I’m all about suspending reality when I’m gaming. You want me to be a rebellious vampire prince traveling through time with the ultimate goal of turning into a sword so that my estranged vampire daddy can use me to kill aliens? Hell yes, Legacy of Kain! Is it ok that my character can learn a spell that literally allows them to summon a super nova that explodes through the galaxy and strikes my melee range foe with laser like accuracy? Do cats lick their own butts, Final Fantasy? Of course! Can I swallow the fact that hiding in cover allows me to shrug off the wounds of 8,000 bullets? The real question is how can I not, every FPS? But ask me to understand the reasoning behind why there’s always that one enemy who runs at me with a freaking knife in the middle of a firefight, or play the game for me, and I draw the line.
How stupid is Dr. Wily? The man knows that Mega Man is going to kill his robots one by one. You’d think that by now he’d realize that if he had them all stay together in a team that they would treat the blue bomber like a guy whose bar of soap is glued to the floor in a prison. And what the hell is wrong with Bowser? Why spread out your entire army across entire freaking continents instead of focusing them around your castle? You’ve already kidnapped the princess! It’s your game to lose dummy. If these things happened for the first time I suppose it’d be ok, but they literally have gone down dozens of times! If every time you drank a sprite, Bea Arthur’s zombified corpse punched you in the face, I bet you’d start drinking fresca. Unless you were washing down bath salts…
In a way I can see beyond that though, I’m sure it’s difficult to come up with groundbreaking stories for a popular series tenth iteration. I can turn a blind eye to the fact that once again, the same team of plucky mercenaries is fighting a zombie creating pharmaceutical company, as long as the gameplay is cool. But what makes my Yoshi pass a spiky egg through his bottom is lazy enemy design and games that hold my hand all the way through.
You know what I mean. You’ve all played the ninja game where some idiot charges you with his fists while you’re hacking his armed to the teeth buddies into baby food. Or what about that enemy in 2D sidescrollers who exists only to be stepped on? I’m tired of cannon fodder. If that’s the kind of obstacle that you’re putting in my way then you must suspect that I have trouble tying Velcro shoes. I want a baddie with more depth and challenge. In Dark Souls, any regular old enemy can kill you at any time. You’ve always got to stay alert and play with strategy. In Metal Gear, charging into a horde of gun toting soldiers quickly leads to dead Snake. Sure they may be a little dim when it comes to sneaking up on them, but at least they require effort. And, (one more example just to make my point) how about those amazing Half Life games? Few other titles consistently kept me on the edge of my seat while playing, not once did I feel like I had the upper hand (well except for the gravity gun death orgy at the end of part 2 but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to be disarmed any moment).
I’m sure game difficulty is a matter of ability on some levels as well. Pushing up the difficulty level on Skyrim can make even a godlike character take pause before assaulting a dragon, but I think that’s a cheap substitute. Most difficulty meters make enemies hurt more and good guys hurt less. Bad guys don’t get smarter or use devious methods to win, they just require faster reflexes in most cases. Sure designers need to cater to the “casual” crowd in order to make a profitable title, I respect that, but how about putting more effort in and making the hard setting give the goombas some team based tactics Nintendo?
As the gaming landscape is formed more by metacritic scores and cinematic story driven affairs the core mechanics of a game seem to be swept aside. In playing Mass Effect 3 and assaulting a Cerberus base I got my ass shredded by a banshee as I dashed across a suspended cat walk. Upon restarting I was at the top of a ladder staring down the same catwalk I just bought the farm on. No frustration, no difficulty, I calmly dispatched the offending enemy this time and strode across to my half hour cut scene. I literally felt BioWare holding my hand through its game, and let me tell you they have sweaty palms. Did this make me dislike ME3? No. The pants shittingly stupid conclusion did. But it did disappoint me. I wouldn’t mind working through a level for a bit every once in a while, even if my end result is a mouthful of bitterness.
I find myself actually shying away from some games because of this interactive movie approach. I’m a gamer because of the mechanics of a video game. I can find equal admiration for a well made NES title and the latest Unreal Engine multi-million dollar hype spectacle if they both give me a challenge and make me think a bit. In terms of real innovation in a title there’s only been a trickle in recent years. Studios aren’t taking risks. And when something is a success it’s quickly picked clean by yearly releases and an army of clones. I feel that gaming is beginning to become a lot more passive than it’s ever been. Cinematic kills and lengthy narratives are awesome, but they should be the garnish and presentation, not the main dish. Maybe I’m old fashioned and refuse to adapt to the times, but I miss when video games were games. [/size]