The Non-Line Desert
The pace of change in the world of gaming is faster than the Pope’s orgasm during junior choir practice – and is equally unchallenged by the masses. A recent house-move has left me without internet; stranded on a desert island of disconnection. What is a gamer to do without the ability to drink from the refreshing fountain of high-speed broadband? You, like me, may assume that there are a plethora of games out there which offer a comprehensive and entertaining non-online gaming experience. In reality, though, the pace of change in games seems to be moving us past a point where non-online (I’ll call it ‘non-line’) gaming is a viable option.
We can begin this discussion by dismissing those games for which it is obvious that, despite the fact that they may contain a single-player story mode, they clearly loose the lion’s share of their appeal once online play is no longer an option. Examples such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, Gears of War – while they are not relegated to absolute worthlessness, their 4-10 hour campaigns are not a suitable drug to combat the illness of non-line boredom. It’s like trying to cure AIDS with Cal-Pol.
What about the current generation’s big-time RPGs and story oriented games? Granted, playing through Uncharted would be absolutely marvellous had I not already played them all through twice. Even if I hadn’t played a single game, though, there would still be a glaring issue for me as a non-line gamer in 2012. Take Enslaved as an example; here is a ‘story’ game I had not played, so it should (in theory) be perfectly equipped for the challenge of entertaining me on the desert island of non-line gaming. In fact though, I find that the game is beleaguered by a number of technical issues. The kick in the teeth is that several of these issues were fixed by a (virtually) day one console update. That’s right – gone are the days when you had to release a console game that actually worked; now you can shart out a buggy beta and patch it like a leaky colostomy bag on day one. That leaves us non-liners to drink the colostomy drippings like good little 20th century gamers.
Excusing this disturbing reality for a moment, let us think of shining examples of single-player excellence. From my collection I was able to whip out Skyrim, and Mass Effect 3 – the former being a gargantuan game whose 100-hour campaign I have barely passed half-way on, and the latter being a game I intend to beat into completion at least another two times. Given that patches were not needed for either of these games (I already had them downloaded), how did they perform without the sacred internet connection?
Well, I just wouldn’t be a gamer unless I gave Skyrim it’s deserved glowing review. But this praise is entirely earned; offline Skyrim offers me seemingly unlimited scope for fun and exploration. Whether it’s an enthralling quest to the bowels of a dungeon to kill a bandit leader, or simply wandering around the mountains fearlessly slaying dragons, Skyrim makes the hours pass quicker and smoother than a gone-off curry.
Attempting to revisit Mass Effect felt like a slap in the face with a decidedly wet fish. Seeing my ‘galactic readiness’ hovering lugubriously around the lowest possible score caused the OCD in me to go into overdrive, precluding any chance of me comfortably playing the game. It seems that, for those of us with a personality as defiantly completionist as mine, Mass Effect 3 has become an experience demanding the internet. For shame.
In the year 2001, countless millions of hours of the average youth’s time were sacrificed to the God of Video Games on the altar of GTA3. It would be fascinating if we had a total body-count for every civilian mowed down, every police officer shot, and every tank-shell fired on that most revered game. Ironically, that functionality would require the internet, so I’ll not dwell too much on the desire. The point of the matter is that Liberty City is a great place to visit if you want to kill some time, and some… er… police. So how does Grand Theft Auto 4 hold up in the non-line world, 11 years down the line? The answer is, ‘averagely’. Perhaps there is an element of ‘been there, done that’. Raoul Moat aside, how many mindless cop-killing rampages can one honestly go on before the experience loses it’s moreish appeal? It seems that no matter what your personal answer to that question is, the likely answer will not be infinite.
Being a proud northerner, mining is probably somewhere in my blood (alongside the KFC and trace remnants of rohypnol) so Minecraft (offline) may seem like a logical pastime for me. But even though I can explore the world and build a rather pointless structure, which admittedly bears a deliberate resemblance to Starfleet Academy, something feels missing. Unfortunately, there are just so many elements of Minecraft that are enhanced by online connectivity that without it the game feels like a pizza without any toppings, or friends to eat it with.
So what has been the point of this rambling tirade of grumpy gibberish? Change and progression are not inherently bad things – in fact they are vital to keep the industry alive. It would be a great shame if we moved so fast and so far that, before we realise it, we’ve left an important aspect of gaming behind. Perhaps one day every game will require an online connection – no doubt we’re already headed indefatigably towards that eventuality. However that day is not today. That’s why it is a shame that the issues raised here exist, and that’s why I wanted to talk about them. What say you?