The Cheevo Initiative: Episode One.
by Mark B. on May 16, 2012

Hello. I’m Mark B., and welcome to The Cheevo Initiative.

So literally a year ago, more or less, I wrote a column detailing my exploits in the world of attempting to earn Achievements and max out games I’d either played before or was intending to play for the first time for this express purpose. Well, in the time since that column I’ve actually been continuing down that path, as regular listeners of the podcast are aware, and have maxed out several more games, more than enough to fill out a couple columns, in fact. However, time constraints being what they are, I’ve not really had a chance to do much with this thing, mostly because reviews and previews are generally more important in the long run for a site that wants to be at least somewhat up to date. Writing projects that can be considered “informative” to some extent and podcasts discussing semi-topical news and concepts are one thing, but a vanity piece discussing games I’ve maxed out and whether or not they pissed me off while trying to do so? Not really a priority.

However, I’ve been picking at the piece here and there for the past several months, and with enough time and effort, let it not be said that eventually you can accomplish something, though whether or not that something is worth a damn is subjective. Regardless, here we are and here this is, so let’s get down to business.

There are four stated goals to The Cheevo Initiative:

1.) Clear out games, or come as close to doing so as possible if a game simply cannot be cleared out for one reason or another,
2.) Document how easy (or not) it is to clear out the game in question,
3.) Document how well (or not) the Achievements were handled in the game, and
4.) Document how the player’s (my) opinion of the game changed after attempting to clear out the game.

In other words, while the obvious goal here is to increase my own Achievement score (obviously), the considerations involved in this endeavor are a bit more involved. How easy was it to clear out the game? Was it rewarding or did it feel like the game handed you Achievements like candy? Are the Achievements well designed? Do you have more fun while hunting them down or are you punishing yourself for wanting to clear out a game? These are important questions (I think) in the modern game market, where developers and publishers are really beginning to look at Achievements as such a valuable attachment to a game that developers are including Achievements in games that don’t even exist on systems that have Achievements (IE the 3DS). Achievements are becoming as much a part of the gaming culture, sort of a personal high score on your platform of choice that documents your overall high score on all the games, and people are starting to embrace that completely. So, with that in mind, developers who place no effort into creating these Achievements, or make them far too involved, are (in a sense) failing the gamer as much as developers who screw up in more mundane fashions. It makes sense, then, to review these elements of the game, above and beyond the standard review process, partly to see where the industry is going with this trend, partly to discuss what games are and are not feasibly viable to complete, and partly so I have an excuse to swear in an article again.

So, let’s go do some science.

11.) SAW

Before I started Achievement Mining:

After reviewing this game some two years ago, I basically figured I was done with it and sent it on its merry way to its inevitable destination of “Far, Far Away From Me”. While the game was generally “fine” in the same sense as its successor was also “fine”, I had no real interest at the time I was playing it in doing anything beyond completing the endings, which I had successfully done, and since the only remaining Achievements to unlock were “first kill with (X)” Achievements, I lacked any interest in trying to unlock them.

Flash forward a year and a half, and I ended up renting the game again through Gamefly to clear out those Achievements, largely because I assumed that beating someone to death with whatever stupid weapon the game expected me to use wouldn’t be particularly difficult, and since I had the complete save game sitting on my hard drive, if I needed to start at different parts of the game to complete these kills, it wasn’t a big deal since doing so would be easy enough to do.

After I finished Achievement Mining:

Having completely forgotten just how bad the combat in the game actually was, I ended up having to re-learn the mechanics of combat almost entirely from the ground up, and this was an unpleasant experience, to say the least. As it turns out, I was correct in assuming that getting to the weapons I’d need to use to pop the remaining Achievements wouldn’t be a particularly big issue in the slightest, but I neglected to remember that the timing in combat was horrid, so in simple terms, I had to repeat the sections a couple times until I finally got the mechanics down appropriately. I also had to actually learn how the trap mines worked all over again, as aside from testing one at some point during the review process I’d never bothered to do anything with them otherwise because, frankly, they were largely useless. Well, that assessment was basically accurate, as it turns out, as while the mines were capable of killing enemies easily enough, the easiest way of using them seemed to be dropping them right in front of someone and running away, which seems… counter-productive when using traps, but whatever.

In all honesty, aside from the few weapons based Achievements I missed the first time around, the game wasn’t terribly difficult to clear out in one go-through, and had I been more aware of the Achievements at the time I’d likely have cleared the game out in one shot. Unlike SAW II, there were no Achievements that required any significant amount of effort to unlock, and with one exception, the “You’ve Wasted Your Life” Achievement awarded for literally doing nothing for five minutes, every Achievement could be earned in one playthrough just by doing everything available to you. From a challenge perspective, there is none in unlocking the Achievements in SAW, but from a farming perspective it’s nice to play a game where you can do everything and unlock everything in one go sometimes, and the game does diversify its Achievements enough that you likely won’t get them all in one go because you just won’t think to kill enemies with every weapon, so it’s fairly safe to say that this is a mediocre game with a decent mentality towards its Achievements, which its sequel… tries to emulate, to variable success.

12.) Disney Pixar’s UP

Before I started Achievement Mining:

Well, we’re officially looking at our first “game I played just for the Achievements” entry on the list, and fairly early in, too, shamefully enough. UP is, as you might gather, the video game based on the Pixar film of the same name, and it doesn’t take Kreskin to guess that the film is very good and the game is very not. While I was kind of hoping that the game would be so objectively terrible that it would inspire another Playing the Lame column, I mostly just assumed that the game would be one of those games that was bad enough to point and laugh at but not bad enough to really inspire venom and vitriol, and just approached it as a game to clear out and nothing more. Platformers based on films aimed at younger kids (and OF COURSE this is a platformer) tend to be filled with the same basic concepts ad infinitum, including fighting enemies that were otherwise not present in the film, solving puzzles a six year old would find insulting and collecting everything ever in the span of one four hour game as “added content”. Realistically, thinking that UP would be any different from those sorts of games was delusional at best, so the best I could manage to hope for was that the game would be either good enough that it’d be surprisingly fun to play, or bad enough that I could get column material from it.

After I finished Achievement Mining:

Insofar as the actual game itself is concerned, it was absolutely a borderline mindless platformer with a million collectibles crammed in, and it was neither good enough that I enjoyed my time with it nor bad enough that I could muster hatred toward it, so we can safely label it “a disappointment all around” and, in theory, move on. I will, however, note that even as an inoffensive kids game, UP is surprisingly annoying at several points, especially when fighting off dog attacks and during the sections where you play as Dug as he flies an airplane to defend Carl and Russell. While the rest of the game is bog standard platform-mania that has little exciting to show off, the dog attacks are repetitive and boring at best and become no better after the fiftieth time you’ve seen them, and the flying sections do not play well, mechanically, and are annoying as all get out, which, given how infrequent they are, is quite an accomplishment.

From an Achievement collection standpoint, however, UP commits the cardinal sin of forcing the player to collect tons of crap to get an Achievement, and while (in reluctant defense of the game) these collectibles do unlock in-game items, the game is generally forgettable enough that you’ll never go back to see them. It also doesn’t help that the game has multiple types of collectibles, because that’s generally an indicator that you as a developer have no idea how to make a game compelling and you’re just hoping that someone’s OCD will kick in while they’re playing. I suppose I can understand why a developer would see this as being an acceptable design concept, since popular games like those in the Assassin’s Creed series do this in every game, but just because people tolerate something does not make it a good idea. People tolerate that from Assassin’s Creed games because the underlying games are good, not because we want to spend hours dicking around finding all of the stupid crap you hid in your game when you could have been doing something useful. Just saying.

Aside from the overly large amount of collectibles and the annoying gameplay mechanics in some sections, however, I managed to clear the entire game, Achievements and all, in two days, so from a point farming perspective the game is fine, I guess? The game in no way positively impacted my life and I wouldn’t ever go back to it, but it was an adequate and not very challenging experience that I didn’t hate, and I could see how a younger child could even enjoy the game if they were a huge fan of the film.

13.) Metro 2033

Before I started Achievement Mining:

Here we come to the first game on the list that I actively love and wanted to completely blow out, not merely for points, but to say that I could do it. Metro 2033 is basically a somewhat more linear S.T.A.L.K.E.R. that takes the general concepts of a first person shooter and messes with them a little to give you an experience that’s easy to love or hate. I know full well that it’s not a game for everyone; former staffer Brandon Chowen was utterly unexcited by the experience, for example, and I know a few other people who found the game to be too weird for their tastes, and that’s understandable. The game basically gives you a lot of garbage weaponry to work with and can be very unfriendly with its mechanics at times, forcing you to deal with unfriendly and poorly damaging weapons, large groups of hard to kill enemies and even air filters and gas masks that you need to survive in places that are incredibly fragile and annoying at times to deal with. Having said that, however, I absolutely loved the ambience of the game and the way the game handles its post-apocalyptic world, and I loved the idea of having to use trash guns to survive, so much so that I not only intended to completely one hundred percent the game, but also the DLC Ranger Pack that came out not too long after, just because I could.

After I finished Achievement Mining:

So I suppose the first thing I should mention here is that this is probably not a game to play if you’re going Achievement hunting; while Metro 2033 is a good game, I think, it’s not at all friendly to those who want to one hundred percent the game, though the “why” of this thing is something we’ll get to in a minute. It took me a full six days of playing the game to clear out everything the game had to offer, Achievement-wise, and I had to play the game through four times in total to really accomplish everything because of how certain things are handled. On the other hand, Metro 2033 is not really a game most people clear out completely, because the game is not a terribly easy game to clear out, so if nothing else, from a skill level perspective it’s a pretty neat thing to be able to say you did if you’re into that sort of thing.

Most of the Achievements in the game can be cleared out simply by playing the game, as there are plenty of Achievements tied to storyline checkpoints and “kill X amount of enemies” and such, though there are some that can be a little more challenging. The Achievement “Quick Draw”, for instance, asks you to kill all of the invading Nosalises (a grunt enemy in the game) without any of them breaking into the room you’re holed up in during the beginning sequence, which is not an easy task with a hand pistol, so to say. Further, the Ranger Pack add-on, while it does add in some neat difficulty options and a couple new weapons for only three dollars, also features two ever so annoying “Clear X Difficulty” Achievements… though, amusingly enough, they can be cheesed out, thus rendering the whole thing kind of pointless in the end. Honestly, if you play through the game a couple times and focus on using specific weapons you’ll most likely pop seventy five percent of the Achievements in the game, and if you hunt around for hidden items and such you’ll likely take care of another ten percent. That said, there are a couple of horribly complex Achievements in the game:

Invisible Man – This is an Achievement for completing the level “Frontline” without getting caught. The reason this is an Achievement is because, as the title implies, the stage is the front line of a gigantic battle between the Communist and Nazi parties (it’s a long story, play the game), and sneaking through the area undetected is basically a colossal pain in the ass, even with a full guide telling you how to do so. In short, there are a whole mess of guys in the way, several of whom are directly in the paths you need to go through, and the game is all too happy to put you into a position where detection is all but guaranteed, so… this is not a fun time, shall we say.

Hedge-hopper – The same as the above, but the Achievement instead requires you to KFE (kill fucking everyone) on BOTH sides. This includes a small group of NPC’s who, should you kill their captors BEFORE killing them, become invincible because the game assumes you’ve saved them at that point, as well as several enemies who are exceptionally hard to find. Oh, yes, this also means that YOU’RE FIGHTING TWO ARMIES COMPOSED OF MANY GUYS APIECE BY YOURSELF. So it’s not a cakewalk, as it were.

Explorer – This is the worst Achievement in the game, bar none, to earn, to the point where its Trueachievement.com score is worth TRIPLE its actual value. This Achievement basically requires you to find practically EVERYTHING in the game or it won’t pop. It becomes a massive scavenger hunt in a hurry and it’s honestly one of the more frustrating Achievements I’ve tried to earn, in any game, ever, to the point where it took me something like three days to unlock.

Having said that, however, Metro 2033 is still one of my favorite games I’ve ever played to completion, and I’d still go back to it and play it again if I actually had more time to do so. Further, if anything, all of my time spent with the game trying to clear it out only makes me want Metro: Last Light that much more, to be honest, so at the end of the day, I’d say it’s a win. I’m not completely thrilled with how all of the Achievements were handled, but for the most part the Achievement spread was actually pretty good, and it’s a game you could make a significant amount of progress in with little difficulty, all in all.

14.) Peter Jackson’s King Kong

Before I started Achievement Mining:

This here is our real-time winner for the “Longest amount of time spent clearing out a game” award, clocking in at four years, at least until I someday go back and clear out King Kong (which will probably be any day now). – Talking about Fight Night Round 3 in the previous Cheevo Initiative column.

Yeah, so, I went and did it.

King Kong was a game I rented way back when the 360 first came out, mostly because there was very little available for the console at that point and I figured I might as well play everything available at launch, whether there was any indication I’d actually like it or not. Review scores at the time painted the game in a somewhat favorable light, with several people openly praising the fact that the HUD was mostly invisible, as it was seen as more immersive by reviewers at that point. The King Kong sections were also heavily praised, as was the art direction in general, and the game actually holds about an eighty percent ranking over at Gamerankings.com, so people really liked the game at the time. I personally thought it was alright at the time, but never really wanted to complete it, so I ended up returning it incomplete and forgetting about it until… well, May of 2011, apparently, whereupon I decided I might as well finish off the game, just to do it.

After I finished Achievement Mining:

Holy shit this game did not age well at all.

For those who did not play the game, King Kong was divided into two types of gameplay sequences: when playing as Adrian Brody’s character, you’d play first person sequences, and when playing as Kong, you’d play third person jumping/beat-em-up sequences. You’d think that this would be an awesome concept, and if handled correctly it would be, but time has not been kind to this game even a little bit, to the point where I can actively say that this is a pretty terrible game at this point.

Now, the biggest claim to fame for the game is that it doesn’t really have a heads up display throughout the game, which is meant to be a big deal in the sense that the game is supposed to be “immersive” as a result of this. Now, at the time this seemed like kind of a neat idea, but years removed from that concept we discover that other games have been able to handle this idea much better (Dead Space comes to mind), so this is no longer a neat concept. This would be fine on its own, but the thing is that the actual gameplay and game structure is basically terrible. The first person sections feature a dearth of weaponry and several instances where you’re stuck having to throw and retrieve weapons to kill things, which is tedious at best and frustrating at worst. Further, the King Kong sections that mesh platforming and beat-em-up elements aren’t very enjoyable because the beat-em-up mechanics aren’t friendly or entertaining and the platforming elements are bare bones and poorly designed as well.

If you’ve never played the game it’s basically a free thousand points because completing the game earns all of the Achievements, but it’s hard to recommend otherwise because it’s, frankly, not very good anymore. Hell, I was halfway through the game at the time I picked it back up again and I still didn’t enjoy the three or so hours I spent with it. It’s literally the same thing over and over for the whole game, and outside of earning the Achievements there’s no reason to play the game at this point, as there is nothing exciting to see here and very little joy to be had. However, if you’ve never played it, hey, it’s a free thousand points, so, there’s that, I guess.

15.) CSI: Deadly Intent

Before I started Achievement Mining:

So, prior to discovering that the CSI series of games are basically Achievement gold mines, I’d played approximately one hour of this actual game on my PC because I had, for some reason, acquired a demo of this thing and was vaguely curious about it. To this day I cannot honestly recall why, as I have less than zero interest in the television show, but I suspect that I’d been told the game was a fine adventure game by someone who I probably should not have trusted and wanted to see this for myself.

Flash forward a year and a half later, and I decided to rent the game for the 360, figuring that I hadn’t hated the demo, and as such, would likely find the game to be fine enough to plow through, earn all the Achievements, and move on with my day. I assumed the game couldn’t be that bad, after all, and figured it wouldn’t be too hard to get through… and since the TV show is supposedly rather well written, hey, maybe the game would be too.

After I finished Achievement Mining:

One thing I appreciated here, in retrospect, is that all five cases were essentially self-contained; while there were callbacks to prior cases throughout the game for one reason or another, the game didn’t try to tie everything together in the end as being part of one huge case, which was appreciated. You wouldn’t think this would be a huge problem, but when this thing did happen in NCIS, it was extremely annoying seeing the ridiculous logical leaps the game had to make to tie everything together, and it was much more interesting having five separate cases to play through, as the game told five fairly interesting, self contained storylines that were generally adequate from start to finish. I also really appreciated the fact that the game placed you in the role of a nameless, faceless investigator who had just recently joined the CSI force instead of casting you as the actual characters. While it was ridiculous at times because you were essentially this super-gifted Marty Stu (since I am a dude, after all) who was better at the job than the main characters, video games are a form of escapism, after all, and had I been a fan of the show, that probably would have been fairly satisfying to my inner fanboy.

Also, Cowboy Curtis looked and sounded like I’d expect a video game version of him to look and sound, so thumbs up for that.

Having said that, the game itself was mildly unfriendly on a mechanical level, which seems to be a running trend with adventure games released to the home consoles… well, until Telltale opted to develop their games with controllers in mind, which generates the opposite problem, but that’s not the point. The point is that moving the cursor around to interact with the environment is, frankly, boring as hell after a while, and the game freaked out occasionally while I was playing, glitching the cursor and making it immobile or unresponsive until I pulled the battery and reinserted it. The game was clearly designed with a mouse interface in mind, and while it wasn’t unplayable to any notable extent, that doesn’t magically make the game fun or functional while you’re trying to play it, either.

Beyond that, however, the game also has some annoying Achievements to earn that are tied into finding collectible items or achieving above a certain ranking for cases, which becomes highly annoying in a hurry. The fundamental problem here is that screwing up on part of a case can rob you of Achievement score, but not ruin the case itself, which means that if you screw up somehow you’ll have to try again. Now, this isn’t the worst thing, as in fairness, the game doesn’t expect you to, say, get a one hundred percent Thoroughness score in ALL of the missions for an Achievement, but if you plow through the game without doing this you’ll have to go back and do this again, and between the boring gameplay and the fact that nothing changes in the cases if you replay them, well, you’re not going to be excited to do this thing.

Basically, to get the most out of the game’s Achievements, you’ll essentially have to go through it while following a strategy guide, and while that’s not the worst thing imaginable, it’s kind of annoying in some respects, though notably less annoying than the alternative. There are plenty of games that make going through them multiple times fun and engaging, but CSI: Deadly Intent does not do this thing in the least, so you’re either stuck being bored as hell in a second go-round or using a guide to progress, and neither of these options is exciting. That’s a shame too, as aside from the wonky mechanics, the game is almost fun at times, and isn’t the worst game to Achievement mine if you have any appreciation for crime drama, and the Achievements aren’t badly designed in theory, either. If you don’t mind following a guide through your playthrough, this is actually not a bad game to max out, and if you like the show, hell, it might even be pretty fun, I suppose.

16.) CSI: Hard Evidence

Before I started Achievement Mining:

So it turns out that all three of the CSI games are worth an easy one thousand points, as is the NCIS game released last year, so apparently Ubisoft has a vague idea of how to attract the interest of people who don’t know anything about the license: FREE POINTS!

Sigh.

Anyway, I still haven’t played the third game in the CSI series as of this point for whatever reason, (which I suspect I will rectify one of these days) but I opted to plow through the first game, CSI: Hard Evidence, mostly because I was curious as to what changes might have taken place between games. I figured, logically, that if Telltale is the generally well-regarded adventure game developer they are now, we can assume that they’ve been learning their craft all this time, and that there should, theoretically, be signs of evolution from one game to the next. I didn’t find the second game to be especially exciting, but it was fine in its own way, so I figured, maybe the first game is a little crappier, and then the third game is actually good, because science.

Also I had enough free time on my hands to get through the game before working on my next review and I was bored. Shut up.

After I finished Achievement Mining:

Well, it turns out that my assessment was almost completely wrong, as CSI: Hard Evidence is essentially an identical game to its successor: you play as a nameless CSI agent, help the other agents resolve cases, find and analyze evidence, question witnesses, clear the cases, and never come back to the game again. The only obvious difference is that you can find insects to provide to Grissom, which improves case rankings and can unlock additional collectibles, which might be vaguely entertaining for fans, but doesn’t add much to the game otherwise. Some of the mechanics change around a bit from the sequel, but nothing substantial enough for this to make a big difference, and for the most part, it’s basically identical to its sequel, which simultaneously makes me assume the third game will be the same damn thing… and makes me wonder how Telltale developed such a great reputation with games like this under their belt.

For the Achievement hunter, on the other hand, this game is a good and bad example of easy Achievement fodder. It’s a GOOD example because there are a whopping FIVE Achievements to unlock for clearing each of the cases, so you can literally just play the damn game and earn everything with little effort. It’s a BAD example because the Achievements are lazy as hell, and there’s nothing fun or interesting to unlock; the Achievements are literally just there for the sake of being there. If you’re looking for an easy thousand points, this is a fine enough game to rent, but it’s a piss-poor effort all-around and, if nothing else, at least Telltale TRIED with the sequels, so that’s some form of improvement, I suppose.

17.) Captain America: Super Soldier

Before I started Achievement Mining:

So I actually rented this for the purposes of writing a review of the game, but noticed along the way that clearing the game out might be completely feasible, and opted to give it a shot. The previews had painted the game as a dumbed down Batman: Arkham Asylum and since I liked that game, I figured that even a dumbed down version of the game wasn’t a bad time.

And then Alex reviewed the PS3 version, and I said “fuck it” and decided to work on other things, but continued to play through the game because I’d made it this far and figured I might as well give it the old college try. The game was, at that point, enjoyable enough that I was perfectly fine playing through the game and making the attempt to completely clear it out, even if it wasn’t a perfect experience or anything, and I was having enough fun with the game that I figured getting the full thousand was worth a shot.

After I finished Achievement Mining:

I’m going to have to say that Captain America is probably the best Marvel licensed Sega game released so far, both as a game and for the purposes of Achievement farming. As a game, it’s astonishingly good, compared to mediocrity like Iron Man and drek like Thor, and while that still only translates to the game being “not bad”, that’s a huge step up all in all. It’s fairly fun to play, mechanically solid in its design, and generally worth playing if you’re a fan of the character, the film, or the genre. So if nothing else, there’s that.

For Achievement hunters, it does bear mentioning that there are FOUR fucking sets of collectibles to fill out (film reels, diaries, ceramic eggs and schematics), though a significant amount of them appear on the world map, making finding them not terribly painful, and I didn’t have to do any significant backtracking to locate them all. Aside from that, a decent amount of the Achievements will simply unlock as you progress through the game normally, as you’ll simply end up taking out enemies in high enough volumes to fulfill the requirements for the Achievements that are tied into doing so, or finding all of the locations needed to do so, and several are storyline based. In fact, the only Achievement I had to backtrack to complete was “There Goes the Neighborhood” for destroying all of the AA Cannons because I’d missed a few in an area I wasn’t really paying attention to, and even then, this wasn’t particularly problematic since the sewer system allows for a decent amount of fast travel.

The best part, though, probably comes from the Challenge Mode, as it’s essentially what it sounds like: a series of maps where you beat the mess out of enemies for fun and prizes. There’s nothing overly complex about them and they have their own Achievements tied into them, but even better, if you somehow manage to miss out on Achievements that aren’t tied into the main campaign (as I did with a few) your kills and such stack between modes so you can simply jump into a Challenge Map and clean up after yourself. As such, there’s nothing especially challenging about fully clearing out the game, as even earning all of the Gold medals for Challenge Mode isn’t that bad, and if you’re fairly dedicated you can do it without too much trouble.

In the end, surprisingly enough, Captain America isn’t a bad little game in general, both as a game and as an easy way to earn a thousand points on your Achievements, and if you find it cheap or have space to rent it on your Gamefly queue, you could certainly do worse. It’s more fun than most of the games on the list so far, except for possibly Metro 2033 (which may just be because I’m sick), and it’s far easier to one hundred percent than that game. It’s not a super easy one thousand points, but it’s close enough that it’s worth a look for the Achievement hunters out there, and it’s not half bad to boot.

18.) LA Noire

Before I started Achievement Mining:

Some games, you just know you don’t want to clear out.

I enjoyed LA Noire for what it was. Let’s get that out of the way up front. The game is far from flawless, obviously, but as Grand Theft Auto styled games go, it was different enough from other games I’d played in the genre for me to enjoy it. I find it hard to enjoy sandbox games unless there are either 1.) superpowers or 2.) extremely out of the ordinary mechanics within the game, which is why I’ve spent an inordinately large amount of time with Spider-Man: Web of Shadows and this, but not Red Dead Redemption. Put simply, LA Noire does weird things that you don’t often see in these sorts of games. You can direct your partner to drive you everywhere if you’re lazy, you can investigate crime scenes and harass witnesses, and you can experience the sandbox style of game from the side of those law enforcement agents you’re normally mowing down with a rocket launcher or whatever. It’s not the best game in the genre, but it’s novel and enjoyable, and there are some really good ideas on display, so, in the end, I had fun with it.

Having said that, I knew that there was a big difference between playing the game and clearing out the game. Playing the game entailed nothing more than completing the missions, goofing around a little, having some fun with the experience, and maybe downloading some of the DLC. Clearing out the game meant downloading and completing all of the DLC. It meant acing all of the missions and hitting all of the random objectives that pop up during the assorted cases. It meant hunting for all sorts of crazy hidden novelties. It literally meant grinding the game into the fucking ground for no appreciable bonus other than saying I could do it.

Challenge Accepted.

After I finished Achievement Mining:

Whenever someone asks me for a good example of a game that has a badly designed Achievement system, nine times out of ten, LA Noire is a game that will be mentioned, if not first, then somewhere along the way. The reason for this, in and of itself, doesn’t have as much to do with the game as you might think… rather, it has a lot to do with Grand Theft Auto 3.

For those who missed that game, let me explain.

There were various hidden novelties throughout Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto 3, but none were more interesting than the Hidden Packages, to my mind. There were one hundred of them strewn around the game world, and each, on its own, was basically useless. As you collected more and more, however, you unlocked new pickups at your bases of operations, such as healing items and weaponry, allowing you to refill your ammunition and health every time you went home. There was a definite reason to hunt these items down, as it improved your overall chances of survival in the game to do so, and the annoyance of the “random collectible” aspect was wholly mitigated by the realization that this does something goddammit, making these things actually useful to find and collect.

LA Noire does the opposite.

There are several different types of collectibles throughout the city that you can encounter, including Landmarks, Golden Film Reels, and Cars, and they all have three things in common: they’re all annoying as hell to find, completely pointless, and offered to you only for the purposes of unlocking Achievements. There’s no benefit to unlocking these outside of earning Achievements in the game; they confer no benefits on you as the player, they unlock nothing of any significant benefit, they literally provide you with no worthwhile reward aside from a sum total of seventy five Gamer Score. They are, literally, pointless.

It’s one thing to incorporate Achievements into a game that reward the player for doing things they would not otherwise do. Rewarding the player for driving eighty miles an hour for ten seconds is fine because it’s a novel challenge the player might not find on their own. Putting in Achievements for doing events in a specific way or as a reward for flawlessly pulling off certain segments is also fine, as, again, it rewards the player for performing well in a given scenario. Hell, even the Achievement for causing forty seven thousand dollars of damage in a single case (Public Menace) is amusing in its own way because it’s a reward for breaking shit. Those sorts of Achievements understand the relationship between the player and the developer, and allow the player to really cut loose and have fun with the game, or challenge themselves to improve, among other things.

But “Star Map”, “Hollywoodland” and “Auto Fanatic” are atrocious. They are abysmal Achievements that exist solely to test the patience of the player. They confer no benefit unto the player that is of any worth. Collecting newspapers at least unlocks part of the plot to fill in the player on the backstory. Maxing out your rank on all of the missions at least provides the player with the satisfaction of being awesome at the game. Hell, I’ll even go one step further and say that “Star Map” isn’t atrocious, since you’ll end up seeing most of the landmarks you have to find through playing the main campaign anyway. But hunting down fifty film reels that could well fucking be in the middle of nowhere by using a map on the Rockstar Social Club website that’s so off base it might as well be a blind guy giving you directions? Or worse, hunting down ninety five cars that may well appear at fucking random throughout the game world, and often don’t look discernibly different from other cars you’ve already driven at some point during the game?

That is, literally, the developer wasting your time.

That is, literally, the developer saying “I have no interest in trying to do anything that may be rewarding for you, as the player, so fuck you, find shit that does nothing”.

That is, literally, why I don’t give a fuck that Team Bondi was shut down.

And that is, literally, why I will never play this fucking game ever again.

So, there you have it. Spending three days looking for one fucking car was enough to turn a good game into a terrible one. Go figure.

19.) X-Men: Destiny

Before I started Achievement Mining:

This is another game I didn’t actually intend to start grinding Achievements out of until I was well into the game already, at which point I realized doing so was both feasible and not unreasonable. Originally, my motivations for renting the game were two-fold:

1.) I rather like Silicon Knights, Too Human notwithstanding, and the basic concept behind the game seemed interesting, and
2.) I wanted to review it for the website.

Once I started playing the game in earnest, however, it became apparent that the game wasn’t especially exciting. Now, I know that almost everyone in the world of gaming journalism dropped their pants and took a big, steamy dump all over this game, but it wasn’t as bad as all that, now. It was mediocre, and certain parts of it were unexciting, but for the most part? It was a below average game with a lot of potential, and nothing more. I never did get around to writing that review, unfortunately, as it turned out that Alex reviewed the game and basically agreed with my opinion that the game was “meh”, so I never really felt motivated to say anything else on the subject.

Still, I had the game out on rental, and I’d played a significant amount of the campaign, so I figured, hey, let’s try to clear it out. The game, as noted, wasn’t especially terrible on the whole, and it was playable enough that I felt like completing all of the Achievements was wholly within the boundaries of reality. None of the Achievements seemed especially difficult to earn, and the game wasn’t especially collectible heavy, as it were, so the game even seemed like it’d be tolerable to clear out, honestly. I mean, I like customizing characters and beating the mess out of lots of dudes as much as the next gamer, as is evidenced by how much I love the Dynasty Warriors franchise, and this game is a whole lot of that, so I figured, what the hell, yeah?

After I finished Achievement Mining:

I suppose this would be the part where I’d be expected to complain about how utterly intolerable the game was to clear out completely, but honestly, it wasn’t that bad. That’s not to say that there aren’t some annoying Achievements in the game, because there certainly are, and I’m never especially happy with games that tie in Achievements to the difficulty the player completes the game using, but for the most part, nothing was especially terrible, all in all. I know a lot of people found this game to be terrible (and a few others found it to be pretty good, which is also confusing), but X-Men: Destiny is an adequate, inoffensive, unexciting X-Men game that does what it does “okay”, and the Achievement layout is no exception. In fact, I’d even go one further and say that the Achievement layout of the game is “good”, as it does a lot of things very right.

Now, as noted, yes, there are difficulty based Achievements. They do stack, however, and it turns out that you can glitch the game by starting a new game on the hardest difficulty, carry over your character from your easier playthrough, then quit out, load the last level, beat that, and get everything. However, and perhaps more importantly, aside from the last boss himself, the hardest difficulty, X-treme (hur hur) actually isn’t that bad if you carry over a heavily leveled character from a prior game, so really, you’d still only need to play the game twice. Further, and this is important, there are actually reasons to play the game multiple times, as you can choose to either side with the X-Men or the Brotherhood at different points, which can open up new side-quests for you that can earn their own Achievements. There are also the standard storyline-based Achievements one can earn, as well as Achievements for leveling up, defeating X number of bad guys, and so on, and since you end up doing this anyway, there’s very little that forces you to go through any post-game clean-up when you’re trying to clear out the whole game.

Granted, it’s not that there aren’t some annoying Achievements in the lot. There are collectibles scattered throughout the game, between anti-mutant propaganda posters, dossiers, and hidden challenge missions, though the challenge missions are at least useful for meeting other goals and unlocking enhancements. There’s also the lovely “Can I Get a Valkyrie?” Achievement, which (aside from being a lame Too Human reference) rewards you a whopping ZERO points for dying one hundred times. Lame self referential joke, zero points added to the score, necessary to clear the game out, AND requires the player to go through something they’d otherwise not bother with? Yep, that’s lame alright. But since I just left my character to die at the hands of the Sentinel boss for an hour and had a guide handy, these weren’t as bad as they could have been, so even then, I’m willing to forgive the game for this, somewhat. If absolutely nothing else, I had more fun unlocking the Achievements in X-Men: Destiny than I did with LA Noire, which is otherwise a better game, so, in the end, I’m going to say that this is something of a win, if only a small one.

20.) Dragon Age II

Before I started Achievement Mining:

Review scores and deficiencies aside, I liked Dragon Age II more than its predecessor, and I dare say I liked it quite a bit in general. I found that the issue people had with having to mash A to attack enemies was, to me, a benefit, as it made me feel like I was more active in battles than not, and while the repetitive dungeons were bothersome, as were the visual issues (hello half invisible final boss), the game was otherwise pretty damn good. I rather liked a lot of the more streamlined approach to items and equipment, I liked the characters, I liked the majority of the storyline, and for the most part, I found the game to be enjoyable to a level where I was actually willing to consider playing it through a second time. With that consideration in mind, I took the logical next step of looking into how one would acquire all of the Achievements for the game… and was slightly less enthusiastic than I’d planned.

Nonetheless, I figured it’d be feasible, if not especially desirable, and said, hell with it, let’s clear this shit out, DLC and all. I needed to run through a second playthrough for The Exiled Prince DLC (since it was broken the first time around as far as Achievement earning was concerned), and as I wanted to clear that out anyway, I figured, what the hell, a second playthrough won’t hurt, right?

After I finished Achievement Mining:

So, first off, I suppose I should note before we begin that yes, I still like Dragon Age II as well as I did when this whole endeavor started, largely because, for the most part, its Achievements aren’t wholly onerous to earn. I especially like that, unlike the Mass Effect games, Dragon Age II doesn’t force you to play on a specific difficulty level to earn all of the Achievements. This is annoying enough for a ten hour game; it’s doubly so for a thirty to forty hour game, and thankfully someone at Bioware gets that well enough that I didn’t have to deal with that here. Further, it turns out that none of the DLC Achievements are especially difficult to earn, thankfully. For Legacy, so long as you bring Bethany or Carver with you (in my case, Bethany) and solve all the sidequests, you’re perfectly fine. For The Exiled Prince, aside from giving Sebastian a specific gift and forming either a rivalry or friendship with him, everything else you can earn is simply part of the quest line and, as such, is easy to clear out. For Mark of the Assassin, a couple of the Achievements require some extra work, but again, honestly, none of them are particularly challenging, and you can clear them out easily if you’re so inclined. Frankly, most of the Achievements in the game in general are easy enough to earn if you know how, and while you’ll basically have to play through the game at least once with a very specific plan, or twice without, nothing is wholly painful to earn.

That said…

One thing that Dragon Age II does, or attempts to do in any case, is play through the game multiple times to earn all of the Achievements, as several of the Achievements require you to do specific things you would have to plan out well in advance or play through twice to see. There are separate Achievements for siding with the Mages and the Templars, for example, meaning you’ll have to answer specific questions in specific ways to get the appropriate Achievements in one go, or, failing that, play through the game twice. One Achievement is tied into bringing a Hawke of each character class to Kirkwall, meaning that even if you don’t want to play as each class, you’ll still have to make a character in each class and guide them through the introduction sequence two additional times on top of your first playthrough. I suppose it’s possible players will want to have a Hawke of each class for laughs, but personally, I’d rather just brain everything with my sword and shield, and I know more than a few people who’d agree, so, this was annoying. There’s also the matter of earning “Epic”, which is given to the player either for having completed the game twice, or for having imported a complete Dragon Age: Origins save game… so if you missed the first game, you’ll have to complete the game twice no matter what.

Now, here’s the thing: I have no problem with developers asking the player to play through their game multiple times in theory, and there are certainly good reasons to do so. If there are multiple endings, for instance, and the important triggers are spread throughout the game, this can be an easy enough justification for a player, especially if new events in the plot come from this. If the player is offered a “New Game Plus” option to continue leveling their main character and their party, that can also be a good motivator if the player wants to keep braining enemies and earn even more skills and such. The problem with this concept is that, while this can be a good idea in theory, in practice it often isn’t, because developers can often assume that the motivation should come from aspects of the game that aren’t particularly motivational on their own, and in turn, leave out aspects of the game that would be motivational because they assume they’ve done enough.

Which, in case you hadn’t gathered, is the problem Dragon Age II suffers.

See, here’s the thing, in a nutshell: there is basically absolutely no fucking reason whatsoever to play through Dragon Age II more than once unless you really like the game. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do like Dragon Age II, enough that yes, I wanted to play through the game twice to make some different choices, and as such, I am speaking not from a position of disdain, but a position of experience when I say this. It was nice to see both of the relationships I’d developed bloom into fruition (Meryl and Isabela if you care), and I suppose if you’re the sort of player who likes to see the outcomes of being a dick and a hero then doing this would be a good enough use of your time. However, given the choice, I generally tend to play one moral pathway through a game, because I generally try to be a moral person, and prefer that my characters be the same. As such, I am usually that asshole who plays Paragon all the fucking time (unless something cool will result from not doing so), and generally don’t need to play through to see how the Renegade choices play out. I mention this because, sorry, there’s no moral ambiguity in this game; the Templars are the asshole Renegade choice, and the Mages are the virtuous Paragon choice. Sorry. I don’t need to see how it plays out when I decide to send a bunch of mages to their death, I have a good idea how that will go down, and I’d rather not do it. Even if you would, I suspect you don’t need to see how the other side plays out for the same reason, and wouldn’t particularly care to go through the game a second time just to know that, hey, they fucking die, not a surprise there.

Personal preference aside, however, the fact is that there are no different endings in Dragon Age II. You end up seeing the same general events each time you play through, and while some of the events can be modified based on your choices, with only a few exceptions, the same non-party NPC’s die every time, the same basic plot points play out, and you face the same final boss every time you play. Yes, you can change how the events with the Arishok play out, if you’re an especially huge asshole. Yes, you can potentially have some of your party members abandon you or even die at your hand, if you don’t put a lot of effort into gaining their respect. This doesn’t really change how the end game sequence plays out significantly, however, and that’s kind of the problem: if you know that your choices are important, you’ll make the ones you want to make the first time around, and unless you fuck up somehow, you’ll never come back. The game doesn’t make significant changes to the game world from one choice to the next, there’s no New Game Plus option to consider, and you can look up the romance scenes for other characters on Youtube. There’s essentially no reason to be arsed going through the game multiple times, and the fact that the game has several Achievements tied into doing so shows something of a lack of consideration for the player on the part of the developers, one that I’m not especially fond of. I mean, come on now, the game is like thirty hours long. Who wants to sit through that twice when everything ends up the same if you don’t at least get to buff your party up to absurd levels? I mean honestly now.

Beyond that, however, and beyond the bugged Achievements in the DLC that causes Achievements to not pop (though this apparently has been fixed), there are also a couple different sets of collectible-based Achievements, which is especially annoying in a game of this sort, since if you miss one, fuck you, start the game over again. “Supplier” isn’t so bad, since crafting resources are useful to you and therefore should be sought out, but if you have the Black Emporium DLC you can buy them from the vendor if you miss them… they just don’t count for the Achievement, so… if you miss one, fuck you, start over. “Archeologist” and “Chantry Historian” are the shits, however, as nothing comes of hunting for these collectibles in the game, so they exist only as flavor text and collectibles to earn for an Achievement. That’s annoying enough in short games, but in this, it’s downright frustrating if you miss something by accident. The “Exorcist” Achievement also has a quest that’s tied into finding collectibles, though at least you get to murder a giant monster for fun and prizes at the end, so there’s some reward to it, but the others… well, they can grate on you if you’re not ready for them in advance.

In the end, though, most of the Achievements in the game can be cleared out in one shot, and if you have a good strategy guide and some advance knowledge (and a save game from Dragon Age: Origins handy) you can clear basically everything in one game, so, I’d say that the experience wasn’t that bad. I was fine going through the game twice personally, even though there’s nothing dramatically new to see when doing so, since I missed some of the collectibles on the first go-round, and hey, maybe you want to play as two different classes, I don’t know. If you approach the game with the mindset that you do legitimately want to go through the game multiple times and play as multiple classes, you could definitely have some fun with the game if you end up deciding to go for a second playthrough altogether. In the end, Dragon Age II is certainly a time consuming game for the Achievement hunter, but it’s a pretty good game, honestly. If you happen to like the genre, you could certainly clear it out completely with little difficulty, and if you’re looking for a shitload of Achievements, you could do far worse than this game, I think.

CLOSING COMMENTS:

So let us run over the final considerations. Of the ten games on this list:

“GOOD” GAMES: Three (Metro 2033, LA Noire, Dragon Age II)
“OKAY” GAMES: Five (SAW, CSI: Deadly Intent, CSI: Hard Evidence, Captain America: Super Soldier, X-Men: Destiny)
“BAD” GAMES: Two (Disney Pixar’s UP, Peter Jackson’s King Kong)

GAMES THAT WERE EASY TO CLEAR: Four (Disney Pixar’s UP, Peter Jackson’s King Kong, CSI: Deadly Intent, CSI: Hard Evidence)
GAMES THAT WERE MODERATE TO CLEAR: Four (Captain America: Super Soldier, X-Men: Destiny, Dragon Age II, SAW)
GAMES THAT WERE HARD TO CLEAR: Two (Metro 2033, LA Noire)

GAMES I’D EVER WANT TO PLAY AGAIN: Four (Metro 2033, Captain America: Super Soldier, X-Men: Destiny, Dragon Age II)
GAMES I DON’T WANT TO PLAY EVER AGAIN: Everything else.

So, then, this is how the list breaks down:

11.) SAW – Okay game that was moderately difficult to clear and not worth playing again.
12.) Disney Pixar’s UP – Poor game that was easy to clear and not worth playing again.
13.) Metro 2033 – Good game that was hard to clear and worth playing again.
14.) Peter Jackson’s King Kong – Poor game that was easy to clear and not worth playing again.
15.) CSI: Deadly Intent – Okay game that was easy to clear and not worth playing again.
16.) CSI: Hard Evidence – Okay game that was easy to clear and not worth playing again.
17.) Captain America: Super Soldier – Okay game that was moderately difficult to clear and worth playing again.
18.) LA Noire – Good game that was hard to clear and not worth playing again.
19.) X-Men: Destiny – Okay game that was moderately difficult to clear and worth playing again.
20.) Dragon Age II – Good game that was moderately difficult to clear and worth playing again.

I find it interesting that none of the games that were easy to clear out are games I’d ever want to play again, and I think that will likely bear out as time goes on. I also find it interesting that all of the “poor” games on the list also fall into the “easy to clear out” list, which will also likely bear out as time goes on. What I’m most interested in, though, is the fact that, of the four games I would go back to, two of them are “mediocre” games, and two are “good” games… and one of the “good” games on the list is a game that I’d never go back to ever again.

I think that, of everything on this list, LA Noire is the game with the single biggest lesson to teach us this week.

See, here’s the thing: I am not the only person I know who tried to one hundred percent the game. J. Rose and Shawn PC also tried to take a swing at completing the game, fully, when they first acquired it… and neither of them, as of yet, has done so. It’s not that they lack any sort of dedication to completing games, mind you, and this is certainly not a value judgment against either of them; both of them have Gamer Scores that are above seventy thousand points, and both have cleared out games that are much more complex than LA Noire. Hell, Mr. Rose has cleared out several Dynasty Warriors titles, so tedium is not a thing he cares about, trust me.

Also, it would be really weird to make a value judgment against someone because they didn’t beat a video game. Please tell me I’m not the only person who thinks this.

Anyway, the point, and I do have one, is this: both of them gave up on fully clearing out LA Noire. It’s not that they gave up on getting all of the Achievements because they didn’t want to deal with the DLC, mind you; they gave up on clearing out the main game of its Achievements.

Why, you might ask?

Because of that fucking “Auto Fanatic” Achievement.

J. Rose spent a literal three days working on that Achievement, earned it, and then gave up on the game. He has cleared out all of the truly frustrating Achievements in the game, and only has a small few left to earn, but has no desire to ever play the game again… and I do believe he has traded it in. Shawn PC, on the other hand, spent three days on the Achievement and, with two cars left to find, decided that he could better spend his time doing anything else but that, traded the game in, and has had nothing good to say about it since.

I think, at the end of the day, developers are still working out the idea of what they really want to do with Achievements, and that this, in turn, ends up hurting their games in weird ways after the fact. Taken purely as a game experience, LA Noire was a game I enjoyed well enough for what it was, and found to be fun and entertaining. Taken as a whole experience, however, after everything I went through, I’d never buy another game developed by Team Bondi again, and I know at least two other people who would say the same thing. It’s not that the Achievement itself was challenging; I can look at “Seriously 3.0″ in Gears of War 3 or “Hard to the Core” in Dead Space 2, shrug, say “Nope”, and move on with my day. It’s the fact that the developer, knowing the randomization factor of their car placement and how things worked with one another as far as that went, opted to create an Achievement that literally forced the player to hunt for days in some cases for that one fucking car they were missing because it would never spawn. It’s not that the Achievement is openly and obviously frustrating that’s the issue… it’s that it isn’t. If you don’t do any research into this Achievement, you’d have no idea how difficult it is, as the official strategy guide doesn’t warn you, nor does Rockstar’s Social Club. I had no idea how bad it would be when I started, and while I’d have likely gone for it even knowing that, I doubt many people who’ve given up on it would have.

At the end of the day, different people are going to have different opinions of what constitutes a “terrible” Achievement, obviously, but as of this point I’ve not seen anyone come out in defense of collection Achievements in general and “Auto Fanatic” in specific, and I don’t know that I ever will, to be honest. As Cracked’s David Wong once noted, humans only enjoy repetition when they choose to do it, and hate being forced to do this thing outside of that. Spending one hundred hours beating the mess out of a bunch of dudes in Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage is fun for me because I enjoy that particular brand of repetition, albeit in small doses. Spending three days hunting for cars that can spawn improperly or in unknown locations is not fun, because there’s nothing to that but loading zones and praying that this time the fucking thing spawns. People remember things like that. They remember the last time they had to deal with that bullshit and start avoiding games from certain developers, or telling other people how terrible games are despite their positive press, and that sort of thing can cause issues down the line. Now, granted, Team Bondi is more or less shuttered at this point, and it doesn’t have anything to do with “Auto Fanatic”, but one has to wonder what would have happened if they’d released another game. How many people would have looked back on that experience, shuddered, and put the game back on the shelf, or told others to do the same?

Achievements are becoming something people care about. They’re a long term high score for many people. There are multiple websites devoted to tracking and clearing Achievements at this point. Games that exist on systems that lack Achievements come with their own Achievements built in. Steam has integrated Achievements. World of Warcraft has integrated Achievements. Love the concept or hate it, it’s a concept that is going to hang around for a while, and will likely transition to the next generation of consoles. Gamers are attached to their consoles of choice, in some part, because they have a persona there, with a number attached to it that indicates how good they are, and even if you don’t think that way, I can guarantee you that there are a lot of people who do, and you probably even know some of them.

In short, your Achievements are, in some small way, a reflection of your game.

Don’t be a dick.

I’m Mark B., and this has been The Cheevo Initiative. Please don’t pee on the seats when you show yourself out. I have to clean those.




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Mark B.

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  • http://www.diehardgamefan.com Ashe

    So I should plan on not getting the Platinum trophy for LA Noire on the PS3 is what you’re saying. Good to know!

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexanderlucard Alexander Lucard

    I got it without even trying actually. But then I’m one of those gamers that likes to scour everything in a large world (which is why I never finished Oblivion or Morrowind). I just ended up getting the collection trophies without realizing it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexanderlucard Alexander Lucard

    I’ve only played half the list, but oddly enough I have 100%’d three of the five (Capt, CSI:DI and LA Noire).

    Also, I have this horrid vision of some day someone will release a collector’s edition where the bonus material is like nothing but extra achievements/trophies.

  • http://twitter.com/DHGFMarkB Mark B.

    I probably would not bother, no. Not unless you have a lot of free time on your hands or need to drive EVERYTHING YOU SEE.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aaron-Sirois/100000150433651 Aaron Sirois

    Just cleared out Cap today. I really dig the game. It was a rental that I kept because it could be gotten for about ten bucks. Even though I’d already beaten it, I found it worth the money. I made it through the whole game only missing a couple of eggs, one schematic, and two AA guns. The challenges were mostly crushed on the first try. Still, I was surprised how fun the game was. The combat was pretty satisfying, and the traversal mechanics is what Enslaved should have had.

    Oh, and Mark. Did I ever tell you how I got the plat for Saw? The only trophy left was the one for killing by fire, and I had a hell of a time with it, until I set up a bomb that killed me. Apparently an enemy was caught in the blast, and that was good enough for the game. Best Platinum Ever.

    I’ve got eleven of the suckers. Half of which is between WWE and Infamous titles. I’m aiming to clear out the newest Naruto game next. It’s a grind fest, but not as bad as I’ve seen.

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