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What's better: drawbacks, or a load of lasers?

The hunt for the single best thing in video games continues

Last week, you decided that romance is better than de_dust2. I'm a little surprised, considering Dust 2 not only took an early lead but has likely been modded into every game which features romance too. But I accept the decision, and our mission continues. This week, I ask you to pick between a trade-off and something with no negative consequences at all: drawbacks, or a load of lasers.

Drawbacks

"Games are a series of interesting decisions," Civlord Sid Meier famously declared. My favourite interesting decisions involve drawbacks (which I guess I consider a subset of trade-offs?). Something good will happen, but...! It's a very broad thing, broad enough that I wrestled with including it in our great contest, but it's a good thing. So let's. Choosing between several good outcomes can be nice and comforting, with no bad feeling of messing up. Choosing between the lesser of two evils can be interesting too. But the decisions I often most enjoy come with drawbacks: something good will happen, at a cost.

In branching conversations and stories, I adore agonising over a decision which will cause both good and bad. Maybe it'll change the whole outcome of the game, maybe it'll only change a few lines of chat, either way it's a good feeling. It's even better when dire consequences will clearly follow one option but to hell with that, I am fired up and know exactly what I must do.

I like characters builds with drawbacks too. In fantasy RPGs, I can't resist blood magic and other builds which trade lifeblood for power, like the Guild Wars '55 Monk' which swapped almost all my health for Achillean invulnerability—collapsing if prodded the wrong way. Roguelikelikes are often particularly good at drawbacks, with plenty of items that will cause me grief in exchange for great violence. Most recently, I've playing Shotgun King, a chess roguelikelike (with a shotgun) where every upgrade choice for myself is paired with a different upgrade for the enemy, a great decision. It's no coincidence that a double-edged sword is also a cool-looking sword.

I relish drawbacks in weapon choices. I gravitate towards bolt-action rifles, revolvers, breech-loading grenade launchers, and pump-action or sawed-off shotguns: guns which will commit supermurder if the cirumstances are right and my aim is true, or will leave me woefully ill-equipped for my current predicament and pleading for the next shot to come faster. Or in medieval melee, give me the warhammer (my favourite Bloodborne weapon is the Kirkhammer, a gravestone wedged on the end of a sword). And given a choice of cars I'll pick the muscle car which grunts and roars and zooms then spins out.

And if you want to get into the moment-to-moment drawbacks of movement and placement and timing and trades and... look, I am my own worst enemy, and it's great, and I refuse to change. Long may I live in interesting times.

Loads of lasers

Games are also a series of pretty lasers. Maybe Sid Meier hasn't said that, but it's just as true. Video games contain the world's largest natural deposits of lasers, and what lasers they are!

Red lasers. Green lasers. Blue lasers. Orange yellows. Yellow lasers. Pink lasers. Purple lasers. Cyan lasers. White lasers. Lasers which rotate through the full colour spectrum. Lasers which arc. Lasers which spread. Lasers which loop. Lasers which rotate. Lasers which spiral. Lasers which go PEW. Lasers which go ZAP. Lasers which go ZPOW. Lasers which go ZWIM. Lasers which go SCWEOW. Lasers which go ZWAP-ZWAP.

A load of lasers in a Vampire Survivors screenshot.
A load of lasers in Vampire Survivors.

One potential negative: a load of lasers can grind framerates to a halt. But this is actually a good thing. How impressive when a load of lasers is so large and fancy that a computer cannot handle it! As I've said before, I think the real win condition in Vampire Survivors is making the framerate chug from all your lasers. Though I will concede one actual negative: a load of lasers can be a problem for photosensitive players.

While I'm no fan of the expensive march towards 'photorealism' in graphics technology and hardware, here's a secret neither Nvidia Epic Games will tell you: it's actually all happening to enable a fancier load of lasers. From Space Invaders onwards, it's all been about a load of lasers. If you've ever cooed over lunar crater pores on the slablike face of a grizzled murderman, you have a load of lasers to thank. One day, we will reach a point where that dream load of lasers can be fully realised, and you will weep. And then you will never weep again, because you will have shot a load of lasers directly into your eyes. I can hardly wait.

But which is better?

A real toughie, this. Revolvers, or a load of lasers? Double-edged swords, or a load of lasers? Burning my social capital to rile up one jerk who deserves it, or a load of lasers? Muscle cars, or a load of lasers? Sorry, I'm clearly too close to this and can't be counted on for objectivity. I rely on you, reader dear, to reveal the objective truth.

Pick your winner, make your case in the comments, then we'll reconvene next week to see which thing stands triumphant—and continue the great contest.

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