Thursday, 22 March 2012

Gaming Icons

I’m young enough (just) to be in the first generation that really played computer games. The change from the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog to Nathan Drake has been pretty damned stark, to say the least. Graphics are enormously improved, games are longer and it’s even possible to customise them with mods if you’re a PC gamer (plus there’s the internet, which was still science fiction a few decades ago). I even remember when games could not be saved. You either completed it in one go or failed and started right at the beginning.

In the early days there was a console war between Sega and Nintendo. Each side had its poster boy; Sega had Sonic and Nintendo had Mario. The console war was won by Nintendo, and the generation after the Megadrive (Genesis, I think, in America) and SNES Sega pretty much disappeared from the hardware scene (although they do still make good games, like Valkyria Chronicles).

Sonic and Mario are still around, but I’m staggered the blue hedgehog hasn’t faded away. Mario seems to be doing a little better, but neither are the heavyweights they were.

There were two Metal Gear games before Metal Gear Solid came out for the Playstation. The game was fantastic (although it’s easy to forgot how brief it was, despite having two discs) and introduced to many one of the best gaming characters of all time: Solid Snake. Gone were the days of hedgehogs that could run quite fast and Italian plumbers. Now we had a gruff, hard-as-nails protagonist, fighting against seemingly impossible odds. Just as importantly, voice-acting had arrived and David Hayter did a fantastic job for Snake. He also benefited from the deliciously evil Liquid Snake, voiced by Cam Clarke.

From there, via two instalments on the PS2 and MGS4 on the PS3 (the last game being drunk on cut-scenes, alas) Snake’s been a major figure.

Another very long-lived (and not yet dead) icon is Lara Croft. First bouncing onto our scenes (on many platforms) in the mid-90s, she was one of few leading ladies and built up a massive fanbase. The mix of gunfights, massacring endangered species, occasionally raiding tombs and gravity defying aesthetics was pretty much unchallenged until quite recently.

Nathan Drake’s a newcomer to the scene, but given how well his first three instalments, all for the PS3, have been received I think it’s fair enough to include him. He’s a bit reminiscent of Indiana Jones, the coolest of all archaeologists, and a male rival to the delightful Lara. In fact, he’s been kicking her arse a bit lately. There’s more, and better, humour than in the Tomb Raider games and, in my opinion, the additional cast in the Uncharted series is much more likeable than the ones in Tomb Raider. There’s a new Tomb Raider, unhelpfully entitled Tomb Raider, due out this year. It’s a reboot, and it’ll be interesting to see if Miss Croft can reclaim her Best Archaeologist In Gaming crown from Mr. Drake.

So, what makes an icon?

Well, they have to capture the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. Old school gaming was very much about platforming, hence the success of Sonic and Mario. The MGS games can still work now because Solid Snake’s a likeable, charismatic chap who can kill his foes with ease. He’s fun to play as, particularly when making Otacon wet himself.

Much of that is true of Drake and Croft (sounds like a law firm), but even more important than that is having great gameplay. Climbing all over ancient ruins, with enemy gunfire and treacherous falls all around is great fun.

It’ll be interesting to see if Raiden, occasional sidekick to Solid Snake, can cut it on his own. At the end of the year the horrifically entitled Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is due to come out, with the girly-haired cyborg as the lead.


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