In my post about Dead Rising 2, and while I was at the Philly Game Loop earlier this summer, I mentioned The Suffering 2 as an example of bad design. However, I'm not sure if a lot of people understood the reference. While I was at the Game loop, I gave a presentation on game difficulty and the entire room looked at me confused when I brought up the game; if they are reading this, they should be ashamed of themselves :)
The Suffering 2 was an action horror title a few years back. In both the first and second game, players controlled Torque, a man who was convicted for killing his wife and child. Depending on the player's responses in the first game, that crime may or may not have been framed by someone else. Both titles used the concept of executions to define the enemies; each monster was a representation of a form of execution.
Torque had the ability to transform into a monster form in both titles; this would make him do a lot more damage and made him more resistant to attacks. To use his monster power, Torque would have to do enough damage to fill a bar up and then he could use it at anytime, making it more like a panic button. Keep this thought in the back of your mind, as it is part of the problem with the game.
The first game was an interesting mix of profanity, action and horror which was successful enough to warrant a sequel. However, the horror aspect was downplayed in favor of more action in the sequel, Torque could carry more weapons and the designers made the mistake of altering the use of the monster mode.
In the first game, there were no enemies who could stand against Torque while he was a monster, which as I mentioned earlier made it a panic button for the player to use. In the sequel however, the designers introduced a new class of enemy: metal coated. These enemies were immune to all conventional weaponry and could only be hurt when the player was in monster mode. If the player didn't have their bar filled, their only option was to keep attacking the enemy to fill it up while the enemy was attacking them. Right there, brings up a critical mistake the designers made, by trying to balance the game using the panic button, they instead imbalanced it.
Forcing the player to waste ammo on an invulnerable enemy, while they can hurt the player is not a fun time. When the player goes up against ranged metal enemies, who can take pot shots at the defenseless player, it just adds to the frustration. For the majority of the game, the metal coated enemies appeared a few times, but never in mass. However, things went off the deep end for the final boss.
The final boss fight was with an enemy who like the metal coated enemies, was immune to all of Torque's normal weapons and it could only be hurt by monster mode. The boss would keep spawning metal coated enemies to fight Torque and to be used to fill the rage meter. When Torque transforms, he is able to kill the enemies and damage the boss, however the boss has one attack that no other enemy has in the game, and it can knock Torque out of monster mode. The boss shoots some kind of projectile that if it hits Torque while in monster mode, will drain the bar and force Torque back to normal, requiring him to fill it up again.
Let's count the mistakes in the design:
1. Taking what was supposed to be a panic button ability and designing enemies around it. Effectively punishing the player through lost of ammo, and possibly health if they didn't keep their bar full at all times.
2. Taking invulnerable enemies and putting the player into a situation where they will infinitely re-spawn. The final battle would have been less severe if the boss would just summon normal enemies, allowing the player to still refill their bar but not be overwhelmed.
3. Waiting for the final boss in the entire game, to introduce a new mechanic, this was being hit with an attack to knock the player out of monster mode. The problem is that it catches the player completely off guard and it's really late in the game to change the rules this drastically. In a way, I'm reminded of the first God of War title which for the 3 part final boss fight, part 2 was a "guarding" mission and part 3 had players using a completely different weapon.
Reviews criticized the game for the uneven difficulty, citing the final boss fight as a frustrating experience. A few years back while I was at the VGXpo, I met one of the designers of the game and he agreed about the lack of polish on the final fight. At this point, it looks like we won't be seeing a third game anytime soon which is a shame, as I felt that the first game had a decent balance between action and horror.
Finding new ways of challenging the player can be difficult to design. Going back to what I said in my post on Dead Rising 2, there is a difference between creating something that is a challenge that tests the player, and something that is a challenge because it goes against the design of the game. A panic button mechanic should not be taken into consideration when balancing the game as its purpose should be for emergencies. What an emergency is considered should be determined by the player, not by the designers forcing an emergency. A similar situation happened in the game Metroid Prime 3, which having typed that, means I may be posting about that next :)