The six most evil, hateful gaming time limits

And the one that gets it right

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Dead Rising
Length: Six Hours (72 hours in-game)

Dead Rising took Prince of Persia's system, stretched it out like pizza dough, and covered it with dozens more time limits. This game was nothing more than an exercise in time management. Essential time limits were enforced with a harshness that didn't make any sense. I'm saving everyone, here. You couldn't have waited a second?

If Dead Rising was annoying, the time limit wasn't actually why. It's the stealthy sense of unfairness. Like I Am Alive, you could work yourself into an impossible position. Unlike I Am Alive, you might have to start the game again from scratch. That's a serious commitment to punishing the player. Dead Rising, however, kind of realised that it was being a massive asshole, and threw you a bone - you got to keep your characters level. Next time, you'd be stronger, carry more, and you'd know where to go. Well, in theory. There's every chance you simply turned it off and got a new hobby.


Final Fantasy VIII's Ifrit's Cavern Countdown
Length: 10 - 30 minutes

The worst thing about this countdown? You're asked to choose your own time limit, with no evidence as to how large the caverns ahead might be. The inclination is to translate the three offerings as "easy", "medium" and "hard", and choose the time limit based on how amazing you think you are.

No, that's not the worst thing. The worst thing is how the countdown actually works. You don't get judged highly for completing within the time limit. You get judged based on how little time there is left on the clock when you finish. You can get top marks for 30 minutes, so long as you hang around and finish with a few seconds spare. The whole hidden system leaves you feeling cheated, confused, demoted and annoyed. And then you win Ifrit, and have to figure out the damn Junction system.

No, that's not the worst thing. The worst thing is that FFVIII is a format exclusive for another platform, and I probably shouldn't be mentioning it here. Look, don't tell anyone that Final Fantasies didn't start at 13, right?

Setting everyone up for a lifetime of jealousy and expenditure

Length: Your life

If you've ever stood up and said "Red Warrior needs food badly" in an attempt to get everyone to go to Nandos, you'll know about Gauntlet's fundamentally evil time limit. A coin-operated game, Gauntlet foreshadowed modern microtransactions by letting you buy 10 pence worth of health.

And health wasn't just damaged by the relentless hordes of ghosts, orcs and anthropomorphised Death, it constantly ticked away. Your metabolisms were hyperactive to the point where a massive plate of food would see you right for about two minutes.

This turned a co-operative game into a spiteful game of recrimination. The healthiest person had no incentive to let the nearly-deads take the food, because it was more time on his life clock. It was each man and his pocket money for themselves. A more politically-minded person might say that Gauntlet is capitalist society in action - turning the players against each other to distract from the fact that it's quietly profiting from us all. Of course, us detached cool kids would roll our eyes at him, because politics is well bore.


Sine Mora
Length: As long as it takes

Sine Mora, however, takes something I hate, and forced me to reconsider. I love Sine Mora's time limit. It's got the "time is life" of Gauntlet, without the acrimonious multiplayer. The "do it again" punishment is a perfect fit with an arcade shoot em up, as opposed to a story-driven survival horror like I Am Alive. And it's not slapped on without obvious purpose, like FFVIII's Ifrit battle. Time is the essence of the game. There's very little unfairness, like Dead Rising, and it gives you a chance to practice later levels, unlike Prince of Persia. And while the underwater levels aren't the best... at least you can't bloody drown.

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