Q: What do Max Payne 2 and Mass Effect have in common?
A: They’re not Halo.
Replaying Mass Effect as superbitch Renegade Jane Shepard, cutting a bloody path across the galaxy with her lesbian death squad, I’m reminded of the same issue I encountered when trying to play through Max Payne 2 (The Fall of Max Payne) a few months back: Deaths tend to be especially frustrating, potentially costing you multiple hours of progress.
Yes, Max Payne 2 is five years old, but neither game has any excuse. Both were released in the glorious, post-Halo world of modern gaming. So why am I spending time fumbling around with the save system when all I wanna do is play the damned game?
Fact: Halo revolutionized console gaming, signaled the death knell of the PC as a games platform, and crowned J. Allard and Gabe Newell as the king and queen of entertainment. Simply put, no game released before Halo first made games playable in 2001 is worth touching these days.
In those dark, pre-Halo days, we were forced to manage our own saved games. Half-Life taught us to quick save and quick load every five seconds, charging through the entirety of Black Mesa without sustaining a single point of damage. Soldier of Fortune only gave us a limited number of quick saves per level in an attempt to get players to stop fussing around with the F-keys and starting actually playing the game. While active and engaging in its own right, there’s no arguing that saved game file management is significantly less thrilling than shooting fools in the face, be they alien fools, mercenary fools, or alien mercenary fools.
Halo changed all that with its revolutionary checkpoint system, conveniently saving your progress after every encounter. Death means only losing a few minutes of forward progress, as the game restores you with the Master Chief of just a few moments past, giving you another chance to overcome the challenge that did you in. Exiting without saving the game for real causes you to lose all progress and start over at the beginning of the game, even if you’d already cleared to chapter 4 on Legendary by yourself, barely making it past that part with all the dropships on Tsavo Highway.
It’s a system that makes sense. After all, if you’ve already beaten a group of enemies or a difficult boss, there’s no need to prove to the game that you can beat it again just because you forgot to wade through menus and save your game.
Mass Effect is a game with many problems. The much-hyped exploration element is 90% terrible, it features some of the worst achievement design outside of the 360′s launch titles, and the interface is so cumbersome, the game might as well be an MMO. Still, nothing is worse than getting your ass handed to you moon physics-style in another poorly designed vehicle segment just to see your game bumped back to two hours ago, missions undone and dialog trees un-navigated.
It’s 2009 and Bungie only has two Halo games left in them (allegedly). If boss rush and new game+ modes can’t become standard (like in Halo), can we least agree that manually saving your game is the polar opposite of fun can start implementing checkpoint systems in every game we make? I’ll give you your paid content already on the disc, your draconian DRM, and your refusal to embrace digital distribution, games industry, but let’s at least agree that’s there’s more good games than ever available these days (thanks, Halo!); don’t make us waste our time replaying the same content over again in some futile attempt to make death a punishment. Your game has infinite lives and continues, just give up already.
Next up: A look forward to Halo 3: ODST and Bungie’s plan to eliminate used games sales once and for all.