God-mode as a game mechanic

So, on the subject of used games. I'd like to present some games I've found in the used pile that are interesting in the way they handle certain mechanics. Namely, the idea of the player character being immortal. Now, god-mode is nothing new, but it has always been relegated to a cheat-code or easter-egg. These games uses the idea of immortality a central piece to their games. These aren't all ”good” games, but they're all pretty interesting.

Prince of Persia (2008) – The great teacher

The critically acclaimed Sands of time-trilogy gave us the time-rewind mechanic. The idea was that if you ever screwed up, missed a jump or just plain got yourself killed, you could rewind time and try again. It was kind of like an instant one-up. Instead of going back to the last checkpoint, you went back a couple of seconds in time. The idea was sound and the following re-boot/re-release/re-whatever-they-call-it-these-days expanded on it. In the Sand of time games, your rewind ability was tied to a resource you had to gather, in this new game, you instead had a partner that would rescue you if you ever found yourself dying or failing. Said partner didn't need resources to rewind and she would always put you in a safe place if you ever failed. This took away pretty much all frustration with dying, but it also took away all the danger and tension from the game. No longer did you have to risk a tricky jump, you could just try try and try again til you succeeded. No longer did you have to play well to succeed in the fights, you could just throw yourself out there til you won. This made the game kind of a pariah in the eyes of the gaming public, and for good reason. What point is there to a game if there isn't any real challenge?

There is however another side to this. Long ago, I watched a youtube-video that explain how well the new Prince of Persia could teach new players. The youtuber argued that the game wasn't made with hard-core fans in mind, it was made for new gamers who were just trying the hobby out. People who wanted to learn how to play games, but weren't interested in playing easy (and most of the time very cutesy) games. I for one agree with said youtuber. This game provides a safe environment for new player to learn how to use a controller while at the same time looking (and sometimes feeling) like a “mature”(“adult”, you know, not Mario or Kirby) game. So, is it fun? Well, it's alright. It looks pretty good and the game gets slightly more complicated as the story goes on. But, I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get into gaming.

Knights Contract – The small experiment

“What if you played God of War, but instead of having a health-bar, your health was tied to that of a squirrely NPC who followed you around?” Well, if you ever had that thought, let me introduce you to Knights Contract. KC is a game in where you play Heinrich, a burly corpse of a man looking for something to make him mortal again. Following you on this journey is the witch Gretchen. She helps you by providing some much needed magic to you sword. The problem here is that she isn't immortal, so she can die. And if she dies, it's game over.

The game is a pretty decent brawler, with the exception of the lack of a health-bar. Instead, you have to keep track of Gretchens health. As for NPC-followers, she's OK. She can hold her own against one or two bad-guys, but if they swarm in, she's in trouble. There is where the challenge comes in. You have to keep the enemies away from her and if she goes down (or is captured) you have to pick her back up.

With all that said, there is some penalty to taking damage in this game. If you take to many hits, you'll loose body parts and go down. In those moments, you'll be incapacitated for a while, which gives he enemies a good opportunity to swarm Gretchen. So, in short, this game does require some skill and mastery to finish.

Neverdead – The BIG experiment

Neverdead is a bralwer/shooter by Rebellion, published by Konami. Out of all three, this goes the furthest with their immortality mechanic, and it also kind of fails because of it. This game could have been really good, in fact, it could probably have been thee really good games, if they split up their ideas into smaller games with tighter balancing. The problem here is that there's almost too much going on in the game. Not only do you play as an immortal character (who, again, have to babysit a mortal npc), your character can also loose his limbs. The system is pretty interesting, since each limb lost affect your abilities. Lose a leg and your character will become much more clumsy. You'll dodge slower, hop in a comedic fashion instead of walk and generally be a much more stationary target. Lose an arm and you'll lose the ability to use the gun attached to the arm, and your sword swings will be weaker. Go down to just your head and you'll just roll around, looking for the rest. Also, when you're down to just your head, you can get eaten by enemies, which will result in a game over, or as the game puts it: Be relegated to spend eternity inside a monsters stomach. The also allows you to voluntarily remove limbs. So you can make your arms into makeshift turrets, or throw your head into vents for puzzle solving (and also make a sweet three-point shot on a basket). The problem with this mechanic is that it's far to easy for enemies to dismember you, so most fights end up as straight brawls while you're frantically looking for missing parts. This wouldn't have been such a big issue if it weren't for the other experimental mechanic the game has.

This game has a sword-swinging-system that feels like a poor mans metal gear rising. When you have your sword equipped, you lock onto enemies with the shoulder button and use the right thumb-stick to swing. The system isn't as responsive as MGR, so it ends up feeling quite clunky. The controls also play their part here. See, when you have our guns equipped, the shoulder buttons are firing and the right thumb-stick is for aiming. But when the sword is equipped, the controls change. This makes combat even more clunky, since you have to manually switch between guns and sword, and adopt a different control-method for each.

So, to summarize: A standard battle in Neverdead looks like you fighting the controls while trying to keep track of all your limbs, while you're also murdering monsters and trying to make sure that your pet NPCs don't get killed. A pretty hectic affair.

Don't get me wrong, this game has some really neat ideas, I just wish that they had a better balance. Maybe ditch the sword-mechanic in favor of having melee attacks mapped to a face-button. Or maybe make the main character more sturdy and less prone to falling into pieces as soon as an enemy hits you. I don't know. Maybe if they split the sword-mechanic and the dismemberment-mechanic into separate games, they might have a better time to shine, instead of fighting each other?

Closing remarks

I find these three games to be pretty flawed, but very interesting. Playing in god-mode has been a pass-time for many gamers since the early days of Doom and Wolfenstein 3D and I believe that you could make an interesting game with immortality. You could explore some pretty neat avenues if you didn't have to worry about the player screwing up and dying all the time. While none of these games truly hit the mark, I think that the best one was Knights Contract. Simply because they went the safer route and used a genre-staple as their base game. With that said, I must congratulate the devs of Prince of Persia for their willingness to welcome and teach new players. And lastly for the developers of Neverdead: I love the ideas, I just wish that they got more time in the oven and maybe some space to shine.