The video game industry has seen plenty of ups and downs during it’s 30-plus year history, but it seems that gaming is more popular today than it ever has been. Once thought to be a niche hobby for children, video games have become a widely popular and hugely profitable industry, with appeal that stretches across several generations of players. In the minds of some, this push to achieve a broader appeal has caused key elements of gaming to become diluted over time, one of them being difficulty. Cliff Bleszinski, creator of the massively popular Xbox 360-exclusive Gears of War series, is among those people and he intends to break this trend in the upcoming Gears of War: Judgment.
In an interview with Xbox360achievements.org, Bleszinski discussed his views on modern video games and how they have become progressively easier and more linear. In an effort to expand their audience, the focus has shifted towards making games more accessible, whereas harsh difficulty and a satisfying challenge was considered a strength in previous generations.
“The more I play games like that the more I turned off to them and just want to get back to systems interacting with systems, and get back to a game that, you know, when was the last time a game really challenged you and asked something of you, right?” Bleszinski noted, further adding “There’s a reason why Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls have taken off lately. It’s because they really require you actually try.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of his comment was pointing out the success of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, two current-generation games that are notorious for their difficulty and unforgiving gameplay. Unlike a lot of current generation games, they offer no “casual” difficulty, have constant, progress-killing deaths and both even lack a pause feature. Despite these qualities being a deterrent for many gamers, both were top sellers. They also received almost universal critical acclaim, which shows that there is still a market for such games.
For Bleszinski’s part, he wants to bring the element of challenge back to his flagship franchise, and he promises that Gears of War: Judgment will deliver the pain for those who want it. The casual difficulty will still give a moderate challenge, but every other mode after that will see a substantial spike. This increase in difficulty will make teamwork more imperative than ever, as constantly reviving your downed teammates, and being revived yourself, is key to surviving the waves of enemies you will encounter. The Gears of War series has always excelled as a cooperative experience, and those who have played previous titles on “Hardcore” difficulty can attest to how challenging some of the gameplay modes can be.
Bleszinski summarized his thoughts on what kind of experience he feels you should get from Gears of War: Judgment:
“If this game doesn’t make you sweat, we haven’t done our jobs.”
The question remains, are video games as a whole becoming too easy for us? As someone who has been playing games since the early 1980s, I remember when the best titles were ones that kept you constantly on your toes, with frequent deaths and continues being accepted as the norm. Overcoming the insurmountable challenges of games like Castlevania, Contra and Ninja Gaiden, and seeing the end credits roll at the end of it, were some of my defining moments as a gamer. By contrast, many of the games we see today benefit from bigger budgets and an emphasis on storytelling, so linear, more focused gameplay is often a result.
It’s true that many games today are easily finished within 8 hours, sometimes less, and barely a sweat was broken even on the higher difficulties. However, this is not always a bad thing, as sometimes you want to play a game just to relax and experience minimal frustrations with. As Bleszinski mentioned, games like Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls have proven successful because they appeal to gamers who want the trials and triumphs that come with brutally challenging games, so I feel that both the easy and the punishing games have their place. Expect Gears of War: Judgment to fall into the latter category.
Gears of War: Judgment was formally announced at E3 2012 and is scheduled for release sometime in 2013.