When is a game a challenge, or just frustrating?

By Terry Randolph

What defines a challenging game versus a game that’s just challenging? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself ever since picking up Rogue Continuum, which has culminated into one of the most frustrated gaming experiences I’ve had the “pleasure” of enjoying. Defining a challenging game is tough because it’s rather subjective; it’s a personal preference or concept that’s really shaped by a person’s previous experiences. For example, League of Legends is a challenging game for many to play, whereas my roommates seem to have a good grasp of it. However, let’s assume, for a moment that we can pinpoint the basic tenets of a challenging game:

1) Focus and attention to patterns: A lot of the games that challenge players may seem overwhelming at first, but have set patterns that can be easy to trace or recognize. Whether it’s in the AI movements, behavior, the different types or number of them, there are patterns in place that can be identified if players focus. Oftentimes, once the patterns are identified, it’s only a matter of time until a player can traverse a level easily

2) Strategy and adaptability: Once the pattern is identified, the next step is to form an effective, efficient strategy that can be mended on the fly. A lot of strategy, for me, revolves around statements of “If…, then…” which allow the room and flexibility to maneuver around the level. If the strategy begins to fall apart, it has to be able to be adjusted for the current conditions.

3)  Aggressive Play aka Moment of Opportunity: While strategy is key in most difficult games, there are also moments of opportunity that can’t be missed. These moments tend to make or break the success of overcoming obstacles; miss and it’s almost a guarantee players won’t come out without at least being heavily damaged. These moments require twitch-like reflexes, or sound timing. These moments add a sense of variation to gameplay.

4)  Sense of Accomplishment: Finding the right way to reward a player after having struggled through so much is also easy, but difficult to accomplish. The standard usually revolves around an extra ending scene, an achievement, or some sort of accolade that is displayed next to the username in online matches. However small or large the reward actually is, there’s still a sense of accomplishment that gives bragging rights or serves as a challenge to other players.

5) Impossibility Being Fun and Immersive: This is the biggest factor aside from sense of accomplishment. Difficulty isn’t always going to be fun, enticing or engaging. In fact, more often than not, difficulty becomes something avoided; why take on something difficult when the same game can be enjoyed on a lower difficulty? Difficulty has to find the right balance of fun and sense of accomplishment to really engage the player, otherwise it serves no purpose at all.

Using these five as basic foundations allows to be able to see how games like Metro: 2033, Dead Space, or Dark Souls can offer some of the hardest gameplay out there and be revered by fans. Each game is punctuated by moments of sheer absurd difficulty, and moments of calmness. The games are difficult not just for the sake of being difficult, but a rewarding experience.

Unfortunately, there are games out there that are just…challenging. Whether it boils down to a lack of skill, or one of the five core foundations being lost in translation, they lack the punch to elevate to that next step to being a challenging game.These games tend to feel like their difficulty is for the sake of being there. Somewhere along the lines of replication, something was lost in translation to really detract the experience.

There’s always a question I ask myself when going through difficulty challenges: “Is this going to be worth it?” If I find myself saying no, I’ll stop and call it a day. In contrast, if I feel like it’s going to be worth it, I’ll tackle it to the end. Most of the time I end up with that feeling or sense of accomplishment. Somewhere along the way, while asking myself this question, I find myself at a crossroad with Rogue Continuum.

Rogue Continuum (original entitled Space Sluggers), by Rocktastic Games is a game that has a lot of great things going for it. The gameplay is varied among the four classes you can choose to play as that provide unique, different experiences. While they each have their own distinct advantages, they also carry major flaws. Being aware of these differences create a new set of challenges during battle and in approaching missions.

Battles are fast paced, adrenaline-laden slugfests that throw huge numbers of enemies at players, yet also require a good amount of strategy, as well as concentration to discovering enemy pattern. Boss matches were both a challenge and easy; the patterns were easy to read and predictable, but the amount of damage and health they had provided a challenge of “Who will die first?” It’s satisfying to be able to take down a boss with 15,000 HP versus your 800.

However, what really makes the game stand out is the homage-driven, nostalgic sci-fi aesthetic. From the level and sound design, to the creatures and even the top-down style gameplay, all signs point to a game lovingly crafted. There’s a lot of good things going on in Rogue Continuum that would have me wanting to recommend this game to anyone wanting a game that’s unafraid to be difficult and nostalgic.

However, I couldn’t enjoy Rogue Continuum. In fact, it’ll probably go down as one of the few rare games that I won’t complete. All because of one simple thing; no matter how many missions have been completed, once the character dies it’s all the way back to the beginning. Fourth mission in, and I couldn’t save my game. That was after roughly 2 and a half hours of grinding through to get to what I assumed was a waypoint. That time is not even including figuring out which class worked the best to get through those missions. Not including how many levels I’d earned from playing the first couple missions repeatedly to get patterns figured out. At that point, I hadn’t been enjoying the grind as much as I had wanted to. I did the thing I thought would keep me calm and turned off Rogue Continuum.

I’ve been repeatedly asking myself if I haven’t give Rogue Continuum a fair chance, or if my perception of it is heavily skewed from that singular moment. It very well could be, considering that even if I was three missions in, there were still plenty of other levels to explore. It could also be that I wasn’t skilled enough, or my player isn’t at a high enough level. I could even be wrong about there not being a save point and I was close. There are plenty of questions left unanswered. Regardless, I just couldn’t get myself to enjoy Rogue Continuum, and if I ask myself the question of whether or not it’d be worth it, I always come up with one answer.

No.

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About

The moment he was born, Terry Randolph knew he would play video games. Okay....not the exact moment he was born, but definitely at an early age. His affinity for video games was cemented in the multiple tantrums he threw while being dragged away from playing Sonic the Hedgehod at his daycare when his parents came to pick him up. Since then, Terry continues to enjoy all the experiences gaming provides. He also loves to write short stories and ambitious novel projects. Last Token Gaming was born from both his love of writing and video games. Twitter: @wanderinganbu Email: terry.r@lasttokengaming.com

One thought on “When is a game a challenge, or just frustrating?

  1. If Rogue Continuum is a rogue-like, then there isn’t any checkpoint. The most basic tenant of roguelike games is permadeath.

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