With it being the chirstmassy time of year and approaching the end of another year, there are many an article to be found discussing what people’s most anticipated games of the upcoming year are. Now this is all very well and undoubtedly an important subject. The upcoming titles due in the next 12 months, be they AAA titles or lesser known products, are the bricks and mortar of the future of gaming, a future that promises to be glowing. However, being the contrarian so and so that I am, I’ve found it difficult to really find much to get me excited in the coming year. For every Bioshock Infinite out there, there seems to be a hundred cookie-cutter FPS bland-a-thons.
Perhaps this makes me a miserable kill-joy, a modern day techno-Scrooge if you will. Well, in trying to figure out what I should be excited about this coming gaming year, I got thinking about what makes gaming special for me, what are the defining moments I’ve experienced that stay with me and keep me coming back for more. So, to that end, while my fellow writers take you on a guided tour of what might be with the Ghost of Gaming Future, join me as I trip the light fantastic with the Ghost of Gaming Past and (in no particular order!) pick out some of my most memorable gaming moments won’t you?
Half-Life 2 – We Don’t Go To Ravenholm
What can be said about Half-Life 2 that hasn’t already be said? It’s one of the most influential and ground-breaking games around, stuffed full if memorable moments. For me, though, the beginning of the section entitled We Don’t Go To Ravenholm really sticks in my memory. In a game where the sense of oppression and feeling of being pursued is already incredibly prevalent, the approach to Ravenholm escalates the feeling tenfold. It’s one of the scariest sections of video game I have ever come across. It’s not full of the normal tropes of ‘scarey’ games like jump scares and the like, it just builds up a genuine sense of dread through effective use of tense music, unsettling environments and the sense of desperation engendered from having to pick up and fling junk from the scenery at the zombies. Oh, and the wailing of the zombies as they burn? Makes me shudder even now! I truly brilliant piece of gaming set piece, which somehow never feels like a set piece at all.
Final Fantasy VIII – The Journey Back on Ragnarok
Final Fantasy VIII was a seminal moment in my gaming upbringing, marking the first time I’d really encountered an emotive and fully realised personal narrative in a game. Now you can argue the game’s relative merits and I’m aware I’m somewhat in the minority for loving the game, but I do. The main focus of the game’s story is the relationship between the protagonist Squall and Rinoa, a relationship that builds in fairly clichéd manner from squabbling through to love. The quality of the game is that this development is actually shown developed, rather than just assumed to have happened. You follow the characters as they change over an extended period of time and develop a real attachment to them. So, to come to a point where the two are in the cockpit of a ship, finally safe, but facing the prospect of being separated when they land and seeing Squall try and comfort Rinoa in a genuinely human way as one of the more touching gaming moments I have come across.
Mass Effect – Virmire
Virmire. Anyone who’s played Mass Effect will know what I’m talking about when I mention the name. That mission. That decision. Developers have been trying to engage players since the industry began, trying to get them to care about the decisions they make. Bioware succeeded like no other in Mass Effect and in no place is it better illustrated than in the Virmire mission in the first game. Sent to investigate a scout party who went silent on the planet, you’re quickly swept up in the fight to destroy a facility and prevent a second rise of the Krogan, this time a bio-engineered strain. This takes you cross world, fighting your way through checkpoints just to get to the staging zone. You then have to negotiate your way out of a tough situation with your conflicted Krogan squadmate Wrex, potentially killing him. You then see rousing last stand speeches from the Salarian leaders and have to pick a soldier to go with them. As you enact the assault, you hear the radio reports from the other team, lending a real feel of consequence to the decsions you make. Then it happens. You get a call when stuck between two points. Do you rescue Kaiden or Ashley? And the one you don’t save? They’re dead. Not game dead, spend an extra life and they’re back dead. No, proper dead, like erased from your hard drive dead. If you haven’t played the game it’s hard to explain how hard the decision was and how you actually feel genuinely guilty for consigning one to death. It’s madness, but it’s the very epitome of why gaming and RPGs in particular can be so powerful and meaningful.
Fallout 2 – The Car
Fallout 2 is one of my favourite games. It was a masterpiece of sandbox, open-world gaming joy. If ever a game gave you the keys to a world and threw up its hands and said ‘go crazy’ it was Fallout 2. It improved upon Fallout 1 in virtually every way. The only thing that was still something of a negative when you first started playing was the time it took to traverse the massive game map. But then, it happened. You talked to a mechanic you came across and idly mentioned the car sitting nearby. He then says he reckons he can get it working, he just needs an engine part. Now, this being Fallout, you figure that it’s just a hook to get you going on the next quest line, you’re not going to get an actual car out of it. But that’s the thing, you still go straight to the place where the parts are meant to be and you work your ass off you get them, just because there’s a small hope you’ll get that car. And you know what? YOU ONLY SODDING WELL DO! It shouldn’t be so great, really. I mean all it really actually translates to is your icon moving around the map quicker. But like all things in Fallout it’s about the intangibles, the little things that make a big difference. Tell me it isn’t just magical to imagine yourself cruising around the post-apocalyptic wasteland in an old Highwayman! That’s just awesome and that’s why its stuck in heart for so long.
These are just four of my most memorable moments in gaming history. They serve to remind me of why I love gaming and highlights to me that, sadly, there are not many games out there this coming year that shout out to me as promising similar defining moments, which is sad. I’m sure I will be proved wrong and that the next twelve months will add another moment or two to my memories of gaming greatness, I certainly hope so. But, until that happens, I’m content to remember some of what came before, reminders of why we should be thankful for what we have and what has been.
After all, isn’t that what the spirit of this time of year is all about?
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Paul Izod is a lifelong gamer. Since he was old enough to tap at his Dad's PC's keyboard he's been a gamer. Dedicated and often opinionated, you can be sure he'll always have something interesting to say about the subject at hand. Find him on Twitter at @PaulIzod or @FaultyPixelUK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org