Whether you think Gamerscore is relevant or not, X360 Achievements are now part of the console gaming landscape. Yeah, they can be gamed, and no, a Gamerscore is not an indication of anything besides time spent playing games. But there’s something strangely satisfying about seeing the words “Achievement unlocked” pop on your screen.
Myself, I admit to being driven by Achievements when they are well thought out. If an Achievement prompts me to accomplish something I consider fun or challenging, I will go out of my way to get it. What I won’t do is pick up a game solely for its easy Achievements (although I did play Peter Jackson’s King Kong – the easiest 1,000 Gamerpoints I got), or go out of my way to get a difficult Achievement.
I played Half-Life 2, Episode One, Episode Two and Portal on PC, and I finished them all. Recently, however, I purchased The Orange Box, in the hopes it might get Helene to play Half-Life 2, since she’s not a PC gamer. (Yeah, it means I paid twice for the same game package, but Valve deserves it, I guess.) Anyway, I found myself playing through Portal again, for the fun of it… And then I started getting Achievements.
The Achievements alone made me play through the entirety of Half-Life 2 and both episodes. They’re that well-done, in my opinion.
The way I see it, the Achievements of a game play two key roles:
- Provide small, incremental reinforcement as a player progresses through the game;
- Encourage the player to toy with elements of the game off the golden path, such as easter eggs, or simple yet rewarding exploits.
With that definition in mind, I believe The Orange Box has the best Achievements available on Xbox 360.
When playing Half-Life 2, Episode One, Episode Two and Portal, the core of The Orange Box‘s Achievements constitute a breadcrumb trail that rewards you in a small way whenever you reach a key point in the story. The Achievements laid out on the main path are always there at key moments where you accomplished something a bit tricky or intense. Beat a boss, or resisted a major assault, and the “Achievement unlocked” message adds to the reward of having accomplished that particular segment of the game.
Then there are the secondary elements of the game that are rewarding in their own right; these are not necessary to accomplish the game, but they’re clever and rewarding, and the Achievements encourage you to seek them out. These include killing 30 enemies with thrown physical objects, running over enemies with your car, stealing a grenade from a Zombine, fall 30,000 feet in Portal… the list goes on.
These Achievements have pretty much defined my playthrough on the Xbox 360. Whenever I got to a new section of the game, I brought up the Achievement list to see if there was something there I could accomplish. Some of them made me aware of small easter eggs in the game I would have otherwise missed, such as the Half-Life HEV recharging plate in Eli’s scrapyard, or the infamous garden gnome you can actually launch into space in Episode Two.
Add to it the constant reinforcement of the breadcrumb Achievements, and I was hooked from the moment I re-entered City 17, to the final moments of Episode Two. Even worse, I’m considering going back to pick up some Achievements I missed. How’s that for Achievements enhancing replay value?
Another thing that Valve has done exceptionally well with The Orange Box is the in-game Achievement list, complete with pop-ups that show you progress at key points. For instance, let’s say you’re going after the Achievement where you kill 30 enemies with physics objects; at 10 and 20 enemies killed, you’ll get a pop-up notifying you of your progress in that particular Achievement.
Truly, whenever the topic of X360 Achievements comes up on games I produce, I’ll have to keep The Orange Box in mind. Its Achievements are simple yet very thoughtful, and they contribute to my overall experience with the game. We’ve come a long way from the “Here’s 1,000 Gamerpoints for finishing our game”. I’m looking at you, King Kong.