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A Shootout For One

Ed Smith | 31 Aug 2012 09:00
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I began to understand that all these years, Call of Duty and Uncharted had been lying to me. I'd thought that I'd been the one leaping chasms on snow-skis and winning bar fights, when actually the games had been doing it all for me. At best, they'd given me a few buttons to press to let me feel like I was doing something; at worst, they'd strapped me in, locked me out and made me watch while the game went to Hollywood without me.

Ideally, set-pieces would be optional, streamlining the action for struggling players would stave off frustration and keep the game rolling.

I'm offended that developers don't feel they can trust me; like a patronizing husband, leaning over to assure his wife that, don't worry, he'll drive, set-pieces are the fastest way for a game to make me feel inadequate. I've shot down space invaders and won the Medal of Honor, so I think I can handle one little fighter jet. If anything I could do it better; let me control John Marston and I'd have gunned down that firing squad faster than you could say "narrative convenience."

So why do games think I need infinite ammo and Quick Time Events in order to look cool? Sure I can be sloppy on my first go, but part of the fun of videogames is watching yourself improve with every playthrough; it took a lot of practice before I got the hang of Resident Evil 4's awkward laser sight, but when I could finally pull off long-range headshots, it felt a lot more satisfying than having one button do it for me.

If you think back to your favorite gaming memories, they're always things that you did yourself - that six star car chase that ended in a gunfight at Cluckin' Bell, the million point combo that you pulled off in Tony Hawk. Set-pieces might be loud and impressive, but there's nothing remarkable about something everyone can do. Ideally, set-pieces would be optional: streamlining the action for struggling players would stave off frustration and keep the game rolling. I hate hitting a brick wall in videogames; momentum and narrative slow down with every hit of the retry button. But I also love a challenge, and I'd like to have the option of doing things manually.

So for all their whizzbangs and drama, I can't get excited about set-pieces. I appreciate that they're a dynamic alternative to cutscenes - without completely hand-tying players, they let developers control the drama - but I want to fly the jet myself, For the sake of narrative and arranged spectacle I'm happy to dance the game's steps, but there's no reward from beating a set-piece want to play something I can talk about; when Max Payne 3 drops me off at a police station full of riot cops with nothing but a handgun, it's up to me and my hard-learned skills to earn my bragging rights. I wanted to be Naked Snake because he was the very best, but now, thanks to on-screen button prompts and choreographed setups, anybody can beat the Ocelot unit. Moves aren't impressive if everyone can do them. But if you can learn from your slip-ups and adapt to the game's nuances, there's every chance you'll pull off something unique, something memorable - something that can't be scripted.

Ed Smith is an upcoming writer, always on the lookout for new opportunities. You can contact his secretary through Twitter @mostsincerelyed.

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