A bane of videogames: time limits

Videogames might be my favourite medium, but that doesn’t mean that they’re perfect. So as part of a new feature that I will revisit occasionally, I will be discussing elements of the medium that often frustrate me.

To kick things off is my dislike of time limits. Firstly I should make clear that there exceptions, mainly when it is a core part of the game, such as the clock in something like Crazy Taxi or the main mode in the earlier Tony Hawk games.

What I’m referring to is when a game suddenly decides to introduce an arbitrary timer in an effort to add tension to an otherwise standard scenario. Open world games are typically the worst offenders, as on the whole the games are about freedom, although the main missions are an act of restricting the player to fit the wider narrative. But then there will be missions, which have a tendency to crop up towards the later stages, where the dreaded time limit will appear, forcing the player to complete a task and/or arrive at a specific destination before the clock runs out.

One example of this which I still haven’t forgotten from a decade ago is The Simpsons Hit & Run, even though on the whole as a family friendly GTA clone it was a great game, the last three levels were identical albeit for the reduced amount of time available to go from one end of the map to the other. I remember being annoyed at the first instance, angry when the second instance presented itself, and infuriated when once again the same mission came up with an even shorter time limit.

I understand that such time limits are an adequate way to speed a player through when there are vehicles available in order to present a challenge, but there are too many times where its implementation comes off as cheap.

Despite what I have previously said in regards to timers making sense when it is a core part of the game, well that is not always the case. The worst instances of this are Dead Rising (can’t comment on the other two) and the Pikmin series. Dead Rising seemed like the zombie game we had all been waiting for, an open mall free to explore that is packed with zombies that can be dispatched via a means of different items that are available on the virtual shelves. Unfortunately this was surrounded by fetch quests, absurdly strong bosses, and worst of all an overarching time limit that was constantly at the back of your mind. It also didn’t help that it has what is possible one of the worst save systems present during that console generation.

The Pikmin series in a way is similar to Dead Rising (I don’t think many people have compared these two games) as the original title had an overall day limit to complete the game, failing to do so was a game over. Whilst this was dropped in the sequels (if it hadn’t I wouldn’t have even attempted the third entry) they still retained the time limits for each day. This makes more sense than Dead Rising as it prevents the player from messing around and keeps them focused on the main goal. But often I found that the day would run out just as I was getting somewhere; although maybe that was the point. The worst factor of this presented itself during (what I assume) one of the last levels. As in addition to the timer was an enemy that essentially acts as an additional timer to hurry you up turning what could have been an interesting and enjoyable puzzle into an exercise of frustration. As a result after a few failed attempts (and fearing a broken GamePad) I gave up! This is something I haven’t done in years, but it reinforced my hatred of timers.

Adding challenge to a game is not easy, and a fair but difficult challenge more so, but for me the use of  time limits is not always justified and it is a tool I wish more developers would give more thought to.

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