Thursday, February 5, 2009

Devil May Cry 4: Boss Handicaps

Today I had to suffer the shame of killing a boss while it was handicapped for the second time in my time playing Devil May Cry 4. What really bugs me though is that I am not convinced that I needed the handicap. I am pretty sure that I could have won that fight at its full difficulty if I had been given the chance. Unfortunately, the game made the choice for me. This particular incident makes for a good example of why I don't like auto-adjusting difficulty that doesn't ask for the player's consent.

Mission 9 of Devil May Cry 4 is one of my least favorite stages in the game, mostly due to its introduction of the Alto Angelos, and it is much worse on Son of Sparda difficulty than I expected. I am ashamed to say that I needed to use a few items to live through the second battle, where an Alto Angelo unit was reinforced by a whole flock of Gladiuses. I subsequently had to continue after dying to a laser beam trap on the climb up towards the boss. After all of that trouble, I was pretty determined to beat the boss, even if I had to continue a bunch of times, since I did not want to have to climb my way up that stage again.

Unfortunately, I died to the boss, Agnus Angelo, three times before I finally beat him. However, I noticed something strange on my third attempt: Agnus summoned a group of three Gladiuses to fight me instead of the two Basilisks he had summoned during my first two attempts. When Angus summoned the Gladiuses again on my fourth and final attempt, I became certain that the Enemy Handicap had kicked in. I received confirmation of that fact when I beat the stage and was hit with the associated score penalty. While part of me was just relieved that the stage was behind, I was also honestly frustrated. I felt like the game had denied me the chance of having a fair shot at beating Agnus at his full power.

Since this is currently my second time through the game, I have fought Agnus Angelo several times already, albeit on a lower difficulty mode. The main reason I was dying was because I was being reckless and taking too many hits while I was on the offensive, and I still needed to get used to identifying his moments of vulnerability again. I am pretty sure that I could have beaten him at his full power with enough practice fighting against him at that level. If I was given the choice, I would have kept on fighting him at that power level until I beat him. But the game didn't give me a choice in the matter.

I don't think the idea of giving the payer an advantage if he keeps losing is a bad idea in of itself, but I don't think it is fair to the player if the game adjusts the difficulty without the player's consent. I would have preferred it if the game gave me a pop-up window that had explicitly asked my if I was willing to take a penalty to my score in exchange for weakening the boss. That way, I could have kept trying against the boss at full power as long as I liked, and still have the option of an easier fight when I finally reached the point where my patience runs out. Since different people have different tolerances for frustration, there is no way a single fixed number of deaths before the handicap kicks in will please everyone.

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