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Tobias Bernhardt avatar 4:13 AM on 03.06.2013  (server time)
Focus, Focus, Focus - On Holding Your Hand.

A tad dramatic, that title, I suppose.

Anyways, if you guys have been keeping your eyes on some of the major AAA titles that came out in recent times, you’re going to be able to answer the following question: “What do Crysis 3, Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider, Hitman: Absolution and even the upcoming Thief (formerly known as Thief 4) have in common?”

“Big budget” might be your answer. A valid one, of course. “They’re the umpteenth installment in a given franchise”, which is also true, but still not what I’m on about. “Damnit, they’re multi-platform releases?!” True as well. Here, let me give you a hint:

Assassin’s Creed’s ‘Eagle Eye’

Yup, that’s it: The ‘Eagle Eye’ functionality. Now, I’m not entirely sure whether Assassin’s Creed is where the whole thing started. I’ll be honest; I can’t be bothered to do the research to find out whether or not there were games that did it even earlier. What I am sure of, though, is that this sort of feature has spread across various games by now. Captain Obvious reporting for duty, I guess. It’s just that I didn’t really realize that this sort of mechanic is slowly creeping into more and more games.

Hitman: Absolution’s ‘Instinct’

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the similarities between the ‘Instinct’ system incorporated into Hitman: Absolution and the ‘Eagle Eye’ in Assassin’s Creed. The similarities aren’t just superficial, either. In both games, they’re used to constantly provide the player with all sorts of information regarding his surroundings, enemies and available options. Ever played hide and seek with a pair of thermal goggles on? That should come close to what these mechanics do.

Crysis 3’s ‘Visor’

As you can see, something along these lines is also available in the GPU-melting eye candy behemoth that is Crysis 3. Its ‘Visor’ allows you to scan basically any object in your proximity – which, then, allows you to keep track of it even without resorting to the visor itself. The ‘Visor’ will make sure that you’re constantly aware of all the dropped weapons lying around, ammo crates, nano suit upgrade and, most importantly, enemy units. The latter will be tracked indefinitely, ensuring that you’re always a step ahead of your foes. No matter where they hide, you’ll always know. Scan your way to victory, so to speak.

Now that you know what you’re looking for, does another, very recent game, come to mind that does that? Because, there is:

Tomb Raider’s ‘Survival Instinct’

Yup, Lara also has her very own version of the ‘Eagle Eye’ feature. Her ‘Survival Instinct’, which is used to lend you hand in figuring out various puzzles and finding “hidden” objects – which aren’t all that hidden once they start emitting a golden glow in a black and white environment.

Where does that trend come from, though? Why all the help? There’s an answer to that, which I stumbled across in an article written by Destructoid’s own Allistair Pinsof on the next installment in the Thief franchise. In that article, he quoted what the game’s producer, Stephane Roy, told Game Informer:

"The big difference today is that players don't want to play the same sections over and over again. Our job is really to make it so that when you are seen you have options to move through or stumble the guards and then jump back in the shadows."

This is, in case you guys haven’t noticed, linked to the new ‘Focus’ ability that Thief will feature. Basically, another version of the ‘Eagle Eye’ mechanic. But! There’s an answer to why that stuff is making its way into so many games: Because it makes it so much easier to navigate the games’ worlds and also helps the player to recover from screw-ups. It’s a big, flashy safety net. Which, in and off, itself isn’t a bad thing, mind you. It’s actually something that would go quite well with the introductory, lower difficulty modes. To me, it’s a nice option to ease inexperienced players into a game and help them to get to grip with a game’s logic and such.

This isn’t the case, though. The ‘Eagle Eye’ and its offsprings are constantly available, throughout all the different difficulty settings. Why is that? Why are features that are used to make the game easier available on even the highest difficulty? And, more importantly, why are these features such an important part of the game that the game’s designed to make the player use them? That last question is probably what’s irritating me the most. I know people are going to tell me to just not use such features. But that’s not that easy when they’re always available and the games in question are designed around it. There’s just a big difference between bringing yourself to set the game to a lower difficulty and pressing ‘Q’ (in Tomb Raider’s case).

It just isn’t as exciting to sneak into a room if you already know where your enemies are, what direction they’re facing and where they’ll likely be going. I’m actually missing that! Knowledge is power, they say, and given all the necessary knowledge to the player like that is a whole lot of power that the developers are placing in the player’s hands. And I, for one, don’t like that a lot. I liked the concept of a somewhat more “realistic” approach that doesn’t allow you to predict where the enemy will be in 30 seconds or track their movement through concrete walls.

One more thing I’d like to point out: This isn’t supposed to be an anti-casual rant or anything. The idea that these features are intentionally designed to make the game easier is an obvious one. But why not just make them optional? That’d make it easy for those that like it easy and hard for those of us that like to take their time, scout ahead and like the trial and error approach to gaming?

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