Monday, 7 June 2010

Come and have a go if you think your hard enough...

Expanding on Jo’s post from a few weeks ago on cheating AI I’ve recently suffered a streak from it myself. I’d been looking forward to Modnation Racers for months; I’ve always loved kart racers and the idea of a one where you can create karts, characters and tracks sounded like an idea that couldn’t go wrong. Unfortunately, it did.

There’s a career mode you need to play to unlock parts and objects for creations which is fun and challenging at first but towards the end of it I was pulling my hair out and resisting the urge to put my foot through the screen out of sheer frustration. Each racer has 2-3 bonus challenges which can range from anything to a perfect lap (no wall hits, challenging but fair) to some that are stupidly situational and just becomes a game of sheer luck, one makes you need to sideswipe an specific opponent at a specific point in the track, this means being right at his side when you are in that area and having enough power in your boost meter to perform the sideswipe, and then hoping he doesn’t shield... And then finishing first. This is the most wearisome task anyone has ever conceived. Don’t get me wrong, I love a challenge on a game, as long is it’s a fair one, I want to have at least some control over my fate and not have it all bottle down to whether someone happens to be in a certain place at a certain time. By the end of the career I just ended up skipping most of the challenges due to not wanting to risk the irritation that might come with them. Unfortunately this just put me off the game and I haven’t even gone back for the creation aspect since, which is the whole reason I bought it.

Onto the main part of the topic, it really begins to annoy me when developers use cheap tactics to make a game more difficult on harder modes, just using cop-outs like enemies have more health or simply do more damage rather than actually making more aggressive or tactical AI and it sort of feels artificial. But even this is better than tasks that require you to wait for a planetary alignment to have any chance of them actually happening. I love a challenge, when I finally completed Resi 4 on professional mode for the first time and unlocked the Handcannon via Mercenaries, I felt a great sense of achievement and felt I had earned what the game rewarded me. When I finally nailed the take out one opponent with a devastator challenge on Modobahn on Modnation I just felt relieved it was finally over, which the attitude one would normally have about a prostate exam, not a game.

More recently, I’ve been playing Killing Floor, which is one of the hardest games I’ve ever come across, rarely managing to survive on even normal mode, and with hard and suicidal above that I daren’t think how insane this game can get. But, in spite of how crap-your-pants difficult this game is, it’s never once angered me enough to rage quit, swear, scream or smash anything, if I die, it’s my own fault, I learn and improve. Maybe I forgot to check behind me, maybe I wasn’t efficient enough with my ammo, maybe I stepped on my own grenade, it’s never been at fault of biased AI or just pure luck and chance (or lack thereof), just my own stupidity or misjudgement (or trying to take on a guy with drillhands with a weak weapon...) and much like with RE4 when I finally beat Farm on Long and Normal (and solo) I again, felt a sense of achievement, not relief.

Yes, Killing Floor is a bit cheap and goes against my earlier point about making games harder without significantly improving AI, but in all fairness, they are zombies so I’ll let it off, and above all else, it’s fun. And surely that’s the most important thing.

And besides, why does a game even have to be difficult to be enjoyable? Sometimes I love to just pick up Ratchet and Clank, Paper Mario or Wind Waker and just enjoy the game for what it is without feeling the needed to be challenged down to the very core of my skills.

One more thing that in my opinion all games should start implementing and that’s where the game recommends a difficulty level for you, off the top of my head three games come to mind. Both Modern Warfares and inFamous. It’s a nice feature, when it works but with the MW2 I played the training course a few times until it recommended me the hardest difficulty, by the half way point I’d turned the difficulty two levels because I was getting annihilated, and with inFamous I planned on playing it on Hard anyway so I could get the trophy without picking up any bad habits or normal beforehand. When done right this should be the standard in all games because it’s a really useful feature and will work for newbies and hardcore gamers alike, plus, I never know what to pick when starting a new game, one game’s veteran is another game’s easy. Or, better yet, instead of having set levels have a feature where the game gradually adjusts difficulty for you depending on how well you are playing making the enemies stronger or weaker (like in Devil May Cry 4) instead of taking a huge step forward to back (many times in games I’ve found normal to easy and hard to hard, this solves that).

Another (albeit less common) issue is when completing a game on normal or hard or above you don’t unlock the unlockables for the difficultly below it, If I finish a game the first time on hard why would I want to play it again on easy, most games are retroactive with this but there’s still a few examples that haven’t implemented this yet (John recently played Bayonetta and mentioned this) and there’s really no excuse for it.

Anyway, as much as I hate to say it, the best way to achieve a challenge from a game is to play on online, as good as AI can be sometimes it’ll never match the unpredictability and lateral thinking of another human. Plus, arguably, winning is a lot more fun when you can imagine a retelling of Angry German Kid happening on the other end or your sniper rifle.

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