Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Permanent Collection

by Daniel Bullard-Bates

Do you think there is anything interesting about Gears of War or its sequel, apart from the mechanics? Anything that will make you want to return to that game in some ill-imagined future? I'm thinking of trading them in, since they don't really offer any unique experiences I can think of, beyond the first playthrough. The story is laughable and other games have stolen their mechanics and improved them.

This is true of many games: You play through them once, maybe longer if they have some appealing mechanic or compelling multiplayer, and then you forget them forever. I enjoyed Mirror's Edge, Darksiders, the Professor Layton games, and Assassin's Creed, but I don't see myself returning to them.

A lot of people trade in every game they've finished, but I keep all my favorites. There are some works of fiction that I return to frequently; I play Half-Life 2 as often as I read Slaughterhouse-Five or watch Brazil. It is unthinkable that any of them would be absent from my permanent collection.   

Replay value is enhanced by allowing the player to make different choices on a second playthrough or by including an in-depth multiplayer experience, but to gain a place in the hallowed, arcadian halls of gaming excellence requires something more. The games that we revisit time and again are the ones that provide an experience that can't be found anywhere else. I just haven't played a story-driven first-person shooter as exciting and interesting as Half-Life 2 and its episodes. I've never played a tactical role-playing game as well-designed, both in fiction and mechanics, as Baldur's Gate 2. I've played games that come close, like Dragon Age: Origins, but they don't reach those heights. That's also why we anticipate sequels so strongly to the games we love: we want to see those classic games be outdone, so that we can have an even better experience than the one that has consumed our minds and imaginations in the past.

Gears of War 2 makes Gears of War irrelevant. There's nothing to go back to, no interesting story or fascinating gameplay that wasn't carried over to the sequel. This isn't true of all franchises; God of War 2 improves on the action set pieces of God of War, but it's a step backwards in terms of the narrative and puzzle-solving. Kratos doesn't develop as a character after the first game. The God of War sequels are worth playing for the epic battles and titanic action sequences, but the first has something more profound to offer. There is a character, and a narrative, and a very creative dungeon of complex puzzles and difficult platforming.

So, readers, what makes you want to keep a game and return to it? What does a game have to do to earn a spot in your permanent collection?


  1. Man, I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I take a fairly scorched-earth approach to reselling games I play - usually I'll beat a game within a few weeks and quickly turn it around on without looking back.

    What games do I keep? Hmm. This year, I've hung on to Bayonetta, Demon's Souls, Mass Effect 2, and Dragon Age: Origins. All of those games are pretty deep experiences that offer a lot of replayability, and the latter two promise DLC that has yet to come out. I also once made the mistake of selling my copy of the Orange box, and have since obtained a second copy that I will never let go.

    I've found that beyond HL2, there aren't many older games I want to come back to. The only ones that come to mind (other than Lucasarts re-releases) are Far Cry 2 and Bully, two of my all-time favorites that I wish I hadn't sold when I did. Good thing both are selling online for around $10...

  2. I still play Half-Life once a year, and Half-Life 2 probably as often. Company of Heroes is probably the game I've played the most of. I've played at least one 1v1 match every week since I've bought it. You guys don't cover RTS much, and it's easy to see why, but CoH is so elegant that I can't put it away (even with the less than stellar expansions fouling the multiplayer game with unneeded and less elegant units and factions)

  3. I don't think any gamer should be without a copy of The Orange Box in their collection. That may be the most valuable video game collection of all time. Half-Life 2, both episodes, and Portal all in one place means that about a third of my must-own collection can all be purchased at once for twenty or thirty dollars.

    Throw in Braid, Baldur's Gate 2, BioShock, Fallout 2, Shadow of the Colossus, Silent Hill 2, and a handful of others, and you've got yourself one beautiful, artistically incredible package.

    And Bobby: The only reason that I don't cover and play more RTS games is that I am terrible at them. Just the worst.

  4. I bet I'm worse. When Starcraft II comes out, we should have a race to the bottom.

  5. Man, I won't be playing Starcraft 2. For some reason I appreciate Valve's ability to shine a genre to perfection, but hate when Blizzard does it... I think it's the way Starcraft functions entirely on internal logic. IE the mechanics have no real world equivalent. It makes the learning curve more steep than it should be, and the gameplay less fun (in my opinion). Other games have done it better, but lack the balance and polish of a Starcraft... too bad.

  6. First of all, awesome blog.

    I actually traded in Gears 1 and 2 a few months ago because of the reasons you mention. Also, I got to thinking how disgusting they were as far as the subject (player) they addressed with their representation and gameplay. My friend said it best once: "They're offensive," and he didn't mean in the politically correct way. He means they offended his gaming and human sensibilities. I'm not that sensitive, but every once and a while I clean the proverbial game shelf.

    Today I think I'll be parting with Dragon Age: Origins.

    The reason I found you is the similarity of our two blogs:

  7. A game has to be fun all of the time to stay in my collection, so my .wad files from Doom Engine games, the pak0.pk3 from Quake 3: Arena and my original Deus Ex CD will remain.

    I won't miss Dragon Age.


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