I Like It Hard

Being someone who has played video games for nearly twenty-five years, I have, thankfully, become pretty good at them. This isn’t a statement I can attribute to every single game I play – I’m merely average at sports games, and pretty much suck at fighting games, but with anything of a first-person, action and adventure variety I can hold my own and, generally, get pretty good at playing a variety of titles. In recent years, I have found myself upping the ante and either returning to older games, with a desire for replaying them on a harder difficulty, or starting brand new ones on a higher difficulty setting, rather than starting on ‘normal’ or ‘medium’ modes. After all, I played some of these games in my youth, and conquered them; I’m older and wiser now, so why shouldn’t I succeed?

Oh Chris. Silly naive Chris. Things really aren’t that simple. For a start, I am certainly older, but age isn’t always a benefit. Increased age brings pissing myself more often and never finding my keys, but from a gaming perspective I’m generally slower in my reactions. Against newer games this isn’t really a problem – the majority of first-person shooters usually have some form of ridiculous hand-holding health system, which means that even a heroin-addled spider-monkey sellotaped to the inside of an egg cup could complete the last Call of Duty game without breaking a sweat.

Recently I made the horrible decision to replay Medal of Honor: Allied Assault on its hardest difficulty setting. It doesn’t fuck about with any fancy names or descriptions, it’s just called ‘Hard’ and jesus, it isn’t joking. No regenerating health, enemies take more damage, there’s less ammo, less health, more death. So much fucking death, I was quicksaving like my fingers had some sort of nervous twitch; the F5 key was getting a better workout than a post-Christmas Weight Watchers class.

When did they stop making games this fucking difficult? The good guys won World War II, right? On this evidence, we would have needed some kind of miracle in order to win the war, like Winston Churchill powering Thunderbird One or some shit – forget this random American soldier trying to shoot his way out of a submarine pen. I died sixteen fucking times trying to get out of that base. A sniper shot takes off fifty percent of my health. FIFTY percent. For the slow among you, that’s half of my health, assuming it’s full beforehand – which it never is.

I had started the game thinking that I would not only conquer every single mission on the hardest difficulty setting, but that I would also get all the medals and optional objectives along the way. Save those extra soldiers? Blow up those extra tanks? “Of course” I scoffed. “Tally-ho chaps,” I cried, as I imagined myself as some sort of valiant Biggles-type warrior, with a flying-scarf and goggles in hand. After the fifth or sixth mission, that shit went out the window, nearly followed by the computer and keyboard, the F5 key worn down to the mechanical switch. I didn’t care about any other man – I was getting home to my family, and I’d leave every other fucker behind if I had to. I didn’t kill every enemy, I didn’t seek out every document.

Like Patches O’Houlihan I dodged, ducked, dipped, dived and dodged every fucking thing trying to kill me. Towards the end, the game became a desperate struggle to survive, nabbing health kits, changing weapons, merely maiming enemies so I could pass them and throw myself deeper into opposition territory. The whole game slowly transformed from an Inglourious Basterds style romp across Germany, to a Band of Brothers tale of desperation and whispered success against all odds.

And it was a better game for it. It sounds strange but, despite the constant quick-saving (and quick-loading), the swearing, and the frustration, the moments of success felt so much sweeter. It was backs-to-the-wall, last-ditch, non-stop action from start to finish. Part of this was the ridiculously accurate AI that never missed a shot, the twenty or so bullets they soaked up each, and the constant reminder of just how much I love being able to aim down the sights in modern gaming. However, part of this was me and my diminished abilities. Slower reactions, dusty memories of map routes and layouts, a reliance on newer, softer games. I may hark on about how older games are better, but the fact is the new regime is forced upon me at every quarter.

Playing Medal of Honour: Allied Assault on the hardest difficulty setting taught me two things. Firstly, if you’re going to play a game on its hardest difficulty and you stop enjoying it, then change the setting. At times, I regretted starting such an endeavour, and wished I wasn’t so stubborn, so that I could just change it and admit that I was weak and didn’t have what it took to be that good anymore. In hindsight, there’s no shame in appreciating the fact that you’re not as sharp as you used to be, not as able to fend off the forces of evil that gaming throws at you… and yet… the second thing it taught me?

That after the dust had settled, after the swearing had stopped echoing around the room, and I’d finally moved on to something else and come back to write this article, I realised I like it hard. I like the relentless struggle. No achievements required, no admiration from an online community needed. I just want the toughest, meanest, most painful experience that gaming can provide. I want it one hundred percent, in my face, full volume, with everything turned up to eleven, because I like a challenge and I like earning my victories. Demon’s Souls can still fuck off though.

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  1. Lorna Lorna says:

    Older games seem like the place to be if you want a challenge these days. I recently got a Mega Drive, with the intention of finally beating Taz Mania – an excruciatingly hard game, and one which my sister and I never managed to beat, back in the day. As for Ecco the fucking Dolphin, how can a SEGA game about a dolphin be known as one of the toughest games for the system at the time? Looking back, it seems that so many games were tough as nails.

    While things have got easier over time, I think that it may now become ‘the in thing’ to make stupidly hard, punishing games for the sake of it. I suspect that we’ll be seeing a few more games like Demon’s Souls – even if the devs need to Kickstart them in order to get funding because the studios still have their eyes on the casual cash.

  2. Chris Toffer says:

    I certainly think gaming has got ‘easier’ or certainly more ‘approachable’ and developers have said “Hey, let’s make this a little easier for a mass audience.” Then you’ve got the old school lot who aren’t happy with that and titles like Super Meat Boy and Demon’s Souls start popping up, made by those very old school gamers. What happens when they all move on though? I worry for the future of gaming given the industry that most twenty year olds are walking into now.

    Equally, with regards to Medal of Honour – the stuff that was balls to the wall, rock hard, was it’s most frustrating but equally, given the source material, it felt very apt.

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