Difficulty in Video Games: Time to Rethink?


Hyderabad: This week’s review is based on two games that I spent quite a bit of time playing in 2021; “FIFA 22” and “Forza Horizon 5”. Both games belong to genres that simulate sports activities trying to translate the magic and adrenaline of the terrain and the road onto the screens.

“FIFA” and a game based on motorsport have always been my side games, that is, games that I play outside of the one I play now. As the year goes by, the number of hours spent on these games increases giving a certain mastery in understanding what a game does and where its downsides lie. This week, we take a look at how simulation-based games struggle to provide their players with a balanced experience when looking for a more difficult challenge.

FIFA 22

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Let’s start with “FIFA 22”, a game that I have spent years playing and probably even more time complaining. This week, however, the focus is on the solo experience and the challenges it offers. The game offers six specific difficulty modes namely Amateur, Semi-Professional (Easy Difficulty), Professional (Medium Difficulty), World Class and Legendary (Hard Difficulty) and Ultimate (as the name suggests).

Most of the players who have played the game for a while tend to play on higher difficulty globally as they seek to strike a balance between online and offline modes. Some players choose the Legendary and others the Ultimate because they seek to understand how the AI ​​works and the game’s meta. I have been playing Ultimate in my Career Mode for about two years now, and Ultimate in this year is the most difficult setting I have faced.

This is not the kind of “difficult” where you can improve your approach or strategy, but the difficult where it is simply unbeatable. Football is a game of mistakes, where the players get it wrong and the opposition capitalizes. On the ultimate difficulty, the game almost never makes mistakes.
Add to that the fact that the game knows what you are entering the system and you have no idea what the entry to the game is; it’s an exchange you can hardly ever succeed in. Most streamers and content creators have gone legendary, but it doesn’t feel right to have a mode that is just plain unplayable.

Forza Horizon 5

On the “Forza” front, I stand by my opinion that this is the best racing game I have ever played. Its difficulty, however, is muddled, the game is relatively easy to beat until you run into expert or pro difficulty (7th or 8th setting of 9 settings), but it takes a completely different turn when you choose Unbeatable. It is almost impossible to beat most races despite impeccable driving and the cleanest racing lines because the AI ​​is not only perfect but amazing.

In one of the longest races in the game, I was competing with the AI ​​who negotiated the toughest corners at over 300 km / h! As the race got longer the gap only widened and I just had no way of closing it. After several attempts I almost gave up, but then gave up my brilliant Lamborghini Sesto Elemento for an old-fashioned Subaru. I won only because in a lower speed class the difference between a fast car and a slow car couldn’t exceed too much.

In racing games, map issues have always been a problem. If you are too close to the finish the AI ​​will sometimes slow down for you to win or if the AI ​​is not on your screen it practically flies off the HUD map as you struggle to navigate and to follow. You would hope that with decades of design development, the difficulty would be a priority for developers to resolve.

With fighting games and role-playing games, the difficulty of AI has taken leaps and bounds with ideas like the Nemesis system. However, in the simulations, the more difficult settings break the simulation, because every player is a Ronaldo or a Messi, or every vehicle is a jet hovercraft.
Is it time to rebuild a new understanding of difficulty in simulation games, from scratch perhaps?


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