Doing it the Hard Way

In the last two weeks I have completed both Uncharted 3 and Modern Warfare 3 on their highest difficulty settings. I didn't do it for the praise, though do feel free to applaud me, but because playing them on Crushing/Veteran is actually rather good fun. This is something that I have done for every Uncharted and each entry in the Call of Duty series since MW1 (CoD 4), and will continue to do so until it no longer entertains or my motor functions betray me.

Completing these games on a higher setting offers a sense of personal achievement, as well as a badge of honour by way of the shiny trophies that flash each time I do something worthy, letting everyone know that I am not a man to be trifled with. For the most part, Uncharted 3 and MW3 do not allow the ramped-up difficulty to lessen the core experience and do not fall back on frustrating and cheap methods of punishing the player. Instead, they demand that you think and act slightly differently than in a normal playthrough, and thus encourage you to enjoy and approach the same game in a slightly different way - something that is very much welcome and adds significantly to its shelf-life.

Modern Warfare 3 is a very different five hours on veteran than on regular difficulty. Captain Price's facial hair is as overwhelming as ever and the dialogue remains gloriously moronic, but the game transforms from a Terminator like advance through the open, with a disregard for personal well-being, to a more cerebral game - yes I am still talking about MW3 - of moving from one area of cover to another in the most efficient and timely manner possible. I enjoyed both playthroughs as two distinct experiences, separated by only a matter of days. In my veteran playthrough I was relying on techniques and items that were untouched the first time round, to give myself an edge. This included popping smoke, seeking out and neutralizing first the enemies that posed the most threat, and learning to resist the urge to make a kamikaze charge for the next checkpoint.

In comparison, Uncharted 3 on crushing encourages you to progress as swiftly, but as safely, as possible, because the more aggressive and dangerous enemies will soon render any stretch of cover untenable. You simply cannot afford to get surrounded, which makes sticking to one spot for too long a recipe for disaster. It also pushes you to aim for the head, as foes will absorb more body-shots than you, and strive for silent take-downs to buy you a little more time before the inevitable rush of South African pirates and cockney scoundrels.

In general, higher level run-throughs of third and first person shooters are more about patience and awareness of your surroundings than the devilish button sequences that we traditionally equate with playing on hard. You perish and respawn countless times, gradually piecing together the lay of the land and adapting to your surroundings; you learn from your mistakes and patience is rewarded with the warm embrace of a checkpoint well-earned. You don't have to fire any faster to complete MW3 on veteran, or any more accurately for that matter, but just make better use of cover and angles, be wiser in your choice of weapons and come to better understand the tendencies of your still rather predictable opposition. In these games, success has very little to do with being able to twat the trigger button five times per second.

I’ll almost never play a game first time out on anything other than normal, not even Uncharted or Modern Warfare. However, if they are able to offer something of merit to distinguish themselves from a standard play-through, while avoiding lazy additions such as one hit kills and cheap bosses, then I'll always be open to doing it one more time the hard way.


  1. I kind of feel like each Uncharted games Crushing difficulty has gotten easier. I wish UC3's Crushing was as diffcult as Drake's Fortune for instance. Though maybe I am a bit better at the games now too. Uncharted 3's Crushing has the advantage of turning off the button prompts during the fistfights too which should be an option on all difficulties. Whether I enjoy these hard difficulties depends on the game. Some games harder difficulties feel cheap and some games I just don't play for that challenge. But I do enjoy it in Uncharted.

  2. I'm still sad that no one kept the technological advancements in difficulty settings made by Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. You play a Perfect Dark mission, you get a heavily edited lite version of it on Easy, the normal version on Normal, and the full mission, complete with all sub-quests and gadgets, when you finally play on Hard. It was such a clever way to set things up. You could play through the whole game on Normal and feel like you'd been everywhere and done everything, but then if you wanted to go through on Hard, you got the extended director's cut.

    It's one of those ideas like health bars or inventory screens that should have become an industry standard the moment it was introduced.

  3. @ Trip - I agree that crushing have never been particularly hard, though I felt that it was tougher in Uncharted 3 than in 1 or 2. At least I seemed to be dying more regularly. Still really enjoyed it though.

    @ Thirdrail - Never played Goldeneye or Perfect Dark, but I really like that idea of missions opening up more on harder settings, so long as it still feels complete on easy/normal.

    My concern if that model was used today, would be that developers would make the full game the hard version and then take away for the lower difficulties, as opposed to having regular as a full experience and adding extras for the more challenging run-throughs.

  4. I also tend to play a lot of games on hard as well. Often times just because it's more immersive that way. Deus EX Human Revolution and Batman Arkham Asylum are both better games on hard for this reason. Then there are games like Bayonetta and Vanquish that make you a better player when you up the difficulty. I'm also guilty of just doing it for the bragging rights as well.

  5. I really struggled with Bayonetta towards the end. I think i would have given up had I been playing it on hard.

    Deus Ex is in my backlog pile, and with Skyrim having just turned up in the post, it may have to wait a little longer.


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