Thursday, June 21, 2007

Difficulty Issues, Part II

    Yeah, so... I'm lazy. I think that's pretty obvious considering Part II of my Difficulty Issues feature is dropping 23 days after the first one when I meant to write it a mere week after. Oh well. Let's just skip any more theatrics and just get started:

    Let's cover the merits (and demerits) of a challenging game with no shortage of "GAME OVER" screens compared to a game that strives to be more story and character-driven. In the last Difficulty Issues, we explored this a little bit. On one hand, you've got a game that's trying to just be a game- it challenges the player to try harder, punishes a lack of skill, and offers a very real reward (that feeling of accomplishment) at the end. Those kinds of games typically don't place too much emphasis on story elements.

    Then you've got your other kind of game: The game that doesn't push the player too hard or worries too much about skill because the experience is all about being story and character-driven. This type of games strives to tell a tale that can capture the player's imagination and immerse the player in the experiences of the character on-screen.

    Each side has a valid argument. Most games fail to offer any sort of reasonable compromise: By trying to appeal to the folks who want motivation and character-development and a powerful story, the mechanics probably aren't going to be as good as they should be. By trying to appeal to the folks who like a challenge and just want to skip the pointless cut scenes and play the damn game already since it's not a movie, the story is probably going to appear forced and unnatural.

    But for those games that try to appeal to both, what are they to do? Challenging the gamer interrupts the story, but making it too easy to promote the story removes any challenge. It's a tricky thing to do.

    For times like this, I like to call upon my favorite game franchise, God of War, to settle things. God of War offers both experiences: Easy and Normal modes if you just want to blaze through the gameplay and have an amazing and cinematic story experience, and both a Hard and unlockable Very Hard mode if you don't mind a lot of those "GAME OVER" screens.

    Something I think I haven't done so well in the past on my blog is that I've tried to be impartial on these features, very much unlike my reviews. That's going to change: I'll tell you straight up, when it comes to choosing between a difficult, but rewarding gameplay experience with little to no story elements and a game that has a badass story that captivates me throughout, even if it is a little too easy... Well, I'm going with the story.

    Truly great videogame stories are hard to come by, but offer so much more than a typical movie experience- you can connect and relate with a character much better than when you're simply watching that character. Videogames truly are amazing in that respect.

    Again I'll bring up God of War- I absolutely loved the story. It was dark, violent, compelling, and epic in scope. It may not be as deep as a true Ancient Greek mythology tale, but I'll be damned if it isn't more entertaining. Kratos is such a badass in that game that it's not even funny. For Christ's sake, he's already died and crawled out of Hades twice, killed his god half-brother Ares, taken Ares' place as the God of War, and now he's trying to kill his father Zeus, the King of the freaking Gods! Can it get more badass than that? NO.

    Now, the gameplay itself is amazing, but on that Very Hard mode, I simply couldn't stand it. After hours of frustration, I'd finally get to a part that sets up a big, dramatic moment, but it's simply too hard and I've got to do it over and over again. Any dramatic, "holy shit that was awesome!" feeling you get is diminished after seeing it six times in a row.

    That's just me, and I'm unapologetic in that view. I value a good story over a lot of things in a game, even though I can't bring myself to skip cut scenes, even if the story is terrible. For instance, read Reverend Anthony of's quasi-review of Call of Juarez and tell me you wouldn't sacrifice a little gameplay finesse for that story.

    You know that moment when you first see a kickass boss, right? Maybe he used to be your friend, maybe he's fucking huge, maybe he just looks awesome; it doesn't matter- seeing him the first time is awesome in the truest sense of the word. After he kicks your ass sideways about eight times, is it still as dramatic and "no way!" when you see the "big reveal" again? In my experience, never.

    So, if you think I'm wrong, convince me. Which is more important to you, story or a challenge? And is it worth it to give up that "holy shit!" moment to get that challenge?
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1 comment:

  1. I'm happy as long as i get one of the two, but there have been games which delivered a high measure of both. Some of my favorite games like Baldur's Gate 1&2, Fallout 1&2, Planescape, Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines, Warcraft 3, Starcraft and even shooters like Half-Life 2 or No One Lives Forever (if you don't abuse the quicksave) have offered an extensive measure of both interesting narrative, well developed characters and challenging gameplay.

    I didn't think of this when i first started writing but it does seem to be more common on the PC to get a degree of both.