Easy Does It

Not so scary with the Vita - Chambers switched on.

Are you any good at games? Well, that’s a rather stupid question really, on the same level as ‘do people like you?’ or ‘are you an intelligent person?’. No matter what the reality, most people will be telling themselves – and anybody who asks them – that the answer is a crater creatingly large ‘yes’.

No matter how good you are at games (or at least, think you are), what do you consider to be more important; a game’s quality, or its difficulty? Now unless you’re a serial sado masochist, you’re going to answer ‘quality’. But I have one more question for you before I replace the question mark key on my keyboard. How many times in the last two years have you complained about a game being too easy?

Yes, LittleBigPlanet empowers the player to a degree never before seen on consoles, but the story mode is too easy”. “Yes, I like the latest episode of Monkey Island, but the puzzles are too easy”. “Yes, Modern Warfare 2 is as addictive online as the first, and Special Ops is cool, and I like the set pieces in the story – but it was too easy” and so on. If a game is perceived as having a low difficulty level, that is usually the issue that spearheads a backlash. But should this be the case if people can still, y’know… have fun?

Before you start thinking my ham – fisted attacks on controllers result in my being unable to enjoy any game more challenging than a single coloured Rubiks Cube, I’d just like to say that I love Demon’s Souls. Not in an unnatural relationship between man and disc way, I just mean it’s a fantastic game. I also, personally, play games on the highest or second highest difficulty whenever there’s an option. This is partly because I’m competent or better in virtually all genres after over two decades of gaming, and partly because I like to show myself and others that I can do it. However, I’ll happily trade a high difficulty for a high level of fun.

Every choice has a consequence. Will you survive the hold - up... or survive it?

Look at Heavy Rain. Even if you choose the highest difficulty possible you can’t fail in a way that requires a restart, and it’s actually quite difficult to get your character killed without trying for the most part – and even if that happens, the game continues. A game where you’ll never, ever be forced to go back – easy. What’s that you say? My supersonic radar will help me. BEEP. Oh, replay value, you say? Multiple endings, hmm? Yes, you’re absolutely right – but it doesn’t make the game any less easy, does it?

The trend this generation seems to be for games that allow you to increase or decrease the difficulty at any time. The big – name examples that come immediately to mind for me are Bioshock 1 & 2, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Brutal Legend, and Fallout 3. There are dozens more. This should be standard practice. Extra trophies/achievements for those who care about that sort of thing as a reward for sticking to the higher difficulty, and yet those who don’t and may struggle can make things easier at a tricky section.

What this boils down to, is that developers finally seem to have woken up to the fact that their games should be enjoyed – not endured (see, for example, the reason Ubisoft’s Pete Closs gave me for Splinter Cell Conviction’s revamp). Allowances are being made to accommodate less skilled players and, yes, this is due in part to the rise of the so – called ‘casual gamer’. Adjustable difficulties aside, are games easier today than they used to be? Yes – and that’s a good thing.

Up until the early – mid nineties, the vast majority of games were ruthlessly difficult. Try playing an average NES game in its original form now, and it will most likely trample all over your ego before urinating on it and setting it alight, using the remnants of your pride as firelighters. Metaphorically speaking. No choice of difficulties, no quicksaves, no checkpoints, no saves of any kind of all and – often – not even any continues or passwords. Once you’ve lost your small reserve of lives, it’s back to the title screen for you, lad. On top of this, a sizeable chunk of the first 8 – bit games were platformers with jumps you needed a degree in mathematics to judge correctly. Missing any one of these jumps would, of course, result in instant death. Even if you found a rare exception that allowed you to regularly save your progress (usually an RPG), it would be more difficult than getting Jack Thompson to join your Modern Warfare 2 party.

Even Demon’s Souls – arguably the most challenging game of the current generation – is far more forgiving than these games. Yes, death comes easily, and all the level’s enemies are resurrected when you are. But in effect you have infinite lives, you get to keep the weapons, items and experience you gained before dying, and you even have a chance to reclaim the ‘souls’ that you lose. Plus once a boss is dead it stays dead, no matter how many times you die or re – enter the level.

Would our British readers agree that he looks like a Riddler?

It’s important to remember that a game isn’t bad just because you can progress easily – nor is it bad because progression requires a high level of skill. It’s good if it’s fun to play and bad if it’s no fun to play, simple as that.

I think relating my experiences of FIFA 10 online (12 wins 24 losses ranked, 2 wins due to winning opponent losing connection) will illustrate my point well. If I’m winning very easily – extremely rare – then I’m certainly enjoying the game, but something’s missing from the experience. If I’m getting slaughtered by virtual footballers virtually laughing at my lack of skill (an average game), sitting on the wrong end of an 8 – 0 score with half the match still to go, I’m quite frankly not having a good time, and only continue because I’m not one of those tosspots who disconnects whenever a match isn’t going their way. The very best match is played at the halfway point, and is the sort of match I usually play with Kevin; each player constantly fighting for possession, goalscoring opportunities hard won and hard fought against, each point well earned, the winner impossible to declare until the end of the match.

Yeah, we’re both crap.

Anyway, the point is, the very best gaming is a perfect balance between a fun experience and a decent challenge – and that balance isn’t the same for everybody. If a game’s easier than you’d like then, yes, it’s not your ideal experience; but you can still enjoy the ride. If a game’s far too difficult, the emphasis is on work rather than fun. Surely nobody can disagree with, or desire, that.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

6 comments

  1. KrazyFace /

    Games are much easier nowadays, yeah, but like you said, only because we don’t have the saftey nets we used to. In any game now death means nothing, no consequence what-so-ever, and I really can’t imagine the response a game released today would get if it imposed 1980’s game rules on the player. Probably make the reviewers cry, and the development studio would be burned down amongst a sea of angry shakey fists and pitchforks; probably.

    Having said that, I like games being easy now and generaly leave the difficulty setting at ‘normal’, though some times I’m known to even turn it down a notch (at which point I shut my eyes as I do so, to fool myself I didn’t) which is a bit embarrassing, considering I used to be a deamon-child in the arcades and make grown men cry, well not quite, but you could see they were annoyed at being beaten by an eight yearold.

    In my personal case, I blame in-game-cheats for my softening as a player. That, and I have an allergy to ‘GAME OVER’ screens! Seriously, my face goes all red and my hands shake!!!

    • half_empty80 /

      I prefer the format of games now compared to the 8-bit / 16bit days. I also leave the difficulty on normal, since I consider this to be how the developer intended the game to be played. I like to think I am a fairly skilled player, having mastered several series/genres.

      When I play online I realise that I am merely average at best. Frankly I suck at competitive multiplayer and I tend to stick with SP these days.

      • Krazyface /

        Yup. SP FTW!!! I’m like that half, I love emersing myself in a single player game and rarely bother with MP (because I get my arse handed to me constantly). Or I just don’t have the time to eat, sleep and sh*t one particular game for long enough to be THAT good.

  2. Error /

    In Demons Souls you don’t get to keep the experience because the souls are the experience, money and whatnot. So just pointing this out. Pretty good article but I would have disagree with what you wrote about the Heavy Rain because its goal is to be interactive film experience, so it would kinda suck when in a middle of a movie the main characters would die over and over always restarting from previous scene.

    And for those who are going to say that MW2 is hard when you play on Veteran. No it is not. It is still easy except now the computer just cheats more. Play Demons Souls and see what is actually hard but very very VERY rewarding.

  3. Rikard /

    It’s a difficult balance that games need to keep. Dara O’Briain made a good point about a difficult part early on in Gears of War which was too hard for him to complete and it made him feel like he had been cheated out of several hours of game that he paid for but never got to experience.

    On the other hand, if games were just easy to breeze through they would soon become boring and kinda pointless. I would hate to be a developer and have to consider this, as well as so many different varying degrees of gaming skills and try and cater an experience for everybody, so it’s neither too hard or too easy.

    • KrazyFace /

      Which is why they should have a difficulty slider-bar like in Oblivion or Fallout 3.

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