My gaming backlog has become a theme that I’ve visited and revisited several times throughout the life of this blog. As gaming has become more prevalent and as gamers have grown up and gotten jobs to fund their lustful collections, their backlogs have grown to be insurmountable. Many gamers refer to this collection as their ‘pile of shame’ and one group of gamers looked to at least provide a bit of relief.
February 2013 was marked as the first Four in February campaign that had a simple challenge: defeat four games during the month of February, to help ease the anxiety when thinking about one’s backlog. This was an interesting challenge to me, especially given my bad habit of falling into racing and sports games rather than grinding through one of the dozens of RPGs sitting on my shelf. I could even write about this topic (which also might deserve a bit of a backlog treatment given the infrequency of my posts).
Simple enough. Challenge accepted.
The first step was to choose four games. Judging by pictures on Instagram and Facebook, some opted for recent releases like Far Cry 3, others chose sprawling epics like Skyrim and others sought to just get one of those pesky old titles out of the way (Dragon Quest VIII, I’m looking at you). Ultimately, I chose a spread of titles that factored in each games length in relation to each other, how badly I wanted to beat the game, and how much fun I expected the game to be. Several games that were considered but ultimately not chosen included Crysis, Dishonored, Bastion, Yakuza 2, Metal Gear Solid 4 and the original Final Fantasy (my version is the remastered edition on iOS). I will make a note that any title related to the PS2 and PS3 were omitted, solely because my PS3 is out of commission for the time being.
So without further ado, my Four in February.
Beyond Good & Evil
Date completed: February 11
Version played: HD remaster for Xbox 360
Why it was chosen: Beyond Good & Evil was a title I really fell in love with when it was first released in 2003. Ten years ago I was playing on the PC, probably not the optimal setup for a game linked very closely to Legend of Zelda as far as gameplay was concerned. Needless to say, I never finished the game and selecting it for Four in February was primarily to get it out of the pile of shame and into the happily completed category. Additionally, I paid careful attention to how a decade old Zelda inspired action/adventure game would stand the test of time. Truth be told, it did surprisingly well. There were many quirks that showed the game’s age such as mandatory save spots, swapping between static and free moving cameras and an odd lack of customizable settings. But when looking at the scope of the game, its narrative, its characters, its gameplay and its charm, Beyond Good & Evil showed that it still had a ton of life and is definitely overdue for a sequel.
Assassin’s Creed III
Date completed: February 21
Version played: Xbox 360
Why it was chosen: Oddly enough, this is the earliest in the year that I’ve chosen to play an Assassin’s Creed game. I have been a fan of the series since the original and absolutely adore the Ezio Auditore arc of AC2. One thing that has become a bit of a tradition was that I would only play an Assassin’s Creed game if my wife (who was my girlfriend at the time) was in the same room as me. She also was a big fan of the Ezio story and was equally excited to see what type of assassin Connor would be. Although AC3 was released in the fall, my wife and I were neck deep in wedding preparation and did not have the time for Desmond, Connor and the American Revolution. Of all the titles that were selected, AC3 worried me the most. It had the biggest scope, the most involved storyline and the most ways to get sidetracked. AC3 lived up to its reputation in time consumption, sapping up practically three quarters of the month (I alternated between AC3 and Beyond Good & Evil for the first week). And while I completed the main story, there are still a ton of side quests that need sweeping up.
Date completed: February 26
Version played: Xbox 360
Why it was chosen: My brother and I went on an odd used game spree in the fall of last year, primarily looking for pristine copies of Musou games to mindlessly hack and slash across the three kingdoms. But one game kept calling to me whenever I picked it up: Vanquish. I kept thinking that a game where I could glam rock powerslide, bullet time and punch a robot like Ken from Fist of the North Star (another Musou title I picked up during those trips) must surely be worth the supposed 7-8 hours of gameplay required. Remembering this, my brother gave it to me for Christmas and it was everything I expected. I powerslid through Platinum Games’ cult hit that featured a generic protagonist that works for DARPA on a space station stopping cyborg terrorists while smoking cigarettes. And while it took me several days to actually pay attention to the plot to remember it for an upcoming backlog review, it was quite glorious. I can see why Platinum was tapped to handle Metal Gear Rising: Revengence.
Date completed: February 28
Version played: Xbox 360
Why it was chosen: My last title was finished as part of an all nighter (thanks to AC3 trying my patience for three weeks) in the early hours of the 28th. I have somewhat of a contentious relationship with Grasshopper Manufacture’s games. I think they have a fantastic reputation for creating ultra stylized games with some of the most memorable and outstanding boss battles, but for the rest of the grind the games can be a bit sub-mediocre. Lollipop Chainsaw fell into this same trend, but I will say that I enjoyed the grind a bit more than No More Heroes and Shadows of the Damned (both of which are backlog dis-honorees). Maybe because the game is entirely a guilty pleasure. Maybe because the barely legal 18-year-old Juliet Starling is a surprisingly lively character (although she is quite shallow). Maybe because I can’t help not love the premise of a stereotypical blonde cheerleader hunting zombies with a heart adorned chainsaw and her boyfriend’s severed head attached to her hip. And while the grind was unique and the gameplay typical Grasshopper awkward, the boss battles were unique and the style one of a kind. Sensing a bit of deja vu at the moment.
Four in February was a challenge that I enjoyed profusely and something that did manage to teach me new strategies for at least tackling the backlog. Often games hit a weird second act that is just not particularly gripping. Sometimes it is a level that is played out, or a game provides too many options and you find yourself with a lack of direction, or the grind to endgame is just brutal. Each of the games I chose had these flaws. Beyond Good & Evil was full of character but a little light on gameplay, Assassin’s Creed 3 had too much sprawling landscape to traverse, Vanquish struggled with an identity of what am I doing here and why am I shooting robots, Lollipop Chainsaw was a victim of its own design. But in the end, each game came together just enough to grasp the player and compel them to find out what Jade’s secret was, how Connor and Haytham will clash, if I powerslide and bullet time while punching this robot what happens to Sam’s cigarette and what badass boss fight will Grasshopper throw at Juliet next. Games are meant to be a challenge, sometimes the challenge is in actually grinding through it. It can definitely be rewarding.