Apart From the Crowd
Every year we slink into this dim reach of days after the glitz and glamors of the holidays have passed and there is little left to do but catalog a reckoning of the year. Particularly for those of us who have crossed a chronological and mental terminator beyond which New Year’s Eve holds little meaning, the howling freeze of late December is less a call to celebration as it is just a damn cold wind.
At times like this what is there to be done besides tally up the days that have come and rank them for posterity? What was the biggest news story of the year? The best film, crappy pop-music album, incoherent sports-star tweet or character death on a episodic prime-time show? And, of course, what was the best/worst game of the year?
I don’t mean to imply that I’m somehow above it all. If there is any hypocrisy to which I’ve not become comfortably accustomed, then assume that I just haven’t thought of it yet. I have no qualms with being at one turn critical of a thing, and then in the same sentence an active participant. But, what strikes me as we circle back ‘round to the Best Game of 20XX discussion is how far away I am from the norm on two key games.
Civilization V and Heavy Rain.
Judging by some of the criticism circling the web as regards the storied Civ franchise, the classic Star Trek law that every odd-numbered iteration is infused with concentrated, perhaps lethal doses of disappointment may be manifesting itself in the House of Firaxis. Anyone who has sat through The Search for Spock and The Final Frontier will know the pain that some Civ players seem to be enduring in the semi-reboot that is Civilization V.
I just seem to be that odd bird in the crowd, wearing my Vulcan ears and Federation Insignia who thinks that a character like Sybok is just the sort of thing the franchise needs to get moving in the right direction.
Hexagonal board, non-stacking armies, sea transport for ground units, culture tech trees, elimination of spies and religion -- these are all a big check mark in my big-book-of-good-ideas. And, I admit that the launch AI was patently non-spectacular, but maybe I’m just playing Civ for the wrong reasons, because I found my classic one-more-turn zen as quickly and easily as I ever did with Beyond the Sword.
I realize the disenfranchised will argue that I am underplaying the woeful AI, and that may be true. The issue at hand probably dissolves down to the shameful secret that I view Civilization more as a pseudo-sim than I do a competitive game. I am content to see my kind flourish across a grand landscape, and more often than not I’m more put-out than engaged by an invading civ. Examined through that distorted lens, it’s hard for me to find complaint against Civilization V.
Which, happily, leaves me extra scorn to heap upon Heavy Rain.
Heavy Rain, to me, feels like a movie that you leave feeling as though you should have enjoyed it, but the longer you ruminate on the experience the more you discover you hated the whole damn thing -- a movie like Pitch Black. (Pitchforks and fiery torches will be distributed in an orderly fashion.)
I choose Pitch Black, because like Heavy Rain it is a perplexingly beloved piece of poorly acted narrative with plot glory holes of obscene dimensions that seems to get a pass for style and a vague sense of uniqueness.
I understand the whole diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks concept, and that’s the whole point here. I’m clearly the outlier, the raving lunatic, but I look at Heavy Rain and where others see an exercise in innovation, I see an overindulgent exercise in tedious gameplay, counter-pointed by a non-sensical and questionably written plot. Yes, it had some very affecting moments, but I’m pretty sure cutting off my actual finger would be affecting as well, and I suspect that I wouldn’t like that much either.
Thing about Heavy Rain is that I think I actually liked it more in the moment of having immediately finished it than I did at any moment after. It is a game that does not sit well in my memory and that is openly grotesque when viewed from afar. While so many others seem to have locked the strongest vignettes into their mind, it’s the tedious busy work, awkward conversations and ridiculous conceits that stick out in my mind.
I don’t expect much agreement at the end of all this. This probably isn’t a popular opinion, which is part of why I bring it up. Not to be contrary, but I always find it interesting when my perception of a game, which is so traditionally in lockstep with a certain kind of model, strikes off stubbornly on its own, because here’s the thing -- I should love Heavy Rain and I should be disappointed in Civilization V. I totally get why people have the opinions they do on these games, and I don’t quite get why I don’t share those opinions.
I'm not standing around saying here's how I feel about these two games and you should feel the same way too. I'm saying that I'm just as surprised as you that I feel these ways about these games. And, it's kind of nice to be surprised that way every now and again.