There’s an unassuming weight behind the lexis used to describe the average game collection.

And though the usage of terms themselves is generally fine, the implication within can lend a lot to the level of anxiety that can quickly burden the otherwise enjoyable pursuit of a typical backlog. In my previous iteration of Backlog Burning – the link to which you can find at the foot of this article – I leant heavily on the use of the phrase ‘library’. Commonly scrawled across a multitude of systems, but most notable perhaps for its association with any Steam PC – a platform inextricably twinned with the escalation of many a modern backlog – the definition of a games library has wavered as the way of attaining games has begun to change.

I felt that ‘library’ was the correct term to opt for because it implied that the games I had amassed had been plucked from my proverbial shelves one by one each in order of worth. I used to think I had something of a refined taste and that I sought my games against those stringent specifics. Revisiting the former edition of this article made me see just how much things have changed since then. The approach remains the same: dedicate a bit of time to those many games that I hadn’t yet had the chance to experience, then jot down some notes on each of them. But the purpose behind it all is a little different than it used to be.

When recalling the work of Italian writer Umberto Eco, fellow scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb notes upon Eco’s anti-library, a personal collection of thousands upon thousands of books harnessing knowledge yet to be unearthed rather than existing as a monument to accomplishments already attained. And it’s in a similar vein that I’d like to perceive my own collection of games sitting dormant and unattended, games that I’ve sought after because they’re different and unique, because I hope that they can offer me a something at a future juncture.

My backlog these days isn’t merely a mass to be lifted. And really, the only reason for the return of the alliterative title is for the sake of consistency! The essence of the backlog prevails then, but the lingering shadow of its presence is gone. And without the threat of anxiousness, a backlog is merely the promise of a good game still to come.

Here are the games that I have spent the summer of 2017 with.


Firewatch

Henry and Delilah are alone and bereft with personal troubles. Delilah is the experienced one here: she is the weathered watcher of many a summer past, the survivor of tinder and towering inferno, and a longtime lover of the isolationism that the Wyoming Pines can offer. This is all new to Henry – not just the custodial work of minding the tower and watching for bush fires; the heavy-heartedness, and the longing for escapism. Two towers, two lone soles.

Firewatch is a story of coping after tragedy. Not dealing with its consequences as it unfurls around you, but existing in its wake. The Wyoming wilderness is a purgatory for Henry and Delilah, intertwined as they are by their respective fates. Neither of them thought that they would ever find themselves in their given situation, but their idyllic lives were corrupted by an unforeseeable twist of fate, and so here they are, existing within a regretful present.

Through an immaculately spun narrative, Campo Santo’s Firewatch burrows into the heart of the depressive apathy that accompanies loss, handling its themes with stellar poise and tremendous understanding. If you’re interested, you can check out my more in-depth take on Henry and Delilah’s relationship in my complete Firewatch review – the link to which can be find in the footer of this article.


Titanfall 2

You’ll catch glimpses that allude to the breadth of the Titanfall universe every now and then – a snippet of dialogue here, a holographic display there. Colonisation projects and insurrections are rife in a galactic fight for conquest, though Titanfall 2 eschews its grand scale in order to tell a story a little more personal and a lot more focused.

It’s the story of a man and his robot struggling to survive after a mission gone awry; the burden of responsibility falling upon an unproven pilot looking to make his mark repelling the might of a well-funded mercenary outfit designed to succeed. The gradual increase in understanding between Pilot Jack Cooper and Titan BT-7274 makes for an enjoyable emotional centrepiece, although it’s the technical surety with which Titanfall 2’s story has been weaved that serves as the most impressive aspect of Respawn’s symbiotic narrative.

Every mission offers a new challenge, a new method of interaction between Cooper and BT. These are gameplay mechanics that not only encourage consistent player agency in order to overcome, but also assist in developing the relationship between man and machine by way of accomplishing them. You’re not going through the motions, cutting down droves of hapless enemies free of purpose in Titanfall 2. You’re fighting for survival – for yourself and Titan both. And you will have to use everything in the locker of you and your Titan in order to ensure that you come out on the other side of this intergalactic war unscathed. Should pilot or Titan perish, the continued existence of your other half is ill-fated, with Titanfall 2 superbly driving home the emphasis of man and machine’s dependancy on one another in the wake of a war that dwarfs them both.


Journey

My time with Journey ended with the same minimal understanding of the world in which I inhabited as when it commenced. A fallen civilisation was all that remained of a time forgotten, swallowed whole by sand and snow alike. I was what seemed like a pupil of another civilisation, dropped within the hourglass and gawked at from afar as I traversed these unknown lands beneath the burning heat of the sun and the biting hiss of the cold winter’s wind.

It was a long time before my journey’s path crossed with that of another. He led me through a ferocious snowstorm, instructing me to use nearby stone tablets as protection from particularly buffeting gales that hampered our progress. We made it through, he sat down cross-legged beside a pyre, and faded between the ember red and blustering white, never to be seen again. From that point on, I was alone until the end.

Loneliness is a prevalent theme that eats away at much of your endeavour; you’re always left wondering if that truly is a fellow player in the distance, or an ill-fated mirage conjured out of an over-attentive fixation on motion. However isolated the long walk may feel, it’s thankfully alleviated by the peacefulness of the game’s enchanting melodies playing out against its quaint and inviting environments. The road, however barren, was worth walking all they way until the end. In some journeys, contentment comes in being the passenger.


Earth Defence Force 4.1: Shadow of New Despair

Nothing about Earth Defence Force (or, EDF to give it its common acronym) can ever be described as tame. Yet, when leveraged against its latter stages, its early goings are decidedly tepid.

EDF is a game that sees Japanese cities and suburbs ravaged by an extraterrestrial insect menace, as legions of carnivorous red ants, aggressive hornets and venomous tarantulas set upon the country as their first port of call in order to begin the process of extermination on a planetary scale. There’s a lot of charm to be taken away from the militaristic kitsch as evident by the Starship Troopers parallels, but EDF’s single most laudable quality lies in the ceaseless attempts to constantly one-up itself.

Yet even as the game dares hold its hands up and declare that it’s all out of options, you – the infinitesimal soldier staring into the maw of the apocalypse – are given a front row seat for the next showpiece that the game throws at you. It’s a Godzilla-sized reptile only able to be felled with a rocket punch from an equally gargantuan military mech; an interlocking series of weapon platforms that blacken the sky and raze the ground beneath; an orb the size of a small moon reducing a quaint slice of suburbia into ruin within seconds of deploying.

Earth Defence Force is a triumph of excess, and that excess admirably persists throughout its every living moment.


WipEout: Omega Collection

Distilled to its very core, the Omega Collection is the bottled essence of Wipeout: the ferocious, frenetic, unforgiving futuristic racer that has been a part of PlayStation’s storied heritage seemingly for as long as its cloudy grey peripherals and its disc-read error messages.

The Omega Collection is a no-frills introduction to Wipeout for the new player and a celebration of its most renowned achievements for the seasoned veteran. The Race Box brings the purity of one-off time chasing, whilst extended season modes encourage players to hone their knowledge of every track and inverted variation in order to unlock new crafts and ascend worldwide leaderboards. Most of all though, the Omega Collection looks spectacular, even without the added PlayStation Pro enhancements. Tracks shimmer and gleam against light both natural and artificial, while an existing design philosophy in regards to the game’s futurist inspiration pulls you forcibly into its reality and never loosens its grip.

If the Omega in the title seems to points towards a definite endpoint for the series, then Wipeout will have gone out in spectacular fashion, as combined HD, Fury and 2048 titles meld together to create a sensory experience lacking in subtlety in the best way possible. My full thoughts on the Omega Collection are available in my complete review, which you can find linked at the bottom of this article.


Alienation

It’s beneath the neon fury of your typical Alienation siege that the game shines brightest.

There are moments of dormancy in which you’ll let your guard down, but these moments are punished regularly and with unhindered malice. Alienation feels sure of itself during the chaos of its switch-flip brawls – when the looming quiet becomes the screaming swarm in the passing of a second. Four defenders opening up against droves of oncoming insurgents makes the glowing blood pour forth and the sparks hail without relent. Every Alienation conflict is a picture of aesthetic purity, with an unsettling level of beauty to be found in the colour and detail of your enemy’s destruction.

Successively ramping up the difficulty level and repeating the same conflicts dulls the lustre of Alienation’s enjoyably frenetic action by conforming it to a fixed template. You plunder arms from a small pool of weaponry, gnaw at the bones of already exhausted missions for extra material drops, and vanquish the threat of the alien menace all over again, this in the hope of a greater challenge to come and greater rewards to follow. It’s a cyclical process that only siphons monotony from the otherwise freeing combat, but one that simply doesn’t possess enough content in order to sustain itself for very long.


Killing Floor 2

To lose yourself in the gory, blood-fuelled haze of Killing Floor 2 is to be adequately performing your role on the team. Every one of your eight confidants – even the syringe-spewing medic – is counted on to cull the horde by laying down a hailstorm of unrepentant fire as the undead claw and bite at the edges of your periphery.

Killing Floor initially took me aback with its sense of pacing, as a more methodical conservation of ammunition was instead traded for a blurring of the trigger finger and an emphasis on cardiovascular endurance when the situation became a little dicey. A rock solid sixty frames per-second plays perfectly into the hands of the motion based combat, and further accentuates the smoothness of everything from the switching of rifle magazines to the slow motion dismemberment of an onrushing behemoth.

Killing Floor excels when it’s at its most ferocious – when the fortified stance of a well structured team becomes the fragmented fleeing of eight players each desperate to survive. In its player class variance and weapon variety, Killing Floor offers a wealth of options to tear at the beasts before they tear into you. And the meticulousness of its map design is only bettered when slathered in a fresh coat of crimson red. In a time after Left 4 Dead, Killing Floor is an exemplary beacon of mindless ghoul-slaying, all its own in both style and substance.


Life is Strange

The coming of the storm heralded the end for Max and Chloe. We rarely get a say in how or when things draw to a close, though – and so upon a cliff’s edge battered by torrential rain and lashing wind, Max Caulfield and Chloe Price count the seconds of a fleeting embrace as the threads of their fate unravel once again.

Life is Strange is as much a game about reconciliation as it is about the manipulation of time. Its science-fiction themes are but undertones to the purely human story at its core. And before being given an opportunity to reconcile through pulling and prodding at the fabric of time comes the regret of drifting apart past in the first place.

Max and Chloe are twinned by a force they can’t truly perceive, but they needn’t have to understand everything they feel. Life is Strange shines a light on the muddied waters of adolescence, with time travel a conduit for the growth and change of the two as individuals. And as much as regret, sorrow and reconciliation are unavoidable consequences of maturation, so are friendship, happiness and love. I think that’s what I’ll take most from Life is Strange; the value of time in the company of the ones you care most about.


Micro Machines: World Series

The cacophonous pipes of Brian Blessed do a stellar job of making the little seem large in Micro Machines World Series. Disappointingly hampered is his inimitable tone despite the reprisal of much of the games original charm. It’s the technical issues and stripped-down nature of the reimagined package that left me pondering what might have been. For in aligning World Series strictly for a multiplayer only crowd, it has left behind much of what made it something of a cult hit all the way back on the original PlayStation.

Any depth in vehicles is sacrificed instead for only 12 distinct choices, with an equally small pool of circuits on offer. The saving grace for both is the attention to detail paid to their design. Skimming across the tessellated kitchen cloth still bearing scorch marks from the oven grill is the aforementioned charm that World Series manages to hold on to successfully. Beneath an odd fixation on multiplayer competitiveness and a simplistic reliance on loot boxes in order to dole out customisation options, there are many aspects of World Series that seem to have little in common with its toy-racer nature. It seems awash with many ideas – few of which stick, and as such, it struggles to maintain an identity.

What Micro Machines is – what it has always been – lies just after the green light of a race start and the desperate clawing for any distance from the pack begins. And the fun that ensues in trying to reach a deserved podium and have Brian Blessed announce your victory makes it relatively easy to forget all the games woes, if only for a little while.


Tales From The Borderlands

Removed from the numbing shooting and looting swing that generally defines the Borderlands games, Tales From The Borderlands sheds the excess weight of its whole and instead imparts an entirely narrative-driven experience. The result is a Borderlands story just as brimming with the usual destructive fare, but more meaningful in its developing of characters and fostering of emotional overtones.

Tales isn’t simply a guided tour of Borderlands lore, but a magnificently developed story in its own right that goes a long way to showcasing the best of what the world has to offer. Utilising the relative pacing set by the pentameter of the story, Tales unfurls with a gradual ease, during which time its protagonists are given ample opportunity to develop away from the typical feverish shoot-and-loot cycle and become something much more.

The result is a Borderlands game boasting its strongest narrative yet. One in which the protagonists are as malleable as they are dead-set in their existing prejudices, and one that sacrifices not a single iota of Borderlands’ charm in order to deliver its most memorable story to date. To read my more nuanced take on the narrative stylisations of the Borderlands series – which includes an in-depth look at the accomplishments of Tales From The Borderlands – click the link to the article in the footer.


Persona 4 Golden

Those three piano strokes that commence any boot-up of Persona 4 Golden are the auditory equivalent of the game’s glossy hardback covers. It’s those chimes that accompany your introductory load after clicking the cartridge into your system for the very first time, and then those same tones that are woven into a final cutscene imbued with all the melancholy of an exhaustive journey fading to black.

A fond farewell layered with the bitter heartbreak of leaving behind friends that you’ve fought beside, grown with and learned to understand may have even soured things a little before the coming of the epilogue. But the protagonist smiles to himself because he knows that the bonds forged between friends are worth more than the passing of time or increasing of distance.

In between the expertly layered mystery and external plot elements of Persona 4 Golden, the game’s creed lies in friendship and its everlasting endurance above all else. It’s the social elements and animated cutscenes that provide a break to the seriousness of the case at hand. You’re just a kid in Persona 4, caught as you are in a web very real deception and brilliant fantasy. Throughout it all though – the school exams, the holiday festivals, the fights against the encroaching fog – you’ll endure. You’ll endure it because you have to, because without the intervention of you and your friends, Inaba’s fate may already be sealed. In Persona 4 Golden, you’re only as strong as those at your side, and for all of the game’s fitting exaggerative themes, dependance on those that you care about certainly isn’t one of them.


Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

The world’s end doesn’t have to be so terrifying. For those Shropshire denizens caught at the precipice of it all, it need not be signalled with missile strikes and hellfire. In Rapture, the end is a sunbaked farmstead standing atop a golden hill, a winding country road painted with speckled light broken free from the canopies above. Rapture tells the tale of a close-knit community and the muddled relationships of those who inhabit it. Juxtaposed against the dawning of an apocalyptic event nobody can quite understand comes mutual resolution; honest admonitions break through in the wake of terror, and many relationships become defined by the coming of the light.

The light itself is a relative mystery – its justification and meaning becoming known only during Rapture’s final moments. It’s conscious though, and driven, with the subtlety behind its methods and motives giving it an air of mysticism that had me clamouring for any forewarning as to my looming fate. But there aren’t any, because you’re doomed only to retread the footsteps of the damned and relive their final moments in fleeting fragments of impermanent humanity.

It ends where it began in Rapture, at the observatory that first registered contact with the foreign signal. Every glowing orb you’ve interacted with and luminous contrail you’ve followed has told a story, but it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether humanity’s mark was telling enough to have cast a lasting ripple throughout the cosmos. You leave as you entered – in light.

The concept of Eco’s anti-library suits me so well because it allows me to indulge in an affinity for the collecting of physical disc-based games. It’s the primary reason why I take extra care not to often tread down the digital pathway if I can avoid it – the unwrapping of the thin film and cracking open of a fresh game case a satisfaction not found in watching the painful scrawl of a download bar.

The Japanese refer to the term ‘Tsundoku’ as a means to stacking books aside and letting them harbour dust even if they never intend to read them. It’s drawn from the comfort of their mere presence, not just the tendencies of a wanting bibliomaniac. But books – like games – offer instant outlets of detraction, and so the parallel seems fitting, particularly if you contemplate a friend’s Steam library post-sale being converted into physical form and dotted around the perimeter of their living room.

A part of me will always find joy in plucking a game off a shelf based on the merits its cover alone. It may be a title on a store shelf, may even be a title that I forgot that I owned in the first place. But whether I play that game or not isn’t a cause for anxiousness. I never cared for chasing PS Trophies or Xbox Achievements, not particularly worried about the loss of servers bringing the end to some less-than-palatable DRM fixated titles. When the time comes, i’ll play it, and until that time, the backlog is in essence my extended collection, and – to take liberty with Taleb’s words: as much of what I have played as what I haven’t.


See also; Backlog Burning I; The Library

+ Firewatch Review + WipEout Omega Collection Review + Pandora’s Box; Storytelling in the Borderlands

Filed under: Features

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