Due to immense boredom, gap-year student Jack Roulston is attempting as a 20-year-old male to get back into the world of gaming. Each week he will attack a different classic from his childhood in a vague attempt to re-invigorate a lost passion for the electronic arts and work up until he is able to complete a more contemporary game on a ‘next-gen’ console. However long that may take. Probably ages. Definitely Ages.
I never really set the gaming world alight in my youth. Never was the best out of my friends, never topped any leader-boards nor had the most trophies, but like most of us in our adolescence, I played. A hell of a lot, and I wasn’t bad – ‘solid’ is how I’d describe it. Gaming was sadly though, a hobby left behind when I passed on to the third level. Now, to say I hadn’t touched a game throughout the duration of my degree is a lie – I certainly have smugly sat down to show off “how we did it in the old days” and been absolutely schooled by a brother more than six years my junior (although he is better than your average gamer, at least one would hope so, based on the hours he puts in) – and I also had to deal with a short-lived, very mild ‘The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt’ addiction. Apart from these instances, I’ve remained pretty much game-less for close to four years. A few fruitless attempts were made to get into something a friend recommended or to replay an old, beloved game that had been “remastered”, but I kept “falling out” with the PlayStation 4’s new-fangled intricacies and eventually, defeated, would have to call my brothers to help me work it. I was even more put off the “next-gen consoles” whilst watching a movie on a (sort-of) date, with a girl who was (definitely) younger than me, being unable to “un-pause” the Blu-ray, I had to call for help, taking me straight from “cool older guy” to “cranky old-ass man”, a technological cliché I never thought would describe me at the tender age of twenty.
It’s not surprising then to learn, that when the decision was made to finally attempt to get back in to gaming (for real this time), I’d steer my ship towards more comfortable and well-treaded territory (read: I know how to fucking work the thing) – close to retro now, almost at the tender age of twenty itself – the PlayStation 2. My first shot at playing through a classic failed. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City became way too distracting (fun) and made me realise that in my past experience of the game as a minor, I had never actually played it for its intended purpose – y’know doing missions or whatever – it was used mostly as a vehicle for all my youthful anger. I’ll leave it there. Bachelor #2, Simpsons Hit & Run didn’t fare much better – aside from being incredibly enjoyable and outrageous (GTA for babies), after about half an hour of dicking around, the colourfulness of Springfield began to hurt my eyes (see the above comment about being an “old-ass man”). To keep me focused, my brother (this one only three years my junior – Adam) had the ingenious idea to play co-operatively – that way I’d stay on track and my crap-ness mightn’t affect progress too badly, himself only being a few months off the horse gaming-wise. We, together, working as a unit might just be able to get through a game.
There was only one clear choice – the King (apt) of co-op “hack n’ slash” games – EA’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Hailing from the generational sweet-spot in which movie tie-in games still existed and when some of them weren’t absolute trash, many an hour of our shared childhood was wasted upon this masterpiece and the glance we shared when it was pulled from the bottom of a drawer to be loved all over again told us we had made the right decision, this is how we get back in to gaming. Our parent’s generation and their siblings, as children fought over who was the “cowboy” and who was the “Indian”, ours fought over who would get to play as Aragorn and who was side-lined as Legolas or Gimli (at least in our house). Here and now, at the ages of 20 and 17 respectively, we found ourselves having this very same argument, one we had countless times before in our youth and I won for the same reason I have every other time, “I’m older so dry up, I’m Aragorn”. Begrudgingly he selected Legolas and we finally move past the character selection screen.
We managed to play for almost 12 hours straight, coming dangerously close to beating the game as the dynamic duo – I’m not going to go in to painstaking detail about each individual mission, but what I will do, is discuss some of the hiccups we encountered (seeing as this is essentially a ‘getting back on the horse’-esque article) and pepper in some of the colourful, colloquial soundbites that accompanied two brothers attempting to work in unison. When selecting a difficulty from the outset, I was convinced that because we were older now, it wouldn’t be a challenge at all and that we would have to play it on ‘hard’ for it to even be worthwhile. I was apprehensive knowing I would be utterly shit even on the normal difficulty but agreed after some pressing, “don’t worry I’ll look after you” – it was not the best idea he’s ever had. The first problem we encountered and continued to encounter was that in-game ‘Health’ pick-ups were in especially short supply and when they did appear, due to the frantic nature of the ‘hacking’ and ‘slashing’, one’s character would accidentally lift it without realising, despite the other’s calls of “if any health drops I’m in dire need”- which would then lead to an exchange (a regular occurrence throughout gameplay) that would go something like this:
Player 1, that didn’t need health manages to procure some from a fallen foe.
Player 2: I said I needed a wee juicy boy, you fucking hoof!
Player 1: Ah sorry, I didnae see it – just fell in front of me.
Player 2: * annoying mocking noise *
Player 1: G’wan fuck up would you? Just hit your boy there.
Or something much to that effect. Maturity levels haven’t improved much since the old days spent playing the game. The colourfulness of the language has come on leaps and bounds though.
Three missions in – one in which our heroes must escape a collapsing cave (not in the movie at all, but what can you do) became, however, our greatest obstacle yet. I, being the more inexperienced gamer, was continually being hit by the rocks, lowering my health and more often than not using up the one shared-respawn bestowed upon players in the ‘hard’ mode of Return of the King. God love Adam, he remained patient for as long as he could, but eventually, like most would, he cracked, “I mean, why don’t you just move! Jesus Christ!”, although in his explosions, he always remained supportive of our endeavour: “I’m having fun, but fuck me!”. I very nearly lost my gaming-buddy when in one instance, Adam was hit by the falling debris, to which I parroted back his “move!” speech. He put the controller down calmly and got up to leave, but before exiting, turned and over his shoulder said, again calmly, “when it comes to getting hit by rocks, you are the expert”. He returned to his station after some coaxing.
After the rock incident we did make some serious headway, speeding on through the game as if we were never stuck – powering through all the great moments any LOTR fan would expect, Osgiliath, the Siege of Isengard, Pelennor Fields and the Black Gate. We did, however, discover a pattern emerging in our playing styles. Due to the terrible choice to play the game on ‘hard’ (which we now had to complete it on as a matter of principle), each mission would take around two hours to complete (aside from the ‘Cave’ mission – it took longer for sure). The first hour of the mission we would attempt to develop the perfect strategy (“try” being the key word here) and then we would spend the second hour stubbornly forcing our strategy to work until eventually – it did! In 12 hours we came but 3 missions from finishing the game, we did it (sort-of)! It was a long haul and a big re-learning curve for me. We laughed as hard as we ever have and hated each other more than we ever have as brothers – but isn’t that what gaming is about? A tough re-adjustment was needed but I don’t think it will be quite 4 years before I pick up a controller again, in fact, we might have to give finishing the game another crack tomorrow. Jack Roulston