I've noticed over the years that I enjoy playing games in pairs, coupling them like a fine wine and a dry, aged cheese. (Or a hoppy beer and a slice of spicy pizza, if you prefer.) I've got professional obligations now that I didn't have in the past, but all the same, I find that I tend to experience my gaming two games at a time.
It's vital, then, to choose a good pairing—a yin and a yang, a chocolate and a vanilla, a Cagney and a Lacey. Sometimes a great pairing happens by coincidence—two complimentary games are released right around the same time. Sometimes they are the result of careful planning. I thought it would be fun to look back at some memorable gaming pairings that I've enjoyed over the past few years, and to see what kinds of pairs you all are enjoying during this jam-packed holiday season.
Bioshock and Oblivion
In the mid-2000s, I took a few years off from gaming. It was during the period of time that the new generation of consoles was released, but I mostly missed it as it was happening. I didn't get an Xbox 360 when it was new. I never tried to play Kameo and try to tell myself that yes, this was what the next generation of gaming was going to look like.
By 2007, there were several games on the console that felt truly "Next Gen". The first two games I got, in the late summer of 2007, were The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Bioshock. In fact, it was Oblivion that finally convinced me to take the plunge and buy a 360. I spent the next month or so playing those two games nonstop.
What a dynamite pairing those two were! Oblivion gave me heady exploration with a hint of.. well, infinity. It was a game that was as exciting or as relaxing as I wanted it to be. Bioshock gave me a more tightly controlled experience, but one that was just open enough not to feel weirdly restrictive compared to Oblivion.
It was a special time, and a special pair of games. That same fall, there were other combinations, as well, including...
Half Life 2 and Mass Effect
Good gravy, will we ever see another Fall like the Fall of 2007? Actually, I'd argue that this current fall is its equal, at least in terms of quality. But 2007 had so many special things going for it—and among them, the release of Valve's Half-Life collection The Orange Box and the very first Mass Effect.
I binged on Mass Effect when it finally came out, but all of my downtime was spent playing Half-Life 2, a game which I had been wanting to play since the day it was first teased, but which I hadn't had a PC capable of running it since it had been released.
The combination of Mass Effect's cinematic story and Half-Life 2's breathless pacing and puzzles was damn near perfect. Soon I was tearing into my second playthrough of Mass Effect, just as I was finally finishing Half-Life 2 and moving on to its episodic content. Hopefully BioWare's next magnum opus will release alongside Half-Life 3. A guy can dream, right?
The Witcher 2 and L.A. Noire
This was an odd pairing from earlier this year, a combination that didn't quite sit right, though I thought it would. Here we have two semi-open games, two defined, interesting protagonists, two mysteries that need solving. But while Geralt's adventure in The Witcher 2 grabbed me from the start, I found that L.A. Noire made for a strange counterpoint.
Part of this is that when it came down to it, I didn't like L.A. Noire that much. But I didn't hate it or anything… I think that the bigger problem was the two games' incompatible pacing. The Witcher 2 is a long game, but not too long—it benefits from a strong sense of momentum and a story that doesn't encourage wandering. L.A. Noire, on the other hand, has some truly strange pacing—most of the game is spent watching, waiting, walking around… the odd new gameplay types combined with the large but empty city to create something blank and empty. Its cool, stark tone mixed about as well with the randy, colorful scatter of The Witcher 2 as tomato juice mixes with sushi. An interesting combination, but not one I'd necessarily recommend.
Skyrim and Saints Row: The Third
This has been the most recent pairing, obviously, and it's worked out pretty well. I was playing Saints Row for review, so I was focused mainly on the story missions. Skyrim on the other hand, as I mentioned earlier tonight, has been a game that I play simply to wander around.