What do Wolfenstein: Young Blood and Halo: Infinite have in common? If you guessed that they’re both mediocre games, you’d be right, but that’s not what I was thinking of.
No, what I was thinking of is that they both have similarly terrible final boss fights.
The basic rules of each fight are as follows:
- They both take place in a vaguely circular arena. You’re exposed if you go into the center, but you can find some protective walls if you move toward the outer edges
- The boss flies and/or teleports around hurling projectiles at you, some of which can be difficult to dodge when you’re also trying to shoot back
- Multiple waves of enemy mooks spawn in to try and distract you
- The boss has multiple phases
It is uncanny how similar (and similarly terrible) these fights are. The main problem they share is that because the arena is circular, there is no true cover. The protective walls along the exterior may block attacks from head on, but they can’t stop enemy mooks from flanking you from the left or the right. You have to constantly be on the move; stopping for even a moment to get your bearings, or pausing for a split second too long to grab ammo, can be your doom.
Neither fight feels like a test of skill, but of endurance, patience, and luck. For example, in Infinite, there comes a point in which one of the waves of mooks includes a Brute Chieftain with a gravity hammer. Depending on where he spawns, what route he takes to get you, and how long it takes for you to be aware of his presence, it may be impossible to kill him before he closes the distance and one-shots you with his melee attack.
Meanwhile, in Wolfenstein, the types of skills and/or weapon upgrades (and/or weapon masteries) you’ve unlocked may make it more or less easy to deal damage to the boss, which in turn will affect how long the battle takes. The longer it is, the longer the fight – and the longer the fight, the more likely you are to make a mistake and lose.
I’ll admit it – I did not beat either of these bosses. I refused. I felt no reason to bash my head against the wall. What would be the point? Neither fight is about being clever or ingenious or improvising your way out of a situation. They’re more about perfect execution of a strict (and limited) number of actions. That’s not a challenge – that’s just acting like a robot.
As far as I was concerned, all the real challenges happened earlier, and I tackled them all. And I found it incredibly insulting that the developers expect me to play along with this endgame bullshit.
Now I only have one thing on my mind – how was I not aware of any of this ahead of time?
Where were the Reviews?
I’ve read a lot of reviews of both these games, and none of them mentioned anything about having crappy final bosses. I suppose this simply means that none of the reviewers found them to be egregious, but I find that hard to believe.
It’s almost a rite of passage for young, twentysomething games journos to write about how everything old is bad and/or outdated, including old game design practices. And to be clear, these two boss fights are straight out of any old (and bad) 3d game from the late 90’s. I’d expect critics to chew them out for that reason alone.
But they didn’t. Which leads me to assume that one or more of the following are true:
- Most critics nowadays are too young to have played a lot of late 90’s 3d games
- They didn’t notice
- They didn’t care
I honestly don’t know which is most likely. It’s hard to tell, and that’s a bit of a problem.
In my experience video game reviews are increasingly unreliable. I’m not sure if it’s due to the complexity of the medium, or something about video game critics in particular, but it seems more and more that reviews omit all sorts of critical information.
I’m not talking about things like “the graphics are good or bad”, or similarly unquantifiable qualities. I’m talking about things like “you’re going to spend most of your time doing X”, or “there’s a really egregious scene about 5 hours in that I couldn’t stand”, or “it tries to play like an open world, but none of the maps are large enough”.
These are still matters of opinion, but it helps me to calibrate my expectations when I know a little more about, say, whether or not the experience is consistent, or if it throws weird and unexpected curveballs.
And when critics do get into specifics, they’re increasingly afraid to assign any sort of value judgment. You’ll know that something exists, but you’ll have no idea if it’s any good or not.
These days it’s not uncommon for me to pick something up based on good reviews, only to feel as if the game that was reviewed was completely different from the one I played. Games where there are major moments, character beats, or shortcomings that I was completely unprepared for – and if I had known about them, I never would have bothered in the first place.
Do critics omit these things because they truly didn’t consider them noteworthy? Do they omit them because they are afraid?
And if they’re afraid, who are they afraid of? Readers? Publishers? Editors?
But that’s getting off on a tangent. The main point I want to make here is that games like Young Blood and Halo Infinite make me feel out of touch. I thought I understood what modern gamers want (or don’t want), but now I’m not so sure. More and more I feel like what they want (or don’t want) is completely arbitrary.
Maybe it’s just a matter of history repeating itself. I don’t see how anyone who grew up playing games through the 80’s or 90’s could look at these boss fights and say “yes please,” but that’s probably not the demographic that Young Blood or Infinite is trying to appeal to (Halo used to, but it is clear they abandoned their original fans years ago). If instead they’re appealing to a younger demographic who has no experience with shitty, cheap boss fight design, then their patience for it is going to be far higher.