26 October 2014

Skipping Rocks Along Puddles In The Rain

I'm taking a break from Deadly Premonition. I'm at a point (fairly early on in the game) when all I have to do is literally wait between 0700 and 1500 for the next part of the game to progress. My options in this time are: 1) sidequests, 2) explore the town, and 3) sleep. Given that, apart from sleeping and maybe some story segments, this game moves in real time. This is padding, plain and simple. There's no more discouraging feeling in a game than not knowing what to do or where to go next. It's one thing when you're stuck on a boss battle or a puzzle; you can work through those. However, simply killing time or not knowing how to move the story forward is downright insulting. I remember there was a Spider-Man game back in the day that literally gave you 24 hours for a time limit (years before the game based on 24) and thinking, "Dear God! Really?" instantly regretting my rental choice. It turns out the time limit is a bit flexible, but that didn't stop the game being ultimatey too challenging for my little 12 year-old brain to fully appreciate. I'm wondering now, though, what that version of me would have thought about newer games.
Anyway, by taking a break from Twin Peaks: The Game (and I mean that affectionately), I played Rain instead. Something I like about a lot of modern games is the way they break themselves up into chapters or individual missions (compared to MMOs and their hours-long dragfests). It gives me a good way to pace myself so I don't get burned out (I can't imagine what it's like for reviewers to basically pull all-nighters to meet deadlines). That did get me thinking, though, about somethinng I played a few days earlier. I think it was Bayonetta. I kept running out of time and dying on this early stage, and I think on the third time it gave me the option to skip.
I'm still not sure how I feel about that sort of thing.
I'm hardly the manliest man you'll ever meet, my most masculine traits down to the Greg Behrendt duology of being kinda big and loving women plus the added qualities that I love taking things apart and, here's the kicker, I hate asking for help. It's less to do with some idea about gender roles and more to do with being the youngest in my family on top of having to ironically fight tooth and nail to be given a chance to prove I can manage more on my own than otherwise expected. It's also one of those factors that helped feed my growing depression through college, but we're getting off topic.
Years ago, during a review of Rampart, I mentioned the gameplay mechanic in the PS2 version of Rygar wherein you unlocked easy mode by dying a certain number of times (Rampart worked in a similar fashion by offering you more cannons on your next try). I joked about it being condescending, and then I recalled all the flack the reboot of Alone in the Dark received for its chapter skip option not only being available, but practically encouraged in some of the marketing materials. I'm an old-school gamer; I like a challenge. SHMUPS are one of my favorite genres, known far and wide for their difficulty. I like Demon's Souls and endlesss runners. I like the YS series and gallery shooters. On the other hand, I like my challenges to be fair, and sometimes that's a tall order. Other times, I simply play for the story, turning the difficulty down, using the occasional cheat code, and even using a Game Shark once to watch all the cut scenes from Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero. In Deadly Premonition, for example, one of the DLC packages I got with my bundle was an outfit that triples your attack power; it's practically an "I Win" button, to say nothing of the infinite ammo machine gun the N64 version of Resident Evil 2 furnished you with. Sure, playing a game for the story, to crib a phrase from one of the DOOM devs, is like watching porn for the story, but then again, I've seen some pretty classy porn, and there's nothing wrong with loving a game entirely for its narrative, even if it means bypassing its core gameplay. My point is, when it's a more story-driven game, I don't think it's such a big deal to have various, for lack of a better term, handholding options. That said, if you're playing Bayonetta for the story, best of luck to you on that front. Finding the balance between story and gameplay is a game unto itself, one not many developers have really mastered, with gameplay usually nabbing the bigger piece of pie. In the case of the opposite, I think we need a kind of mutual understanding among gamers that sometimes bad gameplay is bad gameplay. In fact, the biggest reason for all the hullabaloo around the chapter skips in Alone in the Dark was that the driving mechanics were so amazingly broken as to make a normal play-through impossible. This led to the consensus of the chapter skip being more like a cop-out of better QA and testing than an optional way to enjoy the game. This is really unfair in the grand scheme of things. While it's usually a lost cause to compare games to other mediums of entertainment, Jim Sterling had the right idea when he quoted a friend of his: Imagine you're reading a book that suddenly changes its language halfway through. Some people might welcome the challange, while most will probably hunt down the author and beat them to death with their own hardcovers. The point is, gamers are a diverse bunch, and complex within ourselves to boot. We enjoy different games for different reasons and in different ways. I don't care that someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Halo universe has never picked up a controller; that's not what they like about it.
Games are supposed to be fun, and as long as the means by which you have that fun don't interfere with other gamers (cough, cough... gold farmers, cough), then there is no shame in using the walkthrough or reading the wiki or even using the good ol' thirty lives code.

Say it with me now:

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