Hitting the wall

Let me take you on a journey of the imagination. Imagine, now, that you are nearing the top of Mount Everest. It started out relatively easily, in the foothills as you gradually ascended. Of course, the higher you got the harder the going was, and you had to really fight and push your way to where you are now. You’re close, and you can’t wait to get to the peak and breathe a huge sigh of relief and satisfaction that you did it. Now imagine looking up to see that some sod has built a 500ft vertical wall, studded with glass and razor wire, between you and the peak. No way, you’d say. This isn’t fair. I was so close. Damnit.

Difficulty in games can be a real killer. Done right and a game starts out challenging you and continues to do so as your skills/weaponry/character level increases, and perhaps throws in an extra difficulty bump for the occasional boss. Done badly, and you either sail through the game like a hot knife through butter, or end up being repeatedly flattened by a billion enemies/difficult platform jumps/puzzles that even Einstein couldn’t solve.

Even Kratos will fall to his knees in despair at the final boss
Even Kratos will fall to his knees in despair at the final boss

It’s difficulty done wrong I want to talk about today, but done wrong in one particular way. Easy games are OK. As Ready Up’s Editor Kirsten once said to me, “I like easy games. If I wanted to know I was shit I’d play online.” And hard games at least tend to be hard from the start, so you can quickly make up your mind whether or not to even bother. (Hellooo, Ninja Gaiden 2)

What really gets me, though, is when the games designers and developers lead you by the hand, right to the very end of the story. Then it’s as if they’ve suddenly said “Oh crap, is this the end already? Hmmm. Better make the boss a tough one, that’ll pad the game out a bit.”

Enter the boss. Bang, you’re dead. Bang, you’re dead, Bang, you’re dead. Bosses like this make me want to throw my controller. Not across the room, but at the games developers. Often this happens in games that I was really enjoying right up until the final boss, and instead of a triumphant victory over a tough foe, I’m left with the bitter taste of failure as my final recollection of the game. Not being too much into Achievements or Trophies, I don’t care too much about not being able to unlock the “You completed the game” worthless trinket. What I do HATE is the fact that I never got to see the endings of a lot of games I had a great time playing, simply because of a boss that was harder than diamond tipped nails.

The roll of shame includes:

  • Lost Planet
  • Prototype
  • Heavenly Sword
  • Damnation
  • Black
  • God of War (although I did manage to win once the game offered me Easy mode, so I’ll let it off a bit, but it was very very frustrating)

Thing is, I’m playing these games on Normal difficulty, I’m a fairly experienced player – so why do the people that make these games insist on getting me so close, then crushing my hopes, dreams and aspirations? Is it purely to stretch out the game or is there something else at work here? Conspiracy theorists, start your engines.

Either way, once I’ve hit that wall several times and I’ve pulled out all the hair I can get hold of, then I quit. I give up. Not fun, not playing. It’s sad, and it’s almost enough for me to wish for more games to have “pin the tail on the donkey” style end bosses like the hilariously easy one from Gears of War 2.








11 responses to “Hitting the wall”

  1. Jamie Doughnut avatar
    Jamie Doughnut

    I will add Virtual pool to your list. You can play and beat almost any player under the difficulty mode “good luck” until you reach “Slow Roll,” a computer player who never misses and leaves you with no chance of victory, often winning frames without the player getting a shot, Very frustrating.

    On the flip sode of the coin, what about games that are ludicrously easy, or that you finish unexpectantly? I would nominate Cosmic Spacehead on the Megadrive- a game that could be completed (just as you were starting to get into it) in around forty minutes!

    Difficulty levels in games in a programmers art- the likes of “Leisure Suit Larry” were impossible to complete without a guide, as were “Beneath A Steel Sky” and later “Broken Sword.”

    Credit where credit is due for nailing it bang on though (Doom, Mariokart, Mario 64, Quake.)

    Apologies if my references are a bit retro!

  2. MrCuddleswick avatar

    I’ll chuck in The Force Unleashed as another bad example – it’s largely a cake-walk on normal difficulty, apart from a few spikes that come out of nowhere – notably the junkyard boss and final bosses. They all had exploits, but they could only be found by exhaustive trial and error.

    Recent examples of high profile games that spring to mind with good, steady, balanced difficulty curves (on normal difficulty) are Arkham Asylum and the COD titles. It’s a nice feeling when you get the sense that a huge amount of time has been spent on testing the difficulty of a title from start to end.

  3. Jamie Doughnut avatar
    Jamie Doughnut

    Also, all the GTA games. A perfect gradual inclination of difficulty. Good old Rockstar.

  4. Del Torro El Sorrow avatar
    Del Torro El Sorrow

    In my experience Heavenly Sword is very very easy…

    With you all the way on Lost Planet though.

  5. Simes avatar

    I found the last boss in Prototype to be a cheap bastard, too. Still haven’t finished that game.

  6. Tony avatar

    Damnit, I knew I’d forgotten one. In fact, I think it was playing Prototype (and failing at the final boss) that originally gave me the idea for this post, and then the boss from Heavenly Sword brought it all back.

    I’ve edited the original article to include Prototype as it was so damn frustrating.

  7. Darach avatar

    It’s interesting to hear Doughnut credit the wonderful GTA series ๐Ÿ™‚

    ‘Interesting’ I say, cos I’m currently getting my ass kicked by the final mission of GTA IV and have been for months!!
    Great game! Loved it! ^_^ And they tail it with one of them rediculous multi-stage, no-save-point, 40-min, man-against-the-world challenges with manys a cheap death awaiting you! >.๐Ÿ™

    Really great game tho ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. PedanticJase avatar

    yeah that prototype boss was like extracting teeth.

  9. Van-Fu avatar

    Jumper belongs on that list. A boss so difficult, he belongs in a different game.

  10. Duncan avatar

    I remember the final boss of Dino Crisis causing me to go to the dentist because of my excessive teeth grinding. With the being over ten years ago I agree with you!

    Thought I’ve not gotten to the final boss on Prototype but even now I’m scared of attempting it…

  11. BigJonno avatar

    The last boss in Prototype was an absolute walk in the park compared to the big Times Square one. That had me putting the game aside for a few days out of frustration.

Leave a Reply