The lights are on
Over the course of my gaming career, I've bested towering
bosses, gunned down entire platoons of enemy soldiers, and saved the galaxy
more times than I can count. I've become so jaded that even the most bombastic
setpiece moments elicit little more than a smile or a muttered praise of
approval. Over the past few months there have been a couple games that have
gotten my heart pounding, and they aren't triple-A action games with million-dollar budgets. They are an 18-year-old strategy game, an indie platformer, and
an open-world sandbox game. What makes these games so exciting? It's not what's
on display. It's what's at stake.
X-COMThe original X-COM is a revered turn-based strategy title that
introduced gamers to a number of new ideas. For me, the most notable,
terror-inducing facet of X-COM is the threat of losing a beloved soldier to
X-COM grants players a small (and by today's standards,
underwhelming) amount of personalization options for your crew of professional
alien hunters. But it's not just the fact that you can name your soldiers or
pick their weapons. It's each soldier's history that counts, which is forged in
the missions he or she survives.
When I play X-COM, I like giving my characters nicknames
after a few missions, once I've gotten a sense of their "personalities." When
three aliens took potshots at an unwitting soldier in a single turn, and all of
them missed, I nicknamed him "Lucky." The sharpshooter who made a one in a
million shot through a hole in the side of a ship to save a fellow soldier
caught in the open earned the nickname "Deadeye." Each successful mission doesn't
just grant your characters XP; it gives them back stories. When they eventually
(or in my case, inevitably) die, their stories are over. That makes the simplistic,
pixelated aliens in X-COM scarier than anything I've faced in Dead Space or
SpelunkySpelunky is the latest game I reviewed, and it is
responsible for some of the tensest gaming experiences I've had in recent
memory. Spelunky is a rogue-like game, which means that when you die, you have
to start all over again. Each of the game's 16 levels is randomly generated,
making every playthrough unique. You'll need quick reflexes, smart
decision-making, and a little luck to reach the end.
The further you make it through the 16 levels, the more
the tension builds. Each close call adds to the feeling that "this might be the
time!" Every death brings new knowledge that will hopefully save your life in a
After struggling with the final boss for hours, I had a
stroke of luck. I randomly found a pickaxe in a crate, which gives you the
ability to easily carve your way through the stone levels. The coveted item
should have made the final boss battle a cinch, but a stupid misjudgment left
me burning in a pit of lava. I have never been more disappointed with myself
over a game, not just because I lost the progress, but because I blew such a
lucky opportunity. When would I ever get a pickaxe right before the final boss
A few hours later, I beat the boss the old-fashioned way. I
was more nervous in the last few seconds before my triumph than during any God
of War boss battle, and the sense of accomplishment was greater, too.
MinecraftOne day I was exploring a world in Minecraft, when I came
across I giant rocky outcrop. The sun was still shining down, but the shade
created by the mountain structure was dark enough that enemies could spawn
underneath it. I wandered into the area, oblivious to the dangers that lurked
within. When I heard the monstrous, distorted hiss of a spider, followed by the
grunt of my character, I literally cringed in terror.
Minecraft's enemies are laughably rudimentary in their
appearance. But the threat they pose to you and your belongs makes them more
frightening than even the most hideous necromorph. As I ran back towards the
sunlight, I wasn't thinking about how dumb the spider's straight, blocky legs
look. I was thinking about the items I had crafted and the resources I had collected
that were now at stake.
Creepers, Minecraft's most dreaded enemies, terrorize
players not just by threatening their lives. They also explode your homes, the
structures you've spent countless hours building up. The sense of loss they
instill – that you won't be able to rebuild things exactly the way they were –
makes even the most seasoned gamer flee in terror.
I'm not advocating that all game developers should include
such harsh gameplay mechanics. The classic example of Steel Battalion erasing
your game save if you don't eject from your damaged mech in time just strikes
me as stupid. Even in the case of X-COM, Spelunky, and Minecraft, the penalties
you incur can be more frustrating than they are engaging. Those frustrations aside,
if a game can make me feel a deeper emotional connection to my character, I'll
choose it over whatever mundane shooter is currently raking in everyone else's
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.
Love all of these, and i think its because they are soooo diferent, with the exeption of spelunky, that we have to lovethem
Well put. A well designed game, indie or AAA-grade, has a way of pulling you, and charming you. I think both have a place in gaming today.
These games sound like a lot of fun. I have only played Minecraft out of the three but I will surely give these a try.
Me thinks Minecraft deserves two claws up!!! WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP
I fully agree with this article!
Xcom im waiting for you
Your so right but minecraft its just part of the game... Thats why they added peaceful mode.
Here here, Jeff! I tip my hat to you. Well written.
I always re-start a map whenever someone in Fire Emblem dies because it's my fault. I'm currently doing no-casualty runs of Shadow Dragon (minus that one bit in the prologue) and Sacred Stones.
I've been a falling victim to indie games since the latest Humble Bundle. Games like Super Meat Boy, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Magicka, Journey, etc. have all been awesome games. Screw these triple-A games that don't deliver when you have an indie dev charging $5 for a copy!
Demon Souls and Dark Souls also skillfully manage to generate this omnipresent sense of dread from constantly being at stake of losing all your souls due to some (often times) silly mistake. Very engaging, but also somewhat draining in the long run. I'm glad there are games like that, because you really get that increasingly rare feeling of excitement and sense of achievement when you finish them. However, i'm also glad for the opposite, as the stress from playing like that all the time would probably give me a heart attack.
I agree that some bosses these days just don't provide that sense of accomplishment. It seems that too often I am confronted with a boss that I know I'll be able to beat on my first or second try without much trouble. Demon's is the obvious exception.
I haven't played Spelunky yet, but I'm right there with you on X-Com and Minecraft. I've had some similar stories I could share (and probably have in a blog or two). Great read.