The State of Play – Are games challenging enough?

“You Died”

I found myself maniacally laughing and speaking in tongues at seeing these two words for at least the thirtieth time in 3 hours. Yet the frustration was reassuringly nostalgic.

I’d first seen the blood red text appear on my screen 20 years prior when playing Resident Evil for the first time on the Playstation. Now, in 2015, I was seeing the same two words again – but this time on the console’s fourth generation, and in the form of Bloodborne.

Playing From Software’s fantastic new release got me thinking about another thing these two games had in common despite the age gap of two decades – the difficulty.

Bloodborne has garnered much praise from critics due to its unflinching difficulty and deservedly so, but is this game overly testing or have we – as modern gamers – become scared of a challenge?

It immediately becomes apparent that From Software have been very economical when it comes to checkpoints, they are audaciously few and far between. The humble checkpoint has become such a crutch in recent years that we take them for granted. Most releases these days find them staggered in what sometimes feels like 30 second intervals. In Bloodborne, the feeling of finally reaching one after fighting through hordes of beasties, half dead and low on items, is one of exhilaration. The sweet satisfaction of reaching a save point where you can fully restock and replenish your health and items make it all worth while. A glorious feeling.

Back in Capcom’s survival horror masterpiece, and the feeling was quite similar. There was nothing quite like the dawning realisation that you have no health replenishing herbs left, 4 rounds of ammo in your handgun and in order to get to the typewriter to save your game you must first get through a corridor of the undead. Couple this feeling with the stomach churning dread of knowing that you last saved two hours ago, and you begin to appreciate the enormity of the situation.

I’ve lost track at the number of games from back in the day that I have put to one side for months on end after dying and losing hours of progress.

The interesting thing is that early in my gaming career I didn’t really know any better. Sure, Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past had a superb save feature, as did Super Metroid, but other titles on the other hand had nothing at all. Not even a password to level select.

I remember Jurassic Park on the SNES. It was a decent game; great graphics, sound and design. The object of the game was to collect eggs and do something with them. I never knew what as I never made it that far. There was no save function or password system. Every time you played the game you had to start from the beginning. Every time.

To this day I can still play the first three levels of Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts in my head as if I was playing it on a SNES. I shit you not. I’ve played that game, and more specifically the first few levels, hundreds of times in my life. It’s easily one of the hardest games I’ve ever played and also one of the best. Any game where you get to the end of it only to find out you have to play through it ALL AGAIN immediately in order to fully complete it is a true sadistic masterpiece. I must be a sucker for Capcom games.

The feeling of completing a game such as Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts is unparalleled in my experience of gaming. A true test of timing, reactions, level memorisation and patience. The same feeling with Resident Evil. There were many points where you would temporarily give up, but the frustration in it’s difficulty would ensure you’d always be back.

Recent games I’ve played have none of this. GTA V for example was a stunning game. Great fun and an enjoyable experience. But was it a challenge? Not for me. Not in the slightest. It seemed to be scared to challenge the player too much.

It’s as if developers these days are playing it safe, they don’t want to lose players who can’t hack a challenge.

That is why Bloodborne is such a breath of fresh air. It has everything the modern gamer wants in a game; gorgeous graphics, fast paced action and lots of blood and guts.

Yet it also has what the modern gamer so desperately needs in a game – a challenge.

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