Sorry, but this is going to be pretty meta since it’s a post about rediscovering fun by going down memory lane of times I rediscovered fun. Does that sound confusing? Because if it does, then welcome to my brain.
Usually what ends up happening with me is that I start a singleplayer game, and just play through to the end and set it down once the credits roll, but there have been a handful of times when I’ve been sucked into a game like a binary star slowly being devoured by a black hole where it’s sister star used to be. It’s a rare occurrence, but when it does… It’s a beautiful thing. I’m not talking about games like Destiny, Forza Motorsport/Horizon, or The Division, where I just played because it was something to do. No, these were times when I was consumed. In no particular order of course.
There are few games where I’ve progressed to the “top” rank in multiplayer, and Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is one of them. Back when I was living in New Mexico, floundering around with my college degree in 3D Animation, I spent the majority of my evenings playing my Xbox 360, and Terrorist Hunt was my thing. I met a couple guys in a random lobby in Terrorist Hunt, and after a few rounds we added each other as friends, and thus began a long gaming friendship that unfortunately came to an abrupt end.
Still, there were countless nights I would hop on to Xbox Live and see my buddies Kelly and Bill online, and we’d send out the inevitable “Wanna play?” message, then spend the next 4-6 hours just decimating terrorists on the highest difficulty, going so far as to create rules and constraints and I screwed around with my camo and gear. I barely remember the story of R6 Vegas 2, but I remember the multiplayer maps vividly. Nights would go by until the wee hours of the morning, with me alternating sessions between drinking a pot of coffee one night, and having a beer the next. There’s something weird about playing while having a beer, because it helped offset my usual twitchy nature where I get in a firefight and immediately begin spraying bullets everywhere. Maybe it helps calm me down a little? Of course, the opposite was true regarding my coffee intake, because I was downright spastic to say the least. I don’t quite understand why there isn’t a middle-ground with me, but I guess that’s just what you get when you’re an anxious mess.
I didn’t set that one down for months, but eventually we branched out to other games as well.
At some point, we gravitated over to Battlefield Bad Company 2, which had just introduced a new game mode called “Onslaught”, where you played with up to four players to capture points on a map while battling the AI. While there wasn’t much to the mode itself, and it was limited to only four specially modified multiplayer maps, we had it down to an art in no time.
I remember one map in particular, Atacama Desert, was a series of small towns that you needed to progress through to the final location. Thankfully you start the map with an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, and I loved flying that thing. It was something about the way I could weave around in the helicopter that made me feel like I was in the zone, and I didn’t care one bit that I didn’t get to play with all the cool toys. I just wanted to strafe the hell out of some bots and level as much of that map as possible. Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve always been great in an air support role, and this was no exception.
On the other maps, I was… present. I’d usually just default to acting as the squad’s medic, as I often do in many multiplayer games, because while I’m a twitchy mess who can get a few kills every now and then, I have a knack for being in the right place at the right time at least. If that doesn’t make for a good quality in a squad’s medic, then I don’t know what does.
Maybe being good at helping the team stay alive is a big part of it too, but you take what you can get I suppose!
When we weren’t tooling around in Bad Company 2 or Rainbow Six, we were in Call of Duty: Black Ops, playing (you guessed it) against bots. Are you sensing a pattern here? Honestly, I think playing with Kelly and Bill was more of a way for us to shoot the breeze while shooting bots. It was one of those games that they convinced me to buy (against my better judgment as a broke-ass college student). Sure, I wasn’t ranking up and Prestiging over and over, but I was having a good time racking up kill streaks while we gave each other a hard time about getting killed by the computer.
Besides, at least when you’re playing against the AI, you don’t need to worry about other players whining about camping, because you can just hole up in a building and take out waves of enemies while you run out the clock. Unfortunately, by the time we got into Black Ops, we were getting close to the point where Kelly and Bill had a falling-out with each other over some stuff that happened in real life. Interestingly enough, we all lived in the same state despite meeting on Xbox Live, so we had gotten together a few times to shoot pool and have a beer together.
That’s something I miss to this day, because while I don’t know the details about what happened between the two, I was caught squarely in the middle.
Well that was depressing…
Anyways, I eventually found my way over to playing Splinter Cell Conviction, which in itself was a bit of a departure from the Splinter Cell games of old, and the last of the series that featured the iconic voiceover of Michael Ironsides as Sam Fisher. I remember the lamentations of gamers and critics alike over the change from stealth-based gameplay to allowing for more violent action, but I loved the game nonetheless, and that was before delving into the co-op campaign and “Deniable Ops”.
I don’t remember who I played with, but I do remember spending hours upon hours skulking through the shadows with friends, alternating between the American and Russian characters in co-op, and even trying my hand at the game’s competitive aspects (shocking, I know!). One of my favorites of the game was playing the Face-Off mode, where you are tasked with eliminating the other player while trying to finagle your way through a map loaded with AI controlled enemies. It sure made for some harrowing experiences as risking open battle with the bots left you vulnerable to the other player, and even taking out enemies one-by-one left a trail that your opponent could use to their advantage.
I truly miss that experience, and I wish that I could’ve carried it over to the sequel, Blacklist. However, by that point I had become much more of a single-player gamer, so I didn’t venture onto Xbox Live to try and make new friends much anymore.
Unlike with Call of Duty: Black Ops, Modern Warfare 2 was a game I bought on my own accord. I didn’t have friends that played the series religiously, but I found that I got sucked into the multiplayer anyway, but what it turned into was something far more wholesome… I mean, it might’ve been. I just remember the good times.
I had played the online multiplayer quite often, getting as far as the rank of Lieutenant I believe. Of course, I definitely beat the campaign first (what kind of savage do you take me as?), but I found a home being used as a meat-crayon that teenagers used to color the various maps. To say that I wasn’t good at multiplayer is a bit of an understatement, and my avoidance of competitive gameplay has carried on to this day. Still, I was better than some people, so I didn’t suck enough to quit completely.
I was part of a college student church group though, and while we spent the majority of our time talking about religion stuff, the end of every get-together would be us just hanging out. Being the Nerd-Lord that I was, I would regularly pack up my Xbox 360 with spare controllers and bring them to our weekly meetings, then hook it up so we could have mini-tournaments. Well, anyone who’s played Call of Duty splitscreen would know that playing with the canned loadouts kinda sucks, and the only way to really have customization options of any kind at the time would be to level up your account to earn new weapons and perks.
So what did I do? I did what any unreasonably patient and obsessed gamer would do. I created three more local accounts for my 360 and began leveling them up. Not in traditional multiplayer, mind you… I spent hours playing splitscreen against myself. I started with my main then moved to the alt accounts, 1 versus 3, shooting stationary targets over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over…
You get the picture? Why did I do this? Because I thought it was unfair to my friends when I played as my main account with all of the gear I had acquired against the loadouts they were forced to use. Did they probably care? No… But it made me feel a little better knowing that despite leveling the playing field, they still demanded I play them 1 versus 3 on a tiny 32 inch TV.
I mean, it wasn’t tiny at the time, but it sure looks tiny now.
GTA IV was one of those games that blew my fricken mind when it came out. I know it didn’t have all the cool RPG elements of GTA San Andreas, and Liberty City felt small in comparison to the state of San Andreas despite being a larger map, but I loved it anyway. Everything looked so incredibly detailed, and I got a big kick out of some of the quirks. I know it sounds dumb, but I loved those phone calls from Roman…
“Cousin! Do you want to go bowling?” Hell yes I want to go bowling! I loved going bowling in GTA IV. All of the other activities were boring in comparison, except for the comedy club stuff, because there were full-fledged comedy sets from Ricky Gervais and Katt Williams in there. Going to play darts was fun too I guess, but I find playing darts in real life to be a little more entertaining. At least videogame bowling can make me feel like I’m actually good at it without coming across as too easy.
Like with many other games though, I found myself spending much of my time online though. In my case, it was the free roam mode that I had the most fun with, and that probably had something to do with the fact that GTA had yet to transition to becoming a light-MMO for the multiplayer, and you could play online without being griefed constantly. No, instead me and the folks I met online were able to wreak havoc versus the police, and do things like taking turns seeing who could jump out of the Annihilator at speed and hit a billboard with their body. Or take the Buzzard through downtown Liberty City at low altitude without hitting any buildings. Or racing firetrucks through Star Junction until the police decided that we ran over one too many pedestrians. All while my friends ranted about their favorite YouTuber at the time (old YouTube!), and one sang the chorus to Drowning Pool’s Let “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor”.
Good times. Gaming online gets weird sometimes.
Do you know about America’s Army? No, not the actual army, but the videogame propaganda they made and distributed freely as a marketing ploy to drive recruitment.
Holy hell. I just looked it up and they’re still running the game series online…
Anyways, back in my day, it was a free PC game that you could find at any recruiter’s office that came as a DVD in a little cardboard sleeve. It was meant as a means to educate players about the US Army, complete with mandatory training before you could play the game online. I’m not talking about a regular tutorial though; I mean you had to go through a virtual boot camp to even be able to play as the rifleman class in multiplayer, which was the base level you could play at.
You want to play as a medic? Gotta do first aid training complete with a written test and practical exercises. Want to play the Army Ranger maps? Gotta train. Want to play the Special Forces expansion? Go learn about the Green Berets. Weapons jam, reloads happen as they actually would occur (God help you if you had the M249), your enemies don’t drop ammo because the opposing players were skinned as terrorists with Russian equipment (so everyone thought they were playing as the good guys).
If you ignored how gross it is for the US military to market a videogame that essentially glorifies war to teenagers to drive recruitment, it was actually a fun game that was well-supported. America’s Army could run on a potato, which was awesome for me because I had a cheap Dell tower for years before I eventually got a hand-me-down PC that had an actual graphics card in it.
And I actually wasn’t terrible at the game, so that helped influence my opinion of it. It probably helped that the focus on realism heavily penalized run-and-gun gamers in favor of players that played more tactically. Still to this day, it was the only shooter that I was ever active in a clan for a considerable amount of time.
I don’t recall how I heard about Payday 2, or even that there was an original, but Payday 2 became a fixture of my life for a long time. What began as me experimenting with something completely different than what I was used to turned into a way for me to make some pretty strong friendships.
As with any multiplayer game, it wasn’t about the game as it was the friends I made along the way, and friends I did make. I eventually met my friend Matt through playing Payday 2, where we started with the standard Jewelry Store and shop heists, and eventually worked our way up to the banks and museums. Were we good at it? Hell no, but we had fun. Eventually I conned Jennifer into playing with us and we had the beginnings of a good team, failing upwards!
To this day Jennifer and I are still friends with Matt, and while we don’t get to talk often, he invited us to his wedding. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get to make it to New York to see him and his now-wife, but maybe someday in the future we can meet up.
I’ll never forgive him for jumping ship to the PlayStation though…
Perfect Dark, the original on Nintendo 64, was a staple of my childhood. Not that garbage sequel mind you, the best version. The one where you play as Joanna Dark and save the President of the United States (and I guess the world… Maybe the galaxy too?) from a race of monstrous, warmongering aliens. Uh, spoilers I guess… It’s an old game so…
To this day, I still have the urge sometimes to jump back to the game, albeit on the Xbox instead so I can avoid playing with the atrocious N64 controls. I’ve gone back and beaten it a few times, but what I dearly miss is the Combat Simulator. It consumed hours of both mine and my brother’s lives as we decimated the AI with all manners of weaponry, to the point that both him and I had unlocked just about everything in the game.
But what sticks in my mind the most is the story that my step-father told at Jennifer and I’s wedding; something I vaguely remember.
I was probably twelve or so at the time when my mom brought him to meet us. I was sitting on the floor in the living room playing Perfect Dark, when they came up to me to do introductions. As he told it, he came up to me and we greeted each other, after which I asked him if he wanted to play. My step-dad is a bit of a gamer himself, so he agreed, thinking (as he recalled) something to the effect of “Okay, I’ll just go easy on the kid.” So I set up the match and we began, but not long after the match started, I had already surrounded him with a plethora of proxy mines, explaining to him “If you move, you’ll blow up.”
To this day, he still won’t play against me. I think I burned that bridge immediately, but I got a good story out of it at least!
Before Electronic Arts got their grubby little paws on the rights to the franchise, Lucasarts was where it was at. Sure, they made some terrible games, but there were gems like the Battlefront series. Like with Rogue Squadron, it was one of those game series that let you play through some of the iconic battles of the franchise, and even some bonus stuff too. I mean, the locations and battles aren’t true to the movies, but what do you expect for the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox?
Somehow the developers worked within the confines of the hardware of the time and made games that put me right in the hotseat. I owned the first Battlefront on the PS2 and the second on the Xbox; with the former being the catalyst for my addiction. Still, what really stole all my attention was the second one, specifically because of the space battles and Galactic Conquest, which was dramatically expanded in the sequel to function almost like a strategy game. The first game’s version of the game mode was fun, but super simple. I didn’t get to play online, but my brother and I would sit for hours in front of the Xbox fighting each other in battle after battle. Yeah, I lost to him more times than I could count, but it was fun nonetheless, and when him and I couldn’t play, I would dominate the AI.
As you may imagine, I have a proclivity to gravitate towards cooperative multiplayer. Shocking, I know. So when the trailers started showing for Ghost Recon Wildlands, Jennifer and I were sold. I know that’s pretty dumb given how misleading trailers often are. That’s probably the understatement of the year…
Thankfully, despite the fact that Wildlands didn’t live up to the expectations we had for it, Jennifer and I had a great time tearing around fake-Boliva. It engaged us on a level that doesn’t occur much in many games, because it fostered cooperation between us. Where games like Halo don’t really benefit from co-op play other than offering players more firepower to take on harder enemies, games like Wildlands give the opportunity to use tactical concepts that often don’t function in more confined and linear experiences. While the Ubisoft approach to open world game design has long outstayed its welcome, it lends itself well here because it allows the player to take any number of approaches to accomplish goals.
Jennifer and I ended up using many different military tactics to varying degrees of success. Staging ambushes, doing air drops, using covered advances and close quarters tactics allowed us to take on enemies that would easily have wiped the floor with us in toe-to-toe battle. I mean, Wildlands isn’t exactly difficult to say the least, but it was fun to play in a way that wasn’t just running and gunning.
There’s something to be said too about sneaking into an enemy compound under the cover of a sniper who’s almost a kilometer away and taking out baddies with surgical precision. Or flying a gunship over a base and strafing the hell out of it while your partner is cleaning up the stragglers and calling out groups you can take on. It really sucks that Breakpoint didn’t even live up to its predecessor, which really wasn’t that great in retrospect. Wildlands was a buggy mess that definitely had a ton of annoyances to it (like the original helicopter controls which were like hot garbage consisting entirely of expired milk that was left out in the Arizona heat in the middle of July), but Breakpoint apparently was Ubisoft’s version of responding to someone complaining about them turning every game into a terrible live service title and saying “hold my beer”.
Gah… I didn’t mean to rant about games. This was supposed to be me gushing about games I loved, and I’m just whining.
Conclusions or something
Looking back and reflecting on the games I remember playing, and loving, I can definitely see a pattern. I’m sure you already know where I’m going with it too (not like I didn’t telegraph it by the third entry). The games I remember having the best time with were all games I played with others. Those experiences stuck with me because I spent that time with someone else. Sure, there were games I played and loved that were entirely singleplayer affairs, like Rogue Squadron and The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion, but the best gaming memories I have came from playing with friends.
There are times, especially lately, where I sincerely miss that connection. The few times I’ve been able to jump into co-op have rekindled that flame a bit, like when I tried out Warframe with my buddy Omar (who does his own blog stuff!), hanging out with my old friend Zack and his clan in The Division 2, or completely decimating foes in Halo (though only singleplayer in Halo) and Destiny with Jennifer. It’s just not something I’ve been able to pursue much, and that kinda bums me out. Still, I have those good memories, and I know that more are waiting in the future. After all, I have a son now, and when he’s old enough to play games with me, I know I can do everything I can to avoid playing against him since I know he’s inevitably going to start steamrolling me at some point!
Well that’s me, but what about you? What are some of your fondest gaming memories?