Unfinished Business

Not enough hours in a day…

 

I want to try a little experiment.

Take a look at your games pile, or your Steam list, or even Achievements tally. Now, be honest here. How many times have you truly 100% finished a game? The game, achievements, collectibles, the lot. It’s peculiar that for me, I play and complete many games. Yet I know that only about a quarter of the games I own I have truly finished in their entirety. For the rest, more than half are about half-done, and a small selection – usually of games which made me want to inflict physical pain on myself as way to distract me from how awful they are – are barely touched.

Why am I asking this? Well, over weekend, a friend of mine pushed me to finally finish off Borderlands. I’ve had it ages, played it loads, yet I’ve never completed it. It took longer than I expected, and more than a few vulgar swears, but on Sunday afternoon, I finished the main portion of the game. And quite satisfying it was too, it must be said. Although going all sniper with Mordecai did make things rather easy towards the end, it must be said. A real shame it’s so hard to multiplayer it now too. Sad that Gamespy sold itself short…

Anyway, I digress. I was heading into the DLC content – notably, The Zombie Island of Doctor Ned, when said friend (who insisted I finished it so we could team up in Borderlands 2) admitted he hadn’t touched the extra content. Not only did he have no interest in seeing any of the extra content that he had paid for, or likely had come in the Game of the Year edition, he hadn’t even accidentally dropped into any of the zones. He had played through the game, and seen the credits, and in his mind, that was “finished”. He had completed Borderlands, and was ready to move on into Borderlands 2.

Except, I wasn’t sure if this was the end of Borderlands. Not only were there four DLC content packs to enjoy, but I noticed that there was a “Playthrough 2”, i.e. New Game Plus, where you could chase the end-game and therefore the guns, the loot and prepare yourself for one or two of the DLC Packs, which are tuned specifically for higher levels. It seemed like I had opened, forgive the pun, Pandora’s Box. Inside a game I had been so unwilling to finish off was another more interesting game yearning to get out, desperate for attention. I did say that this was, to me, technically part of the game we had paid for. The response was, “Meh, it’s not like anyone really finishes games these days.”

Annoyingly, he does sort of raise an interesting question. How do we define how and when a game is “completed”? Here are the answers I considered.

1) A game is completed when the credits roll.

This was how I felt about games in the past. Back in the old days, when the credits were on and I was enjoying the orchestral/musical stylings of whoever they had hired to do the credits theme (big shout out to the Lufia 2 and Resident Evil 3 credit tunes!), once that had happened the game was, to me, completed. But that said, Lufia 2 – and a lot of games of the 16-bit era – had a longevity far beyond what we enjoy now. It took months for me to see the end of Lufia 2, months to see the end of Zombies! Ate My Neighbours, and many, many weeks to see the end of Plok!. This was an age of satisfactory gaming, where the challenge was finely tuned for a lot of titles to provide just the right curve.

Admittedly, at the time I was still at school preparing for my GCSE’s and therefore I didn’t quite have the time I do now, which makes me rather sad as I kind of miss those busy carefree days. But these games were fantastic. Oddly, there were exceptions to this rule even then.

2) A game is completed when you’ve finished the extra content.

By this I don’t always mean the extra DLC, although if it comes bundled with the game I do wonder why you’d have paid an extra five or ten fine crisp British Pounds/US Dollars/Your Currency Here for content that you have absolutely no interest in.

I mean, think about Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. I loved these early Resident Evil games – many of us did, the cheese factor was part of the fun – a fact that might have slipped Capcom by over the years. However, Resident Evil 3 kept cycling in circles. With the Mercenary Mode, you got the materials (i.e. guns!) required for a more exciting, enjoyable ride through the game. The better you got at the Mercenary Mode, the more enjoyable the main game would become, with infinite ammo and a variety of guns and even the chance to fell Nemesis and upgrade your base weapons. It was nice, and whilst technically you can argue that the game was over on the first run, the branching pathways and multiple scene changes meant that for a long while, there was plenty more to see.

So too will I mention Vagrant Story. Perhaps one of the first proper New Game Plus modes I enjoyed, it not only provided a chance to further tinker and enhance my weapons and armour, but opened up entirely new areas specifically tuned for those who would dare to take up the challenge. More bosses, more dragons, more spells, more loot and more storied travels. It became a rite of passage in the RPG world, that you weren’t taken seriously for a while unless you had found yourself embroiled in the madness that was the Dark Dragon, or the Zombie Lords. You were a lightweight had you not found a good Damascus weapon. It was a huge deal; it not only carried on, letting Ashley Riot get stronger and more powerful as your subsequent playthroughs amassed stat points and bonuses, but opened up arguably a far deeper game. The first playthrough almost ends up a tutorial, rather than the game proper. It’s only when you hit the New Game Plus that the fat lady begins to warm up her vocal cords. She doesn’t get up for a first playthrough, she’s not that cheap!

3) A game is completed when you’ve got all the achievements/trophies.

Perhaps this is the most contentious of answers because, reviewing games, I’m guilty of not trophy/achievement hunting. But just because that is a reality for people who blog about, write about and review games, it doesn’t make this answer any less valid. Can you really have finished a game that you haven’t got 100% on?

As I said to kick off, in reality I don’t tend to finish games that way very often. Dark Souls and Tomb Raider are perhaps the two I can reel off as having 100%-ed them, for differing reasons too – which even splits the achievements debate in two. Dark Souls I wanted to 100%. It was important to do it, to be part of The Dark Soul Club. Whilst others enjoyed it, I wanted this having fallen for it so deeply. It took a long time, but eventually it was mine, after several playthroughs and retries and enjoyable sleepless nights. Dark Souls was obviously meant to be a deep, expansive game where hunting the achievements was part of the fun, because it signposted the various branches that were available without being deliberately obvious, or dictating the how’s and why’s.

Tomb Raider, on the other hand, was the exact opposite of that. I got that 100% in the week I spent reviewing it. That might not seem brilliant, but there’s a case to be made for that kind of small and perfectly formed game. As much as I loathe the battering Lara gets subjected to thanks to some terribly wonky collision detection issues in spots, the bulk of the game takes you on a journey and for the most part, the game gives you a chance and a choice to explore a little. There is no excess fluff, and fewer silly “challenges” to complete. It’s just… the achievements happen as part of the natural progression of how a person plays the game, both single player and multiplayer. And there’s nothing wrong with that. No really, there is nothing wrong with that.

But similarly, there are games where the achievements are, frankly, ridiculous. Command and Conquer 3 has one called “Welcome to 2047”, which requires you press the A Button 2047 times. It’s worth 20 Gamerscore points too, which seems a little surplus to requirement really. And then there’s Half Life 2: The Orange Box, which has “One Free Bullet”. Finish Half Life 2: Episode One only firing one bullet. This may seem like a free token, but that one bullet it doesn’t tell you is required to shoot off one lock. Yup, that one free bullet is already accounted for as part of the game, so everything else is melee, melee and more melee. How badly do you want those 40 Points, eh? Don’t waste that precious bullet…

But even asking this, is there any right way to “complete” a game?

I must admit I am as guilty as anyone on this, because I blitz through games without considering the achievements and trophies placed before me. Truth is, I barely recognise them. And as for the New Game Plus, I like them but considering the volume of games on the market these days, it’s often very hard to justify another thirty hours just to go through the same game but harder – unless there are new areas to explore, in which case I’m the type who will find a way to make the time for that sort of thing. More and more, I find myself glancing at achievements and trophies and wondering if I’m perhaps missing something, or more accurately, missing out on something. I’m under no illusions, after The Dark Soul, that there’s a particular satisfaction in “beating” the game completely.

But then, I look at Star Trek, and Hunted: The Demon’s Forge. The first is a game I have little interest in at all really, only serving as something to review this week. The second is a game I can no longer finish this way on Steam even if I wanted to, as Gamespy servers have gone the way of the Dodo. And it’s not merely Hunted: The Demon’s Forge, but many titles which have multiplayer achievements and now no longer have multiplayer servers on which to get them. Unless you have those achievements, those seeking pleasure in prior releases have to come to an acceptance that for a proportion of the titles available, there is simply no way to “100%” a game. You just have to enjoy it, arguably, for what it is.

And in that perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned. If you’ve enjoyed a game, maybe it’s finished when you say it is, rather than when some pre-defined number or credits sequence denotes the conclusion of something. That there’s something more to be learned from playing a game than chasing an arbitrary, pre-defined challenge set by the developers because Sony or Microsoft or Steam says you have to. Maybe a game is finished only when a person considers it no longer worthy of their time; that in our era of short, disposable games, completion of something isn’t really the highest priority. Enjoying it is more important, and a bigger plus point than anything else. I know many never really got very far in Dead Rising. Not because the challenges were too hard, or obtuse, but because there was more fun in simply dicking about taking stupid pictures of zombies in compromising positions. The overarching story and point of the title was of little consequence when the filler material was so incredibly enjoyable and fun to partake in. One could arguably say the same of the PS2 era Grand Theft Auto games. I suspect many never truly finished that game because the open-world sandbox was more appealing than a pre-defined story.

And I shrug. Perhaps Val is right. Perhaps many of us have simply defined our own goals and criteria for finishing a game. Perhaps we no longer need achievements or a trophies list to tell us what to do, why and how.

Perhaps a game is finished when we say so. And only then do we move on, in search of something new.

I just feel a little sorry for the developers at times who work so hard on content that eventually no-one seems to give a crap about!

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