Thursday, December 23, 2010

Playing Catch-Up: Dealing With My Game Backlog

Bayonetta. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Dead Space. Fable II. Batman: Arkham Asylum. Gears of War. Fallout 3. Halo: Reach. Mass Effect (the first one, not the more recent Mass Effect 2). I could go on.

What is it that all these games have in common? They're all relatively high-profile releases from the last few years. They were all pretty well-reviewed by most of the major gaming news outlets. Oh, and, as of a week ago, I hadn't actually finished any of them. And this is just a single console's worth of releases.

I've been out of the office this week, and I've taken the opportunity to try to work through some of this massive backlog of games - the holiday season really puts me in the frame of mind to do this, since yet more games normally arrive on Christmas Day, and even more are crammed into January, February and March.

Today I thought I'd give you, the game-playing audience, some tips on backlog-busting, along with some advice on being a part-time gamer that I've picked up over the last few years.


My inclination has always been to pop my newest game into the console and just play, trusting that I'd go back to previous games after I put in an hour or two playing the latest and greatest. This is a really awesome strategy, if your goal is never to ever finish anything ever.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I've found that concentrating on one big game at a time is the way to go. Even if you only have time to play an hour or so a day, that's still enough time to finish most action titles in a couple of weeks if your attentions aren't divided.

For variety's sake, though, I find that it's nice to have a secondary game to fall back on in case the first game isn't tickling your fancy on a particular day. You can have another AAA game as your backup, but I've had more success putting handheld (DS or iPhone) or downloadable games into this position. A game like Super Scribblenauts or 'Splosion Man has a flavor very distinct from the bombast of a big-budget retail release.

Don't Be Afraid to Give Up

I used to think that, because I had dumped a few hours into a game, I was under some sort of Cosmic Obligation to see it through to the end - even if I never played the game again, it sat on my shelf waiting for the day when I'd have the time to finish the fight. Just ask Radiata Stores, a pleasant but ultimately flavorless PlayStation 2 RPG that still sits on my shelf just because we spent a dozen hours together in the summer of 2007.

What I still have trouble remembering is that I'm perfectly allowed to change my mind - it isn't like I had a baby or invested in real estate in the mid-2000s. If I don't feel strongly enough about a game to need to finish it, then there's no shame in putting it away or listing it on Amazon. It had its chance. It failed. It's okay to invest your time in more worthy titles.

Stop Playing RPGs

Changing the way you play games can help, but depending on how bad the situation has gotten you may also find yourself having to change the kind of games you play. If this is the case, single-player RPGs are often the easiest to cut.

There are several reasons for this, and almost all of them have to do with the way these games are constructed - most RPG fans cry foul if a game clocks in under 30 hours, and a length in the 40-60 hour range is perfectly normal.

Many of those hours are sure to be riddled with every mind-numbing, tiresome task that gaming has to offer. Wandering from place to place, often backtracking? Check. Fighting the same enemies over and over, whether as part of the "wandering around" section or for purposes of leveling up your character? Check. Hours spent outfitting your character and managing your inventory? Check.

Full disclosure: I used to love RPGs, and I still like them a lot of the time. The amount of time I've spent with them has left me with a lot to complain about - I recognize a lot of what I'm saying as the bitterness of a lapsed RPG player, but I am hard-pressed to think of another genre that asks so much of one's time and gives so little in return. There are scads of Japanese RPGs with little to differentiate their cookie-cutter characters and cataclysms from one another - slap a slightly different menu system on top of a tale about a big-eyed androgynous nymph with daddy issues, and you've got yourself the next Final Fantasy!

Of course, this advice isn't applicable if RPGs are all you ever want to play, and if there's a franchise for which you have enough affection to make an exception (hello, Dragon Quest) you can still partake of them casually. It's just that you should feel okay passing up all of those Square Enix and Atlus games if your itinerary is already crowded enough.

Really, we have a pretty great problem - there are so many people making so much stuff that there simply isn't time to play it all. The best you can do sometimes is make good use of the time you do have - hopefully some of this advice helps you clear the deck for 2011's big releases. Happy holidays, and good luck!