His­tory les­son


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.

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