By MarkWahlberg 6 Comments
I missed out on a lot of the major games in the early 00’s. I didn’t have a console, or a computer that was up to spec, so most of my exposure to big name releases came from playing them at friend’s houses. I’ve spent some time recently going back through some of that old catalogue , and the past couple weeks have been devoted to two Oldies (old in the Internet sense of the term, which is to say, from 6+ years ago), one considered a classic, the other cult. I’ve only finished one of them, but what I sensed immediately upon starting both, and what has stayed with me since is a sense of being, quite frankly, insulted.
Let me explain.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was made in 2003 by Bioware. Bioware would go on to make Mass Effect, and later Dragon Age: Origins. Having played both of these games, that fact is immediately obvious. The inherited qualities of those two franchises is so apparent, in fact, that it makes them seem not so much standard for the genre as signs of a lack of imagination. I never had any illusions about Mass Effect being a well made game, but I did enjoy Dragon Age, and yet KOTOR managed to retroactively make both of these seem much worse. Admittedly, this is probably unfair. Games should be judged solely by their own merits, but the obvious parallels between the later games and this are so apparent that it is almost impossible to do so. The combat is real-time turn-based, as Dragon Age is, but is not in any sense fun. You just sit there watching these guys thwack at each other a lot until one falls down. The level design and visual style is boring, despite being based on a film series with strong stylistic sensibilities. The writing in KOTOR, both in regards to dialogue and story, is so unbelievably shitty that I felt like it was willingly designed for a semi-literate, socially stunted 10-year old – granted, I’m playing a Star Wars game, so that is not an implausible assumption, but I did spend a fair amount of my childhood on Star Wars games, and fuck this. I’m the kind of guy who will usually exhaust every dialogue option presented in games, even those concerning pointless backstory, but here I found myself impatiently skipping through almost every conversation. Maybe it’s because I know about Tatooine already, and I don’t need some dumbass lizard man telling me about how it’s a fucking desert planet and there’s these things called Hutts and go fuck yourself, nobody cares. But even the inter-party dialogue was enough to make me want to shoot almost everyone, except maybe Jolee, but only because he didn’t really give a fuck either.
Now, I understand that few people strike gold on the first try. It takes experience to know how to make something as complex as this kind of RPG. But now that I’ve played this, the mistakes that I noticed in both ME and DA – mistakes I felt willing to overlook – now seem much more apparent, and much less forgiveable. Knowing that they’ve been down this path before, and seemingly have learned little from it, lessens my respect for Bioware considerably. They’ve been down this track before. They fucking know better. I thought Mass Effect was just a failed first outing, I didn’t realize it was the result of being too goddam lazy to learn from their mistakes. I know that KOTOR is highly praised and fondly remembered by many people who played it, but honestly I found nothing about it that I feel would justify recommending it to anyone.
And I still enjoyed it more than Bully.
As I mentioned earlier, I missed out on some of the bigger titles over the years. The GTA games I had periodic but consistent exposure to at friends' houses, but the first Rockstar game that I owned was Red Dead Redemption. I thought it was an interesting if somewhat flawed game, and one that played fairly well, especially in comparison to GTA IV’s awkward shooting and driving mechanics (i.e., the game). Bully was never as big a title as either of those games, but does have a devoted following (good sirs Davis and Klepek among them, I believe). I should point out that I have yet to finish Bully, but in all likelihood I never will. This game has somehow managed to take everything I don’t like about Rockstar games, and leave out everything I do. Missions involve your character deciding to do things because it’s a game, and you need things to do. There is never any real ‘why’ to anything that happens, to the point that I'm not even sure there was a story there at all. That happened in RDR too, but not all the time and not this badly. Rockstar’s character development has ( in GTAIV and RDR, at least, I can’t remember earlier) relied on taking tired stereotypes from old movies and turning them into kind of shitty people, but here it’s like they decided to take a John Hughes movie (of whom I am not a fan) and make literally every character into the worst kind of person in the most boring way imaginable. I understand Rockstar’s idea of parody starts and ends with ‘make faults more explicit, remove any redeeming qualities’, but here it’s done to in such a lazy manner, and with no discernible goal, that there’s no reason to give a fuck about anything that anyone says. And the gameplay is so uninspired that there’s really no reason to play it at all. The controls aren’t terrible, but the combat and the ‘driving’ aren’t fun in the least, and it's so much worse seeing the similarities between them and RDR's. The idea of a High School GTA sounds great, but in practice it’s frankly boring.
The fact that anyone considered either of these games worth my time is, as I said above, insulting. And having both of these games to compare with their successors sort of underlines a problem I’m having more and more with games lately. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I’m not having as much fun with them as I used to. And as much as I can see how Rockstar and Bioware have both managed to improve their products over time, the ways they haven’t changed is much more noticeable. Flaws I once accepted in DA or RDR now just seem like lazy, pointless idiosyncrasies that have no business being in the games at all. I dunno. Video games.