Hideo BruckheimerString Theory: The Illusion of Videogame InteractivityHideo Bruckheimer - RSS 2.0
Valve breaks the promise of full player agency, but the barrage of meticulously controlled emotions that result from the trade-off prevents you from noticing the lie in the first place. In his 10 out of 10 review of Episode Two, Thunderbolt Games reviewer Matt Wadleigh ranked the final battle as "one of the best, most challenging fights I've ever experienced." He may have been duped, but he experienced the exact response that the designers intended.
While Episode Two may procedurally tweak the pacing to give you a more cinematic, less interactive experience, it doesn't outright rob you of all your agency - it would still be entertaining even if you truly had full control. But what if the backstage meddling was a complete, 100% fabrication? What if it promised you some degree of agency while actually providing none at all?
Enter: the microwave tunnel scene from Metal Gear Solid 4.
Only a single corridor filled with deadly microwaves stands between Snake and the computer that will allow him to stop Ocelot's nuclear launch and save the planet. As he opens the door, a wave of heat and radiation hits him and the player must maneuver his battered body through the corridor.
Again, the game makes an implicit promise: The walls of this corridor are superhot and, if touched, will hurt Snake and slow him down. If his life meter depletes before he reaches the end of the corridor, then he will die. This is where it all ends - it is up to you to get this old soldier through the radiation and complete his final mission.
Initially, things go as well as could expect them to. The top half of the screen is filled with scenes of Snake's friends fighting off Liquid's army, while the bottom half displays a player-controlled Snake who trudges wearily through the corridor with a sustained nudge of the left analog stick.
Suddenly, sparks shoot out from Snake's muscle suit - did you accidentally make Snake touch the wall? - and he falls to his hands and knees. An animated image of the triangle button appears onscreen, telling you to hammer it in order to get Snake back on his feet.
A few moments later Snake suddenly takes another hit - zzzt! - and he falls even harder, the fibers of his combat suit now visible all over his body, frayed and burnt from the radiation. The triangle button animation appears again, but after a few seconds of sustained pressing, Snake can't get up; his life bar is so low that, after the button animation disappears, he can only crawl forward on his hands and knees by continual button-mashing. Your hands are now likely beginning to hurt from the effort of repeatedly pressing the button, but it must be done; Snake's declining life bar visually reinforces that he could very well die in this corridor if you aren't quick enough.
Snake goes down again, presumably for the last time. He inches forward pathetically, just barely crawling as his health meter speeds down to its last few millimeters of life. The triangle button animation appears for a moment - "press it, or he'll die!" - but disappears once you press the button even faster, even harder. Then it appears again, the animation running twice as fast as before, sending a clear message: As fast as you were pressing it before, you're not pressing it fast enough now - for Christ's sake, press triangle faster or everyone you love is going to die.