Sprinting, shooting, jumping, punching. Name any human action verb, and you'll probably find it simulated reasonably well in a game somewhere. Unless, of course, it's swimming.
Despite all the water-levels inflicted on us, games have never quite managed swimming. In fact, Grand Theft Auto III famously featured a main character so downright terrified of the wet stuff that he’d curl up and die as soon as he got a splash on his little toe. I used to regularly bemoan the fact that I could lose all my best weapons merely by getting a dunking.
Thankfully, this is no longer common in these modern days of expansive gameplay, multimillion dollar budgets and huge areas to explore, but that doesn't mean matters have improved. Instead, we’re been handed some of the most dull swimming experiences we’ve ever had the misfortune to experience.
Take, for example, Grand Theft Auto IV
. Nico’s an accomplished swimmer, and he’s happy to take a dip whenever he feels the urge. As such, when the temptation appears, usually at about the time his Wanted level hits the four-star mark, he’ll rush off to the nearest patch of water and paddle off into the middle of nowhere.
The police, being happy to stick to dry land unless you’ve committed mass-genocide, will soon give up and trot off back to their coffee and donuts. However, in all the excitement, Nico will by then have drifted out to sea. This means that you're now stuck with a good ten-minute button-prod-a-thon until you get back to dry land.
Wow. Thrill a minute stuff here.
What's more, when you get there, unless it’s one of the handy, easy-to-grip areas, Nico isn’t going to play ball. Instead, you’re left slowly paddling along the coastline for a good 15 minutes, cursing your refusal to give yourself up to the cops. Woe betide you if you happen to be near the airport at this point; you might as well reload an old save game and rescue yourself from the sheer boredom of getting back to solid ground.
Swimming, it seems, simply isn’t fun. Nearly everyone’s gaming lives have been affected by the frustrating inclusion of water-based torment. Who hasn’t suffered a multitude of deaths in the guise of Lara Croft, as she twists and contorts in oxygen-free agony
? Surely no-one can claim that Mario’s swimming levels even hit the heady heights of the poorest quality of those that take place on dry land?
Makes you long for a dip. A real life one, anyway.
The problem is that land offers freedom and quick manoeuvring; water doesn't, at least not to anything like the same degree. Ezio Auditore in Assassin’s Creed 2
may be able to hop from rooftop to rooftop like an agile moggy, but stick him in the water and he paddles along like an asthmatic donkey. It’s simply not fun going for a lengthy and tedious swim before you can find a bit of soil low enough to grab onto.
The solution? Unless you can make a swimming section somehow as action-packed as the rest of the game, make a dip in the ocean impossible. I’d much rather be annoyed by the inability to hop into the sea, than drop in and find I’ve got a 15-minute paddle to dry land ahead of me.