Friday, 18 March 2011

My Gaming History Part 2: The Playstation and Beyond

Perhaps the most famous of all the initial games on the Playstation was Tomb Raider. An absolutely fantastic game, where you went looking for treasure and killed many different endangered or once-thought-extinct species as well as a few monsters along the way, while a British woman foiled you at every turn, then got killed at the end by you. After turning into some weird ass giant skeleton monster thing, if memory serves. It was an immersive game too, and I still remember most of the entire first level. Bats; arrows shooting out at you from the walls; being attacked by three tigers and shooting them in the face; trying to stand in the right place so the heroine, Lara Croft, somehow managed to move a gigantic stone block with her bare hands (and even more impressively, pull it backwards in some cases); swimming underwater and frantically trying to come up for air before I spazzed out and drowned. All good clean fun. At the time, it was gaming at its best. And still looks rather impressive today, despite everything being blocks and at right angles to everything else, and the puzzles are probably still bastard hard in places.

And yes, I tried the cheat to get Lara naked. Show me any 11 year old boy who didn’t, and I will call him a liar to his face. At that age, we were all after a glimpse of the pixellated, oddly triangle shaped boobs. Although, looking at the current Lara, I would probably still do it now.

Weird thing was that almost all of the games on the Playstation were single player. There wasn’t really any kind of multiplayer experience yet. Well, unless you had an N64 and a copy of GoldenEye, but it didn’t (and boy, didn’t the bastard N64 owners constantly tell you how good it was?). You went into school and talked to your friends about what point of a certain game you were on (well, I did anyway) because you were all playing what’s now become known as ‘the campaign’ as that’s really all there was. That was the game.

Perhaps the best single player experience was the Metal Gear Solid. An absolute masterpiece of a game, which was more cinematic than any other game had been previously. An espionage game that actually rewarded, hell, demanded stealthy play, it was an altogether different beast. Sneaking around military bases; working out the patrols of the guards so you could slip past or take them out; stuffing them in lockers so other guards wouldn’t see the bodies; going apeshit when you got discovered; tapping buttons so you could withstand torture and save Meryl; listening to interminably long cut scenes that didn’t make a huge amount of sense (but more so than MGS’ subsequent sequels). It was immense. Perhaps the height of its cleverness was its use of the Dual Shock controller when fighting Psycho Mantis (“Ohmigawd, he’s making my controller move, with his miiiiiiiiiiiiiind.”) and the fact that a clue to getting the right frequency on your Codec was on the back of the game box. Genius.

Altogether now: “Snake? Snake? Snnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake!!!!!!”

But my favourite game on the Playstation (and possible favourite game ever) has to Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. A 2D side scrolling game with a wicked sense of humour, some brain melting puzzle elements and a dash of the old ultra violence. Genuinely difficult, wildly inventive and containing some of the best cut scenes of its day, it often makes me wish I still had my trusty old Playstation. Gaming at it’s finest.

And it was bloody funny too.

(sidenote: I’ve just looked online and apparently they’re making an HD remake of said game. Sold!)

The great thing about the Playstation for me was that it was the first console I owned that had the capability to save games. Before with the Mega Drive, if you wanted to complete a game, you had to do it in one sitting, which meant you had a higher chance of ending up like the aforementioned kids on Gamesmaster, with the square eyes, dribbling out of the corners of their mouths. Now, you could get, say, a third of the way into the game, save it, and come back to it later. Simple, but genius. I tell you, kids these days don’t know they’re born.

Unlike my Mega Drive, my Playstation never broke. It just got usurped, by the shiner, slimmer, sexier Playstation 2. The PS2 was a thing of beauty (you could stand it on its side FFS), and it came along just as DVD’s were getting really popular, although if you played a DVD on it, after a while the picture and sound went out of sync. But that didn’t matter because it was an exciting time in gaming. A time where these things were more than just consoles, they became entertainment centres.

I can’t really remember a lot of games that I played on the PS2 aside from the behemoth that was GTA Vice City. I remember that taking up a lot of my time.

And also, there was the only great movie tie in there has ever been; Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. It was basically a hack and slash through the locales from the first two movies, (Weathertop, Moria, Amon Hen, culminating in a stupidly exciting battle at Helms Deep) but it looked and played magnificently. I remember manys a night (and manys a missed lecture) furiously button bashing to get through that final level, kicking the orc’s ladders and then stabbing them in the face with my sword; getting my level 10 power up as Legolas and pwning orcs like you wouldn’t believe, getting the sword of Isildur and taking the Uruk Hai to school as Aragorn. Gimli, however, was a crap character to play as. The equivalent of the kid with the skateboard in Streets of Rage 2, and nobody wanted to be him.

I mean, really, you alwats picked Axel, didn't you?

However, this stage in my gaming life was where things got kind of serious, and the fun left. Which is kind of indicative of a lot of games in this era; an era where everything seemed to take itself very seriously. Perhaps it was me. I’d grown up a bit and the wonder of games had worn off and now I was seeing them for what they were. Staggeringly similar, especially as I was still playing only the campaign really.

But soon, all that changed.

And it was all thanks to a guy called Master Chief.

I’ll not go into specifics about how Halo: Combat Evolved revolutionised what we’ve now come to know as the modern FPS (you can find that elsewhere, and also because I don’t think it did; it just got lucky). I do, however, think it made multiplayer gaming what it is today. Now I didn’t have an Xbox when it first came out. I was still playing Fifa on my trusty PS2 and loving it. But my good friend flipmofoxx got one, and bundled along with the console was a copy of Halo. And then something strange happened…other people also had these new fangled Xboxes. And copies of Halo. And system link cables. And then without warning, we were sitting in our uni kitchen, with 8 TV’s, 8 Xboxes and there were 8 of us shooting, grenading and mĂȘlĂ©eing each other in Blood Gulch.

It. Was. Amazing.

For me, the original Xbox really is where multiplayer gaming took off again, not just paving the way for the eventual online gaming which is now commonplace, but more the social aspect of it that had been missing since the days of Mario Kart.

And it’s where I fell in love with gaming again, after the slightly cold days of the PS2. Although, once I did get my ‘box I didn’t have Xbox Live on it, but I did have a system link cable, and a friend within cable length distance who also had an Xbox. Flipmo and I played many a game via this lovely cable and it’s really where my love of gaming with others started. It didn’t matter that the console was the size of a chest of drawers, or that the controller was humongous. The thing played like the beast it was. Oh, and I had a crystal one. Don’t remember why, although it was probably cheaper.

Notable games on the Xbox, aside from the Halos were Burnout – a ludicrously fast racing (or rather, crashing) game involving retina searing speeds and stupidly entertaining crashes, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory which is to this day my favourite co-op game I have ever played, and of course, both of the Star Wars Battlefront games. There are many more but I’d bore you if I went on.

And then we come to today. And in my home, with my wife, at the ripe old age of 26 I’m still as big a fan of games as I ever was. My Xbox 360 is possibly the console I’ve owned the longest and shows no sign of getting boring any time soon, and I’m showing no sign of giving it up.

To summarise, I love gaming.

In case you hadn’t worked that out already.



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