The musclebound psycho has no idea that I’m right above him. From the shadows, I watch with a smug expression as two of his gun toting buddies walk right towards the motion sensitive trap I set for them. BOOM! The explosion sends one of the idiots flying over the railings in a spectacular show of rag doll physics, the other hits a wall and is knocked out. The target under me is scared out of his wits. I revel in the moment; I’m drinking deep from his terror and savouring the hunt. A split second later I swoop down, the cape surrounding my prey within its embracing shadows. In one smooth motion he is strung up from the gargoyle I was perched on. Level complete. This Dark Knight’s job is done. For the umpteenth time I’m left in awe with the game’s (Batman: Arkham Asylum) brilliance.
And then it all goes to shit.
A small whirling icon in the corner of the screen tells me that the game is auto saving. No probs, it’s done it a few dozen times already. This time however, the screen goes black. My heart stops for a second. As a PC gamer, I have seen this happen before. Computers can crash due to a million reasons. Usually it’s no more than a minor annoyance.
Saving regularly is something you learn fairly early on this format. A corrupted save just means you lose a few minutes of progress. You still have a bunch of other saves from not too long ago (at least, you should). But what if the game does not give you the option at all? Batman is a perfect example. There is just one save slot. One. That’s it. And the game saves automatically. I frantically start the game again, hoping against hope that the worst isn’t true. No such luck, the save file is corrupted. I was 12 hours into the campaign. Now I have to start from scratch. (If the game wasn’t as awesome as it is, I wouldn’t even bother.)
The fact that it worked 99.99% of the time is not the point. I’m playing on a PC. And PCs are … mercurial. Things do go wrong. Hell it happens on consoles too. The point then, is simple: “I shouldn’t have to go through this crap”
More and more developers are turning to auto saves/checkpoint saves as a means of keeping the gaming experience uninterrupted. Not that auto saving is a new feature; it has been around for decades now. It’s the implementation of said feature that is becoming horribly flawed. Older generation consoles have had to deal with shitty save systems (checkpoints every 30 mins for instance) because of their hardware limitations. And regardless of how “next gen” a console gets, it will always be limited when compared to a gaming PC. Just because a title is developed as a cross platform release does not entitle the devs to shaft PC gamers with features that have no business being on their platform of choice.
Quite often, formats have nothing do to with it at all. In many cases, “difficulty” is stated as a convenient excuse. If anything, this is even more absurd. Giving limited saves within a game does not make it any harder. It only makes it a lot more annoying. If a player feels that a game is way too easy, there is nothing to stop him/her from NEVER saving at all. The rest of us need something that allows us to play for 10 mins before saving and going to answer the door.
Apart from the nightmare scenario that I went through, there is another reason as to why having a single save point is stupid. What if the player wanted to replay a certain level again? I do this frequently with my favourite games just as a way of reliving a good time. Good luck with that, you will have to start a new game and play through the entire thing again till you get to the part you really like.
I may not be a programmer, but when I see a game like Soldier of Fortune 2 come up with a perfect solution to this problem as early as 2007 (the game let you choose difficulty level and the number of saves available before each mission), it does make me wonder why something like this isn’t even an option any more.
Ultimately, developers need to realize that a game needs to make full use of the advantages inherent to every format it is to be released on. A half assed compromise is not just detrimental to the experience, its downright insulting to the community as a whole.