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Edge #185, February 2008
Something profound happened to me last night: I lost my virginity. Also, I won my first online Halo 3 tournament. This is probably no biggie to most of you, but I never once won a game of Halo 2 - online or off. In fact, my experiences of playinfg Halo 2 online so pooped in my opinion soup as far as online gaming goes that for a long time I didn't go anywhere near it. Plus, I spent some months desperately confused about my sexuality (after all, they couldn't all be wrong in their belief that I was a homosexual). Only Call Of Duty 2 turned me around. For some inexplicable reason, here was a multiplayer game I could play. There was something about Call Of Duty 2 that was unthreatening, and accessible, in a way that the Halo series never has been.
And then my Xbox 360's wireless connection choked to death, and I didn't play online games for almost a year. And then my Xbox 360 died, the infamous Red Ring of Death signalling that I was either going to have to go through the hassle of sending it back to Microsoft for repair, or buy a new one (I went for the latter: Christmas was looming, and the thought of not having Call Of Duty 4 to play on the big day was far too painful to contemplate).
Given my experiences with its predecessor, Halo 3 was not my first choice of online game. Unfortunately, I'm no great fan of Call Of Duty 3, and I couldn't find my beloved Call Of Duty 2. And the headset wasn't working very well, so Team Fortress 2 was a bit of a pointless experience. Halo 3 it had to be. I lost my first game spectacularly. My second game I fared slightly better, finishing about halfway up the leaderboard. My third game I won conclusively, a good eight points ahead of my nearest competition. I know this is preaching to the converted, and stating the bleeding obvious, but my crikey did that feel good. It was genuinely one of the biggest gaming highs I've ever had.
This is a terrible confession for someone who spent just over ten years reviewing games for a living, but I'm fairly crap at games. Well, I'm better than the man in the street, and my friend Anthony, but I've never had the patience to get really good.
I don't think I ever finished a single game on my dear old ZX Spectrum. Admittedly, games then were far more unforgiving than they are today, but even today I tend not to have the stamina to finish every game. This is something I probably really shouldn't be admitting, but there were very few games we played all the way through when I was writing Digitiser. Admittedly, that was out of necessity - too many games, so little staff - but it rarely came back to bite us on the cracksie.
In fact, in ten years of Digitiser I can remember only one occasion where it had repercussions. I think it was Cannon Fodder 2, where a member of our modest team of Amiga reviewers marked the game down because it didn't have drivable vehicles, unlike a similar point-and-click shooter that had been released a few months earlier. It was a stupid mistake that we never repeated, by making sure we never said anything specific about a game ever again.
Nevertheless, now that I can pick and choose the games I play I generally tend to complete them these days. There are times when I get bored still, mind. John Woo's Stranglehold is a case in point. Initially I was disappointed that the graphics failed to come anywhere close to matching the glorious screenshots that had lured me in, but the action was fun enough. Unfortunately, the game failed to evolve. The levels quickly became repetitious, and it was fairly apparent that once I'd played the first four levels I'd played them all.
I think that's the key to keeping my interest in a game. I want every stage, every section, to feel like a fresh experience. Assassin's Creed is a game I was surprised to like, given the mixed nature of its reviews. The action gets a bit samey, but I found the environment changing just enough to keep my interest. Half-Life 2 - and its episodes - keep throwing new ideas at the player in a way that the Halo series never has, while every one of the cornerstone Mario titles - from Super Mario Bros to Yoshi's Island to Super Mario Galaxy - has made sure that every level is a new game almost, while always staying true to the basic underlying rules of its universe.
Likewise Valve's Portal. It's effectively one idea, but that one idea is explored from every conceivable angle. You can almost sense its development team experimenting as you play, doubtless being as surprised as you are by the endless flexibility of one simple, headline gaming conceit. Hence, the game never gets boring. Hence, you play through to the end, even though the levels all look the same.
Perhaps this is why I now find myself itching for another go of Halo 3 online. For now at least winning at a Halo game is a markedly new experience. If I win all the time maybe it'll get boring. Mind you, there's as much chance of that happening as there is of me getting through a game without being called a 'f****t'.
Mr Biffo co-founded Digitiser, Channel 4's Teletext-based videogames section, and now writes mainly for television
Do you know of any important moments from the annals of Digi history that have been omitted? If so, then mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) right now, man. Credit will be duly given for anything that gets put up.