NAww, THIS is what's wrong with modern games:
I bet by now everyone is thinking I'm just some whiny, ornery bastard who gets off on hating popular, well-liked games, but I assure you that's not the case. In fact, I hate not liking games, I buy and play them to have fun, to give me something to do after work or school to fill in the time. I like killing zombies and nazis and taliban. I like jumping around like an idiot, I like faking to be a rock star. I LOVE games. In fact, I've been a pretty serious gamer since I was about 3, and have been enjoying the medium with fervor ever since.
Which is why it's so incredibly frustrating to see the way modern games are made, and played. Now, I'm not going into my heavy rant about modern game development and review processes, or how gaming values have changed (hint: performance matters more than gameplay now, and games suffer for it), but I do have another game as a perfect example of bad game design being overruled by the fact that it looks pretty: God of War.
I come to you as a man who only has beaten the first God of War, but owns all three. I actually own the first two both on PS2 and in the God of War Collection HD on PS3. See, I love action games a lot, I think they tend to be some of the coolest, most fun stress releases in all of gaming. I'm also a very competent gamer; not the best but damn good. For example, I used to be tournament-worthy in Smash Brothers, I didn't think Demon's Souls was THAT hard, and I thought Devil May Cry 3 was the perfect difficulty level. Like I said, I started playing games when I was 3 and actually was able to beat the Super Star Wars Trilogy and Battletoads with time. I like hard games, but one of the key points to a good hard game is that it be fair. A good game tests your skills, and if you die it's because you fucked up, not because the enemy got you in an inescapable combo or caught you by surprise with an instant-kill attack that you couldn't possibly have avoided or even anticipated.
But again, I'm going off topic here. My gripe is with God of War, the first one (I have yet to play the second or third).
My first gripe is actually something that has to do with the story. See, I don't think every game needs a story and I come from a time where “Bowser has captured the princess, go save her” was more than enough context to commit genocide on turtles and goombas. That said, God of War's story is not only poor in the first place, but it's poorly told. Sure, it's a tale of redemption and vengeance and all that jazz, but who cares? Not only is Kratos a miserable, horrible man who deserves all the pain given to him and more, but he did it to himself and still insists it's not his fault. He walked into a building, swung his swords until everything was dead, then realized his family was in that building....how am I supposed to feel sorry for a man who does that? I think he should have his eyes plucked out and have acid poured in the empty sockets, I don't feel this man deserves revenge, he deserves a slow painful death! And to make it worse, all this character development happens BEFORE the game actually happens, so you only hear about it after you've went on a rampage without knowing the reason. This is honestly worse than having to read through an encyclopedia to get the plot in Final Fantasy XIII.
God of War's entire campaign is completely disconnected from the actual plot of the game until the last few missions, until then it's just a series of events conspiring to kill the God of War, but you have absolutely no idea why until you're about to do it, and even then I wasn't convinced he was the one to blame. This is not good storytelling, this is not good writing and for a game that's praised for it's fantastic story, it's disheartening. It's sad because this is what passes for a narrative and it fails on practically all levels.
Then once I got past the fact that the story was nonexistent, my biggest gripe came up: The gameplay sucks. I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me, but shut up, you don't know what you're talking about. When I can complete 90% of a game mashing the square button, rarely hitting triangle to mix it up a bit, that is not good game design, that's laziness. Sure, it looks like you're pulling off awesome combos and doing cool flips and shit, but the combat system is shallow and boring and repetitive, even in the later game when you get new weapons and abilities, it's still just mashing square and occasionally pressing Triangle to mix it up. For a game with this level of hype, I was expecting a deep and nuanced battle system like Devil May Cry, which was awesome1 In Devil May Cry, you had three attack buttons that made multiple combos, the R1 button to lock onto an enemy, the direction you held made different moves, holding buttons down longer added power or altered the skills, there were moves that required pauses....the point I'm trying to make is that DMC had a combat system as deep and nuanced as most fighting games, and that was awesome. It gave you plenty of things to do, moves to learn, and combos to create. God of War has two combos, the “mash Square to swing your blades around a lot” combo, and the “mash square for a bit, then press triangle to do a super powerful slam attack” combo. Okay, I admit there are a lot of moves and weapon changes and stuff, but trying to pull them off drained your magic so quickly you could only use it a few times per level or the charge up was so long you'd be hit a half dozen times before you get a single move off, which leads me to my next point...
...whatever happened to action games where your ability to win was based on how GOOD you were, rather than how patient you are? Seriously, I played this game on NORMAL mode and it felt like every enemy was a goddamn boss fight, due to how much health/HP they had. You can't tell me I suck at the game, because I was able to kill them without being hit, but they just took SO FUCKING LONG to kill, and to make it worse they would throw dozens of them at you, one right after another or multiple enemies at you at any given time. This is a horrible way to pad the length of your game, giving every enemy a tank's HP and throwing hundreds of them at you. It meant the game got remarkably tedious after only a few levels. There's a good reason I stopped playing this game so many times, I just got so bored of it after only a few hours because there's nothing fun about repetitively doing the same combos a million times to kill the same enemies over and over again. This is not good game design, this is lazy and boring, and I don't know how anyone had the patience to do this as long as they have. When a game consists almost entirely of fighting the same enemies that are not a threat over and over again, you have a problem.
And to make things worse, the game was remarkably frustrating! Sure, killing enemies was easy if tedious, but oftentimes the game would send a half dozen or more enemies at you at once. Because of this you would try to attack one enemy, and three others would attack you, nullifying your attack and causing you to start over. Your “hit everything” moves rarely work and the enemies can attack through it, your block move is a crapshoot and rarely works as it should, and the hit detection is horrible. It doesn't matter what moves you do, you're going to be getting hit a lot, and it's frustrating as hell. Couple this with long, tedious, repetitive battles, and you have a lot of prolonged frustration, and I will not support it! The fact is that most people just accept what they're given and don't give much thought to these subtleties, but I do and I am not impressed.
Okay, so the combat is bland, shallow, repetitive, and frustrating...but how are the puzzles? Well, some of them are okay, but some of them are remarkably frustrating. Hell, even the ones I liked were still remarkably tedious and repetitive. There was one puzzle later in the game that involved moving giant blocks around to literally fill in a puzzle block, but you had to put some of the blocks on a giant spinning wheel to turn them so they could go into the puzzle block properly. This was actually a pretty good puzzle that was fun to figure out...but it took FOREVER to move the goddamn blocks and rotate them. I spent 20 minutes doing a puzzle that should have taken less than 5, and I was not impressed about that either, even though I enjoyed that puzzle. The game also has some extended platforming sessions....to which I say FUCK YOU DAVID JAFFE! I could handle complicated platforming, in fact the 'platforming' genre is probably my overall favorite of all time...but if you're going to include jumping and climbing puzzles, make sure your jumping and climbing functions are...you know, functional and accurate. I cannot count the amount of times I died due to one small miscalculation that I couldnt have foreseen, causing me to retry entire segments of a respective level repeatedly. There were two parts later in the game, both in hell, that involved spinning rotors with massive blades on them. One segment had them down horizontal, forcing you to walk along them while avoiding the blades, and the other was vertical, causing you to climb them while avoiding blades. This made me want to kill someone for two reasons:1 - the level design was poor, it forced you to keep moving and thinking while trying to avoid the blades, and any attempt to stop and think resulted in instant death. To make matters worse, the blades were put in such a position that you would get stuck in an area that you couldn't possibly avoid getting hit and dying....plus the portions were so long that there's no rational way you could memorize them. 2 – the hit detection was atrocious! Seriously, there'd be a blade a foot away from my...well, foot...and I'd get hit. It was like this level was designed to make a race of bald gamers, and it frustrated me because even when I was carefully avoiding the blades they would still hit me somehow!
Oh, and I'm not even going to get into detail about all the sections of the game that had instant-kill unavoidable death traps that required absolutely perfect timing to avoid. Some of these I literally had to do dozens of times because it seemed not to matter how much I practiced I still couldn't do it right.
And to top it all off was the end boss...my god what a horrible endboss. The final stage was segmented into THREE fights, one of which was the ONLY part of the ENTIRE GAME that was in any way related to the plot involving his wife and child. The first part was you vs the God of War, except you were both giants fighting in a harbour. The first problem was that since you were massive you entirely lost the ability to jump, eliminating about one third of my evasive strategies. The second issue was that the fighting arena was so damn small that it didn't seem to matter where I went he was able to hit me. I did resort to blocking a lot (which according to all the FAQ's I read should be able to block all of his attacks), but that didn't work either because he had massive 8-hit combos that would take off a third of my health and could break through my defenses no matter what I did. Even worse was the fact that he had SO GODDAMN MUCH HEALTH! Seriously, no matter what I did to him, no matter what weapon or combo I used, the damage hardly even registered, meaning every battle took forever. And don't whine about “well you have to update all your skills” bullshit, I had all my skills maxed.
After failing at that about three dozen times (seriously, not even exaggerating) I finally beat him and got to the second stage, which was me protecting my family against what I swear was 1000 doppelgangers of myself who were trying to kill them (it was some trippy/flashback sequence manifested from his remorse or something). At any time there were about a dozen on screen and like many other complaints about the game, it was so goddamn tedius and the enemies seemed to have endless health and the ability to break through my blocking to hit me whenever they pleased. This took forever because of the sheer number of enemies you had to face, while keeping your family's health up. After god only knows how many kills, I kinda figured you were SUPPOSED to lose this fight (hoping it was symbolic or something)....but I was wrong and had to start over again, a dozen times or more.
Then after this we got back to being giant Kratos against the God of War, except this time you lost all your weapons and magic. You can't jump, you have no range, all your moves and skills are gone, it's just you, a stupid sword, and your enemy (who still has massive reach, fireballs, and combos that can almost kill you in one shot) in a tug of war styled battle. In this fight, you are trying to gain all the strength, so every time you hit him, he loses health and you gain it, while every time he hits you it's the opposite where you lose health and he gains it...This is kind of good in that it's symbolic, but then you remember this fight is just as hard as the last one even though now you've lost all your abilities and weapons so you're practically doing it from scratch. Oh, and did I mention that it takes you dozens of hits to make any progress, but a single combo from him will almost eliminate all your health and completely regenerate his. This means you have to be damn near flawless for a dishearteningly long time to kill him.
This is just....frustrating. Everything about this game makes me think the developers cared more about style than substance and it pisses me off because gamers worldwide are eating this shit up. The combat system is shallow and repetitive, the enemies are just as repetitive and infinitely more tedious due to their immense health bars, the story is horribly told and entirely disengaging, the characters are all insufferable pricks, the levels are horribly designed, and the end boss is more frustrating and annoying than rewarding. For every minute of this game I was in awe or impressed, I spent an hour dealing with cookie-cutter enemies with too much health or in some other way cursing at the screen and excercising every bit of patience needed to not take a sledgehammer to the disc. While the game looks cool and has some legitimately good ideas, I just can't think of anything significantly good about it. The worst part is that I was told this game was EASY, and yet I'm having more difficulty with it than Demon's Souls. That, my friends, is bad design, and it needs to be abolished in our games.