'The more things change, the more they stay the same.'
I do believe gaming has changed in many respects - I had just explored the fact in a piece on Digital Romance Lab - but another recent experience has reminded that change isn't necessarily across the board. In fact, besides some veterans and start-ups alike trying to break new ground, most big blockbusters stick to gaming's roots and safer territory.
These thoughts were born from frustration. The kind of frustration that hits harder than most; after so many hours enjoying a game the sudden realisation hits that, well, It's just not fun anymore.
Let's not beat around the bush, the game was DOOM II (yes, that old thing). Of all the games played this year DOOM II was the one I'd been enjoying most and therefore was taking up most of my game time (it being a lot bigger than I remembered). But having reached the tail end of levels I was beginning to falter in my unabashed adulation with every firefight, as it was soon apparent that these moments were becoming much less common. Instead, every battle was taking the form of monster closets or death rooms.
A bit of clarity for the uneducated: 'Monster closet' is the term given to a particular circumstance usually involving the player collecting an item or pressing a button, only for that to trigger a hidden door behind from which - as the term suggests - a monster leaps out and rakes your back with deadly claws or worse. The general consensus on such tactics from players being a cheap way to enhance difficulty, and an unfair and not very fun gaming experience.
Death room is a description that came to mind after repeatedly being teleported into a situation that more often than not led to utter annihilation. A large enough room to house multiple monsters in every direction that begin firing immediately. Usually the player dies as the exits aren't obvious, leaving multiple reloads the only respite and learning mechanism.
These two occurrences repeat endlessly and it soon felt time to hang up the ol' double barrel and let the demons have their way. They can't over-run Earth stuck in their closets and lunch rooms anyway, right?
Having sunk a few weeks into my progress on DOOM II it was hard not to feel annoyance and unhappiness with the sudden turn in what was otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Why design the last areas this way and, if it weren't for having saves and reloads, who'd bother battling through? No one would put up with such ruthlessness today…
But then a thought - the succession of insta-deaths is not necessarily an extinct mechanic. DOOM being the flagship of its time, Modern Warfare of today. Are we not asked to repeat the same 10 seconds of pain over and over now as we were then? The reload menu of the past exchanged for the retry prompt of the present? Granted, monster closets more akin to Gauntlet style monster generators here, but attempt a dash past and you may as well have taken one in the back.
Death rooms abound though lacking instant entrances. Flashback to the airfield in Modern Warfare 2 where fatality rates can reach 3 digits and life times less than 2. A repeat attempt can have as much action as a single step before feet are taken from under.
The blockbuster first person shooter of today may avoid the clear monster closets and death rooms of yesteryear - they may not trigger from a health pack nor a grand entrance - but the legacy lives on. Every reload and retry a test of resolve, a test of player patience. With so many games vying for attention patience wanes thin quicker than of times past. There's always something else worth doing.