Standing about halfway in the queue at a quarter to midnight, the sense of expectation and anticipation was overwhelming. Having waited over a year since the first trailer had been released, it was as if we were all lining up for one of the great film premieres; an unveiling that could be announced with pride to our future descendants, akin to that of attending, say, the world's first screening of Return of the Jedi/King: "I was there". In such a scenario, our unnamed grandchildren-to-be would probably look up at us with awe, envisioning themselves the coming of the next great trilogy that would eventually serve to define their own generations.
But in this scenario? No, not quite. Here, unlike with the movies, there would be no shared venue for this particular event. In our own particular world, the experience would be enjoyed most likely alone and through countless nights, and not even immediately, either. At best, our equivalent of whispering to each other in front of the screen would present itself via engagements with strangers through headsets in online lobbies dependent on green or red lag, their voices revealing hints of anger or some sort of...catharsis. Any sort of impassioned post-film theatre-exit "what did you think" debate manifesting as text in forums and message boards, with the closest next - and perhaps final - parallel to film being the presence of that one particular character who'd do a fine job as an antagonist right up there with the likes of Darth Vader or Sauron: the resident troll.
The clock struck twelve and the expressions on these real-life gamers' faces (all males, mind you) lit up collectively. The queue inched forward, and the awkwardly delighted shouts of triumph as the first few claimed their items built up the excitement for the rest of us, a ball of string held millimetres too high above these kittens' extended claws. Those lucky bastards! The minutes toiled in their passing but eventually, having navigated past all the tides of advertising online and on buildings around the city in recent months, fluctuating us ever closer towards this niche-significant date in the calendar, it was finally my turn at the front of the queue, claiming a copy. A smile crept onto my face as the confirmation hit me - after all that waiting and all that anticipation - I'd now be playing this gem of a game in as much time as it took for me to get home. And I would love it, every second of it.
Sure enough, for the first couple of days I really did. Yeah, I did notice that the mechanics felt a lot heavier than they'd been previously, but this was what the developer was going for. It was deliberately made this way. Or so I'd read online somewhere...I couldn't exactly remember. Or maybe someone else said it. But it was true, either way. No question. Realism had been the focus this time round, and they really, absolutely, nailed it. Spot on. The other games were great in their own right, but this - this! - the magnum opus, is what each addition to the series had all been building up to. (Yes, I think I read that 'magnum opus' bit somewhere else).
As the months passed and the game having long since been completed, I was still affirming to myself what a masterpiece I'd experienced. They achieved everything they were going for, and all those critics were right. It was different, yes, but it was brilliantly different. Those Metacritic user scores may well be nothing but tens or zeroes, but I agree with the tens. And really, who cares what those zero people said. Those attention-seeking, 15-minutes-of-fame dissenters. Saur...trolls.
Now, years later, I get angry. It's an odd emotion in the scheme of things, really, but it stems from a sense of...well, being lied to. Betrayal, even. Why would those reviewers hand out all those perfect tens to something that was clearly, obviously, imperfect? "Perfect for its scope and ambition"? Pfft. Doesn't exactly make up for what it was actually lacking. All those ones and zeroes flipping over themselves everywhere and signifying absolute supreme flawlessness - outrageous!
There's been quite a bit chatter in recent weeks regarding review scores, in particular the importance the Metacritic average immediately upon the release of a major title even before anyone bar professional reviewers have had a chance to play them. It's even descended into bickering over decimal figures and outrage over an 8/10. So much for telling the grandkids about that fantastic experience we had in our heydays - we'd just end up nagging them to tears over how some sonofabitch single-handedly brought a 9.4 down to a 9.3, and how that really, really mattered to us at the time.
Looking at it now from another angle, I know why there was anger. I'd been manipulated - taken advantage of. A good ol' number in the system, an obedient sheep in the flock. The ball of string nothing but a carrot fixed permanently on a stick; the tools are all there - they'll always be there: all that hype and talk and annoying adverts invading half of the computer screen when you enter a site, accompanied by 5-star ratings from those truly odd pre-release-review (pre-re-review, if you will) scores, priming your anticipation for the Next Best Thing. And if that doubt ever crept in after finishing the game in a disappointingly short 2-hour timespan? Those bright green boxes on Metacritic can act as your own personal yes-men: Leon Festinger giving you a pat on the back as if to say "you did good", in some - well - grandfatherly voice, a reassurance (read: justification) based entirely on what everyone else thinks and, crucially, what you want to tell yourself.
Suddenly I am calm.
With a clearer mind and a desire to see things as they truly are, my first thoughts are that those film trilogies will probably need another viewing. Hands up who wants to be the guy who points out all the flaws and/or differences from the book? And as for the game? These days I reckon I'd give it a 7.5. Maybe even a 7.1.