This will be the most shocking revelation of the year. Are you ready? Good. I really like video games. I know, I know! It’s quite the thing to find out, but try to contain your shock and/or distress as I discuss some things that really, really stop me from liking elements of my favourite hobby.
If you’ve been reading here for a while, you might think that I like most games that I play. The reason for that is probably because I tend to buy games that I think I’ll like. If you have a look at some of my reviews over at Big Boss Battle, you’ll see that this isn’t always the case. Either way, there are certain things in games that can undermine my enjoyment of ones that I enjoy. Whilst I may carry on with the game, these are things that will constantly irritate me as I continue.
Pacing is incredibly hard to define in terms of a video game. But a skillful developer knows when to pick up the pace and when to slow it down. Keeping up a relentless gunfight in a game can be exhausting, and being constantly chased by the terrifying monster loses its impact if it goes on too long. Equally though, going too long without any developments or excitement lead to boredom. It’s a tough balancing act sometimes, but a lot of games manage it very well.
I recently played Rainbow 6: Vegas, a 12-year old (I feel old) game with some poor pacing at times. Some of the gunfights go on for a long time, with very little downtime between them. I got fed up with some of the missions, as you go from room to room with a handful of enemies to kill in each. Conversely, Gears of War, a game that in theory should have a more relentless pace, came out the same year. This was paced far more carefully though, with intense battles punctuated with brief walking sections providing more exposition and a chance to explore the environments. I remember the Berserker fight well, as you creep around slowly before it bursts through a wall requiring a quick escape. These peaks and troughs are important to keep the exciting moments exciting. You can’t be on the edge of your seat for 10 hours without a break! You’d be exhausted!
Boss battles! Challenging encounters! Defeating the grand villain! These can’t be the same as fighting just regular enemies – they should be thrilling exclamation marks in the player’s journey. So why, why do so many bosses and major encounters just turn into a big enemy that needs to be shot a lot of times? To my mind, there’s nothing blander than a boss that’s just like a regular monster that just takes longer to fall over. This was one of my biggest criticisms of the Borderlands games, even though there were a few good bosses littered about. The Division was quite guilty of this too.
So what do you do about it? Creativity is the key word here. Find inventive ways for the player to use their acquired skills. A great example is the Mr. Freeze boss fight in Batman: Arkham City. The fight plays out as though you are taking down regular enemies, but every time you use a certain strategy to damage the villain, he blocks off sections of the area to prevent the same technique being used again. Now compare that to most bosses in Destiny. Bungie’s game doesn’t come out too well.
There is one reason I don’t tend to get on with point & click adventure games, and that’s “moon logic”. This is sometimes known as “guess what the developer was thinking” and tends to involve you using one item with another item in some way that seems quite illogical. I always think back to the very first Monkey Island game in which you need to use a monkey on a water pump so it acts as a monkey wrench…
Sure, it was a pretty funny joke, but there was absolutely no way I would have thought of that (not least because I hadn’t heard of a monkey wrench at my age at the time) and it was only by random clicking that I managed to “solve” the puzzle. In this era, it’s far less of a problem thanks to the internet, but it still bugs me when I come across a puzzle that makes little logical sense in our world or the game’s one.
It’s great when a game comes up with a good mechanic for the gameplay style. It doesn’t matter if this mechanic has been used well elsewhere, so long as it’s effectively implemented I’m going to enjoy it. I recently played Titanfall 2 and the Effect and Cause level used time travel in a really fun way. Wall-running whilst having to switch been past and present to maintain a safe running surface felt great. At the end of that stage, the time travel mechanic was removed. It was a short and sweet adventure that was great fun whilst it lasted.
The problem comes when the mechanic outstays its welcome. I don’t mind Five Nights at Freddy’s for only having one or two core aspects to the game as it’s very short. A lot of sports games put me off simply because it’s the same thing over and over, regardless of how many bells and whistles are put in place. Alien: Isolation had great mechanics that were run into the ground by the game being twice as long as it needed to be without keeping things fresh. A long game is fine, so long as your core gameplay remains fresh and varied enough.
This one could be considered a bit unfair, as AI is such a tricky thing (just look at the recent Aliens: Colonial Marines debacle), but it’s important to balance it correctly. Making AI that feels smart would probably involve giving it advantages (the way the AI in Alien: Isolation worked was very clever), but there’s a fine line between advantages and cheating.
Racing games are very guilty of this when they use rubber-banding to keep the race close. Split/Second was incredibly guilty of this, and the number of times I saw my “significant” lead vanish as I drop to 8th place was rage inducing. Then there are fighting games in which the final boss is able to fight like a professional level EVO player regardless of the difficulty it’s set to. Or how about RTS games when the AI has a faster economy or shorter build times? Cheating! And I won’t stand for it!
It’s worth mentioning that I also don’t like it when games have silly economies that give you so much money that you can buy out all the shops or so little that you have to grind money to get anywhere. And (more of a bugbear than utterly annoying) is disparate art styles. When something glaringly seems out of place, it really breaks the immersion. Kingdom Hearts//Pirates of the Caribbean springs to mind here.
Rant over! What annoys you about games? There’s got to be something that sticks out as being something that eternally puts you off. Let me know what it is! And thank you for reading.