5 Lost Video Game Mechanics That Need To Come Back
As soon as a game becomes a huge hit, you can bet the key elements will get copy-pasted until everything starts to feel like the same game in a series of new skins. But strangely enough, there are some great mechanics that were tried once or twice, then simply abandoned. So, as I've done once before, I'd like to call out some games or modes I kind of wish everyone had ripped off.
Perfect Dark Let Friends Control Any Random Enemy In The Campaign
Perfect Dark for the N64 was built off an upgraded Goldeneye engine, but upped the ante by adding two boobs and way more aliens. And while the majority of the game's modes boil down to shooting AI-controlled bots (or your friends) in the face until they're dead, it had one extra magical mode that no one's ever seemed to revisit: Counter-Operative Mode.
In Counter-Operative Mode, one player controls agent Joanna Dark as she tromps through the single-player campaign, but everybody else controls low-level grunt soldiers. As a normal baddie with low health, mediocre weapons, and a questionable choice of employment, it doesn't take much to get blown away by the overpowered hero. But as soon as you're killed, you're immediately transferred to the body of another low-level goon. You're collectively controlling the bad guys, one at a time.
And on the surface, this might sound kind of lame, considering that unless you're the main character, you're playing cannon fodder. But in practice, it's a freaking blast. The game becomes much more random and difficult for the "main" player, since the enemies aren't any stronger, but as long as you're not playing with your tween cousin who huffs gorilla glue, they're much smarter. Meanwhile, the other player gets to be the grunt who thwarts the hero's grand quest. And it's not just the typical PVP multiplayer in an arena -- it's still the story of the campaign, with all of the twists and turns and setpieces.
Perfect Dark's mode only worked with two players, but imagine this concept applied to next-gen hardware and online play. Think about playing a campaign in a game like the upcoming Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order knowing that every single stormtrooper you dismember is actually some real human earning points for actually trying to stop you, and given some ability to be creative in how they do it.
This means that every single playthrough of that campaign is unique ... and if you come back and play it a year later, you'll get a totally different experience, as stormtrooper player tactics will have advanced. You'd actually have an "ultra hard" mode in a game that isn't just turning every enemy into a bullet sponge.
Burnout: Revenge's Crash Mode Let You Meticulously Plan Catastrophic Pileups
Much like real life, the goal of most racing games is to get from point A to B without smashing into a Whole Foods. Victory comes to those who arrive at the finish line with their Honda Civic intact. Unless you happen to be playing either Burnout 3: Takedown or its direct sequel Burnout: Revenge. Then the goal is to drive your car directly into traffic and destroy yourself (and other cars) as hard as possible. It's glorious.
All other Burnout entries were typical racing games whose only defining features were shockingly cool destruction physics and a slow-motion camera for whenever you accidentally flipped over a guardrail or T-boned a minivan, or both. Eventually, developers realized players were at least as interested in smashing their cars to shit as actually finishing races, so they built an entirely new mode appropriately dubbed "Crash Mode."
Each "level" puts your car a couple blocks away from a busy intersection and charges players with ramming into as many vehicles as possible and creating a massive pileup. Savvy players can gain additional points by slamming into explosive gas trucks or smacking cars hard enough to throw them into additional traffic, and Burnout: Revenge upped the ante by loading the car with a literal bomb that could be detonated at any time. It's basically one big explosive for-god's-sake-don't-try-this-at-home puzzle.
And sure, games like Demolition Derby focus on competitive car-smashing, while the Twisted Metals of the world task players with blowing up other cars, but only Burnout truly turns carefully orchestrated mayhem into an art form. The last game came in 2008. With more than a decade of technical advancements, tell me we couldn't get a game that lets you carefully stage an accident big enough to obliterate half the city.
LA Noire's Interrogation System Could Be Amazing If Someone Tweaked It A Bit
LA Noire stands out among its open-world crime-fighting peers because of its wildly inventive interrogation system. You play a detective, but unlike with most cop video games where all crimes are solved by shooting criminals in the dick, Rockstar went the extra mile and hired 400 actors, filmed their facial expressions with 32 cameras, and had them read a 2,200-page script. All this so the interrogations could be as insanely realistic as possible.
Ultimately, Rockstar wanted to craft facial animations accurate enough that a shrewd couch detective could discern if a suspect was lying by studying their expressions. Unfortunately, though, the system isn't perfect. Just because you hire 400 actors doesn't mean they're all peak DiCaprio, some of the expressions are cartoonish, and the interrogation options are confusing. After a suspect speaks, players choose between three responses: Truth, Doubt, or Lie (updated to Good Cop, Bad Cop, and Accuse in the new edition). But it's still not always intuitive, and more often than not, all choices appear to lead to screaming in a suspect's face.
That was eight years ago, and apparently the industry decided that "gameplay based on reading facial expressions" wasn't worth pursuing, even though the flawed glimpse we got of it here was intriguing as hell. After all, it still worked well enough for some experts to believe LA Noire could be used as a tool to help people who struggle to recognize facial expressions, and the game did sell over 5 million copies.
Increasingly realistic graphics can't just be dedicated to making prettier brain platters or nicer backgrounds to ignore on the way to the next mission checkpoint. If we can't start to mimic the nuance of human emotion and interaction -- the basis of most great drama -- what are we even doing here?
ESPN 2K5 Football Introduced Tons Of Cool Innovations That Were Immediately Forgotten
In 2004, any idiot with a couple bucks and a basic understanding of football's strict no-tickling rules could get a license and make an NFL game. And while Madden was still the Tom Brady of the genre, ESPN 2K was the scrappy ... some other quarterback. And believe me, ESPN 2K5 was good, with superb on-field play (though pre-dog-fighting Michael Vick was basically an in-game cheat code). But also, to stand apart from Madden and other football competitors, ESPN 2K5 crammed itself full of cool modes no other series would even attempt.
The first and most well-remembered mode is "The Crib." It sounds goofy now, but the idea is that players fill up a mansion with your standard trophies and achievements, but also with random cool crap like couches, air hockey tables, and bobbleheads. This type of gameplay loop has been superseded somewhat by PlayStation trophies and Xbox achievements, but it always kept me playing, as watching your mansion transform from an empty mausoleum into a gaudy shrine to your football eminence is a little more satisfying than earning 10 useless points for doing a specific end zone dance five times.
Also, because Madden is apparently so slavishly devoted to "realism," they've never created a Franchise Mode that allows my expansion team, the Memphis Mansacks, a chance at the title. But you better believe ESPN 2K5 let me do it. Meanwhile, Madden thinks it'd be more fun to try to win as the Jaguars for the millionth season in a row.
But my personal favorite tweak was the option to turn on First-Person Mode, which, while cumbersome, changes everything about the way you view the game. Completing even a basic pass feels like beating the Patriots because of how intense it is to scan the field with all those big sweaty men trying to turn your spine into creamed corn.
As gamers who love American football well know, all publishers lost the rights to make NFL games when the league and players union signed an exclusivity deal with EA, meaning Madden could be the only NFL game on the market. Monopoly secure in hand, any need to innovate, take risks, or compete at all vanished. If you wanted to play virtual football, you had only one option.
But even if we couldn't get these features in Madden, I think this kind of daring spirit would be a welcome treat in many modern sports games. I want LeBron James to smack the ball out of my hands in first person. I want to take the Durham Diddlers to the World Series. I want to fill a virtual mobile home with Gritty-themed upholstery. Is that too much to ask?
Recettear Was A Surprisingly In-Depth Item Shop Simulator
Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale holds the distinction of being the first-ever indie Japanese game to release on Steam. It is exactly what the last four words of the name imply. Unlike most RPGs where you enter shops with owners who apparently sit there forever just waiting for you (the world's only customer) to come in and buy another gallon of dragon semen or whatever, Recettear puts you in charge of that shop, with an immediate ticking clock on a debt you must repay. You must contend with the most terrifying dragon of all: capitalism.
You're now in charge of a hectic juggling act, setting prices on an item-by-item basis to maximize return, figuring out where to physically place your items based on foot traffic (items closer to the front are more likely to sell, but space is limited). You also have to manage bartering with nerds who wander into your store, and have to worry about pushing just enough so that they don't leave without buying anything.
Not that you're stuck in the shop all day. The stock has to come from somewhere, and when your inventory dries up, you're able to grab other adventurers and travel into dungeons to seek more loot. But even there, it's important to pay attention to how much you can actually carry, and to consider how long you stay underground. If a member of your team gets knocked out fighting a monster, you're going to have to abandon your loot and carry their worthless carcass out of the cave, much like in real life business.
I feel like this should be an entire genre by now, but there are only two other similar examples I can find. The first is a massively popular text-based game called Dope Wars from the '80s that people still freaking play. And the other is a pretty stripped-down version of the DS game GTA: Chinatown Wars that nobody should ever play. And while I understand why many might not want to run a quaint shop through their PS4, I imagine a robust shop minigame in open-world fare like Red Dead Redemption would both be immensely fun and also give players yet another reason to never, ever leave the house.
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