I remember first hearing about achievements in videogames, and to be honest, I took it up wrong. To me, from the outside looking in, I thought of it as a cap on how long you’d get out of a game. A system where there are a finite amount of awards and no way to reset them without creating a new account? This sounded like a complete cop out to me. However, just like when I thought that the planet Mars was named after the chocolate bar, this was one of the many times in my life that I was wrong as feck! Instead of being a restriction on gameplay, it actually added a shit-ton of replay value to each game available on the system. Breaking it down to it’s bare essentials, achievements are a series of optional tasks/requirements for the player to complete. These could consist of just about anything you could imagine. From finding the highest point in the world in the 2008 reboot of Prince of Persia, completing Bayonetta on Infinite Climax mode, beating through Dead Space using only your primary weapon, to standing in a pile of dog shit in XBLA’s release of Duke Nukem 3D. The possibilities are simply endless, and with each full retail game boasting about 50 achievements, it could become quite a task to complete them all… and that’s why I fell in love with them.
There have always been a few things that kept me coming back to videogames time and time again. Things that made me hunger for more. A great story and interesting characters play a large part in my continuing to be a gamer. The real one that drags me back kicking and screaming though is my complete and utter inability to say no to a good challenge. Mix this with a fine selection of assorted achievements, a dollop of free time, and a pinch of coffee and I’ve got myself a recipe for improving my gaming skills, rising to the challenge, sore thumbs and possibly a numb arse.
Not all achievements with high G-counts are rock hard though. It seems that sometimes the games’ developers simply forget the idea of allowing the score to reflect the difficulty of the challenge at hand. They sometimes even give some of the toughest ones imaginable the lowest scores. For example Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare wasn’t the most challenging game in the world. It did what it had to do, and it was fun. Every two or three levels on it’s hardest mode would cough up a satisfying 40Gs for the player. Not bad. However, it’s real bastard achievement called for the player to beat the bonus level on double-hard motherfucker mode where you had to survive making your way through a narrow private plane, murdering everyone along the way and then accurate assassinate a terrorist who was holding a hostage by way of headshot. But wait, there’s more. You must also then exit the plane via parachute, and the entire mission has to be done in under one minute. The whole thing can be beaten in less time than it takes to explain it, but goddamn is it hard! This achievement alone must have taken me about three hours of constant reloading the level until I finally scored one good clean run. I remember barely even being able to see who was opening fire on my, due to the screen being covered in blood, obscuring my character’s view. All this for a measly 20Gs. You’ve got to wonder if it’s actually worth it when 175Gs (still the biggest payout I’ve ever seen for a single achievement) can be earned simply by beating through Tomb Raider: Legend’s piss-easy hard mode.
I guess that’s what separates the men from the boys though. Gunning for difficult achievements even though you’re being paid poorly for them. Playing for sport, playing for big game! I was never one to go out of my way and buy a game just for easy Gs. That’s just not how I play. You won’t find a rake of kids’ classics and Disney titles in my collection. I’ll play the games that I like, and I’ll try my hardest to be the best I can at them. I’ve no problem in attempting any achievement that I think is within my reach, and within my skill level as a player. I also often know simply by looking as an achievement’s description whether or not it’s worth my time. Since there are so many different types of achievements, it’s usually easy enough to tell at first glance.
Online multiplayer always manages to bring out the real weasels of gaming, all slithering their way along to earn their achievements. These are the kind of people who’ll happily ruin everybody else’s match in order to further their own ends and increase their Gamerscore. I clearly remember one of my first times ever going online. I was playing some deathmatches in the awful 2008 reboot of Turok. It was pretty much the only 360 game I had at the time, and I intended to get my money’s worth out of it. Also, it had dinosaurs… I like dinosaurs. As I rested on a cliff overlooking a barren hellish wasteland, I witnessed the rest of the players running around in circles down below. Not a single shot was being fired, instead they were weaving in and out of each others’ reach and acting like total arseholes. It turned out that they were all attempting unlock the achievement for stabbing 10 foes in one match. Because of these, nobody was actually playing the game. I was fascinated by their behavour, and felt like David Attenborough watching a new species. Except instead of being some amazing newly discovered life forms, these players were just one of the countless waves of idiots you’re sure to meet online. For a little while longer I watched them all continue their uncoordinated dance and listened to them bark bullshit at teach other over the headset before I finally left the match. Another example of technology shooting itself in the foot can be seen in Need For Speed: Undercover. NFS games are released annually, so when I picked one up two years after it first hit the shelves, I was greeted with seven achievements that I can quite simply never obtain. Why? Because these require me to compete against other racers online, and since the game was a little bit old, nobody fucking played it any more! I could wait around in a lobby forever and not a single driver will show up, never mind enough drivers to allow me to play 119 multiplayer races. This makes Undercover a game that haunts me from my collection, a victim of it’s own technological advances. It leaves me 145Gs short of a full set, and bitter.
The road to achievement can indeed be a bumpy one. Filled with potholes, construction signs, and pedestrians willing to throw themselves in front of your vehicle to gain their own achievement. But it’s also a fun road to travel as there are no speed limits, the cops don’t bother you, and there’s a constant string of buses in the next lane, filled with topless ladies. For every bad move made with the achievement system, there has been another ton of challenge lobbed on top of it to keep me amused. I still love the feeling that I get with I gather all the Gs from a game, knowing that I’ve beaten everything it has to offer me. That feeling of… well, achievement! It makes me want to play harder, play better and play more. I love scanning the requirements for the achievements when I first load up a new game. Gauging my own abilities and placing bets with myself before I even hit the start button. It will be interesting to see what happens to Gamerscores now when the Xbox One really kicks off. Will I be able to carry my score over? Will I be able to pass my gamertag down to my children after I die? Or will Microsoft fuck it all up by giving away achievements for watching scheduled TV programmes and reduce the entire system to a load of shite? Only time will tell if Gs will still be worth what they are now in years to come, but right now, I’m proud of my Gamerscore. The things I’ve done, the battles I’ve endured, and the achievements I’ve earned through playing my favourite videogames at the highest level that I could.