– Tim Sujak
Let me take you back to a simpler time, if I may – one full of hope and wonder. THE TIME OF ROUGHLY Two Months Ago…
My friend Rob had just bought his nuclear-powered, mammoth gaming rig – a PC so powerful, it could run S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl AND Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines simultaneously, unpatched, 100% vanilla and bug-free on the same monitor. Full screen. I mean, this thing was heavy, man, and not in the sense that it weighed a whole heap, either. For me, this meant that I got to seriously throw my proverbial hat in that fabled PC master race ring for the first time in almost six years (by snapping up his old comp for a steal). Sure, I wasn’t ever gonna be a serious 4k competitor but at least now, I could play most PC games from the last two years relatively smoothly and at a fairly high quality (RIP ASUS K52JC, ol’ buddy). But more importantly, I could hit up ALL the PC-exclusive classics I missed out on, being raised almost exclusively on the fairly dependable, contently nourishing Console Only diet of the Sega Genesis through to the N64 and finally, PS1 – 3 (but that’s a nostalgic bundle for a whole ‘nother article).
Rob, however, had purchased his new PC almost exclusively to deal with the glory that was to be Batman: Arkham Knight, what was to be the final jewel in Rocksteady’s already impressive Arkham series’ crown (Yes, even Origins), at the highest possible settings. He and I are both huge Batman fans, so we had been eagerly anticipating/champing at the bit since its announcement way back when. While I was waiting to spring for a PS4 and have the GOTY edition of Arkham Knight be the first game in my soon-to-be formidable collection to grace its presence. My friend was in no mood to wait any longer than humanly necessary, he had pre-ordered the game alongside his NVIDIA graphics card as part of that promotional bundle and intended to start patrolling Gotham City ASAP. I was content to live vicariously through his tales; spoiler-free, I had hoped. The gameplay trailers looked amazing; almost all of the original voice cast were back from that stellar debut release that blew me and the rest of the world away back in 2009; a bigger, more alive sandbox for The Dark Knight to strut his stuff in. What could possib-lie go wrong? Uh, possibLY go wrong. Enter: the PC port of Arkham Knight.
You might wonder why I babbled on about my getting a decent PC at the start of this article. Well, up until earlier this year, I considered myself a ‘console gamer’, not necessarily because I subscribed to the ‘console gamer’ ethos, passed down from that first dude ever who played the Magnavox Odyssey (it might actually have been Jesus himself). No, it was because – apart from some classic (see: literally ancient), PC exclusive, run at the lowest possible resolution and settings in windowed mode – the only games I played were console games. I was a console gamer by tradition and trade, not by philosophy. But now, with a 1920 x 1080 window into the magic of Steam sales, I felt part of something greater: I now had an audience with some of the greatest games and developers of all time and as such, I had the privilege – nay, the duty – to feel a cavalcade of strong emotions (in Arkham Knight‘s case, indignation, bewilderment, etc.) towards a product I had nothing to do with (creatively-speaking) and by extension, towards its developers, whom I also had nothing to do with (personally-speaking).
That the PC port of Batman: Arkham Knight was pretty much a total and unmitigated disaster – so much so that the game was pulled from Steam soon after release (and at the time of writing, is still absent from Steam), in the wake of many, many, MANY negative, mostly performance-based reviews – is not newsworthy, not anymore. That ship has most definitely sailed. But something new I had personally come across was a deep-seated feeling of betrayal, and I didn’t even buy the bloody game. My friend had, however – and without even registering a millisecond of game time, he used Steam’s newly-implemented refund system to shove that unholy mess right back to where it had come from. But what he, nor I, could never send back was a strong sense of being cheated. I mean, I know the ad agencies are out to screw me, the music industry at large views me as nothing more than a waste receptacle (which should explain today’s pop music) and free-to-air TV (at least in Australia) consistently undercuts any sincere notion I have of expecting content that entertains even the simplest notion of artistic integrity to waddle across my screen. But video games? No, it couldn’t be.
For the longest time, video games were an escape rope (RIP Pokémon) for me. They were these solid, immutable golden tablets that guarded unimaginable secrets and untold wonders on a super-thin disc. There was no DLC booster pack for increasing CJ’s respect in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – you had to earn yo’ stripes out in tha hood, by blastin’ on them Balla fools, homie. Wanna unlock Legend Undertaker in Here Comes The Pain? You and your candy-ass better put some time in that squared circle, jabroni and use those Smackdown Dollars to buy him yourself! In this current climate, the rise and proliferation of pre-order content and exclusive DLC (only available at Gamestop) signals the death of a finished, definitive product, let alone an example of artistry that can stand the test of time: instead, revisionist ‘works-in-progress’ are thrown in our faces, piecemeal paintings of an experience that are rushed out the door and into the marketplace. I can’t believe it but I’m going to sound like such an old man in this next sentence: I remember when games were like sandwiches, entire meals in their own right – layered, brimming with content, ideas and experiences. Some were big and brash, others were subtle and complex but they had Subsistence, dammit (thanks for that, Kojima)!
These days – to this 24 year-old dog, at least – games are looking more and more like single slices of incredibly minimal Swiss cheese. Sure, you can go out to the bakery, buy some bread, hit up the deli for some ham (get some mustard, too) and maybe you’ll get something resembling a snack that will tide you over for a coupl’a hours. Unfortunately, it often ends up looking like something that stares back at you from the bowl after you’re done unlocking it with your exclusive, pre-order digestive code bonus (only available at Gamestop). If it’s substantial story-based content, It’s rarely coherent or integrated with regards to the main story, and most commonly tacked on as an afterthought or else, it’s a bunch of small items that should’ve been in the game to begin with. We shouldn’t be wrung out like an old pair of dirty jeans filled with pennies just because we want everything a game has to offer; we shouldn’t have to wait for a GOTY edition of a game long after our friends have stopped playing just because we might be a bit of a completionist.
We shouldn’t be charged for wanting that little bit more – we should be rewarded with that killer costume or bad-ass blade for acing the game 100%, or treated to a secret ending for practically living and breathing a game’s lore for months at a time. Gamers turn to games to escape from rampant commercialism and enter a world that treats them with respect, one that values their dedication and rewards their persistence and skill. By churning out digital afterbirth content (I’m voting that’s what DLC should be called), we’re not just being sold pieces of an incomplete product – we’re being sold short as consumers, as faithful gamers, and even as human beings. I don’t know about you, but I can smell what the industry is cookin’ and it sure doesn’t sit right with me. We bought the game, so buy us a break. Cheque, please – I’m after the Health Inspector.