Newcomers to my style of game analysis might not know exactly what I’m doing with my videogame writing. The thing, such as it can be, of these articles is that I believe in using talking about videogames as a venue to talking about culture. When I play a game, I might wind up talking about mortality and dictators, the nexus of creator and work, the death of the author, or the dislocated reality of Sonic the Hedgehog. You know that kind of talk people make fun of, where people ‘read too much’ into videogames? I do that, basically.
Sometimes though, I’ll play a game and just not find anything to talk about. This is usually because the game is either really good but in a really obvious way, or the game doesn’t grab me well enough to make me care. Sometimes it’s a game that’s extraordinarily competent in ways I know I can’t really appreciate, sometimes it’s a game that I find boring or that makes me angry.
Now, lately, I’ve been ripping through my game pile – I’m actually almost halfway through marking my collection ‘done’ and that’s kind of impressive – and I wanted to give a little short nod to a small handful of games that don’t really warrant a whole run-down, with reasons why I bailed. Often it’s nothing interesting and sometimes it’s meanspirited, but hey, meanspirited can be fun!
The character creation interface is super squinty, and it really made me recognise how most RPGs just fall apart at quick-start these days. They either get like Fallout 4 – that’s a call ahead, keep up – where you have to play through a terrible bottleneck and sit through ponderous setup where you’re only vaguely aware of what it’s doing, or it drops you in the deep end and asks you to measure whether you want more Intelligence or Lucidity. I’ll come back to Dragon Age because I know someone who loves it, but I’m not likely to do that soon.
Cogs! Sometimes a puzzle game is just really simple and good. This is the kind of game I’d have seen my dad spend literal days on back when I was a kid. This is someone’s favourite puzzler. It’s not mine, but it’s not bad.
Plain Sight! It doesn’t work any more!
Shadwen! The central mechanic is super interesting: it’s a stealth game where nothing moves except when you move. It’s also got a really clunky camera, and a grappling hook mechanic that does not work with that time-stop premise the way it thinks it does. Mostly I spent my time playing it trying to find reasons to go play Dishonored 2 again, which isn’t a good sign.
Wolfenstein the New Order is a game that I tapped out of two thirds of the way in, with a stewing feeling of unhappiness at its unreal world, and its faux-cinematic pretensions towards a ‘real’ feeling space, and something about how when the game was trying to be Dishonored it was lots of fun, but the rest of the time it was a dull slog, but the really damning thing is I had to write notes on the game and find them again to remember anything about it. I somehow found this game where you can stab Nazis in the neck boring enough to not bother finishing.
There’s something to be said about the history of Wolfenstein, or maybe something about the presence of The New Colossus in the media landscape, but I find myself too bored by the game to be that person. That kind of opinion should come from a position of rage or grace.
Fallout 4! You move like you’re made of plastescine, you look bad, the control system is not designed for mouse-and-keyboard, and the interface is lacking in the basic polish I’d expect of a game ten years old at this point. Also everything being voiced means I have to play at the pace of voice acting. Combat doesn’t feel fun. I asked the game after twenty minutes if it was going to give me anything other than nostalgia for New Vegas, and it turns out, no, it wasn’t going to.
Broken Age! Hey, you know all those people who are mad at this game for taking a long time, and all the people who are mad at it for being a modern point-and-clicker when we were promised a retro one, and all those people who were mad at it for featuring a woman, because gamers are gamers? Well, I’m not mad at it for any of those reasons! I’m mad at it because the interface for playing this game is maddening, and that’s a solved bloody problem!
Final Fantasy 7! You might imagine, perhaps, deep down, that there was something worth talking about here. That for the vast importance of this cultural touchstone, that maybe there’d be some sort of fascinating inner thesis, some final true inner life of the game to talk about as a play experience.
This is one of the most over-wrought games I’ve ever Kind Of Barely Played. It’s a game almost overwhelmingly about needless interruption, with every action being less about a perceivable consequence and more about treating the animations of your attacks like they’re the reward cutscene at the end of a campaign.
Final Fantasy 7 is a favourite for a lot of people, but if you didn’t already love it, it’s stunningly hard to love. But at the same time, it’s so vast it’s not even easy to hate – the game has a lot of its heart in the right place. It’s just an extremely primitive game.
Edit: This is somewhat inelegant wording and lacks my usual equivocation in an attempt to be both brief and better spoken aloud. The video is a little hamfisted but is full of first attempts to learn how to use specific ideas in video editing, and I’d like to record it somewhere as a sign of where I can improve and build on ideas.
Also, Square has put a copyright claim on this video because it uses footage of their ad for Final Fantasy 7, so, that’s a thing that happens.