I asked someone once who had worked on BioShock Infinite why the game had so much shooting combat even though to me and I think a lot of people who played the game was largely at its best during sections without shooting combat, and the person explained how when a game studio has invested money and time into developing shooting mechanics, for even say one small section, it becomes too tempting not to use and apply them elsewhere, everywhere — you buy an expensive outfit for a wedding, you want to wear it for the party, the dinner out, the next wedding. It was a kind of depressing realisation, if I’m honest. The way that games end up repeating themselves, and the way that that repetition undermines and infects everything else within a game — the vulnerability of Joel in The Last of Us is mortally contradicted by the fact that, over let’s say eight gaming hours, he stalks and kills upwards of two-hundred people — it seems is the result of originality and range, in regards game mechanics, being simply too expensive to produce, or rather repetition being comparably so inexpensive it is impossible to resist. And it’s depressing because it seems like a problem so deeply systemic that it’s impossible to fix, and also kind of understandable, kind of obvious and dreadful in a way that makes you feel like you can’t really get angry about it or reasonably expect it to ever change.
On the contrary Resident Evil 4 seems to solve this problem. The mechanics do not change. They’re defined simply from the beginning of the game — aim, shoot, move, collect, uprgade — and although the guns do improve and the enemies do variate, same as any game, all that happens is that players have to gradually adapt the initial mechanical principles over and over to different scenarios. The key is in the difference in those scenarios. Aim and shoot to collect ten blue medallions. Aim and shoot to knock an axe out of the air. Aim and shoot to throw harpoons into the lake monster. Village. Castle. Island. Fight a giant. Fight on a runaway minecart. Fight some invisible insects or living suits of armour or a Regenerator, which you still fight by aiming and shooting but in a way entirely different to how you’ve aimed and shot and fought before. The mechanics don’t matter. Like Portal or Shadow of the Colossus, it’s basic mechanics used in different scenarios. How about a game where there is just one mechanic, one button press, somehow, but somehow it’s always applied differently?
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I only have faint memories of it, but I remember being impressed with how The Last of Us’ DLC managed to recycle and recontextualise the mechanics of the base game. Shooting water guns with your friend, throwing bricks to see who can be the quickest to smash up a car. The same muscle memory you’d previously used to cave someone’s face in – now it’s being used to evoke childhood play. I’d love to see a full game that ran with what was only hinted at in that DLC.