Playing Games Out of Time

I don’t know what compelled me to ask for the Orange Box for Christmas in 2007. I certainly wasn’t a PC gamer at the time, but five highly acclaimed games for the price of one (plus Peggle Extreme, which was a unexpected and pleasant surprise) seemed like a great deal. Never mind that the Box was $70 CDN retail in 2007 when I can now pick it up in a Steam sale for a tenth of that price, or that my poor Acer laptop could only render Team Fortress 2 in speeds of seconds per frame; I had witnessed the madness of Portal, and I was intrigued. I felt betrayed when I opened up the box to find not a physical disc, but an unlock key for some bizarre new digital distribution platform (no points for guessing which one). Anyway, I beat Portal about five times, felt I got my $70 worth, gave up on the hard drive-melting TF2, and left one of the so-called best PC series of all time to gather virtual dust.

I didn’t touch Half-Life 2 until September 2008, and Ravenholm scared the shit out of me enough that I didn’t manage to complete the game and its two Episodes until March 2010. So I started the HL2 series four years after the first game came out, and finished it three years after the last game (so far) came out. It was kinda weird, playing a game so many other people had enjoyed for years before I had any clue what the hell a headcrab was. I have a friend who’s obsessed with the series, and he talked about the Combine and Gordon Freeman long before I got the game, so I kinda knew the general alien-invasion-dystopia plotline before I booted it up. But when finally playing the game, I still got to experience the same little things that I imagine thrilled people who bought it on day one in 2004: the meticulous detail of City 17, the terrifying TIE Fighter-esque shriek of a fast zombie, the realization that sawblade + gravity gun = fun with physics. I felt a bit of gamer shame for not having played this game a little sooner, but hey, at least it’s not as bad as not knowing Aeris dies, right?

Thing is, I’ve never played Final Fantasy VII either. The horribly mangled, MIDI-scored, cloud-saving PC re-release was $7 a few weeks ago, so I bit the bullet and decided it was my duty to play this game. I don’t know how I managed to avoid most spoilers for about fourteen years or so, but the following list sums up the entirety of my FFVII plot knowledge going into the game:

  • Aeris dies
  • The main character is named Cloud and the villain is named Sephiroth
  • There is a black guy

Laugh if you want, but because of my ignorance, playing FFVII was an incredibly fresh experience for me. It was essentially a new JRPG (which I like) with a plot that I knew next to nothing about. I was surprised, for example, by the story’s heavy environmentalist tendencies and the setting’s (well, Midgar’s, anyway) more realistic locales as opposed to fantastical castles and such. Of course, playing the game is still kinda like being thrust into a time warp, where game translations are still horrible (died on the first boss because Cloud specifically to me to attack while its scorpion tail was poised for a counterattack…bad idea), the controls don’t always work in the game’s 2.5D environments (climbing ladders is harder than it looks), the random battles are as annoying as ever and far too long, and the graphics are worse than bad: they’re unintuitive (where the hell is the door on this poorly rendered house?). But hey, I mostly play RPGs for the inventory management/character-building and the story, and so far, FFVII has treated me well in that regard.

Recent reviews have pegged Halo 4‘s story as being the best of the series, and as someone who was into the lore very early on but dropped it around the release of Halo 2, I am interested in this game. However, the only Halo game I ever completed was Halo 2, and as that was about eight years ago, I no longer have any clue about what happened in that game. I’d like to pick up the rest of the series before I attempt to play Halo 4, and if I do, chances are I’ll once again get that weird feeling that I’m doing something forbidden by playing these “classic” games for the first time so far after their release dates, so far after the rest of the world generally knows how Chief’s story goes.

That being said, I could finish these games within a month of their release and it still wouldn’t matter. It only took me three weeks to finish Mass Effect 3 after buying it on day one, and my friends still gave me shit for it because I was preventing them from ranting in a spoiler-filled manner about the supposedly lame-tastic ending.

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4 thoughts on “Playing Games Out of Time

  1. I’m impressed with your dedication and persistence. I played FFVII on PC when it first came out, and ultimately gave up in favor of playing it piece-meal on my friend’s Playstation.

    • Setting the thing up was a nightmare. For a fourteen-year-old game, it took forever to download, unpack, and install, and I’ve got a fairly decent PC and wireless connection these days. I’ve currently got it buried behind a firewall so it can’t cloud save (which many people have reported erases your file if it can’t sync, which apparently happens far too often for me to risk it), but unfortunately it still searches for the server anyway any time i try to load or save. Sometimes takes up to 2 minutes before it finally gives up and lets me save locally. It’s a bit of a pain because, as you know, this is a game where saving early and often is prudent.

  2. A guy I used to work with was also completely obsessed with Half-Life, so I knew all about its story before ever getting the Orange Box too. We still have it for the Xbox and I’ve yet to play any of the non-Portal games. I like that now-a-days it’s relatively easy to pick up (or hold onto) and play older games. I usually end up thinking “why the hell didn’t I play this in 19__ or 20__??” But there’s always something else to play in the moment. Most gamers I imagine forever struggle (at least a little) with what to play when.

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