What are your least favorite mechanics in a video game? We all have certain things that just rub us the wrong way – grind our gears so to speak (heck, for some people – grinding of levels in JRPGs is maddening). Yesterday PY shared his thoughts on the matter, and today we have Hamza’s top five most grating game elements.
You finally defeated the boss. You glance at the clock: the electricity is going to go out very soon. You turn back to the screen, setting down the controller and attempting to bring your heartbeat to its normal pace. The pretty cinematics sure keep you hooked until you realize it’s been running well over 7 minutes… and counting. There seems to be no end in sight, and the impending blackout is due any second soon. You don’t know whether the game autosaved or not but you’re not taking the risk of losing long minutes of gameplay to some cinematic (gorgeous though it may be) that you can easily watch over at YouTube. Giving the clock one last glance, you pick up the controller and press X… only to find out it does nothing. You frantically press all buttons but to no avail; no onscreen prompt instructing you to hold down a specific button for a couple of seconds, no nothing! You’re stuck watching the cinematic to the very end, and unless the girl with the peroxide hair doesn’t stop tal… and blackout!
If you live in an area where electricity goes out periodically (and are too broke to buy a couple of UPS’s) and if you identify yourself with the slew of expletives that usually follow next, then you know just how much of a bane unskippable cut-scenes are to gamers. They become all the more ardous when you’re replaying the video game, as you’ve already seen it before and don’t need to see it again. With well over 100 examples there’s one in particular that infuriated me the most: the minute long cinematic from the 2013 remake of the Sega Genesis classic, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. This cutesy little platformer is a blast to play – until you reach the final boss, Mizrabel. Now she isn’t the most difficult thing ever, but some of the devious traps she lays out can prove to be meddlesome; and that means if you die you gotta start all over again BEFORE the unskippable cinematic. I mean what’s the point? why do I gotta see Mickey strutting in through the door calling out to Minnie to hold on for her dead life every fucking time I mess up and die? This got irritating very quickly and before I knew it, all the unpleasant memories of my brush with unskippable cutscenes came back to me in one giant flood!
If there’s any developer / designer reading this, I can totally understand if you worked days and days on the cinematic and want everyone to revel in its beauty. But at-least GIVE the option to skip it (and make it so that the player has to hold a button for a couple of seconds), or if not then the ability to pause it. Castlevania: Lord of Shadows has the right idea: press and hold E (I’m talking about the PC version here) to skip it. See, it’s not that hard!
2. Mute protagonist
There was a time when technological limitations prevented developers of first-person shooters of giving their (largely) unseen protagonist a voice. This new innovation in perspective allowed gamers to project themselves into the ‘mind’ of the protagonist (if you could even call them at) and live out their wettest fantasies. Duke Nukem 3D allowed its flashy eponymous hero to sprout iconic one-liners – but examples such as this were few and widely spaced. Flash forward 15 years and the “strong and silent” type has now become a generic, lazy design choice that does nobody any good anymore. It’s perfectly understandable that Valve chose to keep Gordon Freeman silent in the sequel and the two episodes that followed after. The silence is what makes the character memorable, and any attempt at altering that would’ve garnered a very emotional response from the gaming community, me very much included. I’m not here to talk about characters remaining to stay mute to keep with the consistency and adhering to the tradition established by the franchise. But what does irritates me to no end, however, is the complete lack of logical reason given for their tact nature.
Coughing up good voice acting is a difficult task (and in this medium even more so) but you can at-least try. I see no reason why big developers cannot hire a bunch of actors to read out a few lines… and they don’t have to be exceptionally good, either. Take a look at Bulletstorm: the voice acting is cheesy, borderline terrible even, but that’s exactly what gives the game its charm. And listening to your playable character quip actually very funny dialogue only makes the experience that much more enjoyable. Now take Rage, another FPS released in the same year as the aforementioned. Developed by id Software – the same company that made DOOM, Wolfenstein 3D, and Quake – perhaps it should come as no surprise that the main character – unimaginatively called Ark Survivor – should also be mute. Where the disgruntled space marine from DOOM gets a free pass due to coming out way, way back in 1993, the hero in Rage is much more recent: 2011. Ark Survivor’s silence is most illogical: he suffers no injury (to my knowledge at-least) to his throat whatsoever. So why? why in the good name of fuck did id elect to keep him silent and have the other characters speak out his mind for him? (which is just about the cheesiest thing ever.) To make the Ark Survivor’s muteness even more baffling, John friggin’ Goodman voices a major supporting character. I got nothing… you got something to say? I literally have nothing to say right now…
3. Invisible walls
Imagine any first-person Fallout game of your choice and add a crap-ton of invisible barriers. Congratulations, you’ve got Rage: an anomaly in game design. It has an inexplicable mute protagonist in a time when that cliche became a tired relic of the past; a camera that stops responding once you’re in a vehicle; and of course, invisible barriers by the dozen. Oh, and the game literally shoots you in the head if you venture just a little too far to the right in the very first screen. Now Rage may or may not be a great game but this cannot be denied that it’s certainly a cool one. Coming out around the same time as Fallout: New Vegas and Metro: 2033, the post-apocalyptic vision of Rage was devastatingly gorgeous and enough to whet our appetites. However, the little annoyances mentioned above make the game a cut below the rest and blemish an otherwise wickedly solid shooter. For starters, you cannot jump over rocks, and exploration is fairly linear and limited due to you running into invisible walls all the goddamn time. That alone should speak enough.
4. Respawning enemies
This one is an oldie but still relevant. All Castlevania games up to and including Symphony of the Night are guilty of this. I mean what the fuck? you kill all enemies and exit the room… only to have them all back when you re-enter the previous screen! Some see this as a positive and a necessity to grinding (for power-ups, points, skills etc…) but in most games it’s nothing more than a major source of annoyance. Though the trope may have seen a rather downward slope in popularity in recent years, its ubiquity in older 16-bit games sometimes make them just too darn irritating to play.
5. Forced weapon selection
An alternate title for this entry could very well be “turret section” – but I hesitate to call it that because I, unlike the rest of the 99% of gamers, actually do enjoy turret sections. When used appropriately, they can provide a welcome diversion from an otherwise different style of gameplay established till that point. Metro: Last Light ends on a turret section, and the only reason why it works wonders here is because it stands in sharp juxtaposition to the rest of the game – you’re always short on ammo and often literally run out of them at many points. Other games like Spec Ops: The Line, Saints Row IV, and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon employ turret sections very early on in the game, but their intention is obviously ironic. Unfortunately more often than not games seem not to get the importance and placement of a turret section right, and as such in games like Mass Effect 3 it feels awkward, clumsy, and totally pointless. Why should I be forced to man a specific weapon to take down hordes of enemies? Why not make it an option and leave it up to the player to decide whether or not they want to use it. Just Cause 2 and Wolfenstein: The New Order have the right idea: they allow you to either detach the machine-gun or completely ignore it altogether.
Because the title of this entry is “forced weapon selection” I’m going to talk about my initial intent now. I really, really hate it when games force a weapon on you to complete an objective – objective that usually involves insta-fail and protecting someone for a set period of time until they finish their job. Said weapon is usually a sniper rifle – the one type of weapon I loathe using in video games. This is none more annoying than in Call of Duty: World at War and Bulletstorm. While the latter does spruce things up a bit by giving you the ability to control the bullet mid-air (which is incredibly sexy, to be honest) but still, it gets tame rather quick. The game then goes one step further by giving you full possession of a robotic, sentient dinosaur to blow shit up. As awesome as it may sound, trust me you’ll be wishing you could take down enemies with your normal weapons before long.
Article by Hamza