I'm Brazen Head and my love for games borders on the fetishistic. As I type, my Dreamcast, Gamecube, PS2, 360, Wii, WiiU and gaming PC trail wires happily to the back of my TV screen.
Most of all, though, I'm a creative guy. I write, I compose music and I make video projects as well - many of which might make an appearance on this very site. Scratch that - they WILL make an appearance.
You can check out my pilot episode for a little video game video project I have going, too. It's right here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjMaVB9VJvE
Look, I'll level with you; I'm far from what passes as an accomplished writer. The closest I got to any writing accolades was a gold star for my essay on Frances Hodsgson-Burnett's The Secret Garden, which I wrote when I was nine. I'm no Charles Dickens, no Lovecraft; hell... I'm not even Dean Koontz.
But I am a critic. And that, friends, is the perfect and only excuse I have for the following tirade against game writing. With storytelling in video games having come so far, be sure to check that the next game you play follows these very simple philosophies, lest you decide that you and it “be better strangers”... to quote Shakespeare.
Number One: Cutscenes are Not Gameplay
“You see, but you do not observe” - Arthur Conan Doyle, A Scandal in Bohemia
Much the same way that cinema preaches “Show, don't tell”, should our games not preach “Feel, don't show”?
An often-criticised cinema technique is the text-crawl; lines of text that open the film, explaining vital backstory that the screenwriter could have portrayed himself if he'd have done his job properly.
Cutscenes feel like a similar cop-out. You don't read a film like a book, so why should we experience games like films? Max Payne 3 might have had things exploding every five minutes, but having to put the pad down as often as pulling the triggers crashed that momentum far too frequently.
We're a long way from solving this one, but there have been some noble attempts. Half Life had storyline events occur in game-time, with the player able to move and interact whilst characters chewed their ears off; whereas Bioshock worked its non-interactive cut-scenes into the storyline by explaining, quite ingeniously, that everything the player did in cutscenes was the result of persuasive hypnosis; a clever solution, but not one we can keep returning to.
I get it. Writing for games is hard. But the more risks we take to meld writing and gameplay together, the greater strides we make and, more importantly, the more ideas we inspire.
Number Two: “Swearing” is Not a Character Trait
“If you see Kay, tell him he may. See you in tea, tell him from me” - James Joyce, Ulysees
Look, I love a good swear, me. Sometimes, bellowing the “F” word is the only thing that cuts it. That said, the notion that video games are adolescent wank fantasies doesn't disappear with a “Strong Language” warning – if anything, it only reinforces that opinion.
Much like children, many games seem to gleefully exploit their discovery of rude words by shouting them at every opportunity, completely diminishing their impact. Whilst The Darkness 2 was some supremely enjoyable nonsense, swears bounced off the wall more often than bullets, and by the end of the game, the word 'fuck' lost all impact, becoming offensive not via its context, but its tiresome overuse.
Yet this is far from the worst offender. Kane and Lynch, Hitman Absolution, Saint's Row 3... all deluded enough to think that effective swearing means shouting 'fuck' again and again.
Excessive swearing is pitiful enough that it should only ever exist as a form of cheap humour. For some effective examples check out either the entirety of House of the Dead: Overkill, or this audio taken from the charming Metal Arms: Glitch in the System...
In other words, swearing is at once crude, and effective. So use it appropriately, shithead.
Number Three: Not Every Story Needs a Twist Ending
“Miracles are events that happen just when they are needed” - David Gemmell
Possibly one of the lamest attempts to inject excitement into otherwise pedestrian game scripts, twist endings – of which betrayal is a recurring theme – are more often than not recycled from the end of every Scooby Doo episode ever broadcast. Most instances in which a character turns out to be evil occur in games that fail entirely to liken us to their cast, resulting in an indifferent shrug. Mirror's Edge, for example, makes a villain out of the one and only person it could possibly be, and I'm damned if I can even remember her name without a Wikipedia search.
Even earnest attempts at plot twists fall way, way short of expectations. Take Bionic Commando, a game in which your robot arm is actually your wife. Yep.
Some of the most effective plot twists are the ones that change the way we look at the game. Let's take an aforementioned example in Bioshock, as well as Spec Ops: The Line; the latter of which poignantly questions the morals of a third-person shooter, despite being one itself. Both games feature plot twists that not only make startling character revelations, but also make the player question everything they've done to that point.
They're excellent examples of a game's twist not only affecting the character, but the player. Neither settle for straight-up 'reveals' - they're aiming instead for epiphanies.
Until we discover new and intelligent ways to challenge player perception, any other plot twists are better left reserved for characters we're much more likely to care about. Speaking of which...
Number Four: Just Because our Protagonist Cares, Doesn't Mean we Do.
“Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn” - Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind
Dom Santiago really likes his wife; in fact, it should have been the marketing tagline for Gears of War 2. Yet by the time we discover her fate (spoiler - it's not good) it's impossible to feel what he feels as, right up until that point, the closest we've had to a believable interaction with her is a cutscene, in which she brings us breakfast in bed.
Now, I love breakfast in bed, but not enough to become emotionally attached to the character equivalent of a legally-bound Weetabix servant. Especially if I'm going to shoot more aliens in the face within two minutes of her death.
There's a difference between writing passionately and writing insistently. Gears of War 2 insists that Dom's wife is worth fighting for and does little outside of the superficial to convince us of this. It's impossible to care for Maria as we know nothing about her.
There's a bizarre tendency within video games to romanticise loving relationships – which sounds like a bizarre complaint, I know. But relationships are rarely as perfect as that. They're tumultuous. They require compromise and sacrifice. Smother our leading couple in kisses, poetry and love letters and they resemble little more than caricatures. It's part of what makes both The Darkness games effective; we're asked to share some of the most mundane or depressing moments in Jackie and Jenny's life, and reminded that sometimes, couples must share their bleaker moments.
It needn't always be romantic. One of the most excellent examples of a character actually worth a damn is none other than The Walking Dead's Clementine. We grow to love her via the time we spend with her, and our final moments with her are heartbreaking; not because the game tasks us with protecting her, nor because the game is even about her – but simply because, silently, it allowed us to care for her.
Number Five: An Heroic Arsehole is Still an Arsehole
“In my mind, you are buried in cement right up to your neck. No... Right up to your nose... That's much quieter” - Edward Albee, Breakfast at Tifanny's
My favourite protagonist of 2013 was Luigi from Luigi's Mansion 2. No word of a lie, I think he's utterly adorable. He's actually far braver than portrayed, daring to confront all of his fears, albeit reluctantly. He's capable in player hands, yet stumbles over every possible interaction with slapstick perfection. Best of all, he conveys so much emotion without uttering anything resembling a full sentence.
All of which makes him a far more likeable protagonist than the last Prince of Persia, Alan Wake, Resident Evil 6's Chris Redfield, Adam Jensen, Kratos, Frank West, Raiden, the old Lara Croft, Sam Gideon and practically every main character from every JRPG of the past generation.
In player hands, these characters are meant to be, or at least to feel, unstoppable. But their incessant quips and bad-ass attitudes do little to make them endearing.
Let's pick on Adam Jensen for a bit, as despite my adoration for the Deus Ex franchise he's a colossal shit-biscuit. Considering he's constantly bitching about his cybernetic implants he's pretty intent on using them for anti-social purposes. Be it stabbing people from behind or punching through walls just because he can, he's a spoilt child with a weirdly polygonal beard. Worst of all, being forced to play as him fractures the immersion of a first-person, choice-driven RPG, and takes the fun out of those instances where the player decides it's their turn to be the arsehole. Stop hogging all the douchebaggery, Jensen!
To have to play as these supercilious tossers for the duration of the game is testing in and of itself, but for developers to think that these are the characters we aspire to be once again drags us kicking and screaming into that adolescent wank-fantasy we should probably avoid now and then.
Number Six: Don't be David Cage.
Or, to quote George R. R. Martin; “...as useless as nipples on a breastplate”.
Hollywood actors do not elevate a separate media. More polygons do not equal more emotion. It takes more than a storyline in common for two characters to fall in love. Sex scenes in video games do not work and, come to think of it, the ones you conceive are frequently awkward and gruesome.
I respect that Cage has his admirers, but to claim that he wants to progress the medium strikes me as insincere when each step he takes towards this seems to actually drag games further and further towards cinema.
Cage's problem is that his amateurish screenplays would be laughed out of Hollywood, and whilst gaming storytelling finds its feet, the lowered standards of their storylines are the perfect outlet for his strained works.
There is an outlet for your work, David. It's called “Straight to DVD” and it did wonders for Marley and Me: The Puppy Dog Years.
Once again, Elizabeth and I are roadblocked by one of Bioshock Infinite's many locked doorways. Typically, this would mean bypassing the non-obstacle with the billionth rendition of Elizabeth's lock-picking animation, only a bizarre flash of developer deviancy means this one's secured by a combination lock instead.
“It's a code lock”, Elizabeth helpfully informs me. “Most fools generally leave the code less than twenty feet away”. How convenient, I think aloud, that Infinite's universe is not only managed by fools, but that their discrepancies are catalogued for the benefit of others. Of course, the argument might be that the code – 0451 – is a cheeky reference to better games like System Shock 2 or Deus Ex, but the code's suspiciously precise location makes it a poorly-disguised trigger for the impending cutscene, and besides, by this point I am sick of Infinite's bullshit.
It's disappointing that an unpopular opinion need come with a disclaimer, but allow me to cover my arse here; I don't hate triple-A games. I don't hate shooters. I don't spit bile at anything popular in defense of the indie underdog, and I certainly don't like arguing.
But really, guys... are our standards so low that we consider Bioshock Infinite our Game of the Year?
Let's keep things balanced, here; Bioshock Infinite deserves recognition for what it does well. It had a supporting character with depth and presence. It created a world of unparalleled imagination. It tackled themes such as racism and philosophy and proved that games could support better storylines than war or princess-rescuing. These are qualities worth celebrating. Unfortunately, they do not rescue the game from its many failures and, most worryingly, it seems these failures were dismissed in order to make Infinite a poster child for standards in storytelling.
The thing is, Infinite's gameplay is half-baked, littered with design choices that at best are under-developed, and at worst conflict with both the story and combat. It's lucky enough to be bookended with such a compelling conclusion, as little else would have tied the experience together.
It is, in short, a mess; a game in which even its best asset – its story – doesn't emerge unscathed, thanks to design principles which constantly lock horns with one another. Whilst the game's introduction is nothing short of spellbinding, mere moments pass before Infinite's world begins to fall apart.
Glossing over my initial complaint – that knee high fences in a world thousands of miles above the clouds aren't exactly sufficient safety precautions – the fiction is dented before the left trigger is even squeezed, thanks to Infinite's first egregious inclusion; Vigors. No reason or explanation exists for their being, we're simply forced to accept that in this world, magical tonics with ludicrously dangerous effects are available to anybody, without regulation. Our first one is given to us for free by a smiling spokeswoman, who informs us via an educational film reel that we now have the ability to hypnotise man and machine, bending them to our will. Conveniently, her stall is placed right next to an automaton that is refusing entry to the next chunk of level.
These Vigors are a player tool, and little else – their existence in Columbia is dismissed by everybody besides protagonist Booker, their presence only enforced by the various billboard advertisements around the game. But those billboards aren't part of Columbia, nor its fiction. They're selling themselves to nobody but the player, who exists on an armchair the other side of the screen. And right now, he isn't sold.
Clearly, Infinite needed to share similarities to previous Bioshock games to justify its share of the franchise, but I theorise that in its infancy, Infinite was its own title; the Bioshock was simply added as a cunning piece of brand recognition. Incorporating certain aspects of the series' design did Infinite, and the franchise, a major disservice.
In short? Bioshock was great. Infinite would be better if it didn't try to be it.
For example, scouring bins and corpses for supplies simply does not belong here like it did in previous games. However high the odds are stacked against Booker, it seems that only the law are savvy to his presence – shopkeepers are more than happy to serve and sell to him. That he is forced to rummage through bins for ammo and money makes little sense. Who throws money into bins, anyway?
Furthermore, how is Booker able to enter areas stacked full of strangers and NPCs, rummage through their cupboards, and steal items from under their noses? Is this what constitutes a living, believable world? This particular oversight becomes even more offensive when, in one area, a crude text box plasters itself on-screen informing the player that the rules of theft now arbitrarily apply. By the next level, we're free to steal again without the text box's permission. Either something wasn't implemented properly, or the game makes this crap up as it goes along.
Would Infinite have been missing anything particularly exciting if looting were dropped altogether? Whilst similarly fast-paced shooters keep the pace with automatic weapon pickups, Booker spends as much time staring at the corpses by his feet as he does down the barrel of a gun. Rummaging through bodies after every firefight smashes the game flow into a brick wall, and tasks the player with chipping that wall away.
Incidentally, 'chipping away' is the ultimate analogy for Infinite's combat. Legions of enemies swarm open expanses of map, and the player keeps firing until the screaming stops. This isn't to say that some interesting mechanics weren't introduced – the Skyhook, the Vigors, and the Tears – but not one of these ever reaches its potential.
Combat? Devolved. Much has been made of the Vigors and how very few players actually used them all, so let's concentrate on the Tears and the Skyhook; two excellent ideas that weren't properly implemented.
The Tears, for example, fall victim to the most literal use of Deus Ex Machina, or 'Ghost in the Machine', ever witnessed. Whilst the story establishes that Elizabeth can open up universal 'tears' as 'some sort of wish fulfillment', the player can't exploit these half as much as the game first promises. The explanation is that Elizabeth's abilities to open Tears are limited by a machine that inhibits her power... a machine, guarded by a ghost. Such exquisite irony.
It's a laboured excuse for why Tears are so underwhelming in-game. The player can only open tears of certain types in certain locations, and only one can exist at any time. For example, a tear containing a box of health kits can't exist if the tear on the opposite balcony, containing a sniper rifle, does.
So hey, here's a novel idea; if the player can't possibly reach both at once anyway, why not just have them exist at all times? Now, admittedly, the Tears occasionally provide the need for quick-thinking - do you summon a robot guard, or defensive cover for low-health situations? - but they're superfluous often enough that they start to feel pointless.
What would I have done? Simple. Drop the Vigors altogether, and have Tears available anywhere. They could work on a 'cooldown' basis (or even deplete from a slowly regenerating mana bar), and have players select them from a dial of gradually unlocked items. Does the player summon a rocket launcher and health kits, or pay the same price for a robot bodyguard? Already, more tactical opportunities have been opened up than the Vigors or Tears have ever allowed. It also works much more believably alongside that particular Deus Ex Machina.
Another missed opportunity is the Skyhook, an awesome idea thats potential is never truly fulfilled. Whilst being on a Skyrail is quite the exciting feeling, its tactical advantages are limited to aerial attacks and quick getaways. Why not one or two set-pieces with collapsing Skyrails, that require the player to leap between tracks? Or perhaps a tense chase sequence? As they are, the Skyrails only truly benefit the travel from one Tear to another. Vanquish may not have covered philosophy and existential variants in its storyline, but at least when it invited us to shoot across the floor with rocket boots it had the decency to provide us with full control.
The biggest shame is that everything was in place to make the Skyhook a much more liberating device in the form of those stationary grapple points. Imagine how much fun it would have been to scale Columbia's colossal buildings not by rail, nor airship, but by travelling from grapple to grapple, being able to peer down below and truly admire the height from a stationary position - not from a Scalextric track at 100 miles per hour.
Even so, this is far from the biggest disappointment when you look at the adversaries that could have been.
Fitzroy, Fink and Slate.
Aside from being little more than diversions in the grand scheme of Infinite, all three of the game's secondary antagonists were Infinite's most repeatedly missed opportunity, and perhaps the grossest example of its undercooked ideas.
Did you notice how every last one of these potential menaces only ever threatens via conveniently-placed loudspeakers? The sole defense of any of these rivals is to throw wave after wave of enemies at Booker, whilst fashioning as many ways to say “You're rubbish, you are” as possible. More often than not, the reasons for these battles to occur in the first place are for some of the most ludicrous reasons put to script;
“Booker, this is Slate. Prove yourself as a soldier!”
“Booker, this is Fink. Prove yourself as a bodyguard!”
“Booker, this is Fitzroy. Prove you're actually Booker!”
Such little justification exists for any of these characters' resistance that it eventually resembles satire, an unsubtle joke that the developers openly invite us to laugh at. The closest the game gets to a boss fight is the frustrating airship battle at the end; an awkward skirmish in which Booker is able to send Songbird to attack targets, but only if they're not even remotely obscured by scenery – this renders Booker seemingly incapable of pointing them out.
The game, of course, provides concession to this clumsiness the only way it knows how; endless throngs of enemies.
Game of the Year, Folks. It's much easier to hear the sound of reader's teeth grinding in disagreement than it is the throngs of cheering supporters here, so let me wrap up a few more complaints before I make an enemy of everyone; Elizabeth constantly talking over Voxaphone recordings; the near-identical nature of the guns used by Comstock and the guns used by the Vox Populi; the almost-futile effects bestowed by the so-called gear 'upgrades'; the bullet-sponges that are the game's enemies... Infinite is hamstrung by all of these and more. Like Shenmue, Eternal Darkness and Sonic Adventure before it, there's little doubt in my mind that we'll return to this game years later, and re-evaluate why on earth we held it to such high acclaim.
Bioshock: Infinite's status as Game of the Year can't reasonably be attributed to the game itself. It can only be attributed to what it stands for; higher storytelling concepts, imaginative universes, and empowered supporting female characters, all of which is something to celebrate. But is the “Game of the Year” accolade really judged more on a game's concepts than its execution? The feeling that Infinite was merely made an example of, as so-called 'proof' that video games are maturing, is inescapable.
As a game, it's no more evolved than any first-person shooter before it, and this in itself serves to derail everything that makes it potentially ground-breaking. It's Serious Sam, all tarted up in socio-political philosophy.
£4 an hour; that's the value of your first playthrough of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Seems a little steep for a game lacking the common decency to use real words in its title. And that figure's just for Steam users; spare a thought for the poor launch-day crowd, whose £40 console release just saw that £4 per hour double to £8.
Feeling ripped off? Here in the UK, that £8 could have bought you a cinema ticket, and the film would likely have lasted two whole hours itself. If I were fifteen, emerging from my first date out to the cinema (and my introduction to back-row handjobs), I wouldn't give Metal Gear a second thought, even if it meant carrying the dark secret of having ejaculated to Ben Stiller gurning his way through Zoolander.
But can the value of games truly be measured in time spent playing? Let's return to Metal Gear Rising, which I refuse hereafter to suffix with “Revengeance”. What a stupid word.
The game, as anybody who's played it will tell you, is mental. A hyper-kinetic, ultra-violent giggle fit, one that pauses only for the requisite codec calls and launches the player into screwball skirmishes only moments later. It's constantly moving, difficult - and by the end, it actually becomes mentally exhausting in the best possible way. It's likely that the player only really learnt the benefits or techniques available to them at the mid-way point, and the subsequent challenges tested those right up until its dizzying climax. By the time the game was spent, so too was I.
And yet, once the credits ended, I jumped right back in. Platinum's games only ever run for a few hours, but the steep learning curves and grading systems that permeate every last one of their action games don't emphasise success so much as mastery. For a game that only ran a few hours, I was prepared to attempt that mastery.
As an eerily perfect comparison, Rising entered my collection as a palate-cleanser for the ordeal that had become of Mario and Luigi: Dream Team Bros. What started off as a wonderfully chirpy distraction had long-since become a tiresome slog. Mario and Luigi's once-exciting journey had become bogged down in endlessly repeated ideas, meandering fetch-quests and ceaseless bloody chatter, all held together by a soundtrack that looped liked some demonic Merry-Go-Round. By the 27-hour mark, and the point in which I had to loop around the entire game world again searching for artefacts, I couldn't rip the cartridge out of its socket fast enough. Right now, it sits on the pre-owned shelf in my local Game, without me having wiped any of the save files; they were left as a warning to others.
See, length doesn't always improve a game, and in the worst instances, can make a once-great game become a gruesome prospect indeed. And herein lies the problem; as no developer ever sets out to make a bad game, how do they know when their game is good enough to warrant a 40 hour stretch – or, for that matter, whether there should be less of it? There's no perfect answer, but there are a few good examples.
In terms of added value, multiplayer's an obvious candidate – but it finds itself suffering under the weight of developer competition. If you're developing a first person shooter, for example, your multiplayer is up against Call of Duty, Battlefield and Halo; in other words, you might as well not bother. Many have pointed out the futility of the now-token multiplayer mode in games that don't need it, and won't find a playerbase for it. That's not to say it can't be fun, but it's proven to be an imperfect solution.
For now, let's look at a single-player only example, and investigate how effectively it approaches the longevity issue. Thus, the perfect opportunity for me to talk about Mark of the Ninja; not only one of the best games of 2012 and of the stealth genre in general, but also home to one of the best New Game Plus modes in recent memory.
The only appropriate comment for this image is that if you haven't played Mark of the Ninja yet, you're an idiot and you absolutely must.
Mark of the Ninja's New Game Plus is essentially the same game as before, only you can't see behind you. Yep. Initially, the 2D gameplay meant it was easier to see enemies behind and above the player, owing to its cross-section level design. Hiding in vents or locked rooms would blacken out the surrounding areas, but for the most part, your line of sight far exceeded that of the enemy's vision cones.
Well, not any more, bitch. Now your line of sight is lessened to that of the enemy's, unless in broad daylight or well-lit rooms. Anything the player character has his back to is this time shrouded in inky blackness. It's bloody marvelous. The main game demonstrated how awesome being a Ninja felt – New Game Plus demonstrated how vulnerable a Ninja really was. Coupled with the roster of extra characters, each with their own perks and weaknesses, it was a game changer. It's also the first instance in my twenty-plus years of gaming in which I didn't mind leaping back into the same adventure immediately after finishing it. A single design choice doubled the breadth of the game, and did so in a way that wouldn't test my patience.
Sadly, few developers share this same ingenuity, and their methods of extending the experience or encouraging a replay are feeble at best. I'm not going to leap straight back into FEAR 2 just so I can find a bunch of hidden text logs. Nor am I that intent to leap around Tomb Raider's empty island, looting the last few scraps to get my completion rate to 100%. The current trend for longevity seems to balance very much on a 'completionist' culture, a box-ticking exercise designed to enforce the player to scour the level's every crevice. It's a defeatist manoeuvre, one that seeks to undermine every other facet of the game's design.
What makes this all the more infuriating is that collectibles needn't even be a trite inclusion. The Green Stars of Super Mario 3D World, for example, can't just be reacquired if missed on the first attempt. Some of the most unassuming ones require a special power up to be collected, but rest on the end of a gauntlet of obstacles; one misstep means losing the power-up, and that precious star. It essentially transforms one section of the level into a perfectionist run, but most importantly, scatters collectibles in a way that melds organically with the gameplay. Comparable to Mark of the Ninja's approach, it's not only an entirely optional challenge, but one that forces previously surmounted ones into a whole new light. Again, a creative and economic approach to expanding the game, and yet one that doesn't insist on being conquered.
Besides, how could you NOT want to revisit something this God Damn whimsical?
There's a key word here, and that word is 'expanding' – it's important to differentiate this from the word 'lengthening'. Were 3D World just a huge stream of levels that existed only to be traversed, it would actually be a far less remarkable game. Knowing better, it simply took the levels it had and squeezed creativity into them, leaving the player to squeeze it back out. Expanding, not lengthening.
On that note, length is what killed Metal Arms: Glitch in the System for me before its corpse hit the ground. A truly enjoyable game that demands a sequel, and yet I never finished it because to this day, I'm not entirely convinced it ever ends.
Seriously, how much frickin' game is in Metal Arms? Or rather, how much further could they have stretched the damn thing? It's a third person shooter, and a ruddy good one at that – but competency can only get you so far, and few third person shooters have the broad mechanics to stretch themselves over as many levels as Metal Arms attempted to. As a result, its legacy remains tarnished in my minds eye, as a great game that didn't have the decency to stop while it was perfect.
You can stop now, game! We're sufficiently impressed!
It seems that the stumbling block for when deciding how much content is appropriate is the developer's own confidence. Much like the content itself, the problem seems to be that there's either too much of it, or not enough. An all-too-confident developer won't quite understand when the game has outstayed its welcome, whilst the meek will litter their game with collectibles and dull secret-searching – an almost apologist gesture.
There's a lost art here, one born of subtlety and nuance. The common argument is that value can only really be measured in player enjoyment. And whilst some of us have known this for years now, many developers haven't quite caught on. The theory seems to be that our enjoyment is measured in how many things the game gives us to do; one need only look at the bloated mass that is Resident Evil 6, or even the less interesting side quests in the otherwise excellent Arkham games, to see this ethic in action.
The skilled developer doesn't bullet point the reasons their game deserves to be played endlessly. It skilfully hides them, rewarding those who crave, ask and search for more. Don't give us fifty different skills or stages; give us five, and have us work them to exhaustion. After all, it's the player who ultimately decides whether or not it's worth it.
And I mean, seriously. How freakin' long was Metal Arms?