So I did Amnesia: The Bunker in ZP recently, which if you haven’t watched, why the hell not, it’s like five minutes of your time, what else were you gonna do with it? Oh, you want a shorter version, don’t you? Look at Mr. Jetsetter here. It’s a very effective horror game that does some interesting things with organically open-ended moment to moment gameplay, in stark contrast to its somewhat linearly laid out predecessors, but it seems to be overtly trying to encourage replay. In fact, the end credits barely finished rolling before a big old text box popped up saying “Why not play again?! It won’t be the same! Well, it is, mostly, but we’re going to move all the traps and first aid kits!”
And this seems like a misstep, to me. Certainly at that time because I have no intention of putting myself through that wringer again anytime soon. Like any good horror game, it’s a chilling, claustrophobic experience that fills you with adrenaline from the simulated threat, and it often took me a while to even work up the courage to leave the safe room, and without the motivation to see the end of the story and discovering where it all leads I didn’t see much appeal to return.
Mystery is one of the main things that makes horror effective beyond simple jumpscares, and mystery will only diminish the more The Bunker is played. In the one playthrough I did, I thought that despite showing the monster as unscripted the game did a pretty good job of never letting me get a good look at the bastard. It’s always just a shadowy glimpse before I’m tailed and legged on it. The best look I got was one time when I hid in a fenced area thinking the monster couldn’t navigate the vent I used to access it. Spoiler alert: I was wrong in this assumption. But if I kept playing and kept making incredibly stupid mistakes like those, I’d see more of the monster, as well as its janky animations and Weetabix-like flesh. And the way something looks in your imagination will always be more effectively scary than the way it looks in reality.
Also, the promise to rearrange all pickups and traps on a future playthrough isn’t a very effective draw because item retention and trap avoidance aren’t the interesting parts. What doesn’t change from playthrough to playthrough are certain inventory puzzles – finding keys to get into doors or bolt cutters to open chain-locked doors – as well as the general -understand where in the bunker you need to go. and when, and the pleasure of figuring it all out is something that can only be had once. In all future play, you just make the moves.
If the point of these procedural elements is to add replay value then it misses the mark. I don’t believe anyone can argue that The Bunker offers a new experience with every single playthrough. The game’s important story points, puzzle locations and general order of where you need to go don’t change, and those are the parts you remember, not the ground level fiddling around in between.
There was an indie game, CHASM, that claimed to be a procedurally generated metroidvania, but after I finished it, I started it again to test that claim, and I honestly can’t tell if anything moved around. Metroidvanias tend to require strict structuring, you have to find and collect items or abilities that unlock the map in a specific order, so I’m sure CHASM just shuffles around some indefinable room between each significant point of development. And I didn’t feel very inclined to replay that, either.
I feel like if you’re shooting for methodical method in the name of infinite replay value, you may or may not be a whole hog. Do something like The Binding of Isaac where everything is randomized on every run and every playthrough can be different. Either that or just make a PvP multiplayer only game, that’s as good a method as human enemies will always come up with new and exciting ways to torment each other. But you can’t do that if you also want to tell a story. A story you hope to have some control over, somehow.
So what am I saying, that a story-based single player should give up any hope of replay value? That they should resign themselves to being thrown out like a rubber johnny as soon as they’re done and replaced by the next new hotness? That they should abandon any ambitions for the long-term player engagement that publishers demand unless they’re willing to drag the story out fifty hours too long like Last of Us 2 or God of War Ragnarok in desperation hope to keep our attention?
Not really! What we’re doing here is mistakenly conflating “replay value” with “making every playthrough different.” The same mistake many of the previously discussed Choose Your Own Adventure Books games make. I mean, I replay games, when the schedule allows. Which admittedly isn’t very often but I can definitely spend at least an hour on it every two weeks. Most recently, I’ve been replaying We Love Katamari, now that it’s been ported to Steam. Because I think it’s really fun. I also think they could have easily released it at the same time they ported the first game because it’s basically the same game but slightly more polished with more ideas, but never mind, it’s here now. And I’m not replaying it expecting something new.
I mean, it has a few new levels but I haven’t been through them yet. I’m replaying it ‘cos I used to play the shit out of it back on my old PS2 and I wanted to bask in its great soundtrack and cathartic town destroying action again. And it’s the same with everything I ever replay – I’m after a nice comfortable familiar experience. I don’t have the energy to electrify myself with something new every bloody hour.
Now, my habits don’t apply to everyone, I know. Some people, for example speedrunners and other crazy people, like to replay their favorite games while imposing external conditions on themselves to milk a little more novelty from them. Playing them the fastest or lowest possible completion score or with a hanging block tied to their head. Hell, many people will just increase the difficulty when they replay a game. I usually don’t. More often than not I replay games on the same difficulty level as before, doing the exact same things as before. It doesn’t matter to me that it’s not different, if I want a new experience I’m spoiled for choice for sodding on Steam and the world in general, the whole point of replaying is to return to an established comfort zone.
And I suspect those who struggle or play with your nostrils tied to a swingball set or anything else are motivated primarily by the fact that you want to play the game, and secondarily by the twist of something new. So when I see single player games going out of their way to design themselves around this notion of “replay value = different,” with their procedural elements and their branching storylines, that’s not beautiful. I think what gives a game “replay value” is, at heart, being fun to play and having an interesting story. A story that is rarely made more interesting from being diluted in many paths.
I mean, I know a lot of my viewers who rewatch my old ZPs. I doubt many of them would care if I repeated them all in a high-pitched West Country accent. Well. Some of them may be. Maybe it’s time I set up that Cameo account.
#Fallacy #Replay #Video #Games #Extra #Punctuation