Five assassinations in, and I was done. I didn’t care that my remarkably animated hero was capable of superhuman feats. It didn’t matter that the citizens of beautifully-rendered ancient cities needed saving. The conspiratorial malefactors that terrorized the kingdom would be spared. I was finished. I slipped Assassin’s Creed back into its prepaid rental return envelope and found myself thinking, once again, if only.
If only Ubisoft had injected a little variety into my hero’s tasks, instead of requiring him to repeat the same cookie-cutter “investigations” over and over again. I would have happily finished the game.
If only. While the internet explodes with countless numbered lists announcing the best and worst of last years’ offerings, I look back on 2007 and those two words keep echoing in my head.
If only Nintendo had mustered up the temerity to apply the talent behind Super Mario Galaxies to a new intellectual property. If only Hellgate: London hadn’t shipped with so many aggravating bugs. If only BioWare had matched Mass Effect‘s incredible presentation with a decent, well-explained interface. If only Rock Band had included an online World Tour mode.
The above games are a just a few examples, and let me be clear, I’m not listing them here because I didn’t like them. I’m listing them here because I did. They captivated me for hours, but like so many of last year’s releases, they just weren’t perfect, or at least not perfect enough, because of some glaring omission or flaw.
It’d be foolish and pointless for me to argue any objective basis for my personal list of last year’s tragic disappointments, because I know all too well that many of the blemishes that tainted my experiences were tolerated by others. And, by the same token, the games that actually met my expectations undoubtedly let down my fellow gamers in ways I overlooked.
Try as I might, I can only think of three major 2007 releases I played that weren’t guilty of some significant misstep. Those games are Portal, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Forza Motorsport 2. Were they the best games of the year? Maybe not. I’m not even sure they were my favorites, but in the end they met or exceeded my expectations completely. And yet I’ve no doubt that in the dark corners of the internet there are forum threads where frustrated gamers roundly vilify these same titles for their perceived flaws. Yes, you may be certain that somewhere, somehow, there are people that actually hated Portal.
I know this because I suffer from the same affliction that causes hordes of gamers to rear up, claws and teeth flashing, to tear apart any game that supposedly exhibits signs of weakness. While I prefer to engage in such behavior via wordy dissertations that I loftily describe as “critique,” mine are the same base instincts that motivate the internet’s vicious fan packs. Gamers are a ruthlessly opinionated bunch, dearly in love with their hobby but forever outraged by its offerings. We look for disappointment at every turn, ready to lament any aspect of game design that isn’t entirely to our liking. Our desire to expose games’ flaws sometimes leads to near-hallucinatory observations. Even unreleased games can garner widespread outrage and heartache among certain groups (see: Fallout 3).
But we still play games, sometimes obsessively. Why? Because, despite the fact they regularly dash our expectations, games still offer moments of escapism and play that rival those of any other medium. When I rethink the last year from a half-full perspective I must admit that, in terms of fun, 2007’s glass was overflowing.
Bioshock‘s last 10 minutes were an inexcusable departure from the rest of its brilliance, and yet I loved nearly every other moment of that remarkable game. Halo 3‘s campaign felt tired and sloppy, but it offered my friends and I evening after epic evening of heroic co-op camaraderie. Earth Defense Force 2017 was an off-the-radar, low-rent, one-trick pony, but its gloriously campy approach left me downright giddy. And I could go on, listing games I thoroughly enjoyed, even if from an intellectual perspective they left me vacillating between adoration and disillusionment.
The good news, and bad news, is that 2008 promises to be no different. We’ll see important games rushed to retail with under-built and broken features, overly ambitious projects hobbled by budgetary and technical constraints, and half-baked licensed titles imagined and marketed with what could only be described as contempt for consumers. And you know what? We’ll buy them, play them and love them while we simultaneously rip them to shreds.
If only they were here already.