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Geek Culture
This is The End

Graeme Virtue | 27 May 2008 12:00
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Mafia was a port of a lauded PC game, so there was a lot to pack in to the PS2 version. But while the well-mounted cut scenes and plodding plot survived the conversion, the game itself was broken. Driving hilariously underpowered Bugsy Malone automobiles through the wobbly-looking city of Lost Heaven was pretty bad, especially when crossing the main bridge instigated a loading pause so pregnant you began to wonder if time itself had stopped. But the on-foot run-and-gun sections were worse: jerky, unintuitive and unforgiving. The only way to compensate for the poor gameplay was to painstakingly plan your progress, so it felt more like an unfair strategy game than a shooter.

Of course, I finished Mafia, grinding through a terrifically difficult final art museum level and terminating my double-crossing nemesis through a combination of trial-and-error and sheer bloody-mindedness. And yet, at the end, I felt nothing. It was just another notch on my belt.

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Eventually, I figured out why I did it. Everyone wants to finish a good game, to get the full experience. But with bad games, I took on the thankless role of oversight, continuing to play just to see how badly the designers and programmers had misplaced their effort. And even if the game stayed terrible, I'd keep going on principle. It was a philosophical protest, a way of saying "I'm holding up my end of the bargain. You threw in the towel, not me." It's a little perverse - battling through hours of tedium and unfair odds just to claim a moral victory. But perhaps it was a way of shaming developers into making better games.

The golden age of poorly conceived, woefully executed single-player PS2 action-adventures is now officially over, and all I have are my smeared, identikit memories. But it wasn't the mass migration to next-generation consoles or the ominous rise of online gaming that made me kick the 100 percent habit. Nor was it through sheer willpower alone. I had a little help. Think of it as a nicotine patch - or, more accurately, like being caught lighting up by your father, then forced to chain-smoke Lucky Strikes until you turn green.

If it wasn't for the idiotically expensive, airlessly slick and utterly joyless Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure - perhaps the world's suckiest future-set graffiti simulator - I may never have broken the cycle. Even I had to draw the line somewhere, and it turned out to be with a spraycan while adopting a laughable pose of faux-rebellion. Now that I'm clean, I put as little effort into bad games as everyone else. I owe you one, Marc.

Graeme Virtue is a freelance writer and broadcaster based in Glasgow, Scotland. He deeply regrets never completing Head Over Heels on the ZX Spectrum

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