Don’t Judge Me

dontjudgeme1It could all fall apart at any moment. The rain bears down with no end in sight, the light fixtures nearby seemingly illuminating each drop. Every shadow is an ally, every presence other than my own an imminent danger. I turn a familiar corner, safe in the knowledge that no surprises await me. At least, that’s what I thought. A sudden yelp threatens to bring the plan to a screeching halt. Disaster awaits if I don’t act quickly. Time seems to slow as I draw my gun and aim for his head. I squeeze the trigger and hope for the best. Goodnight. They must have just changed their patrol routes. I got lucky, I tell myself, as I drag his snoring body out of sight, pick my target up again, and make for the exit. I call for the helicopter, sprinting as best I can beneath the moonlight, the rain hopefully dampening my footsteps as I make my way to the landing zone. I just manage to get around the corner before another guard appears, noticing one of his comrades I’d put to sleep only minutes before. It’s only a matter of time.

“This is Morpho, I’ve arrived at the LZ”

I gently lower Paz inside, then slump up the ramp myself. I breathe a sigh of relief, wipe the rain and sweat off my brow, and dangle my legs over the side of the chopper as we begin to fly away. A guard starts shooting at us, but it’s too late to make a difference. Our mission’s complete, and we’re on our way home. But all is not well. As we approach home, disaster strikes. The ensuing chaos is but a blur as the fan is well and truly hit, and the aftermath seems insurmountable. As if to make things worse, I receive a disheartening message: “B Grade”.


With all the choice available to us these days, gaming is well and truly what we make it. Do you want it to be a never-ending strategy-fest? Full of nothing but fantastic creatures, all of whom you have the compulsive need to catch? The world is truly your oyster, and there’s nothing stopping you from enjoying it however you want. As one of those players who likes a bit of everything, and also happens to be one of those people you hate going to a restaurant with because they read the menu like a great literary work of our time, the choice can be a little paralysing at times. The end result is that, no matter how much I try, I simply don’t and will never have the time to play everything that I want for as long as I feel I need to. These days I’m lucky if I even have time to see a game to its conclusion, let alone to a level of skill that would impress an innocent bystander.

dontjudgeme3As Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (an easy, if not de-facto choice for Game of the Year) approached, I’d been throwing myself into the world of its prequel – or glorified demo, should you be so cynical – Ground Zeroes. Long story short, it’s pretty much everything you’d want or expect as a hype-piece to the hugely-anticipated release of The Phantom Pain, complete with deliberately contentious writing and a cavalier attitude towards treating women with respect that only Kojima can provide. Once again, there’s nothing quite as thrilling as sneaking your way around and filling your enemies with enough tranquillisers to make this a Woodstock to remember. Each new sneaking tool in the player’s arsenal almost enough to make you forgive the fact that Snake’s now voiced by emotionless gruffalo Kiefer Sutherland instead of series mainstay and X-Men script-writer David Hayter.

Yet, Ground Zeroes does something that makes me despair in a way I’d otherwise reserve for Kojima’s horrendous gender politics: it has the audacity to grade me on my performance. This isn’t a new addition to the series – every numbered title has bestowed a title onto you based on your prowess – but it’s never felt as brazen as it does here. Your report card no longer reads like Maeby Fünke’s, and instead of being branded as a Hippopotamus, a Giant Panda, or even a Mongoose, various facets of your performance are converted into cold, hard points which decide your overall lettered grade.

As someone with legendary stealth skills, I often feel like my performance is being tested, but it can take some of the fun out of the experience when the game literally gives you marks for it. There’s definite method to the madness – Ground Zeroes‘ main mission and some of its side-ops can be finished before the minute timer’s reached double digits – but it’s endemic of a larger problem: in a world full of games and increasingly little time to play them in, too many demand perfection. I could sit down and perfect my skills, and Camp Omega would be a perfect training ground to do so, but just because some players can surpass it in a matter of minutes doesn’t mean I ever could, and by the time it happened it’d potentially be way past the point that I was even enjoying my time there, the Black Ops prison claiming a new inmate before long.


Yet, throw me a game like the last generation’s vastly underrated DmC: Devil May Cry and I won’t be able to help excitedly gushing at you. Even mention Bulletstorm and I’ll wax so lyrical you’ll be able to buy my opinion on vinyl. Both games are score-attack frenzies, constantly challenging you to improve your performance and telling you how good it thinks you are at playing it, but they’re easy contenders for the best of the last generation. I love Ground Zeroes as I do every Metal Gear Solid, but its grading leaves me as cold and miserable as the CIA-owned Cuban Blacksite it’s set in.

dontjudgeme5So what do DmC and Bulletstorm do differently? They use their grading system to encourage you to make your own fun. A developer from Halo creators Bungie once famously described its famous combat loop as “thirty seconds of fun that happened over and over again”, as “if you don’t nail that thirty seconds, you’re not gonna have a great game”. While Jaime Griesemer clearly wasn’t around to guarantee the same for Destiny, the mantra rings true. Gaming is often most fun in its immediacy, and DmC and Bulletstorm constantly provide that by rewarding you for making your next half-minute of play as brilliant as possible. Blandly filling bodies full of lead won’t reward you enough points to unlock the coolest upgrades, but whipping a man towards you, ripping his head off and then kicking his limp remains into a cactus will. Taking pot-shots and slowly emptying the room isn’t visually pleasing, especially when the alternative is firing a flare into a man’s exposed anus and watching the fireworks ensue. Your long-term pleasure is dictated by how you’re scored in the short term.

To get the best results in Ground Zeroes, you need to methodically plan everything out, and you need to fail multiple times to get the best scope of the island and its various secrets. Progress can be hampered by a sudden changing of the guard, necessitating that you learn when it’s likely to happen and their new patrols will affect your plan. There’s little you can do if you’re suddenly spotted and need to make a hasty escape with an entire guard detail on your case. You could run the exact same plan repeatedly and still find yourself foiled by an odd quirk of the AI. In your quest for the best score possible, you could find yourself too paranoid to make any mistakes whatsoever. Rigid adherence to the right strategy and the most sensible plan will pay dividends in the scoring department, but it could deny you a fun new story should you deviate from the path.


No matter what your skills are in DmC: Devil May Cry, you’re stuck on a linear path, and you’ll have roughly the same experience each time, the only differentiater being what moves you used to dispatch your foes. I might get a B grade for the overall chapter, but that’s not what I’m worrying about when I’m being told my current combo is “SSSensational!!!“. In games like Ground Zeroes, where experimentation can lead to an entirely different narrative each time, it can be a bit galling to have the game tell you that your next water-cooler moment is a C at best. Its intended purpose of demonstrating how amazing stealth can be in open-worlds is hampered when deviating from the optimal strategy will see your grade plummet. Charging around Camp Omega in a Tank while Ride of the Valkayries booms from my cassette player might be a moment I’ll remember forever, but it wouldn’t help me pass my GCSEs.

I think when it comes down to it all, my biggest worry isn’t the stigma of not being each game’s equivalent of an Honour-Roll student, but the idea that failing to reach those heights means I’m not seeing everything the game has to offer. In my futile quest to play everything I want, it’s becoming increasingly necessary to give up on the idea of perfecting them, regardless of whether each title wants me to or not. I just wish that if they had to, they’d stop judging me.

Last five articles by Edward



  1. Ste Ste says:

    B –

    I know you can do better.

  2. Priyanka says:


    Hi Edward
    I played Dmc three times also in DMD mode but this part of DMC series is not better than Dmc4 . Dmc4 is far better than Dmc . I think Nero was the best character or Vergil in 3.
    Love DMC4

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