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Give Me Back My Water Wings

Posted on 22nd Dec 2010 at 07:25 by Chris Pickering with 24 comments

Chris Pickering
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.

Give Me Back My Water Wings Give me back my water wingsWow. 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?

Give Me Back My Water Wings Give me back my water wingsMakes 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.

24 Comments

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Mraedis 22nd December 2010, 08:56 Quote
The thing is, for most game settings, swimming isn't really adding anything to the gameplay.
yakyb 22nd December 2010, 08:59 Quote
Tomb raider has done swimming fine from day 1

slow moving but exploring of caves not knowing if you will survive for air
Xtrafresh 22nd December 2010, 09:10 Quote
Meh, I agree with the point that if a game isn't going to do anything good in the water, they are better off just making it completely impossible, but I really don't think there have never been any good swimming or underwater sequences.
Quote:
Unless you can make a swimming section somehow as action-packed as the rest of the game,
This is exactly the kind of thinking that leads to boring COD clones. Something doesn't have to be action-packed to be good gaming, i don't think i hae to elaborate on that point.

Water (and especially under-water) sequences can be very interesting or cool, because all the rules are different. You can make cool puzzles underwater, have cool fully three dimensional submarine battles, not to mention how gorgeous and mysterious things can look underwater.
Instead of trying to do the things that are good on land, game developers should work on doing things that are good in water, and to a certain extent, they do.
You mention the original Mario, which i think is a perfect example. Obviously it wasn't a very immersive realistic experience, but they DID take advantage of the different workings of gravity under water to mix up the gameplay a bit.
yakyb 22nd December 2010, 09:15 Quote
oh and to add to that why does everything have to be actioned packed, Mortal online has a very realistic swimming style but have included caves underwater to explore.

you can only really explore these caves if you have learnt the required set of swimming skills combine that with the fact that when you die you literally lose everything it can make for some tense moments

if you want action go back to linear games such as COD im sure they would do it well but frankly that type of game doesnt interest me
Toploaded 22nd December 2010, 10:15 Quote
I approve of this article.

I have never, ever enjoyed swimming in a game. I would always sigh when I had to work through a water level of Mario, and the classic Sonic games. Although well done, I didn't even really enjoy the water levels in Tomb Raider (although, if she had and oxygen tank thus removing the time limit, I might have) In GTA 4, I would never dip into water to escape the police, I'd have rather just been caught.

I think the only underwater game I enjoyed was Echo the Dolphin....
Eiffie 22nd December 2010, 10:21 Quote
I liked the swimming levels in the first and second donkey kong country games.
Eiffie 22nd December 2010, 10:25 Quote
Also, did anyone ever play Treasures of the Deep? Swimming was great in that, the game had currents to ride and calm area's of ocean to explore, as well as caves and underwater bases. Though, it was really a game about having a kick ass submarine, the fact that you could get out and swim around in almost every level except a few that posed huge risks to your divers life, was kind of a neat thing.
mpr 22nd December 2010, 11:06 Quote
Eco the dolphin, early Mario titles, and NES version of Jaws were the only games I enjoyed swimming in.

Crysis is the only game I swam in when I wasn't forced to just because it was pretty, but I often grew very bored of it.
Zoon 22nd December 2010, 15:35 Quote
World of Warcraft, you can swim, and indeed have to in plenty of places ;)

Of course, you just move the forward arrow, and when you enter water, you swim automagically, there's no need to "tread water" or stuff like that, so I guess while the animation is good, its still kinda basic.
faugusztin 22nd December 2010, 16:25 Quote
Ezio Auditore in Assassin’s Creed 2.... oh yeah, that one bloody megacombo jumping level where when you failed, you had to swim back to the starting point, restart the mechanism and do the whole thing again.... Aaaargh, i was stuck here for long :).
Sloth 22nd December 2010, 17:46 Quote
A buddy and I spent two hours doing nothing but swimming in Mortal Online.

It's a badge of honor in my gaming career. Paddling along the coastline desperately trying to maintain full speed without drowing (possible in this game) because we jumped off a cliff like idiots. Ended up swimming so far we reached a city we didn't even know existed.

There are some games which just need the swimming to feel right! But agreed, when it's not needed it should be avoided.
Grape Flavor 22nd December 2010, 19:40 Quote
Ugh, no. I would much rather suffer the possibility I might end up enduring some tedious swimming rather than to have every game dev have to design their games so that there's no water. Or use stupid solutions like in GTA III.

If you just can't stand that not every moment of your game is guaranteed to be action packed, just play CoD all the time. Some of us like games where there's downtime, and exploring, and such. It creates atmosphere/immersion and makes the action parts all the more meaningful.

Seriously, what's with these articles? Bit-tech sure has some backwards-looking ideas about gaming. It seems like it's always about what features and possibilities they'd like REMOVED to simplify and streamline games, rather than ADDING additional choices and potential.
stoff3r 22nd December 2010, 20:13 Quote
Age of Conan does swimming fine I think. Atleast it looks good and realistic.
g3n3tiX 22nd December 2010, 21:56 Quote
Aquaria has swimming too :p (well, only swimming !)
Toploaded 22nd December 2010, 22:30 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Grape Flavor

just play CoD all the time.

Sigh.
Ripitup121 22nd December 2010, 23:50 Quote
Cant believe Just Cause 2 wasnt mentioned in this. Actually the first game that made swimming a bit of fun caus you could use the grapple hook to get out anywhere along land, plus so many boats ment you where never stuck doing it too long.
thehippoz 23rd December 2010, 05:43 Quote
or tomb raider underworld
Altron 23rd December 2010, 08:27 Quote
Half Life and offspring did a solid job with water. Often, it was part of a puzzle or something where you had to do it in a certain manner so as to not run out of air.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein had some great swimming aspects. One multiplayer map in particularly was really cool because there was a submarine pen that you had to defend.It was a big atrium with catwalks and a pool with a submarine in the center. The other team could attack from the hallways, or swim through a tunnel under the submarine and then come up around it. You could sneak up that way, but you moved slow in water so you were a sitting duck, and only the pistol fired underwater so it spiced up the gameplay.

There can be issues, though. GTA swimming sucked. There wasn't really anything you could do while swimming. The only time I'd ever go in the water was if I wanted to steal a boat or something like that. Boating was kinda fun, but swimming wasn't. IMO the only reason to incorporate it was because they had water, and there were boats, so you needed a way to get to them.

There can also be weird/buggy water. Certain TF2 levels allow you to build sentry guns underwater, which is just ridiculous.

Water can be a fun element if it's done well and if it's pertinent to the gameplay. If they add another element to it, like using the HL2 boat thingy or solving underwater puzzles, then it can be fun. If they just have swimming for the sake of swimming, it gets pretty boring.
lacuna 23rd December 2010, 13:59 Quote
Its fine in a few games and I quite liked it in Farcry as a way to sneak up on people.

In Saints Row 2 you can just press triangle to 'warp to shore' when you're nearby so there is no faff of finding a slope to walk out onto. Just another reason why Saints Row > GTA
hirezo 24th December 2010, 14:40 Quote
I can see where you're coming from but i totally disagree on when you said
"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 love the fact that in GTA I don't lose my weapons from landing in water any more.
we all complained about in from GTA3 so much they gave it to us at last in San Andreas, so I'm not complaining as I've got what I want.
The fact that you can survive in water gives games like GTA4 more freedom as you can drive like a nutter and not worry about a little splash ruining your long police chase.
dactone 24th December 2010, 19:10 Quote
i like swimming in games its relaxing...
Casefan 24th December 2010, 20:10 Quote
I know you guys didn't like it in the review, but I enjoyed the swimming in Black Ops.
Devilish 25th December 2010, 20:31 Quote
has no one played Monster Hunter Tri on the wii ? no? well just when you think you have everything under control, it wants you to slay something underwater, and god damn you are by default, so add in even more slow for being underwater and lets speed up the monster, and that equals some VERY intense underwater battles.
Bhozar 5th January 2011, 12:55 Quote
Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii has some great water levels and insane battles under water. More difficult than the traditional land battles due to the extra movement axis and slightly slower movement until you switch armour to one that helps with swimming speed.

MHT is an example of how underwater should be done, and I cant think of a single game that makes it worth venturing out into water other than MHT.
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