Five of the Best is a weekly series about the small details we rush past when we’re playing but which shape a game in our memory for years to come. Details like the way a character jumps or the title screen you load into, or the potions you use and maps you refer back to. We’ve talked about so many in our Five of the Best series so far. But there are always more.
Five of the Best works like this. Various Eurogamer writers will share their memories in the article and then you – probably outraged we didn’t include the thing you’re thinking of – can share the thing you’re thinking of in the comments below. Your collective memory has never failed to amaze us – don’t let that stop now!
Today’s Five of the Best is…
Achievements or trophies! Achievements arrived first on Xbox 360 of course. Do you remember the first time you received one, that little pop-up opening to tell you what you’d been awarded? Bewitching, wasn’t it. A prize, and who doesn’t want to be given a prize? They caught on like wildfire and pretty soon, PlayStation 3 had a Trophy system of its own.
The more common they became, the more creative developers got. Soon straightlaced awards for reaching milestones were only the half of the picture and awards were used to tell jokes, encourage wayward behaviour, or entice you off the beaten track. Today there are hundreds of thousands of Achievements and Trophies out there. Question is, which of them are the best? Happy Friday!
(Where we refer specifically to Xbox 360 Achievements, we capitalise the word, but otherwise we mean achievement to include Trophies and every other kind of award.)
Crackdown – High Flyer
Crackdown had an excellent campaign – it was just hidden in the Achievements. Here’s where you’d find the real keys to unlocking fun in Pacific City. The best designers of the 360 era seemed to understand that Achievements were about encouraging you to play across the general rules of the game rather than just ticking off the story highlights. So it is with Crackdown. You’re a supercop, sure, but the Achievements are largely about the kind of stuff that would, at best, get you landed with an ASBO.
And the very best of the best: High Flyer – Make your way to the top of the Agency Tower. I can still remember the exact moment I unlocked this one. Late in the evening, a quick play session that, as is so often the case with Crackdown, had gone deliriously awry. Slowly as I climbed, the city sounds dwindled. And then at the top actual soundtrack music – a real rarity in Crackdown – started to play, strange melancholic chords that never quite came together to form a theme.
This in a way is where Crackdown ends. Once you can climb the tallest building, what else is there for you to do? But as with the best Achievements it’s also where the game begins: you have learned to speak Crackdown. Now go and play it properly.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – Mile High Club
12th April 2007 is a date I’ll remember forever because it was on that day, after weeks of trying, I finally earned the Mile High Club achievement in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. For those of you who don’t know, Mile High Club requires you to complete the bonus epilogue level of Modern Warfare on Veteran difficulty, and it. Is. Solid. Even now, only a miniscule 3.3 per cent of players on Xbox have unlocked it, and if you think how many people have played…
At that point in my life I was not only a huge Call of Duty fan but well into collecting achievements, and I’d taken it upon myself to get the full 1000 Gamerscore on each and every COD game going. I’d already done it with COD 2 and 3, and I’d unlocked every other achievement in MW – but Mile High Club was my nemesis. Each attempt was a nonstop, repetitive cycle of gunfire, fury and failure, and I’d truly begun to think the achievement impossible to earn.
The level itself is short but as it’s set onboard a plane, your path is linear without room to manoeuvre. On Veteran difficulty, this lack of wiggle room means there’s practically no escape from the constant hail of gunfire and death, which comes at you fast. It feels like the enemies have wallhacks enabled because of their ability to anticipate your every move. You need only expose a tiny part of your body a millisecond too soon and BLAMMO, back to the start.
The worst thing, though, is the mission is timed, and on Veteran difficulty you have only 60 seconds to make it through this army of super-accurate soldiers. But that’s not all. Once you reach the top of the plane, you need to test your aim and nerve by taking out an enemy using a passenger as a human shield, and all while the timer ticks down.
Over and over I tried, two steps forwards, three steps back. One run would come close but the next would fail instantly due to the impossible accuracy of the AI and a bullet homing into my face.
I’d all but given up when one day, it miraculously happened for me. I made it to the end, hit my mark and parachuted, finally, to freedom.
Nowadays I don’t have the time nor patience to pursue such brutal achievements as this, but I’ll always remember Mile High Club not only as the hardest achievement I’ve earned, but also the one I’m most proud of.
The Lego games – One Does Not Simply, Solid Snape, Don’t I Know You?
If timing is the secret of comedy then the achievement pop-up punchlines in Lego’s cheeky adaptations are some of gaming’s best. The Lego games aren’t the only ones to employ them this way of course, but their ability to treat the source material with a side-eye to the camera breaks the fourth wall with frequently amusing effect.
There are examples which the Lego developers have clearly crafted to provide a chuckle at a specific moment, such as the memey “One does not simply…” award in Lego Lord of the Rings, which is unlocked by doing exactly that: walking into Mordor.
Then there are examples you uncover often by accident. Hop into a barrel and sneak around while playing as Professor Snape in Lego Harry Potter and you’ll get the “Solid Snape” achievement, which is as terrible a pun as you’ll ever see on Eurogamer.
Even better are the achievements it takes a moment to register why you’ve just unlocked them. Play as both Captain America and Human Torch in Lego Marvel Super Heroes, in co-op, and you’ll get “Don’t I know you?” achievement – a nod to actor Chris Evans having played both roles.
Grand Theft Auto 4 – Warm Coffee
There aren’t many mods more infamous than the Hot Coffee mod for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It reinstated graphic sex scenes cut from the game and showed character CJ humping like a camel to fill an excitement gauge. It was something Rockstar wanted but was forced to remove – Simon Parkin wrote all about the GTA Hot Coffee mod if you’re interested in the full story. The upshot was a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit against Rockstar parent company Take-Two, and an eventual settlement of $20m. Yeesh.
It’s against that backdrop Grand Theft Auto 4 arrived, the next game in the series, and the question was, how would Rockstar handle sex this time? After all, it’s not like Rockstar to obey the rules. It’s this question that’s on your mind the night you take your in-game girlfriend – there’s a choice of a few – home from a date and get the option to try your luck for something more than a kiss goodnight. My girlfriend was Michelle, if you’re asking, and one night I got lucky.
The screen faded to black. Would it show what came next? Excuse the pun. No it wouldn’t, it turns out. All I saw was the outside of the building accompanied by Michelle’s enthusiastic yells of appreciation. It was only upon exiting the building, thinking about how Rockstar had shown surprising obedience this time around, the Achievement popped up. Warm Coffee. It was a wry smile in Achievement form if ever I saw one.
Half-Life 2: Episode 2 – Little Rocket Man
Oh Gnorman; I will never forget our time together in Half-Life 2: Episode 2.
Before my chance encounter with Valve’s spacefaring gnome, I’d almost entirely, and rather snobbishly, dismissed Achievements as pointless contrivances in service to an endless numerical dick-waving contest for those with too much time to kill.
There was something about Episode 2’s gnome-themed challenge, however – appropriately titled Little Rocket Man – that captured my imagination and compelled me to get involved. And so it was, one balmy afternoon, that I found myself fishing an unassuming garden gnome from beneath a bed early on in the game, ready to deposit it in a rocket ship situated several fraught hours later. The resulting adventure – somewhere between slapstick road trip and highly unlikely buddy movie – was one I still remember, well over a decade on.
More than anything, it’s the driving that’s stayed with me; there were the beautiful scenic vistas of course, but most of my attention was consumed by constant vigilance of that tricksy little gnome. Thanks to Episode 2’s flamboyant driving physics, rising anything above a genteel crawl as you traversed the sprawling countryside would invariably make your diminutive companion launch dramatically out the back of your open-top vehicle, causing it to ricochet into oblivion or, if you were lucky, merely wind up several miles behind you.
What followed, then, was a journey of painfully pedestrian progress and comical frustration, as I invariably hit the pedal too eagerly, whipping around just in time to watch my tiny pal wave a sudden high-velocity farewell. Needless to say, by the time I located that rocket ship hours later, it was with a mix of relief and genuine sadness that our adventure finally came to a close.
But more than the experience itself, our time together transformed my view of Achievements, showing me how the best could bring unexpected new life to a game you thought you already knew. They’re the ones that reveal hitherto unseen layers and demand a different kind of thinking, forcing you to find new and creative ways to exploit familiar mechanics or opening entirely new avenues for mastery. Thanks to Gnorman (as he became known somewhere along our journey), I always take time to scan through a game’s Achievements now.