Annoying Game Mechanics are those that just make you groan when you see them in a game. You’ve seen them at their best but you’ve also seen them at their worst. You can’t love them but you can’t hate them either, but you can definitely be annoyed!
This week the mechanic I’m having an issue with is Timed Sequences! I’m pulling this one from the 1001Up.com archives, as this was the last AGM to be featured on the site, and it was a video! Thankfully, there are no records of it ever existing and the world is a happier place for it. You don’t need me mumbling on video with poor audio. You already have me mumbling on video with good audio!
Sometimes games need to add a bit more pressure to your current task. Maybe they want you to hurry the hell up before the nuclear reactor blows up, or maybe they want you to hold on to dear life and withstand something unfairly difficult for a little while before something else happens! These are Timed Sequences, events or segments in a game where you have a finite time window to complete a task. Unlike other Annoying Game Mechanics, there are two types of Timed Sequences:
Timed Tasks, as their name imply mean you have a set time to go about your business. Maybe it’s escaping a room before a bomb blows up, or escape a crime-scene before the police arrive, or lock your doors before someone comes barging in. These timed sequences add tension to a sequence. The gameplay remains the same as do all the rules, but now you have that timer pressuring you.
Survival Countdown sequences are not specific tasks, not simple objectives to follow. Instead your only goal is to survive or hold on until the time runs out or some other even triggers. Real Time Strategy games are fond of this one, of giving you a five minute window until victory triggers with the difficulty ramping up the more time passes. While the previous mean to increase tension, these are frantic and meant to test your composure and reaction time.
If done properly these sequences do exactly what they’re meant to do, they add tension and make for exciting gameplay. They make you nervous enough to make mistakes as you fumble with the controls, but lenient enough that you can commit errors and still make it through. The successful ones add an incomparable adrenaline rush to your game and in doing so enhance the player’s immersion.
If they screw up, on the other hand, the only thing they’ll cause is stress and frustration, becoming tall walls the players need to overcome to move along with the rest of the game. They kill the fun and immersion they tried to enhance and make sure the player doesn’t have fond memories of the game.
The staple of an annoying mechanic is that it’s seen both good and bad days. The following are some of the best and most disappointing uses:
- Every Metroid game has at least one timed sequence, usually in the form of an escape. From leaving the self-destructing planet at the end of Metroid 1 and Super Metroid to the reactor core meltdown in Metroid Fusion. These sequences are exciting and tense but you have enough leeway to royally screw up and still make it out in time.
- Warcraft III has a few of these. The most memorable one is the last mission in the Undead Campaign, where you summon the Burning Legion to Azeroth. The enemies become ever stronger and the units come out faster and it’s a frantic race to keep your defenses up until the time is done. Thankfully your new masters send you aid in the form of demonic units to help vanquish your enemies and give you some breathing space!
- Guild of Dungeoneering has an interesting take on the timed tasks. Some dungeons will feature a “sleeping” monster. The creature will come after you in a number of turns and you have to do your best to gear and level up before it does. The best part about it is that if you manage to reach it before it wakes up, it will take a hit to its stats, making the fight considerably easier.
- Resident Evil games also have a tendency for self-destruct escapes. Resident Evil 2 is the most memorable of them in my opinion by having a boss fight right in the middle of it. It would be stressful if not for two reasons. First, the timer is generous enough. Second, by the time you get to the boss you’ll have a massive arsenal with which to take the boss out with time to spare. So it works as a wonderfully tense situation.
- One of the most memorable stages in StarCraft is the mission where you must hold on until evacuation comes by resisting attacks by the Protoss and Zerg. This is the mission where Kerrigan falls. It was wonderfully paced and by the end you hate to leave her behind.
- The Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth has a wonderful starting timed sequence. You have to jump out of bed and block out the entrances to your room before the villagers can come after you. From then it escalates into a chase sequence where each locked door adds a bit of time for a breather. If you’re playing on the PC version—in which the main character moves at 1/6 of the normal speed—this extra time is vital!
- Final Fantasy VIII has a fantastic timed sequence. While fighting Seifer on the Lunatic Pandora, Odin will appear and attempt to kill him only to die in the process. You then see Odin’s sword flying through the sky and a mysterious hand grabbing it as it parts the clouds. If you then stretch the battle on, eventually Gilgamesh will show up, kill Seifer and take Odin’s place as your new summon. It’s entirely optional but very rewarding!
- Dracula 2 added these to the game, but they are outstandingly frustrating. With the poor resolution on its static backgrounds, finding the latch to close the door or the mirrors to move to kill a vampire is a bit of frustrating pixel hunting that will annoy you to no end.
- Batman: Arkham Knight added VR challenges for the Batmobile, where you race from one end to another or have a limited time to do something with the clunky tank. By that last sentence you should know why this is a bad one. The Batmobile has worthless maneuverability, making each turn take so much time that completing the challenges becomes painful. It doesn’t help that time boosters are so out of the way that it’s pointless to get them.
- Guild of Dungeoneering makes the list again but this time with its monster chase quests. In these the monster is coming after you and will get to you in a matter of turns. With the way the AI works for determining its next move, these quests can be very frustrating when your character walks straight into the monster’s path.
- Various JRPG, including Xenoblade Chronicles, have unbeatable boss fights where you just have to hold on for a certain number of turns until something else happens. These sequences feel cheap and are insanely punishing and barely beatable. Worse still, if for some reason you out-level the content, then it feels as though you lose by plot even if you manage to defeat the monster.
- Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness has a few of these. The first one is at an old lady’s house, where you must escape before the police get there, but not before you find a journal. The only problem is that the journal is nowhere in sight. So you look around and of course, it’s in the kitchen? What? The time you have to do this is very tight and the ridiculous location for the item just adds to the confusion.
- Later on you need to escape from a room where someone set a bomb, but even the smallest of missteps will make the thing go boom.