No matter how good you might be at gaming, we all have those encounters within a particular title that we just can’t get past. I remember being stuck on Psycho Mantis in Metal Gear Solid for days until a school friend told me about plugging the gamepad into controller port 2. And let’s not even talk about the frequency code on the back of the CD case… It got me thinking though, for all the improvements in technology and development over the years, has gaming actually got any harder?
To try and find this out I loaded up a few games that I also had the new counterpart for.
FIFA Series: Harder now
I have FIFA 97 for the Sega Saturn and FIFA 12 for the Xbox 360 and PC. Initially I struggled with FIFA 97, the controls were horrible and the graphics made playing quite awkward, but once I allowed my eyes to readjust to the horrendous visuals, I was walking through the opposition defense with little more than a couple of turns here and there, and that was on the hardest difficulty setting. FIFA 12, on the other hand, is a lot more complex and after putting the game on the Legendary setting, precision and well-coordinated attacks are required to make the goalkeeper even break a sweat. The new tactical defending system in FIFA 12 also has many a gamer scratching their heads, months after the title’s release.
Elder Scrolls Series: Harder then
Next up was The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Obviously there is a little more to this game than playing a few matches, but I went out and completed a couple of quests, had a few fights and generally weighed it up. Much to my surprise, this was (purely from an action point of view) a lot more challenging than Skyrim. I think this is most notably because Oblivion and Skyrim (the two titles in the series subsequent to Morrowind) have ironed out many of the “flaws” in the Elder Scrolls combat system (bear in mind this was also an unpatched version of Morrowind). The new combat system allows for a much smoother and more controlled encounter. I don’t have to replay Morrowind to remember how epically difficult it was trying to level up either. It is a classic RPG in every sense of the word and definitely a lot more difficult than more recent titles in the Elder Scrolls series.
Halo Series: Harder now
In search of a little more diversity I grabbed Halo Combat Evolved (the original 2001 copy!), partly because my Xbox was already setup and partly because I had just finished reviewing Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition, and it bought back some good memories. So I called my friend and got him to bring over Halo Reach (I know, I know, everyone should own a copy) and we set about our business. It should also be noted that we played on “Legendary” by the way. While the AI in Combat Evolved was ground breaking at the time, it now seems poor and clunky. Movement and target selection for both friend and foe is also far from ideal in Combat Evolved and offers little challenge outside of boss encounters and other key sections of the game. Generic combat is stupidly easy. The final race for the ship is still hard as nails though. The much more recent Halo Reach is clearly the more difficult title.
While I only tested a few games, in order to try and keep the results as accurate as possible, I have tried to vary my selection across multiple genres and select titles that are from long running series. There will always be exceptions to the rule as some games are simply easy and some aren’t. What we have found here though, is that with the advancement of technology and development practices we are being given much smoother and more polished gameplay (duh!) which in turn makes games easier. However, that same “nerf” is also completely negated by that same technology, due to improved AI and increased complexity which challenges gamers on multiple levels at once.
So, after all of that my conclusion is that gaming is not only harder these days; it’s also a helluva lot less frustrating too. While in the past we could complain that a dodgy UI or controls were to blame for our failings (a particular favorite of my Dads’ as I recall), that excuse is a lot less plausible nowadays. And if you’re still struggling, perhaps knock it down a difficulty setting or two.