So, where was I? Right, current generation hardware. Beautiful stuff, isn’t it?
I picked up an Xbox 360 just as I was heading into my last year of university studies. Being loyal to the PlayStation brand, this was not an easy decision; but the ridiculous price set for Sony's latest machine (just under a thousand bucks in Australia) and inevitable delays forced my hand. All things considered, I’m glad I ventured into brand neutrality: for the 360 was and is a fantastic console. From the Xbox Live Marketplace to exclusive software, Microsoft’s second foray into the market has provided heartbreak and fun in equal measure.
“Heartbreak,” I hear you say. “How so?” Between my brother and I, we’ve seen four 360s fall at the hands of the Red Ring of Death (RRoD). For a family who’d never had a console fail, these deaths rocked us to our very core. Still, the best gaming experiences of this generation can arguably be found on this platform; build quality be damned.
Dead Rising was the first game to demonstrate the power and necessity of this new breed of machines. Hundreds of zombies on screen, all sporting a level of detail that was simply not achievable on your PlayStation 2s, Xboxes and Gamecubes. This “arrival” so to speak, was further highlighted by BioShock, which would have to be my favourite single player experience without question. Rapture, Ryan and the moral quandaries that they presented continue to be the point from which all other videogame narratives should be judged.
The Big Daddy of all powerful first-person narratives.
The Xbox 360 is also home to my favourite competitive multiplayer experience as well: Gears of War. I wasn’t well liked in most matches that I joined: I stole kills, I relied heavily on the chainsaw bayonet, I was Achievement-focussed (so I hogged weapon pick-ups) and I freaked out – as in rolling around, desperately avoiding an enemy that probably couldn’t see me anyway - whenever the opposing side acquired the Longshot. So to summarize, I was not a team player and my actions were never backed up by anything reminiscent of skill. Still, it’s by far the most fun I’ve ever had playing with or against others, and I would also argue that I invested more time in playing Gears online than any other game released before or after the fact.
This is what I was trying so desperately to avoid!
Right after my first 360 suffered from the dreaded RRoD, I switched to the PlayStation 3. Metal Gear Solid 4 and Grand Theft Auto IV were my first memorable experiences with Sony’s current generation hardware, with each proving to be the best instalments of their respective franchises. I’ve heard plenty of arguments for Niko being a flawed character, but that’s exactly the point. Listen to his chat with Illyena Faustin: the man has seen the worst humanity has to offer, and after travelling to America to live a life of supposed luxury with his cousin, he finds himself in just as much trouble as he had back home...all within a matter of days. He didn’t want to slay that SWAT team with Johnny Klebitz, but to avoid time in the slammer, he did it anyway. When people are backed into a corner, they do desperate, regrettable shit. End of story. Besides, Niko be damned: Liberty City is the real star of the show!
Only recently have I tried to start gaming on the PC. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always had one in the house, but rarely with enough power to play new releases. Sometimes I’m blown away by how smooth the experience is when compared to consoles: both Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Warhammer 40K: Space Marine held up remarkably well on my new laptop. My new "rig," however, fails to run others - like Witcher 2 and, more recently Driver: San Francisco – to a satisfactory standard.
Still, as someone prone to wax nostalgic, I’m happy to admit that the standard of gaming experiences on current platforms is better than those found on previous hardware iterations. Even if you disagree, you could likely download your favourite “classics” to your platform of choice or find them included in a compilation disc.
I could go on about my favourite games from the last few years, but I need to address something that finds itself into many of my posts: the Australian effect. Things are different on this side of the pond, and whether it be price, censorship or the release schedule, it’ll often be cause for me to pause for thought, scream or put rant to paper (or blog as it were).
Australians are often subject to ridiculous price points at bricks-and-mortar retail stores. The retail price of videogames is set at $99.95 for most PC releases and as much as $119.95 for console games. That’s standard editions too, folks. If you want to talk Collector’s Editions we can tread into some ridiculous territory; upwards of $200. Grey importation is the order of the day for a lot of Australians, with Australia Post reporting that a whopping 70% of packages processed were from online retailers (via Kotaku AU). Downloadable games and content is, however, still subject to some pretty bogus pricing arrangements. To buy Modern Warfare 3 from Steam in Australia will set you back $99.95, and the prices seen on the Playstation Network and XBLM’s Games on Demand service are at times reason for me to vomit in horror. So THQ, you want me to pay $99 for a digital copy of Space Marine via the PSN for which the publisher didn’t have to foot any logistical costs (such as packaging, freight etc)? No thanks, and up yours for asking!
The Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) and the Australian games classification system is also cause for much agony and eye-rolling. Despite what you may have read, we don’t actually have an R18+ rating for games yet. It was agreed to in principle by the Standing Committee of Attorneys General, but the new rating is yet to be implemented (once again, via Kotaku AU). For more on the OFLC’s gaffes and inconsistent decision-making, check out these posts:
No, you're right: this looks like a hug compared to Left 4 Dead 2
Apart from grand larceny and a nonsensical ratings system, Australia’s actually a pretty great place to live and game. It is pretty hot here though - particularly on the Gold Coast – so Swamp Ass is a real danger, especially in summer.
Are there any other Australian Bitmobbers out there? I know there are some Kiwis amongst us, which is good to see.
Dutch Note: There will be a third part to this series, however, you may have already seen it; so I won't publish it here again. It's an edited version of Sounds Like a Memory.