Everyone has a game or two that they keep going back to, something that feels safe and familiar where they can lose themselves for a few hours and not really have to think too much about what they’re doing. Whether it’s a Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo, or something less mainstream there will be a title that you go back to when you need a rest from all the new releases being thrown at you. But what is it that makes you go back time and again to a title that might be years-old now or in it’s hundreth iteration from a fourth or fifth studio? Is it playability? Storyline? Multiplayer? A combination of all those? I guess it varies from person-to-person, but I also suspect that the variations are small. Miniscule even.
For me, it’s relatively simple; I’m not really one for storylines and I can often be found skipping through cut-scenes to get back to the action (sorry Lorna). I have never been great at stealthy games where silent kills, technical aptitude and l33t controller skills win the day, and I’m certainly not a collector. I’ve never played a single Pokémon game, and I’m sure our Editor-in-Chief despairs at me whenever I sell all my loot in Borderlands and Borderlands 2 despite being a massive whore when it comes to opening Pandora’s many chests. No, for me, the biggest factor in keeping me coming back is fun. I don’t play many A-list titles, and I am often behind the curve when it comes to new releases so I almost always miss out on the initial hysteria surrounding titles like Need For Speed Most Wanted, Battlefield 3 and pretty much every Call of Duty ever made. I’m often reluctant to exchange my cash for a new title on release day or pre-order because the prices are often far too high to justify, so I tend to wait for a bargain and that inevitably leaves me playing when my gamer friends have moved on to other delights.
Some of my favourite titles of the last few years have had a massive appeal because of their multiplayer options – Burnout Paradise was probably my first foray into the modern world of Xbox Live and that came about because my closest friends were playing it and having fun. It’s one I still go back on occasion when the mood takes me or a GL game night pops up, and it still is tremendous fun to play; boosting and barrel-rolling around the place, driving like a mad thing off the highest point above the quarry or getting frustrated at trying to get any kind of roll going through the fuselage in the airfield. The fun increases massively when you’re joined by people you know and trust too, which for me is always the bigger part of what makes a game a keeper.
Take another of my favourite games, Borderlands (and now Borderlands 2 along with it). When it first arrived on the scene I hadn’t really taken any note of it but, again, friends recommended it so I ordered it, tried it and loved it, and again, the multiplayer aspect really enhanced the whole experience but in a different way, as it was co-operatove rather than the usual all-against-all style of play. Graphically, Borderlands really appealed and I loved the RPG nature of levelling up and choosing abilities for my Hunter, but all that paled against the sheer joy of running around alongside a mate and just shooting the shit out of everything that moved. Gearbox have extended that joy by a huge amount with the release of Borderlands 2, though the opportunities to co-op have been intermittent thanks to other more important commitments of my usual partner in crime but, overall, the fun keeps on coming thick and fast, even in single-player mode.
Other games that I’ve become attached to over the short few years I’ve owned an Xbox 360 have mostly been because of a decent multiplayer element, and by that I don’t mean the COD version of this aspect – I have tried and failed to enjoy the online element of games like World at War and Black Ops. For some reason, they all failed to capture my imagination, and that could be in part because so few of my online friends bother with the franchise. I’ve enjoyed the usually very short storyline of most COD titles that have crossed my path, and playing split-screen against my nephew when he’s home from university is always a giggle, but they lack something fundamental to my sensibilities – something I don’t suppose they’ll ever quite match up to.
In contrast, I went back to Halo Reach night after night for months on end, even after those folk I regularly played with moved on to other things. I’d quite happily go back and play online against randoms, always muting them if they started getting too shouty, and rarely ever winning rounds in individual terms. I’m not the greatest FPS player really, but Reach had me returning time and again when I could have just gone out and bought other titles to try, even to the point of redoing the storyline mode on Legendary difficulty and grinding away until I had completed the playthrough – something very unusual for me. I did it though, and in its own grindy, frustrating way it was kinda fun, and that I know is what makes me go back to certain favourites again and again. The fun.
I’m not one of those gamers who really cares much about achievements or gamer scores; I think my own is currently standing at a shade less than 15k, some 213k less than what I assume to be the highest gamer score on my friends list. I’m not a fan of wordy point and click style adventures or the Alan Wakes of this world, and I’m definitely not someone who goes all out for merchandise and special editions. To me, gaming is an escape and something to be enjoyed. When the fun stops or a title doesn’t grab me because of some fault that the wider gaming community doesn’t see as I do, then I won’t play no matter how much other people rave about it. Gears of War, for example, is a much acclaimed title, and one I gave up on before getting very far into because of what, to my mind, was a fundamentally flawed controller set-up. There was no fun for me in not being able to hit any of the enemies and so it got consigned to the “done with” pile and forgotten about.
I play for fun and I’m not ashamed of that. More often than not that fun element is enhanced by having a good multiplayer side that I and my friends can lose ourselves in for shits and giggles, and that’s what draws me back to old, familiar territory. My gaming comfort zone is quite a lot smaller than most people’s I think – at least among those I know and interact with regularly – and I don’t buy new titles anywhere near as often as I perhaps could or should, but old faithfuls keep me gaming and escaping. Without them I’d likely never even switch on my console.
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