And praise be to the Suspend/Resume function.
Childbirth is a miracle. I’ve seen a tiny human being come out of another human being twice – the first emerging like a stone skimming over water, the second grumpily being pulled out after refusing to budge, both heralded by the battlecry of a woman adding a +1 to the world with thunderous determination – and it’s really something. And by really something I mean completely changing your view of yourself and the Universe, but it’s a more relatable summary.
Having kids reframes your world in the best, most exhausting ways possible, but one of the biggest hits comes to gaming time. The nightly hours playing TimeSplitters are a memory so ancient they might as well be from another dimension. Even finishing a game becomes a novelty, and up until recently there was no solution to the frequent sudden instances where the game has to go off now. Thankfully, Sony has solved this with a firmware addition that should be renamed Every Dad’s Best Friend – the glory and brilliance of PS4’s Sleep and Suspend mode.
Why can’t we save anywhere? Over the last few years, this has become my most frequently asked question (always to my various consoles, each of which rudely declines to answer). Why do I have to replay this section? The challenge often shifts away from what the developers want me to do, to what I have to do – sprint ahead, desperately looking for the sign that I can save my progress. It adds a certain layer of lunacy to how you imagine the game’s characters must view your avatar as it frantically searches around for that mystical waypoint like a mother trying to find her lost kid in Tesco. I’m almost at a save point; that desperate (and sometimes dishonest plea) to delay to game’s termination so you can record your position.
What happens is that your game preferences totally change. Gone are the 25-hour story campaigns that require any kind of narrative comprehension. In come the sugary, instant gratification titles that can be played in ten minutes at a time and save regularly. It’s amazing how your feelings about Call Of Duty totally change when it becomes the deliverer of that quick, frequently-saved hit. Football, shooting, and racing; that golden triangle of quick, effective gaming becomes the only option.
However, the recent PS4 firmware update has changed all that, and the effect is so dramatic that the triangle’s been totally smashed. Along with the standard stability updates and PSN tweaks came the ability to freeze whatever game you’re playing at any point and make the console sleep, ready for you whenever you can dive back in. Also, it doesn’t kill you ability to use other functions; as long as you don’t boot up another game, you’re free to look in the store or change the console settings, even watch a movie. And rebooting the console from Rest mode takes seconds, a vital factor when trying to squeeze in quick gaming sessions between naps (for both baby and father).
This fundamental addition has already had a huge impact. This month, I finished my first video game in God knows how long, the absolutely fabulous Lara Croft and the Temple Of Osiris. It’s worth noting that the game has numerous auto-save points throughout each level – each heralded by that sweet Tomb Raider ding present since the very first game – but just taking away the need to save and reload makes the campaign even more immediate. I found that I could play in tiny sections stacked up over a few weeks, not worrying about hitting save points or, even worse, completing levels. This freedom to slow down and actually enjoy the game made me appreciate all of its intricate systems, and gave a tremendous feeling of satisfaction when the final credits rolled.
Thanks to my newly-expanded triangle, I’m ten hours into Metal Gear Solid V and absolutely loving it. Previous titles carried a weight of strategy of them; not only in the gameplay, but also in giving yourself enough time each session to both play the game and hit the save points, sometimes separated by 45 minutes of cutscenes. That was hard enough when I was childless; MGS4 would be near impossible in my current situation. It’s not just that MGSV has cut away much of the superfluous narrative that has almost become Hideo Kojima’s trademark, but it’s also that the actual game can now be played in whatever precise fragments that I can give to it t any one time.
A great example is the first encounter with Quiet, a tense cat-and-mouse double hunt amongst ancient Afghan ruins. I never would have been able to slowly take my time and edge around before confronting her, instead gunning my horse to escape via the other side of the valley (MGSV gives you the freedom to do this; fight or flight are both equally supported actions). However, once I had the security of freezing time at any point, I could take my time to creep up on her and achieve a much more favourable result in the process. It’s a little thing, but increased my involvement with the game substantially.
Such is the sudden necessity of this game suspension ability that I won’t be buying any narrative games for my other, older consoles until my life regains some sense of normality. I’m even considering double-dipping with the newly released PS4 version of Zombi, which I already have in its ZombiU form on my WiiU. It’s a wonderful game that hasn’t been handled with the care it deserves, but I can look past the ports very noticeable downgrades just for the fact that I could pause the story any time I wanted instead of legging it, screaming, to the nearest manhole cover every time my child comes in the room. Kind of takes away the tension.
So, thank you Sony. Dad Mode is one of the most welcome additions to your shiny new console, and I look forward to my exciting future of being able to complete many more single-player stories in hundreds of tiny, child-free slices.