Lessons in bad game design.

I’ve been playing some of my less stellar games of late. In particular, 007: Nightfire and True Crime: Streets of LA. Both games are a little aged and are just two of the many games I have that I have yet to finish. In general both are fine games. On a review scale they would probably be in the range of 7 or 8 out of 10.

The James Bond game is probably the better of the two and as with all EA titles has great presentation in both graphics (for a multi platform title) and sound. True Crime is less polished but still well presented. However the gloss on the outside can not hide some of its more glaring flaws within.

There are a number of things in particular that really get me frustrated. So much so that I feel the need to vent about bad game design. I’ve decided to define some “rules” of game design which these titles violate.

* Never punish the player the first time they make a mistake.
* Never force the player to repeat objectives they have already successful completed.

Nightfire breaks these rules in a level called Deep Descent. It is one of the vehicular missions. You take the Vanquish to the bottom of the ocean to infiltrate the secret island base of the bad guy. This mission is structured as a series of set peace “obstacles” that much be passed correctly in order to enter the base. Ie, avoid the patrolling sub, pass the mine field, etc. The problem is that failure to pass a particular obstacle correctly causes instant mission failure. This means that the first time you come to the obstacle you invariably fail to pass it correctly and you fail the mission. This wouldn’t be so bad if the game restarted you from the last objective point or end of the last obstacle, but no, instead you are returned to the very beginning of the mission and have to pass all the obstacles again. After failing to complete the mission for the 20th time you want to throw the controller at the screen. Bad game design.

* Never give the AI a disproportionate advantage.
* Don’t cripple the player with bad control schemes.

True Crime: Streets of LA breaks these rules. There are a number of fight sequences in True Crime that are significantly more difficult than all the other fight sequences in the entire game. Probably the main reason these sequences are more difficult than others is due to the fact that the AI can almost always block your attacks but the player control arrangement makes it very difficult for the player to block effectively or to break through the AI blocking.

On the XBOX you block in True Crime with the Left analogue stick or with the White button. However unlike most fighting games (eg, DOA, Tekken et al) the player doesn’t always face the opponent. You pull back on the stick to block and you end up turning around to face away from your opponent giving the AI a chance to kick you in the back of the head. Not good. Using the white button to block doesn’t help much as it makes it difficult to combine blocking tactics with offensive moves due to you having to use your right thumb for both. Meanwhile the left and right trigger buttons are unused. The left trigger would have been ideal for blocking.

This is just one example of where True Crime completely bollocks up in the area of game controls. Probably the biggest flaw in True Crime is its awful controls.

I am constantly surprised at how many games break these rules. And I wont be surpised when I see more titles break them in the future.

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