Mad Mack: Boss Battles – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
So, what’s on the Mad Mack agenda this time? Well, seeing as how that thieving pikey of an ‘editor’ stole my review copy of Rage (fuck him – I played it at the Eurogamer Expo and it was shit anyway) and I am currently too poor to pay to heat my home and instead have to rely on holding my hands over the toaster as I make my dinner to stave off hypothermia, there is no new game to review this week. As a result, instead of playing a new game I have been dividing my time between co-op reruns of Halo: Reach with the skulls on and Gears of War 3 replays where I am not allowed to use the lancer. I know some of you might be saying ‘why are you playing GoW 3 when you only gave it a 7/10?’ and to those I would say ‘what the fuck are you doing in my bedroom?’ and ‘because, I really enjoyed the gameplay of GoW 3 – it was the shit mental plot and terrible character development. Now, get the fuck out before I call the cops.’
Playing Gears got me thinking about boss battles. Boss battles featured heavily in Gears, being your typical old school affair where you tackle monsters several times your size who should by rights squash you like a bug, but who also include several key design flaws, chief of which being weaknesses that glow in the dark and a distinct refusal to deviate from a particular pattern – almost as if their whole lives were pre-scripted events and they lacked any form of free will at all. Hmmmm.
The thing about the Gears 3 boss battles was that they worked. Giant monsters and glowing weak spots seemed to fit with the over the top machismo gameplay, corny dialogue and chainsaws strapped on the end of a fucking cannon! They were also fun. They did not pull any dick moves out of their arse and insta-kill you or wipe out most of your health, and they could be beaten after a few tries, with save points thrown in between sections so you didn’t have to start from the beginning every time you failed to get your fridge-wearing fat arse out of the way. Finally, they were great to look at. In a game where you spend most of your time staring at the wall in front of you, most of the boss battles were conducted at a different pace, forcing you to look around at the scenery. Or they were giant, monstrous things that were impressive because of their sheer scale and detail.
Another game I played recently had boss battles. These boss battles did not fit in so well. In fact I would go so far as to say they were as welcome as a poorly timed fart in a courtroom. I am of course, talking about Deus Ex: Human Revolution. People have harped on about the boss battles being out of place because they were geared towards one specific gameplay style (beef up and kill all sonso’bitches) while one of the main appeals/selling points to the DE franchise is the ability to tailor your character to a number of gameplay styles – most of which did not involve going to toe to toe with a half-metal superman. But that is not what really frustrated me about the boss battles. I went for a tank character build, so it was my expectation that I would be able to go head to head with anyone. What really fucked me off was that the boss battles were just not fair. You were going up against the elite of the enemy, fair enough, but you are supposed to be the elite of the good guys, so why the fuck can they take my entire ammo capacity of the heavy machine gun while they only have to so much as fart in my direction for me to be on the ground watching everything go black? In a game where it practically made a point of not making you a superman compared to the enemy, why the fuck are they then throwing you up against supermen that can absorb bullets like a sock absorbing cum? It is an example of the computer playing by different rules than you, and while this works in some games, in Deus Ex: Human Revolution it just means it is neither a test of your ability as a player, nor a demonstration of good game design on the part of the programmers.
Boss battles are often considered a relic of gaming, harking back to the days where you moved from one side of the level to the other, mowing down wave after wave of cheap cannon fodder before wandering into an arena or box or sex dungeon where you face off against a giant monster that had pre-set attack moves, usually a glowing weak point and could take severe pounding. This fits in modern games that follow the classical formula – Ninja Gaiden for example (ignoring the massive dick moves in the sequel), or role playing games set in a fantasy environment. It makes sense in games where the enemy is made up of monsters or aliens or where you might realistically be expected to go head on with vastly superior enemies, either in terms of numbers, size or power. Where it makes fuck all sense is in the near future in a game that is purportedly attempting to tackle some serious issues. Shit, it even made sense in Bioshock, and the final boss was one of the most disappointing things about that game (well, except the fact that it generated an unnecessary sequel obviously).
Basically, it fits if in the game you might be reasonably expected to slay the giant boob monster that escaped from the Breastiary in the great city of Boobopolis armed with only a floppy rubber cock and a strong sense of decency.
So, what is the answer? Well, I liked the way Halo approached boss battles. Sort of. I mean, there were a couple of boss battles that were a bit shit. The fight against the Prophet or against that giant monkey thing in the second game were just a little bit shit, but that aside, the Halo games generally settled for throwing some interesting, challenging fights and a vehicle section or two before calling it a day. There was no mistaking that the final battle in Halo: Reach against those super-mega elites was indeed the Final Battle of the game, and it was hard as fuck. Each one of the Elites was sufficient to overcome a SPARTAN soldier, but with a bit of grit and skill (and a lot of luck) you could eventually win.
So, in summary, I would suggest that I do really like boss battles in games. In Gears of War 3they were by far my favourite bit (that lambent Berserker was mega), but they should not be wedged into games where they do not fit. By all means give the player sections that will present a challenge above and beyond the normal level (in Deus Ex this might have been accomplished by putting you in a warehouse with some fast, elite and cloaked enemies that could rapidly ruin your shit in groups, but were not individually significantly more powerful than you were), but don’t put in a giant bad guy with a glowing weak spot and a distinct lack of free will unless this will fit with the overall flow of gameplay.
Oh, and one more thing – fancy arenas or funny visual effects do not distract from the fact that I am having a really shit time. And can someone please explain where the fuck that final boss came from in Deus Ex: HR? Jesus, I think I want to play the video game behind that crazy fucker instead.
What are your own personal favourite – and least favourite – boss battles? Feel free to post your comments below.
Mad Mack continues next week.