We all have our vices. I once dated a girl who read The Daily Mail on her phone on her commute to work. When I pressed her about why on earth she'd do that to herself, all she could reply with was "it's so bad!". Just like that. Like that awful kid from cult terrible-movie The Wizard, marvelling over the equally-awful Nintendo Power Glove.
Unlike the kid from The Wizard, however, I don't think she was proud that she consumed several pages of unimaginable pap every week-day. But in a certain masochistic way, she enjoyed hate-reading the articles.
I was thinking about this on Monday when Bethesda's Rage 2 was leaked and then eventually revealed for real. Looking back to the original game, I remember two things. The first thing is that it was actually sort of crap. Not terrible, but by no means did it reach the benchmark of quality that 2018's Bethesda seems to regularly hit.
The second thing is that I enjoyed playing it. Like, a lot. It was a game that I could turn my brain off and experience. The same, I imagine, is true for fans of The Wizard and my ex-girlfriend reading The Daily Mail - it was just a guilty pleasure. Sometimes it's nice to enjoy something - not because it's good, but because it's easy.
We all have our vices, it turns out, and some we're not altogether so proud of. Here are some of ours:
Christian Donlan, Features Editor
Splinter Cell: Conviction
My literary guilty pleasure died this week. Tom Wolfe, who supported Reagan, W. Bush, and had kindish words to say about Trump. I could not agree less with his political alliances, but when he wrote, Jeeeeesus, as the man himself might put it. The energy! The curiosity! The exclamations!
Wolfe wrote the best thing I ever read about custom car culture - and a man who owns a garage called Kustom City who stands outside the place and, as Wolfe notes, stares in sad anger at his own sign and the infuriating sibilant C in 'City'. He wrote the best thing I ever read about suits with cuff buttons that undo. After 9/11, when I briefly felt the western world had lost its moorings, it was Wolfe who suggested otherwise with a typically contrarian interview in a newspaper with a headline along the lines of, "Everything in New York changed just BEFORE 9/11!" Sheesh, Wolfe. Or rather, Shheeeeeesh, Wolfe! Godspeed, I guess. (I don't believe in god either.)
This has made me think about guilty pleasures. In games I think the temptation is to read this as meaning something crap that nevertheless exerts a powerful tug. But games have meanings - sometimes this is a sad realisation. And a guilty pleasure can be a beautifully made thing with a meaning that does not line up with your own. A guilty pleasure can be: Splinter Cell: Conviction.
Tom Clancy is not a literary guilty pleasure of mine. I hate his work and his ethos and his values. But man I love Splinter Cell Conviction. I love it because of its take on stealth, which is fast-paced, precise, and gloriously contextual. I love it for the genius that is the mark-and-execute mechanic, which turns each encounter into a puzzle game by allowing you to cash in one close-up takedown for two or three no danger instakills if you can get your targets within range. (It really does do the puzzle thing. There is even an iOS puzzle game made completely independently - Helsing's Fire - that basically does the same trick, and it's a pure puzzler indeed.)
But, you know, that story and that lineage. Those set-piece torture scenes where you get to ram an unfortunate's head against a toilet bowl, while politely sat in your living room. So yes, this is my guilty pleasure. Splinter Cell: Complicity, I guess.
Chris Tapsell, Guides Writer
Cossacks: European Wars
I think this game might actually be good - it's just I wouldn't know, because it was very much my guilty pleasure at the time to repeatedly load up one pre-made map, plough it full of cheats, and completely ruin it.
Cossacks: European Wars came out in 2001, so I was about nine, and being a nine-year-old I didn't really get the whole "actually do the work so it's satisfying when you finally win" thing. I just wanted to hog the family PC so I could build up a massive army, defend some walls for ages and then, when I got bored of my weird renaissance-era recreation of a Peter Jackson film, charge forth and wipe out my enemies really, really easily. So that's what I did, and it was great. I still remember the map - Old Kingdom, a square plot of countryside that sat your pre-built empire across the entire bottom third of it, safely on a hill behind some walls, with two separate enemies buried in the fog of war to the north - and it's still my favourite type of map to play when I do RTS games the "proper way" now, holding off backs-to-the-wall sieges, ideally featuring at least one very drawn-out battle on a choke point along the way.
It was fun! - even if it completely defeated the purpose of playing an RTS - and I'd like to think I'd gladly do it again. Spending hours needlessly cheating my way to massive armies on the same map in Cossacks was my gateway drug to strategy's rich and sophisticated genre, but also some of the most fun I actually ever had with it. It's given me the type of memory you look back on with a weird pang of wistful regret: the video game equivalent of having your first taste of dreadful, watery beer in the evening sunshine of a local park, loving it, and then nearly throwing up.
Paul Watson, Social Media Manager
Detective Barbie In the Mystery of the Carnival Caper
Here's something I never thought I'd admit on a very large video game website.
I was about eight years old when I was given my first PC by my parents. It was something of a lumbering beast, and we weren't a very well-off family, so I mostly dined out on shareware compilation CDs and the bundled software which came with the computer. I feel like, as a kid, its easier to just make do with what you have, playing the same games over and over again until the muscle memory takes over and you could play blindfolded if you wanted to.
Which is why, exhausted by the other options on my Gateway PC sampler CD-Rom, I finally turned to the one remaining title I'd yet to play. One marked ostensibly as "software for girls".
Detective Barbie, it turns out, was a surprisingly competent point-and-click adventure game. Not only this, but the developers Gorilla Systems finally gave Mattel's hyper-popular character the agency (excuse the pun) that she deserved, breaking her free of the myriad makeover and fashion design games that had been her legacy up until that point.
Less Film Noir and more Film Glam, the game plays out with Detective Barbie donning her gumshoe outfit and magnifying glass accessory to head off in search of inept partner Ken, who has found himself kidnapped in a faintly-creepy carnival, all the while pursuing a shadowy villain in a trench coat. Memorable scenes included a jet-ski chase through a tunnel of love and a fully-clothed jaunt down a water slide.
Interestingly, the game was designed to switch things up with each playthrough, distributing different clues throughout the map at will, which is a godsend for a kid with a limited library of games.
So thanks, Detective Barbie. You were a middling-to-decent adventure game designed for girls, but you had my attention.
What games are you afraid to admit you enjoyed? I've just told the world that I used to like playing Detective Barbie, so you kind of have to share your guilty pleasures with us now.