When I fired up Red Dead Redemption again, I was stunned (again) at how beautiful and alive the world was. I looked forward to every minute I could spend in that world. I'm still not a huge fan of open world/Grand Theft Auto type games, but the setting can make a world of difference. Riding around on horseback in the wild west and shooting bandits is just great fun.

Next up was Batman: Arkham Asylum. While I may have some issues with choices they made to the story (particularly Bane and Venom), the world was incredible. The Scarecrow scenes were some of the best scenes in the entire game. At one point I thought the game (or my TV) was glitching out on me. I almost powered everything off to fix it. Then I realized it was part of the game.

Currently I'm back to finish Shadow of the Colossus (part of the Ico/SotC HD collection). I had only played up through the first 4 colossi when the game was first released on the PS2. When I got the HD collection I played up through the first 2. There are some control issues, mainly because it's a PS2 era game, but the game itself is one of the best ever made. The HD collection came out in 2011, and minus a brief attempt to get back into it this past April (where I beat the 3rd colossi), I had completely forgotten how great this game is. I started playing it again this past weekend and got up through the 10th colossi (out of 16). I couldn't put it down. Each beast is a puzzle where you have to try and figure out how to bring it down, sometimes using the environment to help. That's the whole game. Just you and this huge open world. There are no other enemies. You ride from the temple to track down each colossus. When you bring one down, you end up back at the temple and do it all over again. It doesn't sound like much, but there's really no other game like it. It was one of the first (and best) examples of "video games as art", and it still holds up.

Red Dead Redemption, Arkham Asylum, and Shadow of the Colossus have showed me that great games stay great. And hopefully I can keep the momentum going this year to finish games I started, and if I start a new game to play it until I finish. I don't want to miss out on great game experiences again.

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