Degree of Difficulty

I’ve been happily playing through the opening chapters of Resistance. The game is as good a straight up shooter as I’ve played in a while. The presentation is strong, the level of polish is high. Even if the game doesn’t quite reach a Halo-like sense of place and atmosphere, the game does present enemies that are enjoyable to shoot in a world that is mostly enjoyable to look at. Here is the one problem though.

I started on Medium, and I should have started on Easy.

This happens to me with action games and with shooters. The problem is that at the beginning of the game, I am overconfident. Even though I know I’m really not that good I think I will be better this time. But it is never the case. So I start the game on Medium difficulty and I’m OK for the first two or three areas and then I start getting stomped. If the game is a checkpoint game, I find myself playing the same area five or six or ten times. Then I wish I could change to Easy. This is where I am with Resistance. I got there with Halo, although I made it through that game on Normal. I got there with God of War and slogged through. With Devil May Cry and God of War 2 and Gears of War I got smart and went right to Easy.

The developers of Devil May Cry and God of War 2 were at least perceptive enough to put code in to insult your manhood and offer the Easy mode once you died a few times in the same area. Macho insults aside, I found this to be a gracious gesture. Most games are not so nice to you. Resistance gives you two choices. Either slog through to the end, suffering with a difficulty level that is ok most of the time but very frustrating on occasion or start the entire game from the beginning in order to reset the difficulty. This seems terribly inflexible, and this lack of flexbility might make me give up on a game that I am otherwise enjoying. To me, this is too bad.

This problem with difficulty seems to me to be isolated in the Action Game genre. I guess the marketing people think that only the hard core guys like action games, and so they make their games “challenging” so that the hard core player can wave his penis around when he beats the game. Resident Evil 4 is a happy exception to this rule. It only has one difficulty level and it is perfectly tuned. Maybe that means normal hard core players find it too easy. That’s too bad for them. They probably figure that since it was originally a GameCube game, it’s too kiddie anyway.

For some reason most RPGs don’t suffer from difficulty problems. The only one I can remember having trouble with was Oblivion and it was easy to tweak the sliders to fix that problem. I seem to recall that a lot of people look down their noses at such shenanigans. These people are either masochistic or stupid and should be ignored. Many RPGs and other games that feature a progression of player power also have a built in manual way to tune the difficulty. You can just grind until you are more powerful and then the game is easier. My other favorite Insomniac game, the Ratchet series is a good example of a non-RPG that does this.

Ideally, of course, the game would tune itself. If I die too much in a given area, the game could make the enemies imperceptibly easier to kill, or slightly slower, or make my armor or weapons slightly more effective until I manage to survive. This is easier to say than to do, but it’s surprising to me that more games don’t at least take a shot at it. The trickiest part is doing it in a way that is not noticable to the hard core set. It seems to me that nothing upsets them more than little in-game assists like auto-aim or adjustable difficulty. Such devices make your penis smaller, you see.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll take a night off from the fight against the alien hordes and watch The Fifth Element again in Blu-Ray. Maybe while I watch the movie I’ll figure out how to start the game from my previous checkpoint in Easy mode.