As you’ve seen, we’re in somewhat retrospective mood this month – and so, in a happy coincidence, are some of the globe’s premier videogame makers. Games, linked as they are with technology, have always been obsessed with the future. Latterly, as graphical fidelity has improved and photorealism begins to feel within reach, developers have sought to mimic the present day, too. The past, appropriately enough, always seems to get left behind.
A hearty cheer, then, for Battlefield 1 (p102), which since its unveiling has served as a handy case study in why history is best avoided in games. How dare EA DICE make entertainment capital of one of the bleakest, most brutal conflicts in recorded human history? The answer, it turns out, is with surprising elegance. It is a study of the horrors of war, rather than a glorification of them; it teaches, but never lectures. It’s also the best Battlefield campaign to date – and heavens above, even the servers work.
Things are slightly less successful, sadly, for Mafia III (p110), though none of its failures are thematic. Like Battlefield 1, it focuses its lens on a regrettable time period, in this case the US Deep South in 1968. Mired in angst at Vietnam and divided over the civil rights moment, we’re put right in the thick of it as an African American war hero. It’s a powerful exploration of a time, place and political backdrop where games have rarely dared to tread.
There’s little historical about Rez Infinite (p116), admittedly, at least in terms of subject matter. But no other game better reflects the elastic relationship videogames have with time. This 15-year-old work is astonishing in VR, itself a technology that first promised us the future over two decades ago, and is only now beginning to deliver. A vision of gaming’s future, exhumed from its past – the perfect fit for this most celebratory of months.