Ahoy me hearties! (Sorry about that… still playing far too much Black Flag). It may seem a bit of a depressing title today but this is a message (or one of the messages) which we’d see many times as gamers until recently.
There was a time, many moons ago, when developers made games which challenged us in many ways. Puzzles to test out mental capacity and even down to just plain hectic gameplay to test our motor functions. Games used to be pretty tricky and when playing on the hardest difficulty (because obviously you’re not living otherwise) some games became almost, or totally, unbeatable. They are even harder now!
I can only think of one game in recent years (though please let us know if you think we’re wrong) which I’ve given up on not out of boredom or getting a new title, but because it was simply too hard. There used to be a large number of games where you just could not beat. In the early days maybe because the games simply had no end but certainly as we moved on games were sent to challenge us and make us work for the privilege of completion.
Now, it’s impossible to get past the first ten minutes of a game without it telling you what you need to press, who to talk to, where you need to go. It’s probably saved your progress every five steps and done your laundry as well. I find it hard to pinpoint when this trend started and, though I can maybe agree that it’s good for enticing new gamers into our world (and heck, we are all for bringing new folks into our flock) it’s seriously dumbed down most of the more hardcore gamers as well.
Dark Souls (or Demon souls, or Dark Souls II) has come the closest to getting back to the core of gaming. These are your objectives… Go! It hasn’t pandered even on the lowest difficulties and I have to admire that, but the thing is, I’ve now grown so used to being spoon-fed every inch of a game that I don’t think I’ll ever complete it. In most games now, even on the hardest difficulty, our hands are constantly held, our objectives pinpointed and our guns auto-aimed, and it’s made us soft.
I’ve been playing GoldenEye on the N64 again recently (setting up an N64 on my desk may not have been the most productive idea) and as ever I’m playing on the hardest difficulty. I was enjoying the first level, failed a few times, got near to the end and noticed something (before promptly dying again). I wasn’t being given an objective marker. This game was making me think for myself again. What are my objectives, where do I think I should go? These enemies are a bit tough. Oh I’m dead. Right then, start again from the beginning.
No checkpoints, no little golden marker or a trail to the next thing on the list to pick up. No handy popup on the HUD to tell me to press the trigger to shoot somebody. This is the gaming that I remember. I remember a time when we as gamers were not promised an ending. Completing the game was not guaranteed, and you could fail at any time and be sent right back to the beginning. Without that, I don’t think we can really call completing games an more an “achievement”. It was always inevitable, given enough time.