A Defense of the Walkthrough

It would be interesting to have a game in which a guide and notepad was as necessary to completing it as the controller.

While playing through a pre-release version Resonance for review, I came across a number of obstacles that I struggled to overcome. The difficult line that puzzle games have to walk is that the player must be stumped -- but only for a little while. Unfortunately, given that my review was time sensitive, getting stuck lost much of its charm in the last few days before its release. However, just before its official release, developer Wadjet Eye Games sent an email offering a walkthrough to any reviewers that thought they might need it.

I hadn’t come across a puzzle that I couldn’t figure out, but I worried that that time was coming. So, with a slight sense of shame, I asked the developers to pass along the walkthrough. It was an interesting offer that is pretty unique to games. It felt almost like getting offered a ten page summary for a book review or an extended “highlights” trailer for a film review. It felt like cheating. But walkthroughs can add a layer of depth to games.

Conventional practice seems to be that only the resources and information provided in the game are “allowed” to be used and that any time that outside resources must be used is an indication of poor design. Walkthroughs and cheats are for second playthroughs. The first time through a game ought to be done blind. Yet the first Legend of Zelda included a real-life map included with the instruction manual to find all of the dungeons and there has been no backlash against it over time. Since then, using strategy guides for contemporary games is regarded as cheating. With the internet’s proliferation of walkthroughs (most of which are actually very good), it would make sense for walkthroughs to play a more important role in games.

I maintain that telling a game’s story outside of the game cheapens the narrative. However, having the gameplay explained in step-by-step instructions can make an unplayable game enjoyable -- and an enjoyable game immersive. Walkthroughs (or rather, any in-game challenge that requires the player to write notes on a pad or draw out a map or write down instructions) breaks the fourth wall. It ceases to be immersive because the player steps out of the game world rather than being drawn into it.

Games can’t work without a player, and generally the more that a game includes the player, the better the game works. But developers seldom use the real world as a resource anymore. The fight against Psycho Mantis in Metal Gear Solid may have been gimmicky, but everyone remembers it. The special characteristic of games is that they deliberately make the audience a part of the story, and there is a surprising lack of ingenuity in approaching that uniqueness. It would be interesting to have a game where a notepad was as necessary to completing it as the controller.

Even though walkthroughs are a major part of playing games, there’s almost a taboo against using them. Walkthroughs should not just be used as a last resort before giving up, and games that present information in such a way that you need a calculator or a list of notes to play them are not necessarily lazily designed. Games are becoming more important, their place in the real world is becoming more pronounced, and it makes sense that they should be designed with an awareness of that.





Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.


Folk's Jason Wilber Examines the World Through a Futurist Lens in 'Time Traveler' (album stream)

John Prine's former guitarist and musical director, Jason Wilber steps out with a new album, Time Traveler, featuring irreverent, pensive, and worldly folk music.


Alastair Sim: A Very English Character Actor Genius

Alastair Sim belongs to those character actors sometimes accused of "hamming it up" because they work at such a high level of internal and external technique that they can't help standing out.


Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers Head "Underwater" in New Video (premiere)

Celebrating the first anniversary of Paper Castles, folksy poppers Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers release an uplifting new video for opening track, "Underwater".


Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's New LP Is Lacking in Songcraft but Rich in Texture

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's The Mosaic of Transformation is a slightly uneven listen. It generally transcends the tropes of its genre, but occasionally substitutes substance for style.


Buzzcocks' 1996 Album 'All Set' Sees the Veteran Band Stretching Out and Gaining Confidence

After the straightforward and workmanlike Trade Test Transmissions, Buzzcocks continued to hone their fresh identity in the studio, as exhibited on the All Set reissue contained on the new box-set Sell You Everything.


Patrick Madden's 'Disparates' Makes Sense in These Crazy Times

There's no social distancing with Patrick Madden's hilarious Disparates. While reading these essays, you'll feel like he's in the room with you.


Perfume Genius Purges Himself and It's Contagious

You need to care so much about your art to pack this much meaning into not only the words, but the tones that adorn and deliver them. Perfume Genius cares so much it hurts on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Confinement and Escape: Emma Donoghue and E.L. Doctorow in Our Time of Self-Isolation

Emma Donoghue's Room and E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley define and confront life within limited space.


Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.