Gaming Memories – Battlefield Series

Format: PC
Year: 2001 – present day

If Return to Castle Wolfenstein was my first date with PC gaming, Battlefield 1942 was when she invited me to meet her parents, and the relationship went to the next level. My god, did I really just write that analogy?

You could shoot people like any other FPS, but the maps were ENORMOUS. Big enough to accommodate vehicles. Drivable vehicles, and not just cars and tanks. Who else remembers taking off an airline carrier in the Pacific and flying Japanese Zeroes over Wake Island to strafe the allied runway? Or piloting a Lancaster bomber over the rolling hills of Normandy, bombing farms and windmills where the Nazis were hiding? And forming a platoon of Sherman’s to race across the desert plains of El Alamein? Battlefield 1942 had everything going for it, enough to blow my adolescent little mind. It came out just 2 years after Perfect Dark. Can you imagine how it felt to go from running around in what was essentially some corridors with 4 mates and some bots, to full-on vehicular warfare with up to 32 other players online? Battlefield felt like the future of gaming.

For good or bad, team killing became a regular thing, although it was never something I saw the point of. Waiting on the runway for airplanes to respawn, a mad scramble to jump in the cockpit before your teammates would usually follow, and some people couldn’t handle it. Planes often exploded before they left the runway, which is probably why they began to scrap take-off altogether in the later games. But that was part of the charm I guess. I miss that aspect of the newer Battlefields, which don’t let you take off and there’s never a reason to land. Spawning in midair disconnects me from the experience too much, and the newer games in general feel a bit too streamlined for their own good. Which is why my fondest memories of Battlefield lie with some of the early sequels.

Battlefield 2, as well as spin-off Vietnam, paved the way for the Bad Company revolution and Battlefield 3, which for me is the pinnacle of the series. Forget the singleplayer, I’m referring solely to the multiplayer aspect here. If you had a few mates with headsets and a team speak server, you could have a whale of a time. The game implemented squads by this point, making it easy to jump into a game with your mates and form coordinated teamwork. Paul, Sam, Jon and myself had many epic battles in Bad Company 2 and BF3. The Frostbite engine allows for some of the best destruction in gaming, making it stand head and shoulders above any of the Call of Duty games.

No other game can create the thrill of experiencing an entire building exploding all around you and collapsing in a heap of rubble. Or moments of glory such as when my mate Paul, who was our designated helicopter pilot, would carry our squad into the fray, swooping low over the danger zones, hovering close enough for us all to leap out and start securing checkpoints. With the zone cleared, we’d jump back in and swoop to the next one, machine-gunning troops on the ground with side-mounted miniguns.

Battlefield games create stories all of the time. Micro tales of heroism, insane acrobatics, one-man killing sprees combined with the tactical precision of a squad of mates all communicating and sweeping through enemy territory. Multiplayer battles can be complete and utter carnage, with planes exploding overhead, Humvees tearing down dusty roads, tanks reducing buildings to piles of rubble and snipers picking off stragglers from a mile away. I don’t like where the series has gone in the most recent versions, Battlefield 1 feels too streamlined for its own good. But I reckon it’s just a phase. Even 19 years later, Battlefield still feels like the future of gaming… And if it’s not, at least I have my memories of the glory days.

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Gaming Memories – Deus Ex

Format: PC
Year: 2000

It may look clunky as hell thanks to the original Unreal engine, but Deus Ex was a pioneer in videogames because it gave the player so many choices to make. It resulted in one of the deepest gaming experiences of the time, because it went to great effort to show the consequences of those choices. The story was spread across many ‘hub’ levels, giving you total freedom to approach your objectives whichever way you wanted, aided by an RPG style upgrade tree that you invested in as you played. Wanna finish it without killing a single soul? That is entirely possible. Prefer to tool up with a rocket launcher and just murder your way to the end? Nothing could stop you. Your NPC allies would respond differently back in the Unatco base, depending on what you did out in the field. This level of responsiveness was unparalleled for a long time, to the point that even if you walked into the ladies toilets, your boss would scold you for it during the mission debrief later on. It was many little moments like that which made the game so memorable for me.

The story is awesome too. Proper cyberpunk dystopian conspiracy tale involving secret societies, private military organisations and terrorists all vying for power, and you end up caught right in the middle.

*Spoiler warning – I’m trying to avoid spoilers in these memories, but sometimes its unavoidable. And Deus Ex is so old it should be exempt from such a warning but there it is anyway.

The NSF twist about one third into the game remains one of the best in gaming, up there for me with Bioshock’s “would you kindly?” and Heavy Rain’s reveal of the Origami Killer… Realising that your own brother has been working for the terrorists the whole time, and that Unatco are really the bad guys turns the entire game on its head. I remember feeling devastated on my first play through because I’d been recklessly murdering all the good guys in my misguided attempts to save the world from a global threat. During my many replays of the game, I prided myself on being able to finish all of those early levels without killing any NSF soldiers. My Unatco comrades would comment on my sympathetic nature, claiming it to be a sign of weakness, while Paul Denton praises you for being merciful. It’s such clever writing that if you’re paying enough attention on your first play through, you might be able to see the twist coming. I was just amazed that the game was able to distinguish between different playstyles and then respond accordingly to it, adding layers of insight to its characters that could only be fully appreciated on a second playthrough.

Those comrades of course wind up becoming your biggest enemies, and confront you in what are essentially boss fights. But even here the game rewards the smart gamer. For if you’d been paying attention and carefully examining your surroundings throughout the game you might stumble upon a terrifying discovery much earlier than the majority of players. It’s revealed that every augmented agent (including yourself) has a kill phrase embedded in their system. Uttering the kill phrase within earshot of the agent in question will cause their bodies to literally explode on the spot. You can murder both Anna Navara and Gunther Hermann using their kill phrases if you are clever enough to uncover them as you play. It makes a hilarious mockery of their confrontations, in what are otherwise devastatingly difficult boss fights between 2 of your fellow Unatco super soldiers.

Other memorable moments involve saving certain characters. The biggest one is Paul Denton, JC’s brother, who gets ambushed in his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. He tells you to escape via the window, sacrificing himself to the MiBs that come crashing through the door. You are completely free to abandon him. In fact, it’s by far the easiest option, but Paul dies if you do. It is possible to save him, however, if you stick around and fend off the fierce cyborgs. This was the first instance of a game presenting such a choice to me and I’ll never forget it. Later on, you might bump into a suspicious mechanic tinkering with your pilot’s helicopter. It’s almost a throwaway moment, something you could either never see, or just assume means nothing. But he’s planting a friggin bomb on the chopper. If you don’t kill him, the helicopter explodes later, killing the pilot, Jock. I only discovered that it was possible to save him after I played the game for a second time.
Deus Ex is simply fantastic, and I only wish there were more games like it. The recent sequels have come close to recapturing some of what made the first game so special, but for me, none has quite managed to beat it. Deus Ex remains the original, and best example of the FPS-RPG hybrid.

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Gaming Memories – Streets of Rage 2

Format: Sega Mega Drive
Year: 1992

Another rare game in my long list of memories that include my brother, Sam, is Streets of Rage 2. It was the best in a trilogy of side scrolling beat-em-ups on the Sega Mega Drive. (Genesis in America). We would always play as the same 2 characters: I was Axel, and my brother would be Skate. He loved the agility and bombastic acrobatics that the tiny skater dude could pull off. Many of the boss fights would end with Sam leaping onto their necks and pummelling them in the back of the head. I liked Axel’s swinging flaming punch, and his multi-hit special combo. It’s a simple but satisfying game built around stylised hand to hand violence.

We played it to death and memorised each and every level. There’s a hidden 1up tucked inside the mist at the bottom of the screen just after you kill the floating chain monster head in the haunted house level… The huge wrestler bosses are pretty much immune to grab moves – if you touch them for much longer than a second, they will break out of it with devastating force. And pipes are just badass. They’re the best weapon in the game and must never be missed. If you’re already holding one, make sure you don’t accidentally juggle it with another weapon on the ground and use up all of its uses. Brotherly arguments would ensue if you wasted both weapons…

I remember thinking nothing of the absurdity that eating apples out of bins boosted your health, and a garbage roast turkey was a special treat that would completely refill one’s HP meter. Every smashable object in the game yielded either edible treats or sacks of money and even gold bars, so my brother and I would just punch everything in sight and then occasionally get angry at each other for stealing the extra turkey during a tough boss fight…ah, brothers, eh?

But in the end, we triumphed. Streets of Rage 2 might actually be the first game I ever completed. I remember it feeling like such a momentous achievement when we finally defeated Mr X or whatever his name is, the big bad boss at the end of the final level. Back then, it felt like a really long game, but when I replayed it with my friend Robbie on the 360 a few years ago, I was surprised to find it only takes about 30 minutes to play through, assuming you both know what you’re doing. It may be shorter than I remember, but it’s still totally satisfying to play. Beating up hordes of thugs, punks and giant fat fire-breathing baby men doesn’t get old, apparently.

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Gaming Memories – Final Fantasy VII

Format: PS1 & PC
Release date: 1997

I’m not sure what to tell you about FF7. Simply put, it’s one of my all-time favourite games, and the hordes of fans it has makes me feel like a bit of a cliché to even include it in this feature. But I have to. It changed my life, I think. Before this, I had not played a game with such a deep and engaging story, an epic tale about a host of very likable characters, all unique and fleshed out with interesting back stories. It’s just wonderful.

I have played it through about 4 times to completion, and vowed that the most recent one in 2013 would be the last time. But as I reflect on it now, I realise that I will have to experience it again one day. If only to hear the mesmerising soundtrack, a powerful nostalgia that is unmatched with any other film or videogame.

It’s funny, because the first time I played the game, I didn’t even complete it. My friend Adam traded his PS1 with me for 6 months: he wanted to play Ocarina of Time and insisted that I play FF7. It took me about a month to make it out of Midgar, the sprawling starting location in the game, a filthy slum ridden city. Adam completed OOT in that time and begun his second play through. I made it to Junon, and met the playful Mr Dolphin, who helps you leap up to a platform that connects to a Shinra military base, and since it’s a little bit tricky, I got stuck and gave up for the night to go eat my dinner.

I never picked the PS1 game up again after that.

In school, Adam kept asking me if I’d gotten past Mr Dolphin yet, and the truth was I hadn’t even tried, but the official story became that I was stuck and couldn’t get past him for 6 months, during which Adam had beaten OOT for a second time and maybe even a third, when he decided he wanted his PS1 back. At some point during all of this, a fat annoying schoolmate spoiled one of the most dramatic moments in the entire game for me with a single sentence. The game is well beyond spoiler territory by now, but this particular spoiler was my very first, and changed the way I looked at them forever so I can’t bring myself to write down exactly what he said for fear of ruining it for somebody else. But by blanking out the character in question, this is what he said to me while I was still on disc 1 of a 4 disc game: “Has [******] died yet?”

Ugh. What. A. Dick.

I’m over it now. I think. Well, clearly not as here I am reflecting on it 20 bloody years later! But I did eventually buy the game on PC (a terrible port, frankly). I overcame the nefarious Mr Dolphin, and saw the story through to its completion. That moment would have been epic had it not been utterly spoiled for me, but it didn’t stop me from soaking up the rest of the angsty, twisting story of Cloud, Tifa, Aeris, Barret and Red XIII… To this day, it’s the only Final Fantasy game I have managed to complete. I tried VIII, but it never grabbed me, XIII was boring, and I did finally get X when it was re-released in HD on Steam, but I didn’t finish it. None of them will top VII. Oh sod it, I might just reinstall it this week…

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Gaming Memories – Outlast

Format: PC
Release date: 2013

Well, fuck. A FPS horror game, set in a mental asylum where all the patients are violent hyper crazed lunatics, and you are a guy armed only with a night vision video camera and can’t fight back? Better get Clarkie to play that shit.

Outlast is actually amazing. It’s a superb horror game, crafted with so much care and attention to detail. Its pants shittingly scary, and I hated every minute of it. That’s why I love it.

By this point, my friends have subjected me to so many scary games, I’ve grown to both admire and ALMOST enjoy them… I certainly know a good one when I see it. Too many cheap jump scares for example, quickly becomes tedious. A good horror game knows when to ramp up the tension with silence, when to stretch the quiet moments where anything could be waiting around the next corner. It must have thoughtful sound design and make expert use of lighting effects to create an atmosphere of pure terror. And if you must have a scary monster or creature to hunt the player, give it the entrance it deserves by building it up, tease its existence and make the player doubt himself of its existence at all…

The best horror games know how to really get under the player’s skin. The creators of Outlast understand this perfectly and made a game that had me screaming in blind panic when it finally revealed the reason for all of the madness that was occurring in the asylum. I barely even saw the fucking Wall Rider monstrosity, and I didn’t have to – all I knew at that moment was to run for my life. My mates’ ears are still ringing from the scream I released that night.

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Gaming Memories – The 7th Guest

Format: PC
Release date: 1993

I have 2 memories of this game that are separated by over 20 years.

I first played it on my father’s old DOS computer as a state-of-the-art CD-ROM game not long after it was released. The game is essentially a series of puzzles possibly ripped straight out of a “difficult problems” textbook threaded through a campy horror story about a haunted house and the oddball toy creator who lived there.

Its proper old-school, sprinkled with full motion video (FMV) sequences, real actors filmed and then superimposed into the pre-rendered 3D environments that you explore as a point and click adventure. The FMVs are creepy as fuck, and several of the ghostly apparitions scared the shit out of the 7 year old me. One encounter at the top of the grand staircase showed a ghost woman floating backwards as she beckons you to follow her down a long ‘The Shining’ esque corridor, with wavy arms, tattered robes fluttering all around her body. That terrifying image burnt itself into my brain and haunted my nightmares for literally years.

After that, I was reluctant to explore any more of the upstairs, so I mostly remember the lobby and front door area. And I was near hopeless at solving the actual puzzles back then. I remember my grandad taking an interest though. He loves crosswords and Sudoku and any good brain teasers and when he saw my dad and me trying to solve a puzzle that involved getting a spider to cross each branch of a web located on the front door of the mansion, he decided to help.

He sketched the whole puzzle onto paper and took it home with him to figure out. He returned a day or 2 later with the solution and… success! He’s very smart, my grandad.

I don’t remember getting much farther than that back in 1997. It wasn’t until 2015 that I even thought about the game again. It appeared on Steam and a bunch of us got together at the flat in Baldock to play through it. We do love to session puzzle games, particularly if they have a horror theme, and 7th Guest proved to be an entertaining romp. We played it pretty much nonstop all through the night, occasionally getting stuck on the frankly obscure as shit puzzles (Fly my tryst sly gypsy try by my crypt, WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS BULLSHIT?) and spent over 7 hours trying to figure out an optional puzzle involving virus-like bacteria spreading across a grid.

But we did it. We beat the entire game, scary ghost lady and all. Together, my mates and I are a force to be reckoned with, and there’s not a survival horror / puzzle adventure game we couldn’t complete so long as we are all monging out together with beer, coffee drinks and pie.

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Gaming Memories – Heavy Rain

Format: PS3
Release date: 2010

Heavy Rain is more like an interactive movie than a game, and it is mostly excellent. It’s a game about choices and living with the consequences. I played it through twice myself, just to see how different decisions affect the story and its ultimate conclusion, but to say that my first try was emotional would be the understatement of the century. This game almost broke me. I’ll tell you how soon, but first I want to recount the story of one of my friend’s choices… Like I said, watching Heavy Rain is just like watching a movie, but watching your friends play Heavy Rain gives you an amusing bit of insight into their psychology. The results can be hilarious.

For example, early on in the game, you end up in a standoff with a murder suspect who is aiming a gun at your partner Blake, who is a bit of a dick. Playing as FBI agent Jayden, your job is to resolve the situation in whatever way you can, be it peacefully or otherwise. Me and my friends all handled this very differently.

I managed to slowly calm the suspect down with choice words, opting to talk to the guy multiple times, carefully picking my words and eventually convincing him to lower the gun. My friend Andrew on the other hand, pressed the “shoot him” option as soon as it appeared, and blew the guy’s brains out. No hesitation. Another friend, Adam, did something very unique… He first spent a good deal of time slowly talking the man down, just as I had. About 5 of us were watching the whole scene unfold, the tension heavy in the room and everyone on the edges of our seats. After some lengthy effort, Adam managed to convince the guy to lower his gun and everyone watching let out a breath of relief. Then just as the guy was finally lowering his gun, Adam shot him in the face.

We were stunned into silence. “Why did you do that!?” I eventually asked, holding back a hysterical laugh.

“I thought were going to have a gun down,” Adam explained, as if it was obvious. He was referring to his final choice, a floating bit of text assigned to the X button that simply read “Gun down.”

“That meant you were telling him to PUT THE GUN DOWN. What the fuck even is a ‘gun down‘?”

Everyone fell about laughing at Adam’s misunderstanding, and we have never really let him forget it.

*Spoiler alert – this next part is all about my ending. I want to tell you about my specific ending, because until I played this game, I never truly understood the concept of devastation… *

It all started to go wrong for me when FBI agent Norman Jayden was thrown under the tracks of a moving industrial digger and crushed to death. I only had a couple of seconds to comprehend what was happening because the chapter ended and the game moved swiftly on. There’s no Game Over screen, no Retry option in Heavy Rain. If one of your main characters die, then you have to play the rest of the game without them. And Norman happens to be capable of rescuing another character later on, so without him, I was suddenly in for a slightly tougher time.

Then Madison, the insomniac journalist, burned to death in Scott’s house, immediately after learning that he was the killer. I couldn’t manage to get her out of the bedroom inferno, and she flopped onto the burning bed, caught fire, rolled around in agony screaming before the screen finally put me out of my misery and faded to black.

So two down, why not haplessly kill another one? My mistake with Ethan happened at the motel during a daring escape attempt to flee the cops. Madison was still alive at this point, but she was left helplessly watching me fumble the controls and get caught before even making it to the roof. My Ethan ended up arrested and locked in a jail cell for the rest of the game. He eventually hung himself, because there was no-one left alive who could save his son Shaun (who consequently died alone, drowned in a sewer drain).

The nail in my coffin was having to witness Scott Shelby, a character who I had REALLY liked up until this horrendous climax, smugly stroll away into a crowd of people, quite literally getting away with murder. And it was all my incompetent fault.

I was so disturbed by my ending that I spent the entire next day totally miserable. Unable to accept that I could fuck up a game so badly, I started it over from the beginning with, I’m ashamed to admit, the difficulty set to “easy”. This time I saved Shaun, none of my main characters died, and I enacted sweet justice on the Origami Killer by chucking him into an industrial garbage grinder.

I was amazed at how much I had missed on my first play through and how many subtle differences Quantic Dream came up with to really let the player create a unique experience for themselves. But I will never forget my first play through, as horrible as it was.

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Gaming Memories – World of Warcraft

Format: PC
Release date: 2004

WoW consumed my life for almost the entirety of 2004/05, when I was studying for my A-levels, and was probably a key contributor to my D-grades. I’m probably not the only person who would admit to daydreaming of roaming through Elwynn Forest, even many years after I stopped playing. I just spent so much time there, and other places of that world, sometimes roleplaying, always questing, but best of all simply exploring an unknown land. Even though I LOVE what Blizzard did in Cataclysm, my favourite memories all come from what they call Vanilla WoW, the original version of the game.

Swimming from Westfall down to Booty Bay and gawping at the raptors roaming the shores of Stranglethorn Vale. “There’s even DINOSAURS in this game!?” Flying on a gryphon from Stormwind to Ironforge, feeling small as an ant as I soared past Blackrock Mountain… Finally being able to buy my first Mount, a simple brown horse from the stables in Elwynn Forest, after saving up for over 6 MONTHS…

But I want to tell you about the Battle of Lakeshire.

It took me about a week or two of playing in the noobie zones of Elwynn Forest and Westfall before I was able to venture East to the pleasant region of Redridge Mountains. There lies a peaceful village called Lakeshire. When I arrived, it was under siege. Two fearsomely big fire ogres had somehow managed to wander through the dark and scary pass of the Burning Steppes and were murdering everyone within smashing distance. (Basically, two high level trolls had lured them down to kill the low level players.)

This scene blew my fragile little mind. There must have been over a hundred people fighting the ogres, all swarming around them swinging their weapons and casting spells. It was an absolute frenzy. Most of the people involved couldn’t even hit the things, myself included. My level 24 Human Warrior was so inexperienced that he couldn’t even see what level the ogres were – their level was marked by a creepy skull icon instead. Which only made it all the more tempting to slay the foul creatures! So I waded in head first, swinging my hammer with reckless futility, floating text that said “missed!” repeatedly floating skywards from my pathetic blows.

I died again and again. Along with everyone else. The battle went on for well over an hour, as more people joined the fray. I kept getting burned to death by the ogres’ area-of-effect fire rain attacks, then would run back as a ghost, respawn and try again. It was amazing to see so many players in the same space all with a single cause.

You can find countless stories of huge organised guild raids as they battle the likes of Onyxia, or Kel Thusad or even other tales where huge beasts were lured into the city walls of Stormwind. But I never saw any of that. For me the epic battle of Lakeshire between two nameless ogres was the pinnacle of what online gaming could be, and cemented itself in my memory forever.

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Gaming Memories – Alone in the Dark

Format: DOS
Release date: 1992

The first horror game I ever played, and I never got beyond the room in the attic where the wolf attacks you. All 5 polygons of the terrifying beast were enough to send me fleeing from the room, leaving my father to deal with it. It was one of the only gaming memories I can share with my dad because he is absolutely uninterested in the world of videogames. Maybe that’s why I remember Alone in the Dark. It was the start of a peculiar love/hate relationship I have with scary games, which I’ve just realised could only have started when I was about 6 years old trying to shove a chest across a trap door to stop the zombie and then a shelf in front of a window to block the awful wolf…

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Gaming Memories – Trials

Format: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Release date: 2000 – present day

The Trials franchise is surely the most successful game to ever start out life as a Flash browser game. I remember playing the original game on Miniclip back in the day, and I have played every single iteration since. The game’s core concept is simple – you control a trials bike, and must navigate it across a series of increasingly difficult obstacle courses on a 2D pane. It’s the perfect pick-up-and-play game, because it’s easy to get the basics, but insanely difficult to master.

The series peaked when the game exploded onto the Xbox Live Arcade, first with Trials HD, then Trials Evolution, my personal favourite of them all. Evolution introduced 4-player competitive modes, an excellent level editor and an online marketplace to download and share custom maps. It all worked seamlessly. Itbecame a favourite at the flat in Baldock, where my friends and I wiled away hours, taking turns to complete levels and strive to hoover up as many gold medals as we could. It usually fell to me to get the best scores, as for whatever reason I had spent the longest time playing it and seemed to have a knack for it that my friends didn’t. But I’m no match for some of the online masters. I couldn’t really finish any of the Extreme levels. My favourites are always in the ‘medium’ section. Big swooping ramps and giant leaps that flow smoothly into each other.

My friends created me a level, using the built in editor, to test my skill. I remember it fondly because they had spent an entire weekend building it. It started out with an infuriating bit Robbie nicknamed “Ride the Bomb”, because you spawned directly on top of a falling bomb and had to quickly accelerate and lean in the right way to flick the bomb away from you. Had we ever uploaded that map to the marketplace, people would have downvoted it instantly, because you would die at least 10 times before you figured out the method. But I loved that map, because my mates made it for me.

Also, Trials is one of the few games that I’ve enjoyed playing with my brother, Sam. He doesn’t play games but he is very much into extreme sports and whatnot, so he appreciated Trials, mostly coz of the accurate, if still ‘gamey’ physics. He was a natural at the game, thanks to his real-life understanding of bike physics, and it was fun for me to see him pick it up very quickly.

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Gaming Memories – Demon’s Souls

Format: PS3
Release date: 2009

I don’t get on with the Souls games at all, but I really wish that I did. For me, the combat was just a little too clunky and, oh, you know, fucking difficult. (Come on, the PC version of Dark Souls is called the “Prepare to Die” edition.) I love that these games exist, it’s just they require a level of patience that I simply do not possess. Fortunately, my good friend and ex-housemate Robbie does. I watched him play through most of Dark Souls 2, all of its DLC, and then Dark Souls 3, quite content to sit back on the sofa and enjoy the gruelling, oppressive show. My favourite memory of these games started with the original on PS3, Demon’s Souls.

Robbie chose to play as a lightly armoured thief type adventurer, armed with swift daggers, or a short sword & shield combo. His tactics were to always have enough stamina and agility to dodge attacks and roll out of the way. (He sometimes liked to hide in a spot and fire 600 arrows at a boss that didn’t know where he was; Robbie’s not a man above exploiting enemy AI when you’re balls-deep in a terrifying Souls dungeon). About 5 hours into Demon’s Souls, he found himself exploring a vast, ruinous castle, a typically grim location, full of undead skeleton soldiers, a gigantic blob monster riddled with spears, and a couple of fire-breathing dragons.

We were both busy gawping at one of the dragons from what we thought a safe distance, as it lay on a mound, sleeping at the end of a long stone rampart. Between it and us was a small army of skeletons, but by this point Robbie had gotten the hang of dealing with them. So, he crept onto the rampart and began meticulously dispatching the skeletons one at a time, heading towards the sleeping dragon. Suddenly, its wings opened up and it took to the sky… ah, not asleep, then. Within seconds, it had swooped towards the rampart and rained hellish dragonfire down across the walkway burning every skeleton and us in the process. “YOU DIED” appeared in big red capital letters in the middle of the screen, not for the first or last time. “I guess you can’t go that way,” I said to Robbie when he respawned at the nearest bonfire. “Of course I can!” he declared. “I need my souls!”

He died on the second, third, fourth and fifth attempts to cross the rampart, before giving up and going to another area of the castle. But eventually, many days later, he came back and defeated that pesky dragon. How? He hid on the rampart and fired 600 arrows at it until it died.

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Gaming Memories – Portal

Format: PC
Release date: 2007

Portal is one of those games that sprang out of nowhere, taking everyone by surprise and causing a storm all across the internet. With almost no hype, and zero expectations, it came bundled as a throwaway extra in The Orange Box, arguably the best game bundle ever made.

My fondest memory of Portal was watching my friend Adam play through it for the first time. He stayed around my house one night, which in itself was quite a rare thing, and I insisted he play through Portal because it’s short, sweet and hilarious. The reason I remember this night so well is because Adam had been recommending games and movies to me for as long as I’ve known him, and it’s rare for me to have a chance to show something new to him. He’s also quite hard to impress, and I wanted desperately for him to like something that I introduced him to. And he loved it. We started at midnight and he didn’t beat GlaDOS until about 3am, but the entire time between was us cracking up and basking in the sardonic cruelty and piss-taking of one of gaming’s greatest antagonists. When the brilliantly silly end-credits song ‘Still Alive’ came on, we were both grinning ear to ear.

This happened within the first few weeks of the game’s release, and I was so glad to enjoy that game with Adam before all of the lying cake memes wore out their welcome. I regularly go back and play through Portal, just to be entertained by GlaDOS. It’s very close to being the perfect game.

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