Behind every game we play is a set of mechanics. Rules and systems which govern how we interact with it, which together comprise how a game feels. Think of Mario’s jump from the original Super Mario Bros, and you see a basic concept executed practically perfectly. As the player you know almost instantaneously his capabilities, how high and how far you can go.
Each and every game features mechanics, usually an amalgamation of gaming past. Every so often though, something comes along and tries and something new. Something which raises the bar and begins cropping up in nearly every game after it. Think Batman: Arkham Asylum’s combat, or Assassin’s Creed’s free-climbing abilities, or Max Payne’s slow-motion Bullet Time.
Arguably these game mechanics begin life as gimmicks, but over the years the best of the best become almost predictably commonplace. Often you find yourself wondering why it hadn't been thought of before, particularly in regards to things as obvious as reloading. It’s bizarre to think, but aside from light-gun games at arcades, System Shock and GoldenEye were the first FPS games to introduce reloading.
Anyway, I opened up this discussion so we can chat about our favourite game mechanics. Anything’s permissible from any genre here, so it’s really open-ended, but it’s basically your favourite gameplay hooks.
I’ll kick things off with Alien: Isolation. This one’s probably become a bit cliché already in the 10 months or so since its release, but I believe Alien: Isolation’s save system was the thing that made it a success above all else. Yep, the areas seen in the movies were recreated with stunning detail, the alien was a systemic, self-learning terror, and it had some excellent stealth, but the resolutely old-school save points made the whole experience as nerve-shreddingly tense as it is.
In an age of checkpoints and quick-saves ensuring you never lose progress, the save machines in Alien: Isolation were a stroke of genius. While they were spaced quite close to one another, the alien’s intense speed and lethality meant your movement was often slowed to an inching crawl from safety to safety, ensuring even getting in sight of these points was a relief. Getting to the save point was one thing, but the 1,2,3 bleep of the save machine would have you impatiently banging the controls, listening out for the dreaded sound of impending doom. A few seconds was often all that stood between save safety or headlining a Xenomorph buffet.
Over to you then, what are some of your favourite gaming mechanics from gaming past and present?