August 19, 2009

Like Achievements... Only Not

I want a hat. Not in real life, of course. This is a vidja game blog, and besides, I already have a sweet fedora in real life. No, I mean in Team Fortress 2. The hats in Team Fortress 2 are unlockables, and they don't affect gameplay in any way, except for being awesome looking and maddening. Maddening because there is no set way to get them. It's random. You gotta hope the slots are on your side... and they never are. Otherwise, you end up like me- no hats, 7 pairs of boxing gloves. Awesome.

The reason I mention this is because I wanted to talk about unlockables- the good, the bad, and the pull-your-hair-out evil. Unlockables are an old tradition for gaming- ever since games started being designed for home play instead of just for arcades, they've left their mark. Unlockables are, in my opinion, a wonderful feature- they can give a linear, story-based game replayability due to fun new toys, they can demonstrate that your dev team does, in fact, have a sense of humor- good for games where that could be mistaken (I'm not saying any names here, Gears of War... oh, wait.). They can give a game playability at all- fighting games without unlockable characters are wonderful candidates for "Worst Single Player Experience Ever". And rarely, they can make for some of the best memories in the game... it is with great fondness that I recall unlocking the Solar Gun in Metal Gear Solid 4 (as a fan of the Boktai series, the shout-out was very much appreciated), but even more than that, the first time I saw Snake raise the toy-esque weapon aloft, and shout out "Sunlight!" I had such a big dopey grin on my face... awesome, awesome times. Actually, Kojima is rather a modern hero of unlockables, but we'll get to that.

Where the bad comes into play... is when you get game developers withholding things that should be in the game to be unlockables. I can't for the life of me remember what game it was, but I do have quite bitter memories of being informed, on completion of a game, that I had unlocked subtitles. Subtitles. Yeah, fuck you guys. That shit belongs in the main game, like right fucking now. You don't use unlockables to give the player the experience they should have had the first time around. That's bullshit.

And then, of course, there's the hair-tearing variety. Like what? Well, besides the cursed hats, there are actually worse examples. Say... Super Smash Brothers Brawl. So, I have to do 450 matches before I can unlock Wolf? Seriously, that's torture. Pure and simple. And I'm saying that as someone who likes the game, and hasn't gotten tired of it. That's probably because I never went out of my way to unlock Wolf. And Melee was even worse... things that are a grind to unlock, are not cool. Things that you have to strive to unlock are fine.

So, who are the champions of modern unlockables? Well, Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance gave me good reason to play through it many times to try for its unlockables, which were challenging but obtainable, and totally worth it. The series hasn't disappointed since- both 3 and 4 were excellent for unlockables, and thus Hideo Kojima ranks as a pretty solid promoter of unlockables. The boys at Infinity Ward added a whole new dimension to unlockables with Call of Duty's massive arsenal of multiplayer unlockables, which people have been copying ever since. But beyond that... unlockables have been lying low. They aren't really a big feature anymore... and it makes me sad. Maybe we'll see them coming back, toward the end of this generation, or maybe they will die. Who knows? All I know is, they gave me a lot of good times, and I wish to do them tribute.

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