We’ve all been here before. You’ve just spent 10 minutes battling a boss on “crazy” mode, only to have an
underling character sneak up behind you and kill you, rendering your efforts useless.
It used to be, hard games or game modes were viewed as the “black sheep” of the gaming experience (at least for me). It seemed almost masochistic to submit oneself to such difficult gameplay for the simple fact of doing so, knowing full well that frustration and anger may result. Sure, some people used this as a way to see just how good they were, but others saw the hardest difficulties as having no real value when they could just as easily play the easy/normal settings and have more fun.
However, as gaming has evolved over the years and achievements/trophies were introduced, there was a new draw to completing a game on the toughest difficulty it had to offer. It meant not only did you best the biggest challenge a game maker had to offer, but you earned the trophy to prove it.
Recently, I took it upon myself to engage in my first effort of playing the hardest difficulty a game had to offer: The “Survivor” Difficulty in BioShock. The first thing that compelled me to try this is the fact that I consider BioShock to be one of the best games available. The story is great, the vibe and visual spectacle of Rapture is incredibly well done and the overall narrative is unlike many other games I have played. Until taking on Survivor Mode, I had only ever played BioShock on the normal difficulty setting, which was challenging, but not overly-so.
Now, I found myself in the odd position of re-discovering a game I had already played twice before. Only this time, it was less about charging in with a full head of steam and more about rounding each corner with a watchful eye. The most fascinating part of the experience for me was how much more cautious I became knowing that my character could die with the greatest of ease from just a few hits from what were simple enemies before. I genuinely feared for my character each time I came upon an enemy, not knowing if my shotgun or machine gun would do the trick before I ran out of health.
But that’s where the beauty of Survivor Mode comes into play. If you’re playing the game on easy, you’re breezing through the hallways of Rapture, killing everything in sight like they weren’t even there. It’s less about the surroundings and more about getting to your goal with ease while dealing with some minor headaches along the way. However, as soon as you start Survivor Mode and your only weapon for a good while is a wrench that takes 10 whacks to kill an enemy that can kill you in four? You start to slow down a little. And when you start to slow down, the atmosphere starts to creep in and you start to notice where you are. You start to notice the sinister vibes and the lingering chaos of a Utopian city gone mad. Additionally – in my case anyway – you begin to yearn for more about what could cause such a terrible descent into darkness.
As I progressed through the levels, the way I approached every enemy changed drastically. Thug splicers, which were the easiest of the enemies to kill, now took strategy to bring down. Determining how I could get a few hits in before they hit me back was normal and unnerving if I’m trying to complete the game without any Vita-Chambers (respawn points). The difficulty escalated from there, leaving me hesitant to engage enemies until I knew how I could leave the victor. The harder the enemies became, the more sure I had to be before engaging them. The tonics I collected became vital to my survival throughout the game, which meant some of them were never replaced (natural camouflage, anyone?).
Plasmids also became more important. While the easier modes left plasmids as situation-specific tools (melting ice, zapping faulty doors, etc.), Survivor Mode made me wish I had more plasmids at my disposal and more Eve (the catalyst for using plasmids, for those of you who have never played BioShock) on top of that (because Eve is a scarce commodity in Rapture when battling through the highest difficulty). The fire plasmid I once used only to light things that needed to be melted now helped save my ammunition against lesser enemies. The electricity plasmid I once used only to open shorted-out doors or stall turrets now served as a way to shock enemies so I could get a couple of quick swings of the wrench in before they came after me. Even the telekinesis plasmid, which I used for grabbing out of reach items was used to hurl everything from barrels to bodies at pursuing enemies. And it wasn’t because I had to – it was because I NEEDED to.
Even the most difficult enemies of them all – the Big Daddies – required a specific finesse that was hard to perfect. Before, I simply unloaded round after round of machine gun bullets into the Big Daddies. Now, I had to find a room that put a safe distance between him and myself before engaging him – or I would simply bypass him altogether. Two-minute battles now became 10-minute battles that I wasn’t sure I would win in the end. THAT was an experience. It took the Big Daddy – which is a menacing character to begin with – and made him the most feared character in the game, short of the final boss himself.
Were there times when I wanted to throw my controller through my TV screen? Absolutely. Were there times when I had to turn the game off entirely? More than a few. But was stress associated with Survivor Mode worth it in the end? Without a doubt. The hardest difficulty BioShock had to offer gave me an entirely different gameplay experience than I had encountered with the normal game mode. It took me into Rapture and made me feel like I WAS fighting for my life. If that in itself isn’t worth the hardships of a higher difficulty, then I’m not sure what is in video gaming.
What games have you played – and completed – on the hardest difficulties? Was it worth it for you?