Expectations for older games

So, the past couple weeks, I’ve been experimenting with digital downloads and the Steam and Gametap services. I knew that I missed a lot of good single-player games (or non-mmorpg multiplayer games, for that matter) over the past eight years. The majority of my game time since the release of Everquest has been dedicated to mmorpgs.

I’d occassionally see the games I missed for sale in Gamestop or other brick & mortar retail stores for like $19.99, but it never triggered my impulse to buy. Steam got my attention a couple weeks ago with their $4.95 two-day only offer for Prey. I had so much fun that I started poking around Steam and Gametap for more bargains.

I’ve played a handful of inexpensive or free games now. Thief: Deadly Shadows (or Thief 3) was the latest (released in 2004). Colin McRae’s Rally 2005 has gotten a lot of play time. I’ve almost finished Prey (released mid 2006). I’ve really enjoyed all three of them, and I wonder how much that has to do with playing them long after their release date.

I’m far away enough from the online buzz surrounding the launch of a new game that I’m fairly free of expectations. Like Thief 3, for example. I haven’t played the Thief games in years, and I never tried Thief 3. Friends of mine online had said it was their least favorite of the series, but they played it at launch and compared it closely with the previous two games. After four years since launch, and 6 or 7 years since I’ve played a Thief game, I don’t have pre-conceived ideas about what the game could or should be. I can just play it, and not constantly compare it to the earlier titles. A couple years after release, it feels a little easier to examine a game on its own merits, free from launch buzz and online discussion.

Did you ever play a game that people rave about, only to find you don’t enjoy it? Did you wonder if you were missing something, or you’re playing incorrectly somehow, and you try to struggle through despite the fact you’re really not liking it? I don’t feel compelled to play something that I’m not enjoying. And since it’s inexpensive, or free, I lose very little if I just flip to another game. I tried Warlords III from Gametap, and hated it. I might have stuck with it if I paid $50 at launch, but that might not have been because I was enjoying myself. I might have just been trying to feel like I didn’t waste $50. I’m enjoying trying a title, moving on if I don’t like it, or getting happily sucked in if the game clicks with me.

I’m also seeing all these games in their full glory. I can generally go into the options and crank up all the graphic effects and play the game at the highest possible resolution. The graphics are dated, but at full rez, the games look pretty decent. It’s not like going to back to Diablo II at 800×600, that’s for sure.

Honestly, it feels a bit like researching something new at the university library. Sometimes I’ll notice a source in a bibliography and follow it up in the library, and discover something unexepcted and engaging. Gametap and Steam feel like that, to a certain extent. There are games that I’ve heard about that are pretty much all new to me. I may have read reviews when they came out, but that doesn’t affect me too much. I can browse and explore and have fun, much like afternoons when I was a kid and I’d disappear into the bookshelves at the local library. There’s a backlog of good games that I’ll probably never work my way all the through, my Pile of Shame, as it were, and that’s a good thing. Digital distribution puts a lot of titles at our fingertips, for very reasonable prices, and I’m looking forward to exploring what’s available. It’s the first time in years that I’m leaning more toward single-player games than mmorpgs, and I’m enjoying it.

Of course, as I’ve said before, there are mmorpgs that I’ve missed as well, so the same opportunity for “research” exists there as well. Now, if I could only figure out a way to get a massive grant/stipend to continue my “studies”, I’d be a happy man 🙂

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