Tequila Nights

I’m a sucker for the steelbook, those metal cases you get special editions of DVDs and games in – so much nicer than the normal amaray cases and battered digipaks with the corners bent.

Wading through the pre-owned shelves in Gamestation this week (stock being cleared cheap, presumably to make space for a rush of post-Christmas trade-ins), I picked up a couple of older titles for the 360 in nice steelbook editions: John Woo presents Stranglehold and last year’s reboot of Prince of Persia.

They’re very different games. Stranglehold is a contemporary shooter and a sequel to Woo’s movie Hard Boiled, complete with Chow Yun Fat as the almost depressingly cool Tequila (pictured). PoP is as PoP does, but this time with a more fantastical revamp – it’s as if Ubisoft have channeled all the historical stuff into the Assassin’s Creed franchise (which, lest we forget, spun out of the early development process for a Prince title before mutating into a separate entity), allowing PoP to unshackle itself from even the vaguest hints of reality.

What the two have in common is a determination to help the gamer, to enable them to have fun. Both give you cool characters, and steadily introduce you to their various awesome abilities – Tequila has various slo-mo firing options and is so fluid in his movements he never walks when he can roll/slide/skid down a banister, while the Prince can do all the wall-running, jumping, and acrobatic sword play that we’ve come to expect from the post Sands of Time games. These characters are a pleasure to play, and often provide a stupid grin as you execute some daftly awesome move. If games are often about wish fulfillment, then these definitely deliver.

Also, these are games that actually seem to like the player and want you to enjoy the game. I’ve played plenty of perfectly good, professional games recently, like Assassin’s Creed and Dead Space that, while providing plenty to enjoy also feel that ‘difficulty curve’ means ‘let the player have it easy for a while, but then smack him doubly hard later on’. A rigid, narrative driven game like Dead Space can be knocked right off a cliff by a punishing set-piece, where you have no options to go elsewhere and massage your stats, or find an alternative route – I may find it in me to retry that battle in level 5 another dozen times in the hope of finishing that big regenerating bastard off, but at the moment I’m not inclined to.

Both Stranglehold and Prince of Persia provide challenge, but are also keen to help you enjoy yourself. After God knows how many attempts at one shoot-out in Stranglehold, the game asked me if I wanted to try again on an easier difficulty level – I did, and found myself making progress again, and having fun. As you can access any unlocked level later, at every difficulty level, I can always go back and try again to beat it at the higher level if I want to prove my hardcore credentials – for now, the important thing is that I haven’t thrown the controller aside and stuck the game back on the shelf, never to be returned to.

Prince of Persia has a more all-encompassing mechanism – a companion character who will rescue you if you fall, and give you a boost if you take a beating in fights. Contrary to some opinions on release, this doesn’t make the game unchallenging – you still miss jumps and have to do them again, the difference is that you don’t have a three-minute wait to fail-and-restart before you get to have another try. The platforming is still full of fiddly stuff, but the tedious bit of retrying is circumvented by the safety mechanism – you’re swept back into the tide of play rather than being kicked out with the option to give up and do something else.

No doubt this kind of thing makes the hardcore weep, but for me these helpful mechanisms are great. I’m not adverse to grinding through difficult bits, and punishing boss battles, and whatever, but as I get older I have a limited tolerance for wasting my time with constant rinse-and-repeat restarts. Little incentives to keep going, to keep me progressing, are more likely to keep me playing than the challenge of a brick wall of difficulty because, to be frank, after ten attempts I’ll often have a good idea that a particular task is beyond the reach of my reflexes, and I’ll just give up.

Games are supposed to be fun, and while challenge is fun, for me at least relentlessly bashing myself against a brick wall difficulty spike isn’t.

Mark

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December 19, 2009. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized.

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