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5 Previous-Gen Games that Make Me Wonder Where the F*** It All Went Wrong

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by Xan HolBrook

 It seems that, from eye-watering price tags to greasy gambling mechanics to endless bloody social controversies, the games industry is heading for the inaugural Queen’s Award for Most Ironically Christened Shitshow. Well, if Brexit can happen…

Aging pillocks like me with a mortgage, job and girlfriend, who simply don’t have the time to faff about with 16-bit-era-nostalgia or indie darlings on laptops that are barely up to the task, have little place to turn except backward. With the console wars’ current belligerents now at the point of cannibalising their dead, us poor souls who are caught behind the lines can burrow underground, gather round the 4:3 ratio bluelight, and occupy ourselves with these old titles that hold up surprisingly well. 

Max Payne (PS2/Xbox/PC)

If you were to pitch this game today – John Woo by way of Clive Barker and telenovela melodrama – five cocaine-crazed berserker executives would fall from the ceiling, drag you out of the office and throw you down the nearest lift shaft.

Yet, back in the heady days of 2001, after the Playstation had bent the Sega Saturn over a desk and buggered it out of existence while Microsoft watched through a hole drilled in the wall, the gold rush was on, as was that wonderful overlap between creativity and commercial drive.

Max Payne’s convoluted story of revenge, frame-ups and shoot-your-way-out gameplay, in an atmosphere of all-consuming dread… was not what you’d call a natural fit, but rose to the occasion in many ways. Its masterful animation and bullet-time dragged Hard Boiled’s gunplay into the digital realm, doing so with balletic elegance.

Behind the overwritten, whiskey-soaked P.I. dialogue (and, sweet Jesus, there’s a lot), there is a depth of horror and imagination rarely matched in gaming since. Never mind that the god-awful film adaptation is barely a travesty, with the designer-drug Valkyr relegated to a MacGuffin. Go back and play those eerie, green-tinted levels again. Even better, do it in the dark.

Mercenaries (PS2/Xbox/PC)

Remember when Sandboxes existed as virtual playgrounds full of shit to blow up, as opposed to pretty environments littered with micropayments and loot boxes like a Mafia casino with no roof?

Well, if you can’t remember, dig out an old copy of Mercenaries. The story is everyone in the world has invaded North Korea because reasons and you’re there to do contracts for the factions involved because money, now go blow up everything in the entire game with black-market fuel air-bombs. If you want to know the level this game operates on, the in-game menu for buying heavy ordinance is called the Merchant of Menace.

Roger Corman would be proud.

Splinter Cell (PS2/Xbox/PC)

I can feel the disdain through my laptop as I type this, but I could not give less of a shit. This game has aged beautifully. Just as Far Cry 3 and Spec Ops: The Line did something interesting under an otherwise boring franchise name, the first Splinter Cell split away from the usual gung-ho Clancyness and, unlike something like the Ghost Recon franchise or The Division, is a way more subdued affair.

The lone-wolf gameplay is keeping in the Thief 2 stealth-em-up tradition, giving you the means to cap a dude, but actively discourages it. The art design, level design and graphics hold up two generations later, and are a joy to play. Also, in an era preceding Fake News and cyber warfare, the plot is remarkably prescient. This one’s also here because Clancy is now the right-wing militarist L. Ron Hubbard, creating frothing-at-the-mouth claptrap from beyond the grave. Let sleeping Dogs of War lie, will ya?

Tony Hawk’s Underground (PS2/Xbox/PC)

I doubt anyone on this website needs any encouragement to go back to Tony Hawk’s series of games, but this is, in my not-at-all humble opinion, the Zenith. The plot is shite with sugar on, but at least doesn’t lean on the celebrity power of its sequel and keeps the tone in a harmonious balance between teenage punky grit and complete, gravity-baiting bonkersness.

The music absolutely slaps, full of beefy stoner rock, snarky punk, banging Hip-Hop and on and on, for hours and hours of free-roaming fun. Imagine that levity and that freedom. Imagine that feeling of taking on the world. When we could have been anything. And The Transplants were a criminally underrated band.

FIFA 12 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)

The gameplay ain’t half bad. Furthermore, you can find my local team in it. All modelled and playing. On a pitch. Don’t they look cute? Doesn’t it make your heart swell with civic pride? DOESN’T IT MAKE YOU DESPISE THE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION WITH EVERY FIBRE OF YOUR FRAIL, INSIGNIFICANT BEING? DO YOU WEEP FOR A FORMER SOURCE OF NATIONAL PRIDE BEING REDUCED TO A MONEY LAUNDERING PAGEANT FOR SHADY CHARACTERS THE WORLD OVER? DO YOU WISH THAT THE MIGHTY SHAKERS WERE STILL IN THE LEAGUE AND NOT THREATENED WITH LIQUIDATION BECAUSE OF SOME DISASTER CAPITALIST CRETINS? DOESN’T IT? D O E S N ‘ T  I T ?

Probably not, but at least it’s better than Madden.

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