Hacked Off: When Checkpoints in Video Games Are Unpredictable

Checkpoints are a wonderful thing. They are an offering from the gaming Gods, which allow you to have a fallback just in case the unexpected happens, and you fail on your quest. Now, this feature isn’t going to complain about their existence, it’s more about the lack of them.

Before I get on to my first point, which is a good one, I feel like I need to put some confusion to bed. Those who have dabbled in these features before may recall one about there being no setbacks upon death anymore. Sure, checkpoints contribute to this evil, but they are not the main offender. Sending someone back to the start of the game/level just because they made one mistake in an otherwise flawless attempt, now that simply isn’t fun. People aren’t going to reload with smiles saying, “Oh dear, that was my bad. At least now I get to do the whole level again, isn’t that sweet? Oh yeah, I have to redo that boss that killed me 20 times and whom I only managed to kill through luck. That’ll sure teach me, I suppose.” Checkpoints make it easier, but it prevents the game from getting dull when you keep failing.

The game that made my controllers fly this week was Halo 5: Guardians. There are about 126 problems I have with this game, but I’ll focus on one that’s been with Halo since the beginning. I’m not a fan of the randomness of the checkpoints. You could have killed everyone in the room, then spent about five minutes in the area just walking around as if you’re trying to get a phone signal and still not get a checkpoint. But sometimes you might be in the middle of a fight with about five grunts so close to you that you may as well be doing the tango with them and get a checkpoint. They make no sense. I would love to see what the parameters for them are, as they seem to have minds of their own.

Too many times have I beaten a massive firefight without a single checkpoint. But then the next time around doing the level I’ve been given so many that I’ve got new ones for firing a bullet or pushing any button. Hopefully, 343 Industries fix this thing before they replace everything that makes the game feel like Halo. Maybe they just think the random checkpoints are what people loved about Halo. I’m only one guy, maybe I’m wrong, it happens more often than not. I suppose it keeps players on their feet. They might just not know what’s wrong with it, and the game breaks when they try to fix it.

My next point doesn’t spawn from any particular game, but it happens in most games. I can’t stand the ambiguity of when the last checkpoint was. Sure, this can happen from my lack of observance, which is often poor. So, I concede these times are partially my fault, but it’s when I think the game hasn’t made it clear. Normally, it’s when the checkpoint icon is a dot that appears in the corner of the screen for a millisecond. Better yet, the ones that make no reference to it, where the only way you know if it’s a checkpoint is if you die. This means you are constantly on high alert as a death could take you to the start of the room or the whole game. Which is far scarier than any horror game I’ve ever played.

The moments I really debate whether it looks like an area they’d provide you with a checkpoint is when I’m coming off the game. Obviously, this comes down to saving; however, this is for the games that only auto save. Auto saves are basically checkpoints, just a fancier name. If I miss the icon, I have to stand there analysing the game. I take into account what I’ve just done, the previous times I’ve had a checkpoint, and how long ago my last one was. Once I’ve compiled the data, if it’s above 75%, I take the plunge. Obviously, I’m not always right, if I was I wouldn’t be writing about it. The worst part is my paranoia. Sometimes I save twice, just in case the first time I did it was a trick, or if I’m remembering a previous time where I saved. I’ve often played games for up to an extra 30 minutes trying to find substantial evidence of a checkpoint.

Sure checkpoints are things we should earn, but should it really be a guessing game on when we’ve done enough? So, I’m not expecting games to sprawl ‘Checkpoint’ all across the middle of the screen. That would be ridiculous. Maybe just across half the screen. Better yet, why not just have it announced to the player? “Well done on that, and I can confirm you got a checkpoint.”

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