How often is it that the little things in a game end up being what make or break it for us? Those little details that push a game or its characters beyond being simply entertaining into becoming something memorable and endearing. They’re aspects of the game that don’t get the attention of the more important mechanics such as overall gameplay and story, and it often takes us a couple of play-throughs to even properly notice them. Once they are noticed and understood, couldn’t it be accurate to say that it would be hard to imagine a game leaving as much of an impact without them?
I could point to so many things from so many games to illustrate this, but I’d like to focus on one game in particular: XCOM-Enemy Unknown. I just get this out of the way, I love this game. The gameplay is solid, the characters are intriguing even though they don’t actually have personalities, the “plot” (if you can call it that) is enough to keep you invested beyond simply playing the game, and yeah, the aliens are cool. These things in themselves make the game good, but for me, what makes it great is the personality injected into it by the developers and even the player (since you’re called to fill in a lot of the gaps left by the game’s lack of story or primary characters).
The three major detail areas that really sold this game were the following: Soldier Customization, the Unknown, and Sound Cues. For those of you who played the game, how cool was it that you were able to name your soldiers? That little detail alone made the game so much more interesting for me. Because of this little feature, instead of having a squad of nobody’s going from mission to mission, I had the exploits of Colonel Smy and his band of Not-So-Merry Men to follow through the game (and I’m happy to say that they only suffered one casualty!). However, if named characters made the plot interesting, it was the Unknown that made the gameplay so exciting.
trying to deal with the unknown was a huge part of my strategy. I’d try to organize my squad in such a way that I couldn’t be take by surprise. I’d partner people up, fan them out, use battle scanners, but the Unkown almost always got me. Sometimes I’d dash a scout way in advance and turn up nothing initially only to reveal a huge grouping of enemies with the last guy to move. Other times I’d be more cautious and advance carefully, only to get jumped on all sides by advancing aliens. Preparing for the Unkown even as I was fighting a sizeable squad of aliens became a large part of my tatics and it always kept the missions tense right up until the mission end screen. Finally, it was the sound cues that made sure I didn’t put the controller down.
As if the awesome little details like dramatically crashing through windows or breaking down doors weren’t enough, the musical cues would ensure that I wouldn’t be able to save and come back later when playing a mission. Everything egg you onward. From the ultra-inspiring pre-mission theme, to the dark tones and fast tempo which accompanies the desperate firefights against the aliens. The game just won’t let you say enough!
In my humble opinion, the game have been good without without any of these little details, but their inclusion elevated it to otherwise unheard of heights.
What are some details you can recall that made or broke a game for you? Do you see the little things as important as the major components or are they more like icing on the cake?