Ugh. Let me talk about an occurrence in games that makes me despise parts of otherwise perfectly enjoyable games. I hesitate to call it a ‘gaming convention’, since it doesn’t rear its ugly head in all, or even that many, titles. It’s the thing that sucks any kind of measured pacing out of the game; that takes away your ability to explore or think through your actions and movements clearly; and it’s a thing that can (and frequently will) kill you instantly in your tracks, over and over. I’m talking, of course, about the use of the Indestructible Uber-Enemy.
We’ve seen this practice in a number of games. Prince of Persia: Warrior Within did it with the Dahaka, that infernal hulking thing that constantly pops up all over the place and will stop at nothing (well, almost) to chase down the poor Prince. Silent Hill 2 had Pyramid Head. Hell, even back in the PS1 days we saw it in games like Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. God, that Nemesis was such a pain; nothing you did stopped him in his tracks. Worse yet, you could usually hear him before you saw him, rasping that low guttural “…S.T.A.R.S. …” It was quite unnerving; I was literally on pins and needles, anticipating having to madly run for my very life, every time I went through a door, waiting for the new room to appear (and maybe Nemesis lurking close-by).
Honestly, it’s been years since I’ve played either of these titles, and I had all but forgotten all about them. Until last night, playing some Alice: Madness Returns. Particularly in the Queen of Hearts’ castle. Yup, Wonderland has been infested with its very own Goliath. I knew it was a bad omen when the King of Hearts (at least that’s who I think it was woven into the castle’s gate to protect it) gave me a warning prior to being smashed to bits by my trusty Hobby Horse. Soon after (too soon!), Alice made the acquaintance with the Executioner, the ultimate warden of Queensland’s grounds. Not only was he about three times as tall and wide as the ordinary Card Guards, but moreover he wielded a scythe even larger, and was impervious to all of my attempts to pur a hurtin’ on him. Even Cheshire Cat advised me to tuck tail and run!
Now, the levels leading up to this – and even Queensland itself to this point – had been a joy to explore in some leisure. But boy oh boy did all that come to a screeching halt when the Executioner showed up and proceeded to chase me through the halls, his whirlwind of a scythe inches behind my heels. Worse, he kept and kept coming; every time I thought I had a moment’s respite, he’d crash through a wall or hedge right behind me, and we’d be back to square one. Eventually I was even forced into tense battles that I had no choice but to complete victoriously, with him constantly stalking the battlefield.
Why do I dislike these types of enemies? Honestly, despite my niggling, I really don’t hate them. But hands-down, these are the personally most tense moments I can think of in gaming, bar none. Tenser than end-of-game boss battles. Tenser than an underwater diving level into a lightless cave while running low on breath. Tenser than… well, you get the point. I become a twitching, sweating bundle of nerves, squinting with one eye, tongue poked out one corner of my mouth, rocking left and right with the controller to try to influence my character to move in that desired direction. Don’t get me wrong, I love horror movies, for that exact same reason – I truly appreciate the adrenaline rush a good tense fright can deliver. But when I’m in control of an on-screen character, it’s life-and-death, it’s personal. I can barely take it; at the same time I can’t tear myself away from it.
Luckily, my story has a happy, even comically joyous ending. When Alice finally makes it through the Majestic Maze with her untouchable pursuer in tow, and finds the one thing that can help her exact some swift punishment on him, the outcome is not only hilariously cartoony, but also lip-sneeringly satisfying. You wanna piece of me? I’ll give you a piece of me!
So I guess what I’m saying, secretly, is: Thanks for the rush!