By nutter 7 Comments
Lengthy preamble aside (meaning it got lost during a browser crash and I'm too lazy to retype it), I missed God of War on the PS2. I recently grabbed the God of War Collection and decided to give the five year old God of War 1 a shot. While I love the combat and really had no issues with difficulty (I don't think I ever died in combat, so normal may have been a bit easy for me), the puzzles and platforming drove me to fire countless swears in the direction of my PS3. I can't remember ever being this mad over a video game. I don't normally dip back into games I missed from this long ago, so maybe that's part of the problem.
Anyhow, the puzzles and platforming just seem semi-busted. They were functional and everything, but suffered from what I've come to know as Dead Space syndrome. It's where a game does something really well and then breaks you away to something it doesn't do so well and traps you there. In Dead Space, it was the asteroid shooting sequence, for me. I played it a few times and put the game down, never to pick it back up.
I damned near had this happen in God of War with my unholy murder machine being slain while plank-walking due to static cameras changing angles on you mid-plank. From there it went on to a number of other design choices that would have left me scratching my head if my hands weren't busy trying to choke the life from my Dual Shock. Timed spike rooms, spinning columns with spikes on them, and a number of other platform/puzzle segments proved MUCH harder than what I'd imagine is the core of the game; brutal combat.
I probably spent more time dying during puzzles and fixed-camera platforming than engaged in delicious combat. It got really wearisome. The salt on the wound is that, at least a couple of times, I was invited to lower the difficulty to easy due to the number of times I was dying on a puzzle. The invitation to admit my failure came with the caveat that this change in difficulty only effects combat, meaning the game could only offer me a useless gesture and a shoulder shrug.
I've recently played Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden Black (which came out one year before and the same year as God of War, respectively) and found none of those issues in that (those?) game(s) (aside from some wonky wall jumping in tight areas, but I couldn't die there). This left me thinking about the state of gaming in 2005. It wasn't THAT bad back then...but all I heard was universal praise for a game that, in my estimation, is one part combat, one part puzzles, and one part platforming. Two-thirds of the time I spent with this game was utterly frustrating. The other one third was exactly what I needed after tackling some more daunting games recently, satisfying button mashing and crazy combat.
I'm not really sure if there's a point to any of this other than to say that God of War is really fun despite so much of it being junk in 2010. I suspect the same things would have frustrated me 5 years ago, but I can only guess at this point. I'll mop up this mind-puddle by stating one of my keys to engaging me in a game.
If you're going to mix up your game play to keep it fresh, make sure that whatever makes your game awesome is always center stage. Also, make sure that whatever you're doing to keep the game from feeling repetitive is either just as great or INCREDIBLY EASY. There's no reason to teach me to do one thing over and over and then give me a section of the game where I have to learn a new skill that's completely detached from whatever it is that defines your game.
In the case of Dead Space (so as not to harp on God of War), make it nearly impossible to fail at the asteroid mini-game. Just take a page from the racing developers out there and implement some rubber band AI. If I'm taking a ton of damage and won't last, throw more asteroids at me that drift away from the ship. It'll still look hectic, it'll still make most gamers feel that the situation is quickly becoming more than they can handle, but making the only asteroids that really matter the ones that come in the easy-to-hit middle of the screen will ensure their success. Make enough danger lights and sirens flash, throw in some cracked windows, and maybe some dialog stating how close it is and instead of dropping the game, maybe this gamer would have felt like a hero, finished the game, and shown an interest in the franchise going forward.
So that's my rant. I hate when developers stray from what makes a game great and traps me there. Max Payne has no business following a blood tightrope through space and Kratos has no reason to die over and over at the hands of a puzzle when he should be tearing out cyclops eyes.
Maybe as we edge closer and closer to the dreaded six-hour game, developers will feel that their marquee trick is good enough to carry the experience. Not everyone has Bungie's grenade, pepper, melee magic, after all. I can only hope that as games continue to get shorter, folks will see that something as simple as Alan Wake's combat CAN work without making Alan do some ridiculous task like balance on a blood trail while shooting Greek gods with turrets.
I wonder if Epic already tackled this issue with the 100% option timing mini-game of active reload in Gears. It would certainly seem to be that little mixer to keep things fresh that doesn't drag you away from the awesome game play on which the title was built.