“Good games are good because of all the stuff they get right, but it’s the flawed gems that you learn to love.” – A chap at my local GAME store.
…and ok, I paraphrase, but that was the jist of it.
It’s one of those sentiments that immediately feels right. It has the smell of vellum and magnificent beards about it. At the time we were discussing The Saboteur, Pandemic’s magnificent swan-song. I agreed with the sentiment at the time because it aligned with my sentiment and never gave it much more thought, but let’s examine it in a little more detail.
…oh, and a noto benne; I’m restricting myself to single player games, or the single player portions of games. MP is a different beast.
I really do love The Saboteur, even if I can never spell its title right the first time. I’ve played it as many times as any other game in my catalogue and it has an almost unmatched ability to make me smile. But let’s be clear, it is most certainly flawed. The graphics are far from spectacular, the writing is variable, the acting more so. The climbing is clunky and unpredictable and you’ll be doing a lot of it.
But I love it. I love the incredible bouts of obscenity spewed by the lead character, I love that there’s a button to have a cigarette. I adore the way he stomps around like a grumpy navvy, leering and complaining and generally being foul. I love executing an entire mission without raising an alarm, sneaking about in broad daylight in a stolen uniform and planting dozens of bombs, then sauntering away with my finger on the button. I love the music that plays over the radios and the way it fades from staticy realism to clean background as you drive away. I love the way the Parisian rooftops are a messy, impossible, un-navigable jumble of lean-tos and balconies and roof gardens. I love sitting on a rooftop in the glorious sunshine, sniping into the black-and-white, storm-cloud covered noir oppression of a Nazi held province. I love the whole black-and-white thing, in fact; great idea, well executed.
And whenever I play it, all the problems, all the annoyances and flaws, become subsumed in the welling of joy that it evokes in me. They become the flavours that make the game special to me, they make it feel like MY game, because so many people seem unable to look past the flaws to the delirious beauty below.
That’s all fine and well; that speaks to the love of flawed games, but what about the suggestion that a ‘perfect’ game can’t evoke the same fondness?
Well, that’s a little tricky; first off we’d have to identify something to represent our ‘perfect’ game. Let’s form a short list, at least…starting off with Gears Of War 3; a mighty and splendid culmination to a superb series. By #3 they had finally worked out most of the kinks and found the best ways to run a campaign. There’s a real feeling of scope and scale that was somewhat lacking in the previous attempts, the characters were fuller and interacted more likably, the environments were more varied and lush than ever before. The ebb and flow of the stop and pop combat was as immersive and entertaining as ever and the retro-lancer was brilliant. It even had a proper ending, which I adored. So many titles try for a sequel-begging ambiguity to their ‘resolutions’, but GoW put its foot down and said “here’s the end of the narrative”. It’s a great game; beautiful, generous, simple and slick.
But do I love it? I don’t think so. I am fond of it, certainly. I was genuinely a bit choked up when…well, if you’ve played it, you know when. I thoroughly enjoyed by stomp through the end of the war in the trousers of bio-Bender B. Rodriguez. I can’t in good conscience say that I love it, though. It’s very attractive and even the morning after, I have great respect for it. I wish it well in the future and hope that it has many healthy children. I hope we stay in touch…but it’s not MY game.
How about…Grand Theft Auto 4? What a piece of tech! First time I drove across a bridge at sunrise, into a thunderstorm, I fell head over heels for the engine. Sure, she’s showing her years now, but there’s still a beauty there. I also liked Nico; he felt like a grown-up, written for grown-ups. He was flawed and human, just trying to find a life for himself, always dragged back into his past; a proper tragic hero. Surrounded by a cast of pantomime palette, he stood out as…just this guy, you know? He wasn’t after power or revenge or money…just the opportunity to be a better man, to be left alone by a world populated with asshats and idiots.
I liked the steady flow of the gun-play, I liked the way the cars felt rather unsteady so that massive speeds were dangerous. I thought the magician at the Russian Bar was worth the price of the game alone. I love the fact that I still have no idea what Little Jacob was talking about most of the time. That bank-job mission feels SO much like the shootout in Heat, it’s brilliant.
…but again, I don’t think I love GTA IV. I’m not even sure why. There was no…joy, no surprise. There was endless competence and beauty, but it never turned around and dropped my jaw with some unexpected flight of genius, perfect for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It hit all the right marks, straight and true, but that means it never made the trick shot off the lamp-shade, knocking the elk head off the wall and pinning the barmaid’s false moustache to the bull’s eye.
Ah, well…I’m running out of lunch break now. Perhaps I have not presented an exhaustive argument, but perhaps its something to think about. I am leaning more heavily towards accepting the aphorism with which I began. I’d be interested to hear what any of you think on the matter…