I have a confession to make: I didn’t grow up with a game controller in my hands. When I was in high school, computers still took up a whole room and we made Christmas wreaths from these IBM data cards that office workers used. My first computer had a 1GB hard drive and I’d purchased that just so I could play video games. Now, my local hardware store is selling 8GB flash drives in the shape of a monkey. Point is, I’ll admit I may not be the best player on Earth. I love to play; that doesn’t always mean I play well.
Still, it seems worth noting when a game is woefully imbalanced. There is a huge difference between challenge and poor game design. The most recent example of this is the core mission in Bioshock Infinite. Avoiding spoilers as much as possible, this is the only mission in the game which you can actually fail. It is unbelievably hard compared to the rest of the game and, if you die repeatedly, the game tells you that you might want to think about dropping your skill level down. I turned to the forums after dying repeatedly to look for tips and hints and found that many had thought the game too easy, even playing on hard, until they reached this point. They also had to drop their difficulty down to get beyond it. This was obviously not play-tested. A game should never tell the player that they are not skilled enough to complete the game as played up to that point, especially if that point is near the end of the experience.
It seems unfair to criticize the developers at Irrational Games without offering a solution, but I’m not sure I have one. The sky-glide was incredibly fun to use and gear helped make use of it. Adding the songbird was unique. I believe the source of the imbalance to be a combination of wave difficulty and pacing. There were times when I was able to call down a strike but had no available targets. Meanwhile, I couldn’t end the mission until I’d hit the important targets while multiple patriots, which are difficult to kill, had free reign on the target. Calling in the bird to help could mean losing him at a critical juncture.
Yes, I felt clever once I’d found a strategy that worked for me, even if I failed. At least I could see I was making progress. When I finally beat it, I was shocked, but more angry at the imbalance than relieved or overjoyed at my success.
How do you feel about this? Did you breeze through this section of the game? Did you feel the mission fit the rest of the gameplay? What games made you want to throw your controller or break your keyboard? Do you feel empowered when you struggle and finally beat something, as if the challenge were finally worth it? How would you balance this section of gameplay?