Arts, Column

Getting Back In Touch With Video Games

For how magical they really are, it’s been a long time since video games have felt monumental or awe-inspiring. Up until a couple of years ago, I didn’t realize the confines of most video games. Rubble ridden fields weren’t just the limit of the level’s design, it was simply an obstacle in my path I couldn’t get through. These days, I’m plagued by the fact that every closed door holds nothing but empty space. I’m fully ripped out of the experience of gaming when I notice this linear track that consistently limits my character.

To be fair, this disappointment is entirely my fault. I’m not making this point to say that video game developers don’t do a great job crafting their universes and stories. I’m saying that after 16 or 17 years of playing video games, I’ve lost the perspective of how truly amazing video game worlds are. Maybe it’s the fact that I play a lot of video games that are from series’ that are seven or eight titles deep or that I don’t play complex strategy games that ask for a player’s undivided attention that has made me think this way. As awesome as Assassin’s Creed sounded back in 2007, 16 games later, the concept feels pretty worn. Again, is it my fault that I’ve bought into these huge AAA series? Sure, but I’ve learned to choose a bit more carefully.

This year in video games has injected a little bit of my old fervor back in me. A couple sequels to some of my favorite series’ of the last decade have reminded me just how magical the video game experience can be.

The Dark Knight returned in all of his glory to gaming platforms this summer in the fourth (and hopefully final) installation of the Arkham Asylum franchise. Batman: Arkham Knight, being the first game in the series to be designed for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, looked absolutely incredible. Gotham City, with its three very diverse islands, has never been so intricate or accessible as it was in this video game. No comic or movie has ever really given Gotham an amazing visual presence in my opinion and Arkham Knight delivered a stunning setting with very differently stylized districts and buildings. The main plot was a bit convoluted and since I rarely ever play video games to go through the main storyline, I was amazed at how much fun I had just being in the immersive Gotham City that Rocksteady developers created.

Just the other day I picked up Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid V and while Metal Gear has always featured an epically scaled setting, I’ve never felt so free to approach a video game’s objectives in my own way as I have with Metal Gear Solid V. How each mission plays out in the game is entirely up to the player. You’re given an objective at the beginning of a mission (i.e. capture the Soviet engineer in a base) and the level is entirely handed over to the player from there. You get to decide if you sneak into a base or charge in guns blazing and it’s obvious that there are advantages and disadvantages to each way of approaching an objective. While the missions’ settings in Metal Gear Solid V aren’t that massive, the options you’re given as a player are expansive enough that you don’t feel limited in any sense of what you are capable of doing.

Later this year, DICE developers will release the reboot of the Star Wars: Battlefront franchise and I already know that my grades will take a huge blow in November when it comes out. I’m starting to hate first-person shooters. Call of Duty and Battlefield have worn out their welcome for me. Blasters, lightsabers, X-wings, and TIE fighters, on the other hand, are always welcome in my book. How could I possibly resist flying the Millennium Falcon, shooting down Imperials left and right? Even when it comes to what I see as the most limited type of video gaming experience, I still see hope for the future.

Have I hit a lull  in video gaming in the last couple years? Yes. But that doesn’t mean I’m done with them. Even if these games are confined to the same limitations that have taken me away from my love of video games, they’re still great enough to bring me back to the days when Star Fox 64 and Paper Mario were all I needed in life.

Featured Image By Francisco Ruela / Heights Illustration

September 23, 2015