Gotta Catch 'Em All

As Gordon Freeman traverses the ruins of City 17, he’ll occasionally see a lambda symbol etched onto the devastated remains of buildings, walls, or random air vents. Our silent protagonist will then think "aha! Health! Guns! Ammunition!" personally, I think "right, that’s one, now where does the guide say the next one is?"

Collectibles are running videogames. Even logical collectibles, like the supply caches I mentioned in the above example, are simply tools to wrench more life out of a game that, quite honestly, doesn’t need it. Do you really need every golden and coloured banana in Donkey Kong 64? Of course you don’t, but you’ll usually do it anyway, and it’s only gotten worse with the introduction of achievements and trophies.

Think about it. Where do most collectibles fit in, when playing titles that tout immersion as their main selling point? Half Life 2 was one of the best – and still is, in my oh-so humble opinion – FPS titles in videogame history. It has class, a fantastic storyline, believable technology (however advanced it may seem) and real, down-to-earth characters, not to mention a silent protagonist that, like Link and the Doom Marine before him, allow you to slip into his skin so easily the title becomes less of a game, and more of an adventure.

And yet, in this epic tale of one man (and occasionally a horrendously stupid sidekick whose dialogue sets feminism back around a hundred years), where’s the need for collectibles? What’s his motivation for killing every Antlion grub in the hive? Surely, he could eradicate the buggers to prevent more from spawning, but when the Queen takes a good ten minutes to kill with decent weaponry (when she’s not smashing you off a tunnel wall), is it worth it? Why would a scientist care about only using the Gravity Gun throughout Ravenholm when he’s got a machine gun strapped to his back? Forgive me for nitpicking, but there are some things even mentalist HEV-equipped scientists won’t do in the name of their craft.

Personally, the only collect-‘em-up that really presented me with a viable reason for collecting masses of anything at all was Pokémon. You had a Pokédex, and your mission from Professor Oak (the other professors mean nothing to me, he was the original and the only) was to help him research all of them. I had a motive, and my reward was simply his gratitude. It helped that every single collectible in the game was a living, breathing thing that looked original and came in useful every time you felt like stomping Gary’s arrogantly assembled squad into the floor.

But there’s nothing that validates my need to collect every virtual snowflake on the mountain in SSX 3. Granted, it’s one of my favourite games of all time, but I have no motivation or logical reason to persuade myself to throw Psymon down the same mountain trail fifty times so I can claim a little bit of cash and a ton of snowflakes. There are snowflakes everywhere. This is a snowboarding game. I don’t need any more. It’s patently ridiculous.

Of course, if every game was completely logical, we’d all be playing "Call of Duty: USA at War With No One, But What the Hell" and videogames would suck. But it just grates sometimes: the fact that in order for the developers to award me all the achievement points I can get, I have to finish the story, then go back and collect everything. I don’t feel a sense of achievement when I get collectible achievements, I feel a sense of loss. I’ve since stopped bothering with going for collectible achievements, and if you ever find my gamertag, you’ll notice I’ve not 1000G’d a single game. I’m a rebel like that. Give me 1000G for playing through the storyline, and you’re my favourite developer. Give me 100G, and you can stick your achievements where the sun don’t shine.

By far the most baffling collectible items in any largely story-driven title were the flags in Assassin’s Creed. Snowflakes I kind of get. Hell, even golden jigsaw pieces in Banjo Kazooie. But flags? What the hell was Altair going to do with them? I can see the logic if he picked one up, took a javelin run up to the lip of the roof he stood on, and speared his assassination target in the chest from three side mission-infested streets away, but he doesn’t. Apparently, collecting them all makes you a "Keeper" of flags. A keeper? Where was he "keeping" them? I get he can conceal a hidden blade by lopping off one of his fingers, but over seven hundred flags are going to take a little more than his appendages off the man.

This sounds like an angry rant against collectible items. It is, really, but I like to think of it as more of a passionate discourse. That and I despise the LEGO collectable items with the fiery fury of all nine circles of hell covered in Texan BBQ sauce. I cannot quite express how loath I am to conclude my part in a poorly-adapted plastic storyline, only to realise that I’ve now got to buy every character and get every bit of memorabilia. I know I’m not a "true Jedi" already, if I was that arrogant I’d be fighting crime, not sitting at a keyboard.

Sometimes I think developers add collectables simply to justify a few more (or in LEGO games, five times the original storyline’s playtime) hours leeched from the spare time people are willing to throw at a title. Lambda caches made sense. Pokémon made sense. Even COG tags made sense, and in fact are the best example of how collectibles should be done: both saddening and enraging, collecting the ID tags of your fallen battle-brothers, honouring their sacrifice and nabbing 20G in the process.

Personally, I think there should be an achievement worth a hundred thousand gamerscore simply for collecting all the versions of the Xbox 360 due to red-ring failures. That, or LEGO games should spit out real pound coins. The choice is yours, really: cold, hard cash, or gamerscore. We both know which one you’ll choose, it’s the same reason anyone even rented King Kong.


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Author: Christos Reid View all posts by

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