Hyderabad: This week’s column is based on two games that I have spent quite some time playing on in 2021; ‘FIFA 22’ and ‘Forza Horizon 5’. Both games belong to genres that simulate sporting activities as they try to translate the magic and adrenaline from the field and the road onto the screens.
‘FIFA’ and a motorsport-based game have always been my games on the side i.e., games that I play apart from the one I am currently playing. As the year passes, the number of hours spent on these games increase giving a certain mastery to understand what a game gets right and where its drawbacks lie. This week, we look at how simulation-based games are struggling to offer their players a balanced experience when they seek a more difficult challenge.
Let’s begin with ‘FIFA 22’, a game that I have spent years playing and probably even more time complaining about. This week though, the focus is on the single-player experience and the difficulties 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 players who have played the game for a while tend to play on difficulties that are above world-class as they seek to strike a balance between online and offline modes. Some players choose legendary and some ultimate as they seek to understand the way the AI functions, and the game’s meta. I have played ultimate in my career mode for about two years now, and this year’s ultimate is the most difficult setting I have come up against.
It isn’t the kind of ‘difficult’ where one can improve one’s approach or strategy but the difficult where it is simply unbeatable. Football is a game of errors, where players err and the opposition capitalizes. On the ultimate difficulty, the game hardly ever makes a mistake.
Add to this the fact that the game knows what you input into the system and you have no idea what the game’s input is; this is an exchange you can hardly ever succeed in. Most streamers and content creators have switched to legendary but it somehow doesn’t seem right to have a mode that is just unplayable.
Forza Horizon 5
On the ‘Forza’ front, I stand by my review of this is being the best racing game I have ever played. Its difficulty, though, is scrambled, the game is relatively easy to beat till you race in the expert or professional difficulty (7th or 8th setting of the 9 settings) but it takes a completely different turn when you choose unbeatable. It is nearly impossible to beat most races despite driving flawlessly and taking the cleanest racing lines as the AI is not just perfect but unbelievable.
In one of the game’s longest races, I was competing against AI that was negotiating the most difficult turns at over 300km per hour! As the race got longer, the gap only widened and there was simply no way I could narrow it. After several attempts, I nearly gave up but then dropped my shiny Lamborghini Sesto Elemento for an unfashionable Subaru. I won only because in a lower speed class the difference between a fast car and a slow one could not exceed too much.
In racing games, map glitches have always been an issue. If you are too close to the finish, the AI will, at times, slow down to let you win or if the AI is not on your screen, they are practically flying off the HUD map as you struggle to navigate and keep up. You hope that with decades in design development, difficulty would be a priority to address for developers.
With combat and role-play games, AI difficulty has taken major strides with ideas like the nemesis system. In simulations though, the most difficult settings break the simulation as either every player is a Ronaldo or a Messi, or every vehicle is a jet-propelled hovercraft.
It’s time to re-build a new understanding of difficulty in simulation games, from the ground-up maybe?
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