Harder, Better, Stronger, Faster

One of the biggest choices a gamer faces on loading up a game for the first time is the difficulty setting. Being an indecisive person anyway, this has always been an issue I’ve agonised over, often restarting a game after a few levels because it just wasn’t feeling right. The advent of achievements has made this problem even more tortuous: do you whack the setting up to the highest and try to unlock all the inevitable difficulty based challenges in one fell swoop, knowing full well you’ll probably be threatening to snap the disc in half in a few hours, or do you play it safe and risk tripling your potential play time if you realise you like the game enough to gun for full honours?

Of course some long running series are no-brainers. Everyone knows that difficulty in Tomb Raider games only really applies to the fights, which are a minimal part of the proceedings, so you may as well ratchet it up from the get-go. Likewise previous painful experiences meant that on starting the third instalment of God of War I knew playing on anything other than easy was pretty much asking for trouble. In fact God of War is one of the games responsible for introducing ludicrously named play modes. I mean at least you know where you stand with the self-explanatory ‘easy’, ‘normal’ and ‘hard’ options; there’s something reassuringly familiar about them. But I’m still three quarters through a play-through of Uncharted 2 on ‘Crushing’ (yes, I assure you it deserves a capital), where each time you poke your head above cover it gets splattered over the lovingly rendered temple walls.

Only inches from the comforting safety of the save room…

I think the first time I really became aware of this problem was the emergence of the survival horror genre with Resident Evil. It suddenly wasn’t simply a case of ‘am I skilled enough to handle this’ but ‘am I likely to soil myself trying’. The difficulty level takes on a whole new dimension of hurt when you have hunters hurtling towards you from two different directions. Also I’m yet to meet anyone who’s ever completed that game with Chris, who laughably represented the ‘normal’ game mode. Really, calling Chris’ game ‘normal’ might actually be the biggest insult in the entire history of videogames: you have half the ammo, twice the enemies and, to cap it all, Chris’ shoulders are so broad you’ve about as much chance of dodging the things in those narrow corridors as the QE2 has of steaming down the Norfolk Broads. Really it’s a little like the game designers are calling you a pansy. That leads us neatly to what’s ultimately the most important thing at stake when you make this decision: your self-respect as a gamer. Sure no one will know, but how can you sleep at night knowing that you completed a game on easy?

It's at times like this you wish you'd swallowed your pride and selected easy.

I personally like to mix it up a bit. I recently played Mafia 2 on the hardest setting and struggled through the combat stages. But it felt appropriate, because I was a struggling gangster trying to make it in a rough, double-dealing world; slowly climbing my way up to the top of the pile of bullet-riddled bodies for my share of the American dream. Alternately I just played Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days on easy, shooting (literally) through the five hour playtime in an afternoon. Once again this felt like the most appropriate way to play the game. It was a short, sharp burst of adrenaline; a violently balletic movement from one ultra-violent set piece to another. Rather than my usual cautious approach, combat suddenly became visceral and bloody; indeed much like the early John Woo films like Hardboiled that clearly influenced this game, I was able to mow through the ridiculous amounts of enemies with satisfying ease.

Two words: Bad Ass

Similarly, whilst playing Red Dead Redemption, which is nice enough to not confront you with a difficulty setting at all (thanks Rockstar for making my life a little easier), I made damn sure that auto-aim was on. How many times have you seen John Wayne in the movies turn up at a gunfight at high noon only to shoot his own horse in the head? Well that would be me without auto-aim. Games are at least partly about roleplay, and if I was going to be a cowboy then I was going to shoot from the hip like Clint Eastwood rather than turn up with the safety catch on like McFly in Back to the Future III. So next time you sit down and think of which difficulty to choose, why not think about what would look best in the movies.







10 responses to “Harder, Better, Stronger, Faster”

  1. The Rook avatar
    The Rook

    I always choose ‘Normal’ difficulty when playing any game and then replay on the hardest difficulty. Sometimes this is necessary as you need to find your way through the levels, and trying to figure out where you are supposed to go while being killed every few seconds is so frustrating (Call Of Duty Veteran difficulty comes to mind).

  2. Ninja avatar

    I don’t feel shame in playing on Easy (or Normal if there is no Easy) because I use it to get the gist of new things in the game. When it comes to achievements based on difficulty, I will always ALWAYS do each one in ascending order. I just cannot get them from rattling through the toughest one; it seems like cheating to me rather than earning them.

    Unlocking Call of Duty 2 Veteran is my greatest achievement so far (apart from Halo Legendary in a “pre-achievement achievement” stylee) 😀

  3. DelTorroElSorrow avatar

    God of War introduced ludicrously named difficulty levels? What about Doom??

    “Hey, not too rough.”
    “Hurt me plenty.”

  4. DelTorroElSorrow avatar

    Sorry, double post:

    I’ve completed Resident Evil with Chris :). He is the only one I’ve completed it with.

    I never play games on easy, I feel like a fraud/pansy. Games aren’t fun if they don’t challenge you, and easy modes are designed not to challenge you. So what’s the point?

  5. Dean avatar

    Wow – that’s a statement right there. I must admit i prefer to usually start off on Normal because as The Rook says its not fun when your dying constantly – you can always do it again for the challenge later. Perhaps Achievements shouldn’t relate to difficulty at all – i wonder if difficulty should be an entirely seperate thing that is based on player preference? Although it did feel pretty good finishing Mafia 2 on hard.

    Well hats off to you for completing Resi with Chris, but really you could have a little more humility about it when speaking to all the ‘frauds and pansies’ out there:)

  6. Mark P avatar

    I always select hard just to see what people say about it. I hammered Halo: Reach on Legendary in the best part of two or three days and mostly everyone thought I was insane to some degree or other.

    I think it’s probably just psychological half the time – subconsciously making it difficult because you think it’s difficult.

  7. Simon avatar

    You have met someone who’s beaten Resident Evil with Chris.

    Of course, that was back in the days when I had only two or three games at a time, and so it was either that or another run through Crash Bandicoot or Porsche Challenge, so doing everything I could in Resi was my best choice.

    I tend to try to make my first playthrough on the “just right” setting for me. So, Reach on Heroic, CoD on Hardened etc. Of course, I go back and beat the hardest setting too in the end, but it’s a different experience.

  8. Jason Potter avatar
    Jason Potter

    I’ve done all the Resi’s with Chris, Dean

    I normally play easy first then progress upwards so I get more replay value

  9. Susan avatar

    I’m in the “there’s nothing wrong with easy” camp. A game isn’t fun if you’re tearing your hair out and screaming at the screen with frustration O_o

  10. Dean avatar

    Jason, you don’t count as you are a superhuman gamer. I meant no one normal i’ve ever met had. You’re special:)

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