I take it as an indication of the quality of 2013’s games that BioShock Infinite, a game that seemed a shoo-in for copious awards come this point in the year, now looks likely to be frequently overlooked. I’m kind of the same now that the lustre has worn off and the rough edges – prosaic shooting, an occasionally annoying AI companion, bullet sponge enemies, that boss – have become evident.
But the original BioShock did very little… original, gameplay-wise. That achieved its plaudits through its setting and story, and while Infinite’s Columbia doesn’t grab me as firmly as the glorious Rapture and its rug pulls can’t touch BioShock’s, I played through the whole thing in two sittings because it kept me enthralled, keen to see what it would do next. The pre-release hype hinted at parallel universes and time travel, but it still surprised me in how quickly and to what extent it ran with those themes.
Just imagine the praise that would be heaped on its shenanigans had it been a Christopher Nolan film, say. Gaming as a mature storytelling medium? Never in doubt.
Hard to believe that a year ago we didn’t even know this game existed. On this day in 2011 the only XCOM revival on the agenda was the FPS version, which I think looks fairly interesting but has become a whipping boy for this generation’s ill-advised attempts to reboot cult PC classics for the Call of Duty generation.
This was pure fan service, though. Seriously, if you’d asked hardcore XCOM fans – is there any other kind? – what they’d like from a modern take on the franchise, I can’t imagine the result being far from what Firaxis delivered.
Praise must be lavished for how it achieved this while making a game that’s still enjoyable and eminently accessible for newbies like me. I dabbled with the original UFO when I first got Boxer installed – that app deserves some kind of award for making DOSBox usable to humans – and found it absolutely impenetrable and, while I have no doubt that there’s a superb game in there, I suspect it’s something you had to be there in 1994 to really appreciate.
By designing it to modern standards, introducing mechanics gradually so that the player’s skills grow with experience, this Enemy Unknown is accessible without massively dumbing down the core strategy or toning down the unforgiving difficulty. It should go down as an example to both gamers and developers – to the former as proof that the buzzword ‘accessibility’ isn’t necessarily the kiss of death for challenging gameplay that it admittedly often is, and to the latter as a blueprint for how to do it.
It didn’t do COD numbers, but it looks as if 2K had realistic expectations and is happy with the commercial performance. That bodes well.