But despite all this, I can’t quite love the game as much as I’d like to. I have the same problem with it that I do with a lot of nostalgic celebrations of schoolyard antics. Yes, the thought of Chinese burns, groinal injuries and wedgies still fills some childish part of me with a golden glow, but there’s another, grown-up part of me that finds some of this stuff not just juvenile, but deeply unpleasant.
If games offer us the chance to live fantasies we’ve never lived out in real life, isn’t it a bit sad to take the part of a playground thug who laughs at geeks and has to punch his way out of trouble? For every nine minutes I’ve been entertained or where I’ve laughed out loud at Canis Canem, there’s been one where I’ve felt a bit unsettled. Is it good for a game to laugh at this behaviour? Is this really something a grown man should be playing? I guess you could say the same about Zelda or Mario, but at least those games don’t leave me with a bad taste in my mouth.
And that’s why, in the end, my personal score for this one is an eight, not a nine or ten. Don’t get me wrong. Judging by every metric going this is a brilliant game, and your opinion could easily differ – feel free to add or subtract points according to taste. But overall, I can’t help thinking that Canis Canem takes a rather cheap, easy, mean-hearted approach to its school-days subject matter, and that the game is slightly the worse as a result.
Technically and artistically, Canis Canem is a triumph, and you’d be hard pushed to name a better open-world game this year. Whether its treatment of school is funny or unsavoury is a matter of personal opinion.