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Gamer Limit user Keith commented last week about Red Dead Redemption’s hydrophobic protagonist, whose life is extinguished without warning whenever he encounters water more than, oh, waist high. If you’re anything like me, your first time discovering this was accidental, maybe stumbling off of a dock. In my case, the next moments were spent staring at my screen asking, “Really?”
I actually find myself asking the question “How is this still acceptable?” rather often when I’m playing games. There are certain design flaws or failings that just seem like they should have been fixed eons ago, yet they still crop up, and often in some extremely high quality titles. So let’s all put on our bastard hats and tear into those design flaws that are well and truly unacceptable.
As I alluded to before the break, I have quite a long list of gameplay, graphical, or even sound quirks that I can no longer abide. But what is freshest in my memory is a thought I had multiple times during my time with Alan Wake, staring with the very first enemy I defeated. As the shadowy figure approached, I lined up a shot with my revolver, trained right upon his dome, and pulled the trigger. The bullet found its mark, yet the foe continued to stumble toward me.
Perhaps it is unfair to Alan Wake since the game’s combat involves foes that aren’t quite human, but the vast majority of recent games involving gunplay have taught me to always shoot for the head. Years ago, in a world that didn’t know Splinter Cell: Conviction, with its immensely rewarding headshot opportunities, I might not have cared that the gameplay seemed predicated more on the number of bullets you put into your enemies than where you put them.
Yet the fact still remains that, for me, any enemy that cannot be killed with a headshot just seems completely unacceptable to me (discounting ten-story-tall ape monster things and all that). It’s an issue that is severe enough to take the fun out of shooting for me. If I know that it doesn’t matter where I’m aiming, why bother being strategic with my aiming at all? Soon enough, the shooting becomes mindless, and I find myself utterly unentertained, which for videogames is, well, a problem.
The issue extends far beyond headshots, though. Many games, like Red Dead Redemption, have systems in place to ensure that any shot you land upon an opponent is tactile: in essence, you can feel the impact through the reaction of the enemy. It’s not a matter of a little blood spray, but rather a complex series of calculations that analyze the area of impact and make the enemy character model react appropriately.
What would Red Dead Redemption be without the ability to shoot a fleeing thief in the leg to give you a chance of catching up and lassoing him? While the game is not perfect in that respect (enemies shot in the chest sometimes just seem to dance around like they have a snake in their boots), many of the game’s most memorable moments would be impossible without the ability to shoot enemies and really feel that your bullets have an effect on them beyond reducing some hidden health counter. And who remembers Soldier of Fortune? I’m pretty sure that without being able to shoot arms and legs off, that game would have been no fun at all.
I think it’s a main reason I’m unable to find much joy in playing games like Gears of War, in which shooting an enemy doesn’t seem to have much noticeable effect aside from sprays of blood. While it’s deeper than the “how many bullets” scenario I presented earlier, playing the game often does feel more like a matter of shooting as many bullets as possible rather than caring where they end up. And, sad to say, this just isn’t fun for me anymore. I need the game to recognize that, yes, the impact of a bullet has some serious force to it, and a body should react accordingly.
So, for me, any form of bulletspongeism is unacceptable behavior. Games have done and should do better than this, and those that don’t are glaringly transparent in this failing. Of course, there’s the exception of the multiplayer online shooter, but even in this case I hope for improvement. An online shooter that employed not only headshot realism (which has rightfully been the standard in most games for a long time now) but also appropriate limb feedback would be quite the accomplishment. The game that lets bullets trip your online adversaries yet does not ruin every bit of fun in the process will be worthy of some high praise indeed.
Until then, just don’t make me shoot a dude in the head three times to kill him.