Arms Race

I have a new least-favourite thing about games journalism!

You know how people going through a rough patch in their lives commonly throw themselves into their work? How they shunt the anger and self-pity and all those dark energies into their job, allowing them to spend more time each day distracted and further their career in the process?

Yeah. You can’t do that with games journalism. If you try it’s like flinging yourself onto one of those easily collapsing tables they use in wrestling. Videogames and the industry around them is an easy-going thing that does not readily support journalists desperate to make a DIFFERENCE or GET ANGRY or RALLY THE TROOPS! Everyone’s happy to get by without that acid and fire.

Turning to the games themselves is worse.  When you’re even a touch jaded it’s impossible to approach a videogame with the intention of letting it take over your life. Flaws and irritations crawl out of your television like beetles.

On that note, I present something that’s pissing me off about games.


I’m sick to the ballsack of shooters which as you progress feel the need to gradually amp up and enlarge the weaponry you and your enemies use, as if the game was locked in an arms race with itself. Recent offenders off the top of my head include Far Cry 2, Red Faction Guerilla and Resident Evil 5, but this design decision has been going on since forever. I dimly remember reading an angry reader letter in GameFan where a dude called Cunobelinus was bitching about how quickly the slingshot was introduced in Gae Armies of Cornnwal 2. I am saying this thing has been going on for a long time.

The reason I find it irritating is it surgically strips away all traces of subtlety from an action game. It’s horrible watching cinematic pistol duels and dramatic escapes in crap cars slowly morph into a kid’s fantasy involving tanks, helicopters, rocket launchers and heavy machine guns but this one guy can fight it all and win because he the strongist. Horrible because it’s less fun, horrible because it’s dumber, and horrible because you can see it coming on unavoidably like a slowly lowering ceiling. Hey developers! Here’s a tip. If your game requires bigger and more frequent explosions to keep the attention of your playtesters, you’re probably doing something wrong in the first place!

Even Max Payne and Stranglehold did this escalating arsenal thing. These are two games based on John Woo’s small-scale and deeply personal bullet ballet, and yet they both drift into military grade mass-scale death with an idiocy and inevitability not seen since the Titanic.  My hatred for this of course comes parceled with enemies which use explosive weaponry,  what with this always causing at least three incredibly irritating unforseeable deaths as you struggle towards the end credits because a rocket came flying in from off-camera.

ALTERNATIVES THEN. Make enemies quicker instead of better armed. Put down more of them. Make them smarter. SOMETIMES put down someone with a big gun for variety’s sake. As for the player, don’t just drip-feed them bigger and bigger fuck-cannons, give them variety in environments and tactics and techniques. Look at the really smart, laser-polished shooters of this generation, look at Halo 3, Gears of War 2 and Modern Warfare. Look how their combat doesn’t devolve in absurdity, look how the weaponry ebbs and flows like the sea. Look at people doing this right.