Think you're hardcore? By current standards you might be. But you're still a N00B.
Once, we were a proud warrior people, adept in every skill, discipline and combat technique required to earn mastery over our every digital domain. We were a pantheon of noble thumb-ninjas, our legendary victories and kill-counts matched in number only by the calluses on our digits; calluses we wore as badges of honour through the eternal, bloody war against AI and our fellow man. But through its ever more sophisticated design and an unerring need to be accessible to all, modern gaming has done us a disservice. Not only are our skills being neutered, it's being done in a way which makes us think we're still at the top of our game. It's exactly like The Matrix. Exactly
like The Matrix. Yes, a no-thumbed bonobo monkey can now feel a simulation of the sense of achievement we've enjoyed since the '80s, but just remember, as The Incredibles told us, when everyone's super, no-one will be. Don't believe the full extent to which we've been emasculated? Read on.
By far the worst offense perpetrated against good, honest, battle-hardened gaming skills. Let this be clear; you have no reason - no reason at all
- to feel proud of yourself for defeating your enemy if you can shrug off a bullet-wound with a nice quiet sit down. That's like Superman beating up old ladies and being all "Hur hur! I r teh badass" about it.
Automatically regenerating health makes an utter mockery of the skills really needed to succeed in any combat situation. Is it enough to wade blindly into any conflict, happy to soak up any number of gunshots, punches and stabbings to the face as long as you're scoring a few hits yourself? Has any soldier, swordsman or martial artist in history ever tried to get through a fight by simply dishing out the damage with a flagrant disregard for personal safety? Probably a few have, but no-one's ever heard of them because they died really bloody quickly!
Real combat is a skilled balance of damage and evasion. It's about wrong-footing your opponent and maximising attack opportunities while maintaining a tactical sense of self-preservation. It is not
about charging into a battle zone, thoughtlessly swinging your gun around your head, safe in the knowledge that you spotted a rock to recharge behind on your way in, and thus are in no danger from the assembled enemy ranks whatsoever.
A system implemented originally, and still primarily, in the first-person shooter. The first-person shooter being a genre based almost entirely
around the concept of aiming. Is anyone else seeing anything wrong with this?
So what's next? Auto-driving in the next Burnout update? Auto-punching and kicking in the home versions of Street Fighter IV? A Mario game where we only have to maneuver the portly one within six feet of a koopa before he runs up and bops them on the head, all of his own accord?
Look, we could understand this crap when FPS had rubbish controls. Aiming up and down with cursor keys was always an excercise in knitting with spaghetti, and in a strictly head-on game like the original Doom, vertical auto-aim was vital. But in this age of decent dual analogue control and the unfailing wonder of the laser mouse, it's just patronising. Auto-aim is like being eight years old, falling arse over tit off the bike you're trying to learn to ride, and having your well-meaning but intrusive grandma grab the back of the saddle and guide you along.
"Aw, is the poor wittle man having trouble shooting the baddies? Here, let Granny Halo do it for you, diddums"
"Sod off, grandmother. Shooting these bastards to death is my own business. How will I ever become a man if you won't allow me the honour of my own headshots?"
We need a manual or
a tutorial, not both. Do publishers assume we're illiterate as well as woefully unskilled? Do they think that we won't understand the meaning of all those cryptic symbols, shapes and colours in their unfathomable grimoire, and thus will need worked, practical examples before we can make sense of "Press A to jump"? This kind of hand-holding just will not do.
But woah! "Hold A to jump higher!?
" What kind of avant garde torment is
Hold us mother, we're scared!
Bosses who don't reset their health when you die
Bosses used to be something to be feared. Towering, all-conquering bastards of untold destruction who we had to earn bitter victory over every single time. Defeating one of those behemoths not only improved our gaming skills ready for the onslaught of the next, more difficult level, but also served as great character-building, both in-game and in the real world. Beating a boss made us feel like we and our on-screen hero had gone through a rite of passage together, and it was also an important tool in pacing the increasing difficulty of a game.
But to modern bosses, we pose only one simple question: What are you the boss of
, exactly? Because it must be a pretty piss-weak organisation if a being of ever-degrading health and non-existing sense of self-preservation has limp-wristedly wrestled control of it. Far from giving us reason to man up and hone our fighting abilities, bosses are often now impossible not
to beat on the first go. We don't need skills any more, we just need to have a spare ten minutes and no problem with back-tracking a few feet. We die, we restart, get back to the boss, and we find that although we now have full energy, he's spent the intervening time absent-mindedly perusing the texture quality of the surrounding architecture and is in exactly the same beaten-down state we left him in. It's about attrition, not ability. It says a lot when the button you'll use most frequently in a boss fight is Start.
Cut-scenes that do the fighting for us
And half the time we spend battling the malnourished-kitten styles of these bosses of not-much-in-particular, we're not actually fighting them at all! We're just watching them die while pressing the occasional button. It's about as challenging as switching a life-support system off.
It used to be that the introduction of a boss was a terrifying and awe-inspiring affair. "Holy shit!", we used to exclaim, "You expect me to fight that!?
" Well not any more they don't. The scarier the boss, the more likely it is that its introductory cut-scene will involve it falling down a hole, getting auto-killed by your character, or just becoming bored and buggering off somewhere else with only a vague notion of returning at some later point in the game. And even if we do
have to do the fighting ourselves, all too often the fight will boil down to landing a few easy hits, moving in close as said boss reels and cries like a chronically depressed dandelion in a gale, and then hammering two or three inputs as instructed on-screen to trigger an effortless kill.
Check-points and quick-saves
Has a marathon runner really run a marathon if he completes the course over fifty-two days, doing half a mile every day? No. No he has not. If that were the case, then the Radar staff could count ourselves as endurance athletes just for doing the walk to work every day. And endurance athletes we certainly are not
Anyone can be good in short bursts. It's consistency that really counts. Anyone who started gaming back in the early days of cassette tapes and 8-bit cartridges knows what commitment really means. Hard-drives and memory cards have killed our dedication.
If a batter isn't doing too well in a game of baseball, does the bat quadruple in size and the ball fill up with helium to allow for bigger hits? Does the adjudicators of school tests lower the pass mark for stupid kids so that everyone can get an A? And does, in fact, the rain stop falling if you find yourself outside without an umbrella? The answer to all of these questions is of course a resounding "No". The reason? Because if any of those things happened, it would be bloody ridiculous, it would remove all elements of achievement and self-improvement from life, and no-one would ever learn anything from anything. Much like what scalable AI does, then.
And to add insult to even bigger, more annoying insult, this insidious process of adapting game difficulty according to the player's skill actually provides an incentive for being shit. Finding things difficult? Just stand still, take a beating, and the world will go easy on you. What kind of a life lesson is that?