Russell Brock linked to me and, by tradition or by obsessive compulsion, I always read the sites that link to me. I really enjoyed his post on his favorite achievements. This is because I, like Brock, think achievements are one of the best features of the Xbox 360. The snooty scoff off achievements derisively as “nerd points” and the greedy claim “you don’t get free stuff for getting points, so why bother?” Both clearly miss the point. Achievements are like Cub Scout merit badges. They don’t do anything, but you think kids would learn how to tie knots if they didn’t have something to point to to say “Hey, I did something different”? I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some achievements that have actually made me play a game in a different way or explore areas that I would have missed the first time around. This, to me, is the primary value of achievements – to extend or enhance the enjoyment of gameplay.
Here is my short list of favorite achievements that I have earned:
|“The One Free Bullet” from Half Life 2: Episode One
So here is an achievement that would have been frustratingly stupid in most other games. This one falls under the category of “Hamstrung” achievements where you ask the player to play the game without the aid of some crucial element. In this case, they want you to play through without using any bullet-firing guns. But you can use the gravity gun and that’s where this Achievement really adds fun. The first time I played through Episode One, I did the normal run and gun through, ignoring most of the interactive objects. When I was trying for this achievement, my eyes were open for every cinder block, radiator and saw blade. I made great pains to retrieve the precious saw blades. The game took on a challenge that was missing in playing normally. I had a lot more fun playing through the second time for this achievement than I did on my first playthrough. By the end, using only the gravity gun was second nature and I was seeing the levels as I imagine the designers intended – being mindful of the items strewn about City 17 and surrounding areas. If I had the “Little Rocket Man” achievement, I imagine it would be on the list as well, but for a different reason.
|“Skater of the Year” from skate.
I wrote off skate before it came out as another one of those “extreme” sports games where I’d have to fight with the controls and do repetitive tasks until my eyes bled. When the demo hit, I found myself lost in the game until the timer expired. When I got a hold of the retail game, I found it to be both captivating and frustrating. When I finally (after months) unlocked the Skater of the Year achievement, I felt like I had really earned it. Some of those challenges were damn near impossible, yet I persevered and had some genuine jump-off-the-couch-in-celebration moments. If this achievement was a merit badge, I’d be sure to sew it onto the most visible part of my uniform.
|“Irony” from Bioshock
I find secret achievements interesting. On one hand, they aren’t revealed in the normal achievement list, so you don’t have any incentive to do them. But on the other hand, they can provide pleasant surprises that would be defused if they were on the normal achievement list. Such is the case of the “Irony” achievement from Bioshock. In one stage, you do a psychopath’s bidding by eliminating his enemies and then taking pictures of said enemies corpses to adorn a macabre art piece. When you complete it, you get to confront the psychopath. As a gamer, I instantly shot him in the face a hundred times before he could draw on me (leaving the other secret achievement regarding entering his secret room unachievable until the second playthrough). When he was dead, I thought it would be poetic to take his picture, like I did for his foes that I had offed. When I did, I got the satisfying “Achievement Unlocked” popup noise and smiled in satisfaction.
|“Costume Party” from Dead Rising
Dead Rising combined two of my favorite things in video games: sandboxes with plenty to do and zombies. There were dozens of ways to interact with your foes in the game and most were ridiculous. Yet I never would have thought that I could put masks on the zombies if not for this achievement. Thus, it serves its purpose of letting you know about a feature that you may not have discovered on your own. I kind of wish there had been a few more because I know I must have missed some clever features (Frying a zombie’s face with a hot skillet was a fun discovery), but this achievement made me think about each item I picked up and what its purpose was.
|“Worst Cliché Ever” from The Simpsons
The Simpsons game was quite funny. I was tempted to put the “Press START to Play” achievement here as it gave me a good laugh, but since it was essentially automatically given, it really wasn’t a good achievement besides providing said laugh. This one, however, prompted me to find all of the clichés in the game, some of which were quite hilarious including the “Collecting Every Collectible” cliché, which is personally one of my most notoriously hated game design decisions.
|“Don of NYC” from The Godfather
There really isn’t much of a story behind this one as it is your standard transcompletion achievement. However, when I was done with it, I really felt like the city was mine and that I controlled every mobster in my reach. I suppose that is more of the game itself succeeding than the achievement, but it was a nice stopping point when the achievement was awarded.