Returning To The Scene Of The Game

by Kyle Hilliard on Jan 17, 2013 at 08:44 AM

It happens every year: an avalanche of games appears during the last three months of the calendar, and all you can do to get a taste of everything is jump from game to game. Unfinished games from earlier in the year get dropped for the title you have been most excited for, and then that game gets dropped for something else, and then you remember that you should probably get some sleep.

I picked up Darksiders II the day it came out, excited to begin exploring dungeons and take on the role of Death in a strange fantastic world. I played up to the last few dungeons, but then every huge game of 2012 came out. I started a Borderlands 2 game, but put it down in favor of Dishonored, and then put that down in favor of Assassin’s Creed III, never fully completing anything until later. By the time I got back to Darksiders II, I had a time-traveling portal gun in my hand, and I was in the middle of a dungeon with absolutely no idea of what to do or where to go. All the combos I had learned had disappeared from memory, and the only thing I could do to complete my objective was restart my mental map of the dungeon from the middle.

It’s a strange phenomenon restarting a game that you are already halfway through playing. From the perspective of your in-game enemies, it’s as though you are suddenly and inexplicably struck with amnesia. Where Death was once a deadly force of violence and clear motivation, he suddenly becomes a lost and confused child who barely knows how to swing a scythe.

This is a problem I also run into with DLC. Batman: Arkham City released its Harley Quinn’s Revenge DLC nearly seven months after the games’ release. Any excuse to jump back into Arkham City was one I was ready to pounce on, but when I re-entered, I could barely pull off a combo.

In the case of dropping games and picking them back up later, that’s my own fault, but with DLC, I don’t think it would be out of line to request a quick refresher course. I don’t want to play the opening tutorials of a game over, but I don’t think on an on-screen text prompt shouting, “Hey idiot! How about you try hitting the Y button when you see those little electric bolts appear over an enemy’s head?” would be too much to ask for.

Alternatively, I often wish there was the exact opposite of a refresher course for games I am obsessively familiar with. During the opening hours of games like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Pokémon Black and White 2, I want the option to tell the game that I have done this before. I know Link will jump automatically when I walk off the edge of a platform. You don’t need to tell me, and you certainly don’t need to force me try it out. Also, while we’re on the topic, I am fully aware that the left analog stick moves the character. The input on the left side of the controller has always moved the character, and I don’t think I am going out on a limb to assume that it always will.

In rare occasions, putting a game down and returning to it later has actually been a huge advantage. I am a big fan of Mercury Steam’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, but if you had asked for my feedback during the introductory hours of the game you would have gotten a negative response. The game’s opening levels are the weakest part, and when it came out in 2010, I was more than happy to put it down after literally slogging my way through a swamp in the second chapter. After a break, I came back to the game with a fresh start, and had trouble putting it down. Even when Dead Space 2 released shortly after I restarted my Castlevania journey, I found myself continuing with Gabriel’s task. I don’t know if I had been so enamored with the game if I hadn’t given myself a chance move away from it for a few weeks.

When I return to these games after a few weeks of not playing and find myself completely lost, I consider the idea of necessary redirection. It’s a difficult line to walk. Too much direction, and playing the game feels more like you’re filling in the blanks with predetermined answers rather than participating in an interactive experience. Too little direction, and you find yourself shooting Death’s Voidwalker at random portal points hoping for an epiphany of understanding. Maybe the real answer is to just release fewer games during the last three months of the year and let me finish what I start with flashing something new and shiny in my face that I can’t say no to.