Last time, you narrowly ruled that mimics are better than tactically sealing doors. Why would anyone want to lock away a beautiful pearwood chest that surely contains oodles of treasure and absolutely no consequences? This week, I ask you to choose between stress and pressure and panic and mistakes, and simply having a nice time helping a friend without a care in the world. What’s better: timed dialogue choices, or a stress-free co-op helper?

Timed dialogue choices

Oooh. Aaaah. This one’s a toughie. If I play it cool and concise, I might win him over. But maybe he’ll be annoyed by me trying to avoid the issue. But maybe he’ll not even notice I’m attempting to lie by omission. But maybe he knows everything, and has always known everything, and he holds all the cards, he’s just toying with me to see what I do. But maybe I am cool enough to pass this bluff and- oh god, the game didn’t pause while I pondered, this dialogue decision was on a timer and I have defaulted to “. . .” and I’m just staring gormlessly at the floor and oh god. And from there, drama!


Talking about computers in an Alpha Protocol screenshot.
You’re teasing me, Alpha Protocol | Image credit: Sega

While Telltale’s story adventure games like The Walking Dead are perhaps the games people most know timed dialogue choices from, I most fondly recall Alpha Protocol. Plotlines and relationships in Obsidian’s oft-forgetten espionage RPG could take quite different directions depending on how you handled things, with consequences often felt only hours later, and nailing/muffing conversations was a huge part of this. Sure, throw a rookie agent into a world where everyone knows more than he does and watch him flounder. What a great time! I didn’t get the outcomes I had perhaps desired, but I still had a great time.

In roleplaying and story games, I’m often more interested in living as a character than I am playing optimally. I want to be riding in their head, seeing through their eyes and nudging their thoughts with my own. I want to see their foibles and failings as they try to navigate their world and their predicament, and see what happens when I try to interfere. Timed dialogue options lets us both see what happens when one of us (or both!) is under pressure.

The big caveat: this needs a game which can roll with it, can deliver an interesting and satisfying experience for all eventualities. It needs a game where unintended consequences aren’t mistakes, they’re twists and surprises. But every thing relies upon a strong context, except maybe the simple pleasure of looking down and seeing your own legs in a first-person game.

A stress-free co-op helper

It’s nice to play games with pals, but can be less fun for everyone if one player is less adept and keeps dying. Even the most experienced murder can struggle to carry someone through everything, stumbling and joining them down on the ground. So hurray for those few games which let another player join in and help out as a little buddy with no fear of death.

Playing Sonic The Hedgehog 2 with siblings, we never played the formal two-player mode. One of us would just pick up the second controller, join in as Tails, then bumble about with no consequences. Sure Tails died all the time, but so what? This is how half my family learned how to play games and use controllers. And we had fun.

In Ubisoft’s pretty platformer Child Of Light, I understand that player two can take control of your whisp buddy to cast heals, slow enemies, and gather items, as well as doing some puzzles. Nice! Or in a game with no death (yet oh so much death!), Spiritfarer lets player two control your cat, not making the big decisions but helping with tasks and chores. Lovely.

I suppose this is an accessibility feature. It’s a nice one. And it’s just a nice thing to do? It’s nice. A feature I am always glad to see. As you can probably guess, these are not types of games I play much these days, so I hope you all can tell me more games with stress-free helpers.

But which is better?

Oh sure helpers are lovely, but you know what I really crave? Being undone by hubris and panic. Give me timed conversations and watch me bumble through, delighted with every faux pas and misunderstanding. But what do you think, reader dear?

Pick your winner, vote in the poll below, and make your case in the comments to convince others. We’ll reconvene next week to see which thing stands triumphant—and continue the great contest.


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