It’s sometimes argued that the higher the difficulty the purer the experience of a game. Normal difficulty settings are like a guided tour of a game’s locations and set pieces, requiring only a transient understanding of a its central mechanics. In a presentation at E3, Epic and developer People Can Fly explained how Gears of War: Judgement incorporates this idea into its story progress, with players who embrace the highest difficulty level earning the right to see the full story.
The game centers around the trial of Baird, who is being court martialed for treason. Each level in the shooter will be a flashback that Baird tells while on the stand. On lower difficulty settings many of the details in each flashback are witheld, a kind of interactive redaction of facts that left Baird unaware of what was really at stake in each mission.
In the highest difficulty setting the full truth of each scenario will be revealed, with added objectives and new setpieces introduced to reflect the changed context. Deaths will be handled in a similarly plot-connected way, with Baird interrupting his testimony to correct his foggy memory.
The idea of adding new mission objectives is not especially new, but the connecting that structure to the idea of military redaction that ultimately affects the outcome of a trial is a unique way of encouraging players to take mastery of the game’s systems as seriously as they take its plot and cutscenes. In this light the idea of a trial gains a secondary meaning, with the game interrogating the player’s skill in the same way that Baird’s integrity is being put on trial.