One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was buying an Xbox. Sure, playing it was fun, but I can’t help but dwell on what else I could’ve been doing in the time that I was murdering aliens, lying in my own filth for hours on end. Hundreds of hours that could’ve been spent making me better, healthier, smarter. More fragrant.
Years spent doing mindless jobs, then returning home to mindlessly shoot some monsters in the balls probably hasn’t been great for my brain. For every mentally-tasking game, there are 100 mindless ones. Sadly, the simple ones are generally much more fun to play. My reflexes might be better now, but my mind is a ball of mush. Regardless, onwards:
After years in a gameless wasteland I purchased said Xbox. I had been teased by a few quick shots of games. Doing drive-bys and riding bikes in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and the explosive mayhem of Black had sealed the deal. I bought one and got hooked.
I remember doing consecutive 5am finishes on a weekend in order to finish the first two Splinter Cell games. I had gotten stuck on the first one, so, completely ignoring the continuing storyline and the unwritten rules of gaming, I unwrapped the sequel. I had reached the midpoint of both games by that weekend, and devoted myself to finishing them. I’m not very good at games, and was even worse then, so it took ages for me to finish anything. I jumped back and forth on both games, and was genuinely triumphant when I completed them. I won’t lie, there was chest-thumping.
San Andreas consumed more of my time than thinking, intelligent discourse, and, sadly, sex. Weekends were spent cooling; driving a motorbike through the country or taking a stolen car through other hoods, trying to knock down other gang members. For the unitiated in the ways of GTA, none of this was necessary, if it was a purely optional part of the game. Hours frittered away, and not even on the main objective of the game. GTA games give you the freedom to waste time in ways never before seen, they were a new peak in arsing around. Drive 15 minutes to get to the top of the highest hill, only to jump off the edge, just to see how long it takes to fall. One time I stole a helicopter on one side of the city and flew it back to the hood, trying to land it on my roof, just to see how the homies would respond.
The aforementioned Black was…noisy. There would be the rare moments of stealth, which served to highlight how BANG the rest of the game was. Fire a grenade in a window and watch the explosion bring your enemies down to earth, showered in glass. The destructible environments were a novelty, at least to me. Like Strangehold years later, Black gave you the chance to take down soldiers by destroying the environment around them. Spot some enemies rushing at you from a doorway? Take down the pillars holding it up and watch them all die. The tensest moments were when you’d round a corner to meet a dude in a mask. These cats were gangster. With bulletproof gear on, the only way they went down was if you shot their mask off (I’ll smash your mask), then put one in the melon. Unless you got really lucky and one bullet did both.
Sniping in Black was frustrating. Some mothercrusher would be up on a platform somewhere, gleefully firing unlimited amounts of RPGs at you. You’d find some cover, switch your gun to single shot, then try to get some lead under his helmet (so to speak). The sheer amount of time that a shot looked good, only to ricochet off, was unbelievable.
Eventually I was introduced to the next generation – the Xbox 360. I got a few shots of one before I bought my own. I became famous/infamous for my mistakes and stupid, nonsensical strategies. These awful performances earned me the nickname ‘Spence’ (as in Frank Spencer, clumsy oaf of TV’s Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em). The tension of my first online multiplayer games broke me, I started shooting everyone, even my own team, like some paranoid Terminator character, convinced that everyone else is a deadly robot. I also put on some superb displays in driving games, placing the car in a number of unusual positions, in a hedge, around a tree.
But my lowest point in gaming was in the strategic shooter Rainbow Six. As you can imagine, the ‘strategic’ part went out the window. I’d play it on co-op, meaning (hilariously) that someone else had to rely on me to not get us killed. The plan of attack ended up being ‘get confused, lose bearings, barrel into group of enemies, wait to respawn’. Rainbow Six allowed you to peek under doors. You approach it, look down, and hit a button. However, if you’re careless and angle slightly away from the door, the ‘look under door’ button becomes the ‘horse a grenade across the room’ button. After a few suicides, this should have become a lesson learned. But I’m a slow learner. So imagine numerous attempts at fighting through buildings with slow, stealthy movements, and then we reach that most deadly of obstacles, the door:
“Raymond, look under that door in case there’s someone on the other side. And don’t fuck it up this time”
*wait to respawn*
Then, when I bought my own 360, I got marginally better, and sunk altogether far too much time into various games, finishing maybe a quarter of them. A combination of insufficient skills and lack of patience meant the unfinished games got ejected in a huffy, childlike manner, soon replaced with a more recent purchase. Which then also went incomplete. And the cycle continued.
I was stunned by how cool the opening 20 minutes of Half-Life 2 was. A chase through flats in a run-down block, then over a roof, an amazing pace and intensity. It was one of the first games I bought when I got a 360. I stared open-mouthed at how awesome the ‘conveyor belt’ scene was in the Citadel. Not interactive at all, save for looking around, but just a huge spectacle. My jaw dropped further later in the level, when the handy gravity gun became super-powered and I could throw enemies about like a roided-up Jedi.
The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series made me want war. At a very rough estimate I’d say I poured about seven days into the multiplayer of both games. This doesn’t include the hefty amount of hours spent finishing the campaign, then replaying the levels, and trying them on different difficulty settings. Hours were also spent/wasted playing one-on-one on the larger levels; a fun but daft idea, and an exercise in stealth, patience, and seeing who would be the first to get bored and start to blow things up.
Time playing Gears of War and Assassin’s Creed was often spent just staring at the beautifully-designed landscapes. With Gears, however, the game was also fun to play as well as look at. Creed was listening to people talk and being annoyed by beggars.