Culture Trips

Hacking your way to victory: the joy of cheating in open-world games | Games

It’s clear how the Viking raids in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla are supposed to work. Ubisoft’s latest historical adventure has you playing as a brave Norse warrior rampaging across England with your fellow raiders, battling Saxon soldiers and ransacking their burning cities. That’s not how I play. I discovered early on that, instead of approaching an enemy site in my longship, with all my skilled courageous troops, then engaging in open, bloody warfare, I had more success if I went ahead alone and hid in the bushes, picking the guards off one by one and quietly hiding their bodies. You can clear out a whole town without a scratch, and then your fearsome warriors can pop in at the end and help you open the treasure chests. It feels … wrong.

Open-world video games such as Assassin’s Creed, Cyberpunk 2077 and Witcher 3 are specifically designed to give players the freedom to go where they want and do what they want, tackling the game’s quests and missions how they see fit. The best of them support different modes of play, whether that’s charging into battles or stealthily breaking into enemy bases. But whatever you go for, the idea is that you develop skills and finesse your way to steely competence. I don’t think you are meant to just hide in the bushes and murder people.

I’m doing a similar thing in Hitman 3, the masterful assassination game from IO Interactive. The Hitman games are filled with intricate systems, allowing you to use security cameras, everyday objects and disguises to gracefully exploit weaknesses in any target’s security regime. I completed one mission in Hitman 3 by hiding behind a desk and throwing spanners to lure security guards into a darkened room, before clubbing them unconscious. By the time I’d finished, I had 10 guards laid out next to me, dozing. It took me 45 minutes.

Hitman 3
Hitman 3 … flying spanner just out of shot. Photograph: IO Interactive

I do not believe this was the approach IO Interactive’s imaginative and thorough design team had in mind. It was repetitive and ridiculous, and it entirely broke the fiction of Agent 47’s deadly intellect. Imagine if Ethan Hunt did this in a Mission: Impossible movie.

This of course is an age-old problem of video game design: players don’t always obey the rules of good storytelling. Once you give someone freedom to operate how they want in your world, any sense of dramatic choreography goes out the window – along with 12 unconscious guards.

In a climactic fight in Cyberpunk 2077, I discovered that I could lure an end of level boss into a particular corner where they got stuck, unable to fire their weapon. I could then just pound them with my samurai sword until they collapsed. I did feel a sense of achievement – but I also I felt guilty. Not guilty enough to do it properly, though.

But should we feel guilty for breaking the rules of an open-world game to progress? Is acting in a way that at least vaguely reflects a character’s intended personality an essential part of the contract between designer and player? I know I would have a more authentic experience in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla if I did start every raid by jumping out of my longship and running head-on at enemy archers and pikemen, but even with my heavy shield and thunderous battle hammer, there is so much risk involved. Hiding in a bush is easier.

The history of video games is littered with examples of designers and players learning to work with the exploits discovered by subversives like me. Rocket jumping – the technique discovered by Quake players that allowed them to jump much further than the creators intended by firing their rocket launchers into the ground – eventually became an acknowledged part of first-person shooter design. Meanwhile, the Metal Gear Solid games have always indulged and critiqued cowardly players, leaving cardboard boxes everywhere and revelling in the absurdity of a spec ops solder using them as hidey holes.

Maybe one day Ubisoft will deploy guards in its games that know they really shouldn’t blithely approach a bush that several of their colleagues never came back from. Maybe in future Assassin’s Creed titles, word will get round about the dreaded whistling bush murderer. There will be wanted posters in every village with my face on – they will warn their children to stay away from the herbaceous borders. But brute-forcing through a game’s intended systems is a guilty pleasure I would miss. There is a particular joy to be had in beating not the game, but the game design. We’d all lose out if designers force us to be Ethan Hunt instead of Machiavelli.

What's your reaction?

In Love
Not Sure

You may also like

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *