There are few game mechanics which I genuinely abhor. I’m not a big fan of crafting in most MMOs, but that’s a purely practical affair. Crafting is usually hugely time consuming, requires a large outlay of in game money, and almost never offers any kind of reasonable financial return for that investment. You basically just do it because you like it, in many games at least. Driving games, and games which include driving, often irk me somewhat. The notion of driving round in a circle to see who does it quickest does not appeal to me on any level, and having no innate love of cars to begin with, there really is nothing there for me.
But there is a special layer of Hades reserved for one particular mechanic, and that bringer of woe is countdowns and timers. Ironically, I can be left utterly bereft if said timers are also combined with driving, which happens far more than I’d like. In games where it is possible, I will actively avoid anything that’s outrageously timed. I don’t mean examples where the timer merely encourages you to prioritise a task, I’m referring rather to the sort of “get there quick, you have one minute, hurry!” type affairs.
The reason I hate this mechanic so much is two fold. On the one hand, I feel anxious and stressed out when a timer appears. This is not an effect that games usually create in me, but for some reason the thought of failing a timed challenge and having to repeat it, sometimes over and over, just drives me up the wall. I also can’t escape the feeling that timers are sometimes used in a manner that I’d be inclined to call lazy development. Effectively put in place in order to create an artificial tension that the game is otherwise incapable or unwilling to provide. There are surely smarter and more creative ways to do this than making it a race against the clock.
Now obviously some games, such as racing games, rely on things like time trials. This is fine, as it’s a fundamental part of racing as a sport. I’m never going to play those games, but I accept they are just not for me. But, take for example an instance I experienced in The Secret World just the other day when I was tasked with escorting a survivor to the Sherriff’s office. The game felt it necessary to give me a five minute time limit to achieve this. This seemed attainable, but I actually came pretty close to failing as the NPC in question would only run intermittently, and was frequently attacked. Now to my mind, I would have preferred a genuinely threatening series of attacks, rather than an arbitrary five minute time limit, and would have felt more invested in the mission and perhaps more of a genuine sense of tension. But more to the point, what was the purpose of adding the timer to begin with? It just felt out of place to me, and something used in lieu of any better ideas.
So, what about you guys, do you have a game mechanic you really, really dislike?