MGS4: conclusion


It’s funny. I spent most of last week getting all bent out of shape about MGS4, mostly because Act III was so ridiculous; but then I plowed through the rest of the game on Saturday, and now I find I don’t really have anything to say about it. Or, at least, there’s nothing for me to rant about.

Which is not a bad thing; I mean, I didn’t spend $60 so that I could actively hate something. And the more I think about it, the thing that would get me angry isn’t even the game’s fault – it’s the gaming press at large for not having the balls to call it out on certain glaringly obvious problems. I listened to Joystiq’s MGS4 podcast, and there was one dude in particular who did not have anything negative to say about the game at all. Now, I’m not saying that you have to say something negative about MGS4 in order to be validated in my book – I’m saying this dude played the game, and found everything about it to be perfect. This means he found nothing wrong with Act III, whose problems I covered in detail below. This even means he found nothing at all wrong with Meryl and Akiba/Johnny’s scene in Act V, which may very well be the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen, in any medium, ever. It was so ridiculous, in fact, that my wife – who was in the other room – would periodically walk in and yell, “Jesus Christ, will you two shut the fuck up? Why have you not died?” This means he had no problems with Otacon’s voice acting – and, lemme tell you, that guy should win the “Worst. Crier. Ever.” award. Nor did he have any problem with the fact that at least 5 or 6 characters in this game ought to be dead, considering how much damage they take, and none of them do. Hell, Raiden himself should have died 2 or 3 times in this game alone; I consider this a bit of a cop-out on Kojima’s part, but what do I know. I’m saying that if you are in any way a decent and honest journalist – not a fanboy, but a journalist whose primary responsibility should be the ability to remain objective – you can’t ignore this shit and pretend it’s not there. It may not have any impact on your enjoyment of the game, but considering how much of it there is here, it is a gross error in judgment to be willfully immune to it.

Anyway. I did eventually remember that the press wasn’t the one playing the game this weekend – it was me. And, ultimately, here’s what I can say about MGS4, and I think this could be said for both fans and haters: I’ve never had an experience like that before.

From a gameplay perspective, MGS4 is one of the best games I’ve ever played, and the more I think about it, the more I want to go back and try to play it better than I did before. I unlocked 3 trophies when I finished my first playthrough, and they all seemed to reflect that I killed everybody and stole all their weapons; I’d love to try it playing the way it’s supposed to be played – silent and stealthily. The fact that the game is fun either way is absolutely a testament to its rock-solid design and mechanics. The game rewards exploration – I loved that there were so many nooks and crannies to check out, especially since so many of them yielded loot. The game can be difficult but it’s almost never frustrating; any time I ran into trouble, I knew it was my fault – and in any event, I was able to play my way out of the problem most of the time. I maintain that the octocamo system is one of the coolest gameplay mechanics I’ve ever seen, just in terms of how it works in and of itself; the fact that it’s actually effective is even cooler.

From a story perspective… well, I don’t know how much more I can say about it without repeating myself. The truth of the matter is, it’s a sci-fi soap opera, and even if the storytelling is absurdly over-the-top and self-indulgent and just flat-out poor, there’s something strangely compelling about it – even if it frequently warrants mocking, which it most assuredly does. I think this game – hell, the whole franchise – could have been 100 times better if a real scriptwriter had been brought on board; at the very least, the game needs an editor who has the balls to tell Kojima enough is enough. The story is convoluted enough as it is – it would have been appreciated if coherence and clarity were considered as well.

Now, the big question is – what do I play next?

A discussion of MGS4, Act 3

I am ready to write about MGS4 today, being that I finished Act III last night, but first I want to quote something I just read.

This comes from PS3Fanboy, which links to Zero Punctuation’s pretty good MGS4 video:

Sometimes you have to wonder whether Yahtzee enjoys playing any games. This week he predictably lays into Metal Gear Solid 4 for exactly the reasons we expected. He dislikes the amount and length of the cutscenes , which are fair points. We know a lot of people can’t get passed (sic) the heavy story. He goes on to label the gameplay cluttered and says that the entire series is badly written. Strong words.

Obviously we don’t agree with what Yahtzee says, but the video is still hilarious — and in the end, that’s what Zero Punctuation is all about. Ignore the complaints for what they are, vehicles for his unique brand of humor. Our favorite part of this week’s episode has to be the insinuation that Snake and Otacon are more than just good friends. We must say, it crossed our mind at times while we were playing through the game, too.

What I love about this quote are the qualifiers. “Obviously we don’t agree… Ignore the complaints for what they are.” As if they have to quell the fanboy rage before it starts, as if by linking to anything somewhat derogatory about the sacred franchise, they themselves are now implicated and responsible. The “Obviously” part is the thing that kills me the most. Why is it obvious? Is it obvious because the site is called “PS3Fanboy”? Does that mean that anybody who says that MGS4 is nothing less than a gift from the heavens is somehow blaspheming? More to the point, is there any middle ground that MGS4 can fall into? Or can it only be a “love it / hate it unconditionally” sort of discussion?

I digress. (How apropos!) I’m not here to talk about the press; I’m here to talk about MGS4. Specifically, Act III.*

[Here there be spoilers, insofar as I mention a key character who first appears at this point in the game. I couldn’t possibly spoil the story, because that would imply that I know what the fuck is going on with any degree of specificity.]

As I said before, Act III is, so far, the perfect example of all there is to love and hate about the franchise. The actual gameplay in Act III is pretty exciting stuff – for starters, you’re no longer on a battlefield but rather in a very noir-ish urban environment, with lush sepia tones, and you’re tailing a member of a resistance organization to his hideout. Then, later, you’re on the back of a motorcycle, speeding through rain-slicked streets, shooting out soldiers and flying monster-things, and I should come right out and say that this was one of the coolest sections of any game I’ve ever played. And then, finally, you’re engaged in a pretty satisfying boss fight, who gradually destroys the building you’re using for cover.

That all sounds great, right? Except here’s the thing – those gameplay moments maybe add up to about 30 minutes, tops. The entire whole of Act III – not including the mission briefing – took up almost 2 and a half hours. Before you even start playing, there’s a cutscene which is (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) at least twice as long as it needs to be, especially considering that the information it’s imparting isn’t necessarily all that complicated. And then, sandwiched between the tailing section and the motorcycle section is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. The person you’re trying to meet is a 50-60ish Caucasian woman who goes by the name “Big Mama.” The only things big about her are her breasts, which I suppose is apt because she, as with every other female in this game, doesn’t believe in buttoning up the front of her shirt, so her boobs are just hanging out.

I’m surprised there hasn’t been more said about just how ridiculous and gratuitous the boobs are in this game. It’s been remarked upon in lots of other games – the Prince of Persia sequels come to mind, and the Ninja Gaiden and DOA games are known for their physically impossible boob physics – but as far as I know, nobody’s made any mention of the non-stop cleavage that abounds in MGS4.

Anyway. Big Mama shows up and suddenly the game just grinds to a halt as she spends at least 30 minutes droning about the backstory, speaking in an unending monotone – as if the voice actress simply gave up trying to figure out how to put any emotional weight behind what she was saying, partly because her dialog is so stilted and forced and no human being would ever talk like that, especially when Big Mama is revealing herself as Solid Snake’s mother. IIRC, there’s almost no physical interaction between the two of them in this scene – she simply walks through this church, zombie-like, intoning about Zero and Big Boss and The Boss (two different people?) and cloning and AI and the nature of warfare and the tragedy of what they’ve been through. I seem to recall one particular sequence where she explains how she came to be Snake’s mother, and Snake says something like “So you were a surrogate,” and she says “That’s an awfully cold way to put it”, and then 10 minutes later she says “I asked to serve as a surrogate”, as if the previous conversation specifically referencing that exact word hadn’t even happened.

I would go on, but that would imply that I could retain any of it. Luckily, we have the internet, so let’s just cut and paste some dialog from the script. But before I do, let me be clear: I don’t necessarily have a problem with the story, and I don’t have a problem with long cut scenes. My problem is that the story is told so poorly. Snake in particular seems to suffer from a particularly bad case of what my wife and I call “Legolas-itis”, except it’s somehow worse; Legolas (in the LOTR films, in case you weren’t following) often simply blurts out the obvious, with such pithy observations as “The horses are getting restless.” Snake can’t even blurt out the obvious – he is mostly reduced to repeating nouns of sentences he’s just heard.

I digress. Again. (How apropos!) Here’s some snippets from Act III.

Snake : I need to talk to you. Raiden sent me.

Big Mama : My, how you’ve grown… David. It was you, not I, who was
created from the rib of man.

[Big Mama places her hand on her stomach.]

Big Mama : But I gave you life. I am your mother.

[Snake stares at Big Mama in utter shocked.] (sic)

Snake : What?

Big Mama : Les Enfants Terribles. You can’t grow a human being in a
test tube… Not even a clone. You need a woman’s body to
give it life.

Snake : You mean… A surrogate mother?

Big Mama : That’s an awfully cold way to put it. I am your mother. I
gave birth… For the Patriots.

Snake : Gave… Birth?


Big Mama : The man who wants me dead… Is Liquid. Your twin. You think you know him, but I know him better. He was once Ocelot… But Liquid has taken control of his soul. And now he’s locked in a bitter struggle with Zero.

[Snake walks over to the front of Big Mama.]

Snake : “Zero?”

Big Mama : The founder of the Patriots.

Snake : Founder? When did this happen?


Big Mama : They’ve found us. We’re moving out.

[As Big Mama and the resistance members begin heading out the door, Snake receives another Codec transmission from Otacon.]

Otacon : Snake, the PMCs are converging on your location. Damn it! They’re sending in Gekko! They’ll be on you in less than five minutes!

[Snake hurries out the door after Big Mama.]

Big Mama : Are they ready?

Resistance : Yes, ma’am.

Big Mama : We’ll escape through the canal route using the real van. Get it ready. Hurry!

Resistance : Yes, ma’am.

Big Mama : Snake, over here. We’ve got decoy vans set to draw some of our pursuers away.

[Big Mama walks over to a sheet-covered object near the side of the church. She removes the sheet to reveal a Triumph motorcycle. Snake and Big Mama look on in the courtyard, watching the resistance members preparing for their escape.]

Big Mama : All of these children were orphans. They work in arms factories, and when they grow up, they want to join a PMC. They seek revenge on other companies… PMCs that killed their parents and use their earnings to support their younger siblings. There are countless child soldiers like these in the PMCs. Nowadays, anyone with a computer can get combat training. The FPS games these children love are distributed for free by these companies. Of course, it’s all just virtual training. It’s so easy for them to get absorbed by these war games. And before they know it, they’re in the PMCs holding real guns. These kids end up fighting in proxy wars that have nothing to do with their own lives. They think it’s cool to fight like this. They think that combat is life. They don’t need a reason to fight. After all, for them it’s only a game.

[Big Mama hands Snake a Vz. 83 submachine gun.]

Big Mama : Zero is the cause of all this. Defeating Liquid won’t change things. Unless we stop the Patriots’ System, the cycle will go unbroken.

[Big Mama gets on her motorcycle and starts the engine.]

Big Mama : Hop on. Hold on to me.

[Snake gets on the back of the motorcycle and hangs on to Big Mama’s waist. Allowing the engine to run for a few seconds, Big Mama calmly enhales the air around her.]

Big Mama : With so many wars being waged, oil and biofuel have become as precious as diamonds. It’s been a while since I went out for a ride.

Snake : You sure about this?

Big Mama : I only get off my bike when I fall in love… Or fall dead.

Snake : Big Mama….

Big Mama : Call me EVA.

I don’t get it. I don’t know how to get that. Again – I don’t care that Kojima has such lofty cinematic ambitions, but bad dialog is bad dialog and this, my friends, is among the worst. It lacks any semblance of humanity – it utterly lacks the rhythm of natural speech. I’m not saying that this game needs to be like a Mamet script, with people stepping all over each other – I’m just saying that people don’t talk like this, ever, not even when they’re high. People only talk like this in shitty sci-fi stories written by hyperactive 12-year-0lds, and I haven’t even talked about the character’s names. And when the gaming press refuses to acknowledge shit like this, it becomes very easy to understand why gaming still has a hard time getting taken seriously. If there was ANY indication from Kojima that this game’s story was meant to be looked at with an eye towards camp, then that would at least be something, but even then the scene could be twice as short and still be effective.

I’ve got 2 acts to ago, and it’s only because the gameplay itself is so refined that I’m staying with it until the end. But my bullshit quota is pretty much full up at this point.

* It should be noted right up front that I’m playing MGS4 on the “Naked Normal” difficulty, which is one step up from Super Easy. This is because I am trying to not hate the game, and so I’d rather be able to see everything there is to see first. I’m not sure if higher difficulties make the enemy AI smarter, or simply less easy to take down with a headshot; in any event, the enemy AI is pretty fucking stupid. At one point in Act III, there’s a helicopter hovering over a city square, with a search light that points all over the ground. I had inadvertently set off an alarm (I’m still not sure how), and ended up taking out the helicopter with an RPG. Literally within 20 seconds of the helicopter exploding, I intercepted a message from an enemy patrolman saying that the sector was now “all clear.” This is preposterous.

MGS4; second impressions

I didn’t get a chance to play MGS4 until this past Sunday, and only for 20-30 minutes at most. That was enough time, however, for me to get pretty bent out of shape about it.

I wrote this at the time, in a forum thread that somehow is still alive and kicking 3 days later:

I’ve only played about 20 minutes of MGS4, but I defy anybody to explain to me how a game franchise that is so deliberately obtuse, pretentious and self-indulgent can get such consistently high scores – especially when the actual game part of the game isn’t necessarily that ground-breaking. It’s true that the game is a bit easier to get into – the controls are still somewhat non-intuitive (especially compared to every other 3rd person action game) but at least they do all the things you need to do… But it’s also true that after 8 minutes of installation, and then another 5 minutes of completely bizarre and unexplained television footage, and then another 5 minutes of in-engine cutscenes that explain what you’re doing (as much as such a thing is possible), you spend exactly 20 seconds moving Snake around before you figure out you need to crawl under a truck and then there’s another 3 minutes of cutscene.

…So, then. Why am I still playing it? This game has its head shoved so far up its own ass that it’s almost painful to watch, and yet there’s something oddly compelling about it. I don’t get it. How does a game that’s so incredibly divisive get such good scores? Every positive review out there – and there are tons – all make some sort of mention about how if you don’t like the MGS series, you won’t like MGS4, and that there are perfectly valid reasons for people to NOT like these games (the incredibly convoluted story, the uneven pacing between gameplay and cutscenes, the unintuitive controls, the just-plain-WEIRDNESS), and then they give out a 10 in spite of all of it.

I’ve got nothing wrong with cutscenes. If that’s how your story has to be told, then I hope you make good use of it. My problem with the MGS4 cutscenes is that they’re used self-indulgently and without any thought given to pacing or rhythm. The beginning of MGS4 – there’s no reason to have that many breaks in the action, especially when you’re still trying to get used to the controls, and ESPECIALLY when most of the stuff that Snake is doing in those first few cutscenes are things that you could very easily be doing yourself.

I wouldn’t have bought the game in the first place if I was determined to hate it. What I was hoping for was someone to tell me why MGS4 is so awesome, and to explain what it is that I’m not getting, instead of someone telling me my opinion is for shit. It’s true that I think that the MGS franchise is the most overrated franchise in the entire history of gaming, and that could maybe even extend to cover movies, art, books, and any other works of art with multiple sequels out there. But I was still ready to give MGS4 a chance – hell, I still am. I own a PS3, this is arguably the biggest exclusive title the PS3 is going to get this year, I want to enjoy it. I’m not giving up on it. I just want to know what it is that I’m not getting. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent and informed person, and yet I remain totally in the dark as to why people love this series so much, especially since the first 20 minutes of the game do as much to alienate a newcomer to the series as they do to give fanboys multiple orgasms.

I think that’s my biggest question. I understand why GTA4 got 10s. I can respect why a great RTS game will get great reviews, even if I don’t know how to play RTSs and haven’t ever really cared about them. What I don’t understand is that pretty much every review that’s come out for MGS4 has had at least one clause where they say that if you hate the series already, you’ll continue to hate MGS4. Shouldn’t a great work of art be something that doesn’t alienate a large percentage of the people who experience it? How does something so divisive get such universal praise? I know I’m stepping into dangerous waters here, which is why I specifically used the word “alienate”. Lots of great works of art have been controversial; lots of great works of art have been hated. MGS4, on the other hand… is it really something that is only accessible to fans of the franchise? And if so, how does that make it great?

The fact that this game has very clearly defined areas where one could find fault (and [Caro‘s term] “Kojimaness” is as close as any other term there is to describe what I’m referring to) is something that raises a red flag, as far as I’m concerned, in terms of any sort of discussion about how awesome this game is. If any other game, made by any other developer, had this much Kojimaness, I’m not sure it would get the same sort of fawning treatment in the gaming press. The fact that this game has SO MUCH Kojimaness is being labeled a benefit. This is also what I mean when I said earlier that this franchise has its head stuck as far up its own ass as it possibly can go.

If people like it, that’s awesome, and good for them. I remain not only unconvinced, but dumbfounded.

Again, this was written on Monday, when I was still a neophyte, when I had barely dipped my toes in the vast pool of insanity that is MGS4.

I put in about 90 minutes tonight. Well, it’s hard to say for sure – my PS3 was on for 90 minutes or so, and MGS4 was spinning in the drive, but I was really only in control of Snake for about half of that. But I think I’m starting to get it.

I won’t be spoiling anything by revealing where I am – I’m barely in Act 1. I just got to the first new area after you get the barrel, which occurs right after you meet the soda-swilling arms dealer and his soda-swilling monkey, who happen to be in a room directly next to a room that, moments before, had been swarming with bad guys, who I happened to kill.

The cutscene with the arms dealer very much epitomizes this “Kojimaness” that is so problematic. The scene itself serves several specific and necessary functions:

  • it occurs right after a somewhat lengthy sequence where you are sneaking around in some underground bunkers, and so it offers the player a break and a reward;
  • it introduces you to a key character (the unfortunately named “Drebin“, because every time I hear that name I can only think of Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun movies, but every time I actually see him I can’t help but think of Zach, the flamboyant black man from the Dead or Alive games);
  • it introduces a crucial gameplay mechanic (i.e., how you acquire new guns and modifications); and
  • it fleshes out some of the backstory (something about the “war economy”, nanotechnology and the arms trade).

Relatively straightforward, right? Except this scene is at least twice as long as it needs to be, with a script so hokey it would make a 10th grade English teacher blush, and, as said above, it prominently features a monkey who drinks soda. This is also leaving aside the quality of the voice-acting, which is obviously a subjective point of discussion but I have to say that for the most part, the voice-acting in this game is beyond stupid. The guy doing Snake is trying so hard to be an old, grizzled badass but instead he sounds like a very constipated man who is constantly being annoyed. The entire scene is a series of non-sequiturs. The scene is so ridiculous in its conception that it ends up distracting the player from what its actual purpose is.

Any other game would have gotten killed for this kind of storytelling, but somehow this game gets away with it. And the truth of it is, once I stopped being a critical observer and instead let the silliness wash over me like a wave, I kinda got sucked into it. I don’t quite understand how that happened. It’s like Kojima is a goddamned magician.

I was trying to explain this “Kojima-ness” to my wife, who didn’t quite understand. But then I asked her to imagine if Star Wars: A New Hope was released for the very first time right now, in its exact same form, with the same silly dialog and hammy acting and melodramatic story, and how stupid it would seem. She said, “But hold on, Star Wars is a great movie.” And I said, “Now you understand what I’ve been going through, explaining why I think the Metal Gear series is so overrated to a bunch of Metal Gear fans.”

I have to admit – I’m ready to keep playing. I still don’t understand how I got sucked in, but it’s starting to happen, and it’s weird.

>6/9 Weekend Recap

>Got a lot done this weekend:

  • Lego Indiana Jones. Finished all 3 movies, got a heap o’ Points – basically, did the bare minimum. It has some annoying camera problems, and there are a few puzzles that got me a bit stuck, but overall I thought it was a hell of a lot of fun, and I definitely liked it more than the Star Wars games. There’s a tremendous amount of replay value to be had, of course, and I will be going back eventually.
  • Ninja Gaiden 2. I rented this from Gamefly. Got a few levels in – actually, no. Finished Level 1 and made it to the Level 2 boss and realized that I didn’t really care anymore. The camera is dreadful and the combat gets very repetitive.
  • GRID. Also a Gamefly rental; haven’t decided yet whether I’m going to keep it or not. I adored DIRT but maybe I just like the off-road stuff better for this series – this franchise is rooted in off-road racing and this game kinda feels a bit forced, like it was a corporate decision to expand brand awareness by putting this (still beautiful) racing engine into big cities. Will need to spend some more time with it.
  • Hot Shots: Open Tee 2 (PSP). Bought this straight away from Gamefly; it’s great. I miss the advanced swing option that I’ve been getting used to on the PS3, and it’s still maybe a little too Japanese (or, maybe I’m just not familiar enough with the franchise to get what everything means), but it’s addictive and certainly this is the most time I’ve spent with my PSP since I bought it.
  • Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus (PS1, played on PS3). I really just wanted to see if it actually worked on my PS3, and I ended up getting sucked back into it; I’m pretty impressed with how many of the secrets I remembered. It definitely could use an HD makeover, but you can see how sumptuous it would have appeared 10 years ago. The cutscene humor hasn’t aged very well – indeed, the writing in general is pretty juvenile, and what I was able to ignore 10 years ago seems pretty grating now – but the actual game itself is still very charming. And brutally difficult – I totally forgot how hard these games are. I’m glad I opted for this one, instead of the first one – the Quicksave ability is an absolute necessity.

My Gamefly queue should now be open enough for me to get a copy of MGS4; I’m even kinda getting excited, which is patently ridiculous.

>Lego Indiana Jones and the Quest for Attainable Achievements

>Funny thing happened yesterday. My copy of Lego Indiana Jones arrived via Gamefly, and even though I had a million things to do, I felt compelled to pop it in and check it out. About 30 minutes later, I’d unlocked 2 or 3 Achievements, and I suddenly realized it had been at least a week since I’d heard that sound or remembered what that felt like.

See, ever since I finished the story in GTA4, I’d sorta been half-heartedly trying to get to 100%, but it’s a time-consuming process even if you are giving it your all, and I’ve got a long ways to go on pretty much everything I need to do. So aside from finally figuring out what I was doing wrong on the “Fly the helicopter under the bridges” Achievement, and somehow beating the CUBED high score, it had been many, many hours since I’d unlocked any Achievements. Add to that my time spent on my PS3 – Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds is pretty addictive, and I also decided to download Crash Bandicoot 2, just because – and you can see why getting a little over 100 points in just over an hour in LIJ would feel like a shock to the system.

As for LIJ itself: I gotta say, I’m really enjoying it so far, maybe even more than the Star Wars games. Maybe it’s because I’ve always secretly liked the IJ movies more than the SW movies; maybe it’s because I think the puzzles are better, and are a more natural fit with the source material; maybe it’s because watching Lego Indiana drop kick a “Nazi” is always endearing and awesome. The humor is just as spot-on as it’s ever been in this series, but they also do a pretty great job with the platforming (such as it is) – there are moments where this kinda feels like a Tomb Raider game, which is great considering what Tomb Raider games are emulating in the first place.

My rented copies of Ninja Gaiden 2 and GRID should be arriving any day now, and I must admit I’m not really looking forward to either of them. The previous Ninja Gaiden game utterly broke my spirit, and everyone’s saying that the camera in NG2 is even worse than the first one. And the word about GRID – about how the 360 version suffers from freezing – is very disappointing, as I am a huge fan of DIRT and was really looking forward to this (although, of course, since I haven’t actually played it yet, I have no idea how bad the problem is, or if it even exists at all).

And then MGS4 arrives next week. I’ve set up my Gamefly queue so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t get a copy immediately; and yet I kinda don’t give a shit. I’m playing it because as a PS3 owner I feel obligated to play it, and so that I’ll be adequately prepared when the first wave of discussion hits the ‘tubes, but… as soon as I hit a cutscene that goes past 10 minutes and I lose track of whatever the fuck is supposed to be going on, I’m gonna sink back into my couch and wonder why I let myself get talked into something I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy.

>Oddworld (or, it’s not whoring if you love it)

>There were any number of reasons why I decided to do it, but, as usual, “Because I Can” ruled the day, and in 2-8 business days I should be getting a copy of “Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus” in the mail.

This is not just another “I am a consumer whore” post. This is a blogworthy event because the PS1 Oddworld titles are what got me back into videogames.

When I was a kid, I had an Atari 2600. When my little brother was a kid, he had a Sega Genesis. (Somehow we bypassed Nintendo.) Even though there were 6 1/2 years between us, we always liked playing games together, and we both accumulated pretty respectable collections on our respective platforms. I had no problem putting the Atari away when Jono got his Genesis hooked up (even then I was a graphics whore). We spent long hours trading the controller back and forth on the Sonic games, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, NBA Jam and the NHL games, on (gulp) Jurassic Park… I think the last game I really got obsessed with on the Genesis was Chakan, an obscure and very weird action game with an absurdly punishing difficulty. (That wikipedia page mentions that there were plans of a Dreamcast sequel… oh, if only.)

And then I went to college, which pretty much cut me off from videogames. None of my friends at school had brought systems to their dorm rooms, and my trips home from school were usually too short or too busy to get me any significant playtime. And my college experience was pretty much 24/7 non-stop sensory stimulation anyway – I didn’t really have time to think about gaming, nor did it occur to me that I wasn’t thinking about gaming.

It wasn’t until after I graduated college and was at my first post-school job that I got back into gaming, and that is entirely because of my friend Jongre, who had gotten a PS1 and a copy of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. I had seen commercials for it on TV but it didn’t really register; Jongre, however, had been intrigued enough to pick it up and called me up to check it out.

And I was hooked, immediately. I hadn’t thought about gaming in 6 years, and suddenly I was right back in it.

Those original Oddworld games (Exoddus might have come 2nd, but it was everything the first game was missing, and their releases weren’t that far apart, if I remember correctly) were totally unlike anything I’d ever seen before. For starters, they were staggeringly beautiful; in an era where anything 3D was a sight to behold, these 2D games easily trumped them all, and whenever you got to a cutscene, you truly felt like you were being rewarded. They had incredibly engaging mechanics – they were essentially puzzle games, but with elements of strategy, stealth and action seamlessly intertwined. Most importantly, they had established a mythos that, while clearly satirical in nature, felt very real and lived-in; the world had an ecosystem, a sense of history, a social dynamic. The game’s storytelling did an incredible job in establishing who you were playing as and what the stakes were for your kind, and even if the humor was a bit childish, it was always endearing.

I guess, if you’d had the sort of break with the hobby that I did – 1992-1998 being a pretty big gap – you’d maybe understand why the Oddworld games felt so seminal. Other people can point to Mario and Metal Gear and Final Fantasy – for me, it was Oddworld that was the torch-bearer, the light in the darkness, the new benchmark in storytelling and interactive entertainment. Clearly I was in the minority – I’m not sure if anybody remembers the Oddworld games anymore other than as the franchise with fart jokes that kinda died on the Xbox, mostly because the transition from 2D to 3D never quite worked the way it should’ve.

I’ll say this, though – when I heard that Oddworld was bypassing the PS2 and bringing the long-awaited Munch’s Oddysee to the Xbox as a launch title, I immediately knew which console I was going to buy. So in many respects, my standing as an Xbox fanboy is really because of Oddworld, even if the game’s roots were on the PS1.

When the news broke last week that there’s going to be a new Oddworld game, eventually, I got all sorts of excited, especially since it would be a no-brainer to get those old PS1 games onto PSN or XBLA. Right? Give ’em a little HD polish and get ’em out there again.

But then, I asked myself – why wait? Amazon had some copies of both Oddysee and Exoddus available, and after making sure that it would be playable on my PS3, I decided to bite the bullet and go for it. In the end, I opted for Exoddus over Oddysee; Exoddus had everything that made Oddysee awesome, with an even more epic story and the much-needed ability to save anywhere.

Thus endeth my latest consumer whore confession.

%d bloggers like this: