Collecting stuff always comes across as filler at best, psychological manipulation at worst. Most games do a poor job of justifying collecting other than giving you a reason to pick stuff up. I’m OK with the collecting being about further exploring the world, but even most games don’t seem to pull that off. I know that someone people really like that base level of completion, though, and it’s just not my thing.
[Note: I’m not trying to turn this blog into a Patrick Klepek appreciation/stalking site; it’s just that a lot of the stuff he says/writes resonates with me.]
Let me throw out two questions to you. I’ll answer them (because that’s what I do), but I’m curious to get your feedback as well.
- Do collectibles matter to you? Have they changed the way you play? Do you prefer games with hidden collectibles, or do you avoid them?
- Are there any games that have successfully made their collectibles relevant and worth pursuing beyond simply getting a trophy or an achievement?
1. I used to be obsessed with finding the hidden areas in games like Quake 2 and Duke Nukem 3D. I’d turn on God Mode and just wander around, looking for hidden nooks and crannies. The loot was usually nice, but that wasn’t even necessarily the pull; it was simply the idea that in these intricately designed worlds, there was always a reason to venture off the beaten path.
When Achievements became a thing, I couldn’t help but notice that games started putting hidden stuff back into their games with greater frequency. It became a sort of status symbol of how hard-core you were in a given game; yes, I found all 500 Orbs in Crackdown; yes, I killed every pigeon in GTA IV, and here’s the proof.
Maybe that’s a bad example; I never found every pigeon in GTA IV, or even came anywhere close. Some games were better at hiding their collectibles than others, and Rockstar’s worlds in particular were so huge, and so dense, that hunting down those specific things would’ve taken hundreds of hours that I simply didn’t have (unless I used some sort of map, which would – to me – defeat the purpose of the hunt).
Other games are less about obscure hiding places and more about simply overwhelming you with sheer numbers. The Assassin’s Creed franchise comes to mind, as do the two most recent Batman Arkham games; both of these games feature so many goddamned things to find that the hunt stops being enjoyable and simply feels like busywork; a lazy way of implementing “added value”. When you finish the game and see that you’ve only completed 70% of what the game has to offer – and this is after you’ve already sunk 20-40 hours – it can feel downright discouraging.
I don’t feel the pull towards these things the way I used to, though it also depends on the game. I couldn’t be bothered to look through every viewfinder in Bioshock Infinite, but I was kinda pissed off that I missed a few of the voice recordings – especially since I apparently missed some pretty major plot points as a result. And I’d thought I’d been pretty thorough, too!
2. When I started this post, I figured that by the time I got around to answering this second question I’d already have a list of games that offered worthwhile collectibles, but it turns out that I’m coming up somewhat empty.
I seem to recall that while some of the hidden objects in Psychonauts got a bit ridiculous in number, the “mental vaults” were quite important – one in particular (in the disco level) added a level of backstory to the disco teacher lady that was absolutely jaw-dropping; I made it a point to find every single one after seeing that.
The hidden skulls in the Halo games offered a great deal in the way of replay value… although I was never the world’s biggest Halo fan, and I only ever found those (when I was inclined to hunt for them) by looking at YouTube videos.
I’m reminded of Valve’s games, suddenly, even if their games were never particularly prone to hidden collectibles. But scouring the environments always yielded interesting rewards in terms of story (i.e. the hidden rooms in the first Portal, the hand-written messages in the Left 4 Dead games).
If you can come up with better ones, by all means, let’s hear ’em!