Cheats With a Pricetag

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, select, start. Familiar, yes? The classic Contra code has been repeated throughout countless video games. There was a time when a few simple keystrokes could bankroll your Sims for eternity, render your armies invincible, or scout the medieval walls of your opponent's base with a Shelby Cobra.

Cheat codes are a rare sight these days. Console commands still pop up from time to time in PC games, but by and large, traditional cheats are a thing of the past. The current generation of consoles and the advent of "achievements" is largely credited with their demise, and it's a fair assessment. For many younger gamers, cheat codes are a relic of another time, something their parents ask about while puzzling over a modern controller. The truth is, cheat codes aren't gone, they just don't look as they used to.

They are known as shortcut packs, or upgrade kits. They come as pre-order and limited edition bonuses. These things are built to give players an advantage in the game by giving them an item or ability not available to other players, or by making certain things available to the player without having to unlock them. The most notable appearance of these is probably in the Battlefield series. The shortcut kits allowed players to pay a small fee to skip the hours of grinding and skill honing normally required to unlock a classes weapons and upgrades. Sold as a way to "level the playing field" for new players, these kits tell honest players they are worthless by boiling down the hours they've spent working towards capping out a class to a couple bucks.

I spent weeks slaving through the multiplayer ranks of Battlefield 3 to get the equipment I needed to compete. I never once bought a shortcut kit, and while I suffered through numerous losses and was outmatched in nearly every game, I eventually got enough high end gear unlocked to become a threat. Meanwhile, any twelve year old with allowance money to burn could skip all that work and get immediate access to the game's most powerful weapons.

Even with as much hate I carry around for these kits, I can understand their use in  the context of an FPS; Your friend has been playing a game for a while and has begged you to buy it to play together but you don't have anywhere near the same equipment. You're a competitive player out to climb the ranks and need better equipment to keep your team on top.

Lately though, I've seen these bundles worming their way into single player games. Assassin's Creed IV allows players to buy packs that, for a few dollars, will unlock all of the ship upgrades and complete all of the side activities in the game. Essentially, it's offering payers an opportunity to cut hours out of their gameplay sessions to "complete" the game.

This makes absolutely no sense to me at all. Sure, collecting things can be tedious and dull at times, but why purposefully shorten the game experience? What sense of accomplishment is there, what challenge remains? If you'd rather pay to have the obstacles removed from the game, what are you playing for?  I can't wrap my head around it. The only thing this teaches players is that hard work pays off, but money talks.

To be continued...