Media Services desk staff member Brandon Carr, a recent IU graduate in Psychology, shares his gaming-as-coping experiences during Covid.
While the world is finally (seemingly) returning to that lukewarm, slightly-less-terrible state of yore, it’s time to reflect on what got us all through these tumultuous times. Some people got really into politics, some people finally caved in and downloaded Tik Tok, and others even baked a mildly satisfying first attempt at banana bread. I, however, like many introverted geeks, turned to old video games.
I played some games for the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, I got a Steam account to play some PC games, and I finally began taking advantage of those online memberships my relatives got me for my birthdays and what-not. For a while, I was satisfied in the modern world of digital entertainment. But the realer-than-life graphics and polished soundtracks became dull and monotonous after a while, and my attention shifted from my PS4 to the PS2. I traveled back twenty-odd years to video games that, for their time, represented the vanguard of gaming entertainment, games that are coincidentally among the holdings of the IU Media Services Department. So for my fellow gamers out there, here are some classics for the PS2 and Microsoft Xbox to revisit and rediscover.
For Playstation 2
God of War (2005)
Released in 2005, this game was an instant hit for Western audiences and solidified the classic hack-and-slash, level-up system in the modern gaming era. The high-intensity soundtrack keeps you constantly on your toes, the puzzles leave you stumped between areas and force you to use your mind over your swords, and the bloody, gory battle scenes with waves of enemy hordes are horrifically addictive. The first installment of the series and my personal favorite, God of War incentivizes carnage, an appropriate theme for a vengeful Hellenic warrior on a quest to kill the ancient Greek gods themselves!
Kingdom Hearts (2002)
Imagine the videogame lovechild between the Disney and Final Fantasy franchises, injected with some spiky-haired original characters with spiky hair and parents we never see, with a web of confusing, tangled plots and backstories that make the Game of Thrones look like a kids’ show, and you have yourself the glorious, and frustratingly difficult, mess that is Kingdom Hearts.
As strange as that may sound (and it’s admittedly not everyone’s thing), the mixed-up jumble of elements coalesce better than you might expect, with a compelling combination of action and role play, and the soundtrack is great. The game was a commercial and artistic success and won numerous awards upon its debut. Photo credit: Kingdom Hearts (2002) Cover Art. Digital Image. CNET. https://www.cnet.com/tech/computing/kingdom-hearts-and-when-judging-a-game-by-its-cover-goes-so-right/.
Jak & Daxter (2001)
Jak & Daxter and the Precursor Legacy has neither the confusing storylines of Kingdom Hearts nor the mind-teasing puzzles of God of War. Instead, you are faced with the dreaded world of… early 2000s platforming! The blocky platforms are hard to reach and made even worse by the game’s lack of momentum control. That said, the game is truly a fun experience and not that hard once you get the hang of it. So if you’re a fan of the Mario series or other games of the genre, then you’ll love the original and colorful world of Jak & Daxter! This game transports you to a fantastical land with a simple mission; to save the world with your furry best friend, and to find the mystery behind the life force known as Eco.
Shadow of the Colossus (2005)
This game puts the cinema in cinematic. Released in the same year as God of War, Shadow of the Colossus is a familiar tale about a boy on a journey to rescue a princess. With minimalistic yet impactful atmospheres and a heart-wrenching story that immerses you into the perspective of the protagonist, SOTC is also action-packed, full of boss fights with gargantuan enemies.
This revolutionary title is often cited as one of the best games ever made and won awards for its soundtrack, design, and quality as a whole (IGN.com). So if you are looking for a compelling story and immersive experience rather than violence and combat, then bare your blade, and dare to strike down the beasts of gods! Photo credit: Shadow of the Colossus (2005). Digital Image. Team Ico Wiki. https://teamico.fandom.com/wiki/Shadow_of_the_Colossus
For Microsoft Xbox
Halo (2001) and Halo 2 (2004)
Widely regarded as one of the most well received and successful video game franchises ever, the Halo series had its humble beginnings on the Microsoft Xbox. Before its release, games of the “first person shooter” genre were blocky, and often required a great deal of skill, luck, or both. However, upon its release, Halo was the first game of its time to successfully utilize dual stick controls, and it introduced the video-game industry to several amazing new improvements. Snapping crosshairs allow for the player’s camera to lightly stick to the enemy as they move. Friction and acceleration mechanics sped the camera up when no enemies were present, but slowed it down in the presence of enemies to increase accuracy. Magnetism allowed for the player to successfully hit enemies as long as their aim was “good enough” rather than extremely precise, as in previous titles.
What is most iconic about Halo and its sequel, however, is that the control layout that was used for the original 2001 game is the layout that has generally been adopted by every single game of the genre since. For those who are unaware, a control layout is the range of actions that the game will let you input, as well as which buttons they correspond to on the controller (e.g., the bottom button is often used as the jump button). The series introduced crouching, melee attacks, grenades, and more controls to the genre that had not been conceived of prior, and the execution of these novel options was exceptional. If you’re familiar with the new Halo games but have never tried the original, then check out what made the series so iconic!
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)
Based on the Star Wars universe crafted by George Lucas, this game takes place several millennia before the events of the first trilogy. Knights of the Old Republic was developed by the same creator as the Dragon Age series, known for its superior storytelling, combat systems, and character creation; luckily, this game also has all three! Although the character creation isn’t as detailed as, say, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and although the only names available for players’ characters are randomly generated, you can’t help but feel like you yourself are a Jedi in a galaxy far, far away. The best part about this game is that you don’t need to know much about the canon of the Star Wars universe in order to play, making this the perfect game for nerds and newbies alike.
Lastly, the cult classic whose sales were overestimated for years before its release in 2004, the one and only Fable. Although the creator of Fable was extremely proud of his product and advertised the game as something the world has never experienced before, its initial release was met with mixed reviews. Photo credit: Fable (2004) Alignment Art. Digital Image. Pinterest. https://www.pinterest.com/stgower10/fable/
In an embarrassing turn of events, the creator was forced to apologize for the difference in promise and execution. Luckily, an extension to the original game was eventually made and distributed, and the game was ultimately considered a success. Most notably, the game had a dynamic morality system that the protagonist aligned on, and throughout the game, depending on the player’s decisions, their moral alignment would shift. This interesting component compensates for the lack of character customization and personality for the protagonist. Players even get a sweet halo or a wicked pair of horns! If you want to experience a classic RPG, then check out Fable, and become a legend!
Even though we should appreciate all the new things this crazy year has taught us, it’s nice every once in a while to look back on those games we used to play and draw comfort from them once again. Photo credit: Family Playing Video Games. Digital Image. Common Sense Media. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/
And if you don’t have a PlayStation 2 or Microsoft Xbox at home, Media Services have you covered! You can check out our PS2 and Xbox consoles for use within our department Media Rooms for as long as four hours. Photo credit: ONLINE Museum of Old Video Games. Digital Image. RetroGames. https://www.retrogames.cz/
We have additional consoles as well: Xbox 360/PS3, Super Nintendo, N64, PS4/XB1, Switch, and more! All of the games above are also available for checkout at Media Services (unlike the consoles, the games can be checked out to play outside the department) at no cost with your campus ID. BC
Student staff blogger Brandon Carr is a recent graduate of IU Bloomington with a BA in Psychology and a double minor in Counseling and Japanese. He has worked at Media Services since 2017, and he also likes to play video games in his spare time. This summer is Brandon’s last with Media Services, and we are so grateful for his many contributions to the department over the years. We wish Brandon the very best in his next chapter and will miss his fun spirit!