It would appear I did what a lot of other players have done with Red Faction: Guerrilla. I dropped its difficulty down to Casual.
Like Wired's Chris Kohler, I'd been finding Red Faction: Guerrila an enjoyable yet frustrating experience on the Normal difficulty. Chief of which was the realisation that, in a game constructed around the joy of destruction, I was doing an awful lot of hiding behind walls and engaging the enemy with firearms. All I really wanted to do was smash things with my giant space hammer.
As Russ Frushtick writes over on MTV's Multiplayer: "If the difficulty impedes access to the greatest part of a game, just toss the difficulty!"
So I did.
Switching difficulty levels in most games merely tweaks the maths concerning how much damage you can dish out and absorb or, occasionally, how many enemies you encounter. In a shooter, this forces you to become more cautious as you move up the settings; in Killzone 2, for example, you're far more reliant on taking cover.
In an RPG like Fallout 3, the harder difficulties necessitate more frequent use of your items - ie. you'll actually need to use the various drugs - and more varied use of the targeted body shots in VATS - ie. you'll now want to cripple arms and legs instead of a safe torso shot.
Most of the time, a game's difficulty settings don't change the way you play to any major degree. Instead they encourage or demand you make better or even full use of the existing play systems.
Bumping Red Faction: Guerrilla down to its "Casual" difficulty is almost like playing a different game. Crucially, too, it becomes a different game by emphasising the game's foremost strength: destruction. As my fellow bloggers have said, Casual play makes the hammer your weapon of choice and wards off the nagging sense that you're engaging with just another third-person shooter.
Another game that does this - and I realise I'm dipping back into the depths of time here - is the Thief series. On its Expert setting, Thief not only tasked you with extra objectives but it forbade you from killing anyone - and not just innocent civilians but the very guards out to stop you. As a result, to successfully tackle an Expert mission, the Thief player had to rethink what he knew, reconsidering the best angle of approach and reassessing the tools at his disposal.
Difficulty levels carry an increased challenge for the more seasoned player. More games should attempt difficulty levels that tinker with the nature of that challenge.
Can you think of any other games whose difficulty levels fundamentally change the way you play? And what games do you suggest have got their difficulty settings right?