Anyone who has read our Deadline Gaming article in Issue 3 of The Vita Lounge magazine will know how seriously I take my deadlines. When the boss wants me to hit the lift of an embargo I damn well hit it. When an unexpected game suddenly comes in I drop everything and give it my all, but my eyes are always on my Pooped Puppies calendar. Even when I game purely for fun, I track release dates like a hungry drunk tracks a kebab, desperate to ram down the whole doner before the sun rises and a brand new game hits the shelves. You see, there are three things I hate more than anything in this sorry old world: tomatoes, snobbery, and starting one AAA game before completing another.
I take my role playing very seriously and the game doesn’t have to claim ‘RPG’ on the back of the box for me to go deep. While games like Dragon Age and Skyrim do make me go week at the knees, elbows and controller, I am just as enthralled by Tomb Raider, Kill Zone, inFamous and Wolfenstein. Regardless of official genre, I consider any game that has a long story mode to be a Role Playing Game. Final Fantasy, The Last of Us, Assassin’s Creed, Persona 4 Golden, Danganronpa, The Order 1886, Batman, Shadow of Mordor – they’re all the same because while I play the game I personally take on the role of the protagonist. I’m in the game. I am that character. I’m Edward Kenway climbing up the rigging of a frigate. I’m the protector of Gotham. I’m Hajime Hinata and my classmates are dropping dead all around me. I am William B. J. Blazkowicz and I will defeat those ungodly Nazi robots. Unfortunately I find it very hard to fight ungodly Nazi robots when I’m also in highschool and a pirate and a man in a black rubber suit with pointy ears. Stopping part way through a big game and beginning another is like suddenly switching personalities. One minute you’re a sarcastic young Seattle smartass using superpowers to shoot through the air and the next you’re a grumpy grieving father dragging a reluctant teenager across a desolated America. Then you’re a smartarse again. Nope, can’t do it. I need to finish that character’s journey before I begin another. I need closure in the same way that I need to read the last page of a book before I crack the spine of the next one.
The sudden and last minute decision to platinum Steins; Gate before its release left me with a huge problem. There was no way I could finish The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in time for the release of Batman. Of course The Witcher is a game you could potentially never finish. I’m still playing now and I don’t expect to stop until all future DLCs are exhausted and I’ve squeezed out every possible trophy. Mopping up sidequests is a wonderful way to spend many relaxed afternoons between game releases, however the main story in any big game is serious business. It’s like watching a film. It’s like being in a film. It’s an illusion of another life and I want to live it right through to its climax.
I dearly wanted to play The Witcher straight through before Batman hit, but with a game of that magnitude I knew it would not be possible. Even if I wasn’t platinuming Steins; Gate, reviewing other games and writing for Punk and Lizard, is it really possible to keep all friends, relatives and work out of the way for a hundred hours while ploughing through? No, probably not. Perhaps I could delay playing Batman? Yeah, maybe I could delay the final game in my all-time favourite series and cancel the week I took off work to play it? NO. Geralt of Rivia and Batman were going to clash and there was no power on this earth that could stop them. (Now’s there’s a question. Who would win in a fight, Geralt or Batman? Damn I think it would be close)
Am I alone in this? I feel as though it’s bad enough having to yank myself out of one make-believe life just to go work and pay those pain-in-the-arse bills, but yanking out of two? My brain can’t seem to cope. When I go to work or bed or to a friend’s house for pizza, my obsessed mind is still in my fictional world. ‘Good morning, Shelley speaking, how may I help?’ my mouth is saying, while my brain is thinking those three Velen sidequests should be enough to level up enough to get Geralt passed the Crones of Crookback Bog . One of these days my mouth will accidentally say ‘Good morning, Geralt speaking, how may I slice you in half?’ Or maybe I’ll walk into Boots for a box of Tampax, five sprigs of buckthorn and a superior saddle. Swapping between two lives is jarring enough. I can’t cope with three.
Unfortunately, the Batman release day rolled around and I sadly ejected The Witcher from my PS4 and laid him gently in his box with a kiss and a promise to return soon. Okay, I’ve romanticised that a bit. What I actually did was mutter, eject it, shove it in its box and fling it on my desk in a sulk. It felt like I was forcing myself to leave a perfectly good holiday so I could go on another holiday that I wasn’t quite ready for, and a rainy dismal holiday at that. Gotham just doesn’t have the views.
So I began my new life as the Bat. One of the things I hate most about swapping from a long game into another is forcing my fingers to unlearn everything they know. Muscle memory. I don’t need to think about how perform a fast attack, a strong attack or how to switch gear mid fight. My fingers automatically do all the thinking for me. Now suddenly there’s a different button to run, a different button to look at the map and no matter how hard I try I can’t sleep with anyone. I had been playing The Witcher for so long, these actions were ingrained and it felt as though my controller was set up for that game only. What I ended up with was something I like to call Controller Mystification Disorder. R1, R2, touchpad, D-pad up-down-left, touchpad, R1 aaaannnnd … help? I can’t remember which button I need. I start to forget which buttons I used to need. I start to remember the button I needed six months ago when I was playing Minecraft. All I want to do is equip the Batclaw and pull down a simple Riddler trophy but instead my fingers are doing a hillbilly barn dance. I remember having a similar problem when I played Arkham Origins. I forget what the hell I’d been playing before but every time I crept up behind I goon, instead of performing a perfect silent takedown, I boinked him on the back of the head with a batarang. Not good when your goon has his hands on a high-powered bullet dispenser.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a damn good game. It’s very difficult to criticise it without sounding picky. I am happy to admit I didn’t like the Batmobile or the tank combat, despite the mechanics being very sound, but the story was good, gameplay was smooth and the sidequests all tied in nicely. And yet, when I finished the main story and the credits rolled, I felt relieved. I felt as though I’d been grinding when actually I hadn’t. I felt bored when really the game had such variety. I felt impatient and glad it was over. These were not the feelings I was left with after any of the previous games including Arkham Origins. So what was the problem? Geralt was the problem. I had unfinished business in Skellige. I should have swapped back to The Witcher the moment my craving demanded it, but I couldn’t. I was the Batman and I couldn’t stop until Gotham was safe. What kind of hero abandons his people so he can go off Honeysuckle picking? My OCD trapped me in Gotham and I rushed it and resented it.
I often see complaints about not enough games coming out. There’s no decent Christmas line-up blah blah, but how much time do you people have?! One AAA a month is more than enough surely if you’re also playing indies. Last year the October swarm nearly killed me. This October with the Uncharted Collection set to hit, it looks like I’m well on the way to a nervous breakdown. Can I complete them all plus Disgaea and Assassin’s Creed before November and Fallout 4 hits like a nuclear party popper?
Stopping a game when you’re not finished is like turning off a film before the end credits roll. Stopping halfway through, watching a third of a new film and then swapping back would be absolute madness. Games are so much more immersive than films so I don’t know how you can do it and stay sane. All I know is that this autumn I’m going to become a schizophrenic wise-cracking, rope-climbing, sardine-obsessed demonic assassin with a cute German Shepherd. Wish me luck and break me out of the loony bin afterwards.