Thursday, October 28, 2010

10 gaming gripes that grind my gears - Part 2

What really winds you up about gaming? See if you share any of our gaming gripes. If you missed the first part, take a look after the jump...

Hydrophobia - Myself and digital representations of H20 have always endured a somewhat strained relationship. Ever since watching Sonic’s lifeless blue corpse limply sink to the bottom of the screen after painfully failing to fill his lungs with a life-saving bubble of air; my fear of drowning has remained paramount. Prolonged sections of aquatics in games really do detract from any sense of a pleasurable experience for me. The memory of a lifeless hedgehog will be forever etched in my mind, but if that event laid the foundations for hydrophobia then Tomb Raider truly cemented the notion. When I was a younger, less schooled gamer the sight of Lara Croft’s spasmodic body was commonplace on my television screen. The blue air bar emptying at a worryingly swift pace, Lara’s sluggish breaststroke (stop giggling at the back) technique not aiding the increasingly doom laden situation. Trapped in a maze of underwater corridors under some god forsaken tomb, was a circumstance that would serve as Miss Croft’s resting place time and time again. These many underwater deaths in my gaming youth have remained with me to this day, resulting in a passionate hatred for any obstacle with an abundance of the wet stuff.

I think it’s the claustrophobic nature of many underwater swimming sequences that really aggrieve me. Relative freedom and ease of movement are suddenly replaced with graceless, heavy handed manoeuvrability; making such sections in games a painstaking chore to play. I was pleased to see however that I’m not alone in this (what many would seem irrational) fear of videogame water. After a long hot day exploring the Frontier, John Marston looked like he could use a little refreshment. Spotting a near by stream this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. After paddling in up to the top of his boots he proceeded to flounder and flap around before succumbing to the calmly trickling current. He can massacre outlaws, hunt and skin grisly bears and hammer down enough whiskey to outdrink George Best in his prime. He can’t, however, deal with a mere drop of water, a character trait that appears to be hereditary as his son suffers acutely from exactly the same problem. Although the Marstons’ swimming skills were woefully underdeveloped to an irritating extent, I can certainly sympathise with their misgivings. When it comes to games, I’m perfectly happy on solid, dry land.

The Curse Of Wii Commercials - I do own a Wii. It sits in the corner like an unloved child, collecting dust, occasionally being hauled out of retirement for an obligatory spot of planet hopping with Mario. I’m not a fan of motion controls or casual games, hence the Wii is such a disused inclusion in my gaming set up. In fact, even the ancient and barely functioning PS2 (the disc tray grinding open sounds like the last spluttering cough of a man on his death bed) gets more attention than Nintendo’s happy white chunk.

However, one thing that grinds my gears more than endless reams of generic party games or squeaky clean sports titles is the adverts promoting them. Ant and Dec are admittedly pretty good at what they do; so long as that involves goading Z list celebrities into eating kangaroo testicles. When they’re endorsing Wii Fit to a group of weight watchers or playing Sports Resort with a craftily assembled collective representing a ‘wonderfully diverse’ cross section of ages and ethnicities; a sudden urge to pick up the Wii and hurl it through the TV screen engulfs me. It’s like the REM song about “shiny happy people holding hands”, except instead of holding hands they’re gathered around for a ‘good old session’ of Wii beach volleyball.

Being the twisted cynic that I am, I can’t help but find this false ideal of a communal gaming utopia utterly ridiculous. In actuality it’s far more likely for at least one overly competitive individual to scream, shout and swear, therefore shattering this harmonious illusion for all involved. The most recent addition to the roster of infuriating Wii adverts sees boy band JLS furiously fist pumping their way through an assortment of mini-games. The only saving grace from complete and utter irritance being that the rhythmic fashion in which the ‘band’ gyrate their hands up and down, shall we say; ‘above the groin area’ is rather an amusing sight. Regrettably these cheese laden adverts can’t be doing the Wii any harm, evidence of which can be seen by the console’s colossal sales figures. Still, for the sceptical hardcore, the sight of father and son combo ‘Arry and Jamie Redknap having a super jolly fun time on Mario Kart is highly unlikely to win them over to the Wii‘s casual way of thinking, me included.

Rubbish Movie Tie-Ins - For every occasional exception to the rule that games of films are utter rubbish, there’s a metaphorical desert landfill full of tripe of the highest order. Unfortunately, Goldeneye can’t single-handedly defend the film-to-game tie-in, and the perpetual landslide of substandard products slapdashed onto the shelves saturates the market with mediocrity. Every Disney film to hit the big screen will inevitably be accompanied by a happy, shiny, box-ticking videogame that parents will feel compelled to buy their children out of sheer exasperation. On the whole (fair enough Toy Story 3 received semi-favourable reviews) these games are composed of generic, child pleasing gameplay elements with a sickly sweet coating of all round wholesomeness for good measure.

OK so I may be being a little harsh here, after all it’s plain to see that these games are solely designed for children to engage with. However, that doesn’t excuse milking the cash cow with lacklustre products that kids will want regardless of quality. Let’s be frank, I doubt that a six year old is going to hunt around sites for meaningful feedback or meticulously check metacritic for average scores of the latest Hollywood franchise’s (usually involving talking animals) game tie-in.

Will a Miley Cyrus obsessive baulk at the less than favourable scores (to put it bluntly) awarded to the videogame incarnation of her/his beloved Hannah Montana, and opt out of pestering their parents into purchasing it? Highly unlikely. It is indeed possible to develop good games geared towards children, yet so many movie tie-ins in the category are at best woefully second rate or in actuality usually worse. That said, if the film performs well at the box office the game will usually follow suit in the stores regardless of standard. Regrettably in that respect, it’s doubtful we’ll see a shift in the trend any time in the near future.

When it comes to shockingly poor transitions from one medium to the other, films based on games perhaps fair even worse than their interactive siblings. Tomb Raider was universally slammed, Prince Of Persia didn’t fair much better and Hitman effectively put a gun to the side of its own head and pulled the trigger. None of the aforementioned examples however compare to the granddaddy of all game-to-film disasters; the truly atrocious Street Fighter: The Movie. In terms of actual box office success the only real notable exception (though by no means classic cinematic material) would be the Resident Evil movies. The fact that RE has done relatively well on the silver screen is somewhat surprising considering how notoriously bad the acting and script of the games are. But fair play, RE does what it does and is mildly entertaining, if unchallenging fun. Generally speaking, the crossover process seems to stall somewhere; the transition from interactive medium to passive or vica versa often seems to suffer a major translation hiccup along the way. And for some of us, Jean Claude Van Damme playing Guile is still too painful a memory to forget or forgive.

Out Of Control - I don’t claim to be the greatest gamer in the world (above average, I’d say) but nothing mind-bogglingly spectacular. One of the most excruciating and torturous scenarios a gamer can put themselves through is having to watch someone else play who literally has no idea what they’re doing. Despite the impression that this list gives off, I’m actually a tolerant and fairly patient person. This doesn’t stop me from wanting to tear my own hair out when I see a bumbling buffoon entrusted with orchestrating the on screen action. Let me illustrate the case in point with a few examples:

  • Racing games - Scraping every barrier, careering off at the gentlest corner, or the cardinal sin; driving in the opposite direction round the circuit despite the stream of oncoming traffic and a big flashing ‘WRONG WAY’ icon at the top of the screen.
  • First Person Shooters - Shooting at walls, shooting the sky, shooting at team mates, just generally spraying bullets at everything except the enemy. Throwing grenades at their own feet, rocket launching a nearby shrub resulting in death etc...
  • Platformers - attempt jump, die, attempt jump, die. Make jump (they feel very pleased with themselves at this point), run to the next jump, die, attempt jump…you get the picture.
  • Survival Horror - Shrieking in terror and hurling the controller on the floor when being mauled by a zombie/monster/necromorprh or generally blood hungry creature. This really doesn’t aid the whole ‘survival’ aspect of the gameplay.
I’m by no means against inexperienced gamers playing. In fact, I’d even encourage it, but if they’re so abominable that I’m loosing faith in actually living, then I’ll have to remove myself calmly from the premises for the sake of the gamer in questions own wellbeing.

Achievements: The Love/Hate Relationship - When the ‘Achievement Unlocked’ icon pops up after a particularly gruelling challenge, it’s one of the most satisfying occurrences in gaming. One hundred percenting GTA IV or Red Dead Redemption for example rewards you with 100G for your enduring efforts, and suddenly all that pigeon murdering and flower picking doesn’t seem so worthless after all.

I used to really not care about achievements (although I’m still far from being an obsessive), but nowadays I do tend to let them govern the way I approach playing a game. The ‘shall I start on the hardest setting to try and avoid a repeat play through’ predicament always gets me. Unless your proficient in a certain game series for example, it can be unwise to try and complete a title at its most challenging for fear of getting too frustrated with it. However if an achievement is willing to dish out 150G for beating it on hard, the temptation is always there; and unless the game really is impeccably good I’m unlikely to instantly go for a repeat playthrough. I know achievements are essentially designed for replayability purposes, but often this notion of extended longevity results in a chore like grind for gamerscore.

You may well be thinking (and rightly so) that no one is forced into unlocking achievements and as such there’s no need to complain. Personally though, I kind of feel compelled to do so. I’ll very rarely bother unlocking a game’s maximum point tally, but if there’s one sitting in the library with anything less than a third of its achievements unlocked, the lacklustre gamerscore irritates me greatly. Of course there are the online achievements that encourage boosting, farming, grinding or whichever phrase you choose to coin, that can have an adverse effect on the overall experience. The other factor to consider it that of the sneering hierarchy. Sitting on their lofty gamerscore thrones with hundreds of thousands of points mocking the mere underlings lurking down there in the early twenties. It shouldn’t annoy me but it does, to an extent that I’m never satisfied with my relatively meagre score

After all, what do achievement points really mean? In the grand scheme of things, absolutely bugger all; zip, squat, nothing, yet the addictive nature of them keeps gamers coming back for more. As much as gamerscore is essentially just a platform to show off, no one wants to be ridiculed. As far as the half a million man Stallion 83 goes, the mind only boggles at how he can play so many games without going stark raving mad. Games are fun granted, but life can be pretty good if you actually attempt to live one outside of the digital realm. So while achievements will never overtake my life like a certain Mr Stallion, every time I fire up the Xbox I’m guiltily looking forward to being awarded with my next instalment of G; annoying as that may be.

Honourable Mention - Seth from Street Fighter IV. I hate that guy.

(Photo credit: iwinatcookie)