Great Mechanics From Not-So-Great Games

by Kyle Hilliard on Jul 29, 2014 at 12:01 PM

Not every video game is a winner. Sometimes a game just doesn’t fully come together for myriad reasons, but that doesn’t mean the designers didn’t have some good ideas. These are examples of creative mechanics, features, or ideas that made it into games where the total package fell short.

Perfect Dark ZeroMultiplayer
Perfect Dark Zero, arguably the Xbox 360’s biggest launch title, wasn’t a particularly good shooter. Its gunplay wasn’t very good, and its campaign was bland, but the multiplayer modes had some interesting ideas. Levels would scale based on the number of players in the match (a common occurrence these days) and implemented something assuring you would never be confused about who to shoot.

In a game like Halo, you switch back and forth between the red and blue teams match to match, which can lead to you opening fire on your team by mistake if spent the last few matches on the opposite team. In Perfect Dark Zero, you selected your opposing color of choice, and no matter what team you were on, the other team would appear in that color to you from your perspective. If you liked shooting red, you would always shoot red. It’s helpful for preventing confusion and the colorblind gamer.

Alone in the DarkTV viewing and jacket pockets
Alone in the Dark, released in 2008, tried valiantly to execute on a number of innovative ideas, nearly all of which looked better on paper than in-game. While most developers equate a video game experience to that of a film, developer Eden Games saw video games as closer to television, in terms of the way a player absorbs the content. Because of this, Alone in the Dark would offer players a recap of what happened in their previous play-session with a “Previously on Alone in the Dark” showcase of scenes. Players could also skip to any point in the game immediately. Unfortunately, this meant you could see the game’s ridiculous ending without playing the game.

Additionally, Alone in the Dark also had a novel way of organizing your inventory. Edward Carnby would hold his jacket open and look down to examine the contents of the pockets lining his coat. Unfortunately, the game didn’t pause when you did this, so while you were trying to put one item away to pull out your gun, it was easy to get attacked. Carnby was unfamiliar with the importance of peripheral vision.

DefiancePartying up
Defiance the television show appears to be going strong (it is currently airing its second season, but has not yet been renewed for a third), but the video game  went free-to-play last month, which generally isn’t a great sign in terms of retaining players.

The game’s Arkfall public events stand out as being particularly impressive, but are brought down by the sheer mass of people excited to witness them, ultimately hindering the experience. However, the ability to warp to a friend is incredibly helpful in hooking up with friends and getting to the game – a rarity in the MMO space. Usually, a substantial amount of time is wasted before getting to the good stuff. Using this mechanic, Defiance players are able to get to the game much faster.

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the EarthScopophilia
Dark Corners of the Earth was a boring horror-shooter title released during the Xbox and PlayStation 2 era, based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. We gave the game a 6 saying, “There is a lot of terror to be had in this game, but it’s mostly due to how spectacularly this game fails to do anything fun.” Players take on the role of police detective turned private investigator Jack Walters, who was recently released from a six-year tenure as a patient in Arkham Asylum.

The game takes a cue from Eternal Darkness and plays with the player’s perception. As Walters sees upsetting aspects of the world, he will begin to go insane, but it is possible to look away to avoid losing your mind. Outside of the interesting insanity mechanic, however, there is nothing to see here.

Developer Splash Damage put a hefty amount of marketing behind Brink’s release, promising something different for the online shooter genre, but it didn’t do enough to distinguish itself. We gave the game a 6.75 saying, “[The] developer promised a game that would seamlessly blend the single-player, co-op, and multiplayer experiences. Little did we know that this meant ‘your garden variety multiplayer game, now with bot matches.’”

While Brink did little to impress with its shooting gameplay and attempts to merge single-player and multiplayer, it did offer the SMART system. With it, players could hold down a button to pull off impressive parkour and navigation movements around the environment. It is the game’s major distinguishing factor.

Dark SectorThe Glaive
One of the first announced games of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 generation, Dark Sector went through a number of changes by the time it released three years after the launch of the Xbox 360 console. The game is ultimately a forgettable one with an aesthetic inspired a little too strongly by Gears of War. It’s a third-person cover shooter, but the Glaive quickly becomes the weapon of choice.

With the bladed boomerang-like weapon, protagonist Hayden can kill multiple enemies with a single throw, solve puzzles, and guide the Glaive manually to send it wherever it needs to go. As cool as the glaive is, it ultimately wasn’t able to elevate the game past its other shortcomings, but it’s the one thing you will remember from an otherwise unspectacular game.

Alpha ProtocolConversation
Alpha Protocol wanted to be something close to Mass Effect, but set in the world of secret agent espionage. A collection of shortcomings related to the game’s enemies, story, gameplay, and protagonist prevented the game from becoming something exciting, but its conversation system had an interesting hook.

It functions similarly to Mass Effect with players selecting responses from a wheel. In Mass Effect dialogue options are summarized and generally placed in such a way that the good and bad guy answers will generally be in the same position on the wheel. In Alpha Protocol however, the dialogue options are labeled with words like suave, aggressive, and professional. This means every conversation is an exciting experiment in what will be said, and also pushes the player to mold their character towards the type of secret agent they hope to see performing on screen.