Several years ago a friend of mine said, “you know, Greg, we’ve been gaming our whole lives, we should play games exclusively on ‘Hard’.” My friend–let’s call this dude X because I can’t remember which friend it was–essentially was saying to a certain degree, games have become easier these days, and to retain the challenge we had as kids, we should play those games on their harder difficulties. I really can’t remember which friend put that thought in my head, but fuck that guy.
Since then, I think I can count on one hand how many games I’ve played on the “Normal” difficulty when difficulty settings are available. I love being challenged in games, and some games really need to be played on their hardest difficulties to get a challenge out of them, but that isn’t always the case. Some games are built to be a challenge on their ‘Normal’ setting. I know this when my cursor hovers back and forth between ‘Normal’ and ‘Hard’ at the beginning of a game, yet more often than not, the words of the faceless head of X circling around me pokes my pride to choose the harder difficulty. Don’t get me wrong, I love beating a game I’m playing on its hardest difficulty so I can boast to my friends who only played it on ‘Normal’. Those losers. But sadly, the reward of gloating has sometimes come at the price of enjoying the game. Just because ‘Hard’ offers a more challenging game doesn’t necessarily mean the quality of that challenge is any good.
I think this is most prevalently seen in FPSs and TPSs. Typically–not always, but typically–playing a shooter on ‘Hard’ just means that the NPCs become bullet sponges. I fucking hate bullet sponges; they suck. I hate them more than I hate X for putting this whole, stupid thought in my head in the first place. Bullet sponges ruin games. Not only do bullet sponges falsely add time to a playthrough because you simply have to wait longer to bring down an enemy, they also completely destroy immersion.
To give an example, I finally got around to beating BioShock Infinite just the other day. I should preface first that I completely understand the appeal to the game and it really deserves more praise than the criticism that I’m about to give it. Now that I got that out of the way, I know how beloved a game this turned out to be for people, but that game pissed me off far too many times. It was a game I’ve wanted to play since release but I had constantly been sidetracked by other ventures, but eventually I got to playing and of course, because I’m an idiot, I played through the game on ‘Hard’. Big mistake. Where others could see BioShocks aesthetical beauty and design, all I could see was the textures of the barrel or wall I had to constantly hide behind. Why? Well, I’ve essentially boiled it down to two factors: volume and bullshit.
The enemies in the game all have health bars and on ‘Hard’ those health bars simply get more volume; even the peon nobodies become bullet sponges. Not only do those average enemies become walking tanks, there’s also a higher volume of NPCs in firefights. And granted I haven’t tested this, it definitely feels as if the NPCs fire more rapidly at you on ‘Hard’–a higher volume of bullets. I figure I know what most people are thinking when I say this and it probably centres around headshots being the answer to my problems. Headshots would kill the NPCs faster, and that would thin out the volume of guys and the bullets they were throwing. Well, that’s where the bullshit comes into play. Even with a perk that made headshots deal more damage, it would take me three shots with a fully upgraded Carbine to take an average enemy down. That’s bullshit.
In a game that has established that a pair of scissors can kill someone with relative ease, a bullet to the cranium should fucking down a guy. But no; because there’s a health bar and damage is calculated by a programmed equation, now I need to shoot a guy three times in the head before death occurs. And since there’s a higher volume of NPCs and bullets, lining up a headshot becomes as frustrating as stubbing your toe. In this particular game, it isn’t just that getting hit causes your crosshairs to shake, that actually makes sense, it’s also the fact the enemies have a sixth sense for when you were about to pull the trigger. You could spend valuable seconds in a firefight lining up a headshot and the NPC your aiming won’t move an inch, but the minute your finger starts to push down that button, the mother fucker does a little jig and dances out of sight. That’s bullshit. It’s, in my eyes, bad game design and it rips you right out of the moment. You’re no longer Booker taking down a totalitarian zealot or an overly righteous rebellion leader, you’re an angry gamer getting fucked over. Sure it’s more challenging than ‘Normal’, but the type of challenge is bullshit.
TO BE CONTINUED…