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Difficulty Shmifficulty

This article in no way reflects my own personal wishes nor do I hope in anyway to sway the gaming industry to do things any differently. This is merely meant to compare games of yesteryear to the current crop of games.

When I think back over games I used to play on Atari and the original NES, I remember them being ridiculously hard. That could be because of the technology not really allowing for much more than what it was a the time, simple.

Remember when “Lives” actually mattered? Case in point; Teen Aged Mutant Ninja Turtles. Anyone that played the original knows what I am talking about. That game was probably the first game that caused me to “rage quit” on a Nintendo system. Basically you played through the game with the four turtles. If you died, you didn’t have that turtle to play with anymore. In essence, you had four lives. Lose em all and your game was done.

Then there’s games like Fester’s Quest. One of those infamous “one sitting” games. There were no passwords, no save files, no nothing. If you died start from the beginning. If you had to go to school either leave the system on (which I personally did A LOT) or turn it off and start over. Sure, it’s not the best way to go about things. They probably could have built in some code system to use like Metroid and Goonies II had, but they didn’t. These were games that you had to make sure you literally had time to play through the entire game with basically NO interruptions.

Now a days, games have no consequences. Just about every game out there (save one glaring exception I will get to later) lets you just waltz through a game with out a care. Sure if you die you might have to start back at the beginning of the level, but for the most part checkpoints are the net beneath the tightrope. Fail, and just get back up where you were and try again.

First person shooters are the worst (best?) when it comes to check points. Make a wrong move and you’re dropped by a sniper or something. Eh well, reload try again, and again, till you get it right. Playing through Halo Reach on Heroic has shown me this one many many times. In a recent game I finished a big fire fight and was on my way to reload and revive my health. Little did I know that the game would throw in a check point at the worst possible time for me. I was halfway to the health pack and weapons when all the enemies spawned in. I must have played through that skirmish fifteen times before I was able to memorize locations and counteract all their movements.

Does this mean that games should not have checkpoints or be more forgiving when doling them out? No. Not in the least. I for one am glad that they are there. My point is that games aren’t truly as difficult as they are made out to be. Sure playing through Modern Warfare 2 on Veteran is hard, but not impossible. However it is more a feat of memorization and patience than anything. That being said, I never finished MW2 on veteran because I didn’t feel like dieing a million “cheap deaths” just to have the achievement.

There are exceptions however. Trophies and Achievements that are based upon completion of a task with in a certain amount of time/lives are still acts of skill and dexterity. None specifically come to mind but I know that there are ones out for things like get from point A to point B in less than time X. In Fable III there is an achievement for finishing the game with out ever being knocked out. THAT’S probably a difficult one.

The only game in recent memory that genuinely seems to be just straight up difficult would have to be “Demon Soul’s” for the PS3. Seems to me it takes a lot, A LOT of trial and error to get through that game. I personally have not played it because I don’t particularly enjoy putting that much into a game that is THAT difficult. However there a lot of people out there that swear by it. I believe the main reason it gets high praise from some is because they feel such an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment knowing that they have finished a truly hard game. To those people, I say good job. It’s just not for me.

Another notable exception would have to be the XBLA versions of Doom. One life, one goal. Should you happen to die, sure you get to start the stage over again, but minus all those sweet guns you procured up until that point. That’s death with consequences. Not to mention the fact that trying to play Doom or Doom II on Nightmare is damn close the most frustrating thing you can ever do. Those are another two achievements I will probably never have in my collection.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I am ALL FOR checkpoints and codes and what not. I like it when a game makes it easy on me to play, not necessarily and easy game however. I enjoy knowing that if I screw up (and I will) that I only have to replay a small portion in order to get back to where I was. My only pet peeve with the entire thing is unskipable cut scenes. I realize you spent time and money to produce them, but seriously if I have watched them once, it’s enough.

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  • Gern

    This is an interesting article and it made me think about difficulty and “hurdles” in current games. I do like game saves and checkpoints, this is much better than years ago. I also like when a game offers different difficulty levels, like easy, normal, hard, etc.. For example, Red Faction Guerilla was frustrating me on normal level, so I changed to easy and then I loved it! I was to spend my time smashing stuff and shooting guys instead of dying all the time. The most recent frustration I have today is games that don’t offer difficulty levels. I hate it. I also hate games that have “unlockables”. For example, every racing game has cars that are locked until you either go through the story mode or win races. I hate that! I want a special mode/cheat that can unlock every car and track in the game. I’m hoping games will make a trend of either getting rid of unlockables or allowing an option to open up everything in the game.