Lock picking minigames can be found in a lot of games recently. Some are fun, while others feel like a gameplay-interrupting chore. Some are realistic, while others are miles apart from how any real lock would ever be picked. Below are eight examples, from games both old and new, of video game lock picking done right.
1989. Lockpicking in Hillsfar was essential, and the mini-game added some variation to the gameplay. When trying to open a chest, you were presented with a number of different keys, each with shapes on either end. Your job was to figure out which shape fit which tumbler, but you were forced to do it within limited time.
There’s something to be said about lock-picking that relies on quickness and accuracy, particularly when it ties in so well with gameplay of the same ilk. This side-scroller surprised everybody with solid combat and vivid environments, but the lock-picking is often overlooked. To complement the action on screen, when opening chests you’d be required to push a randomly selected sequence of buttons. The pressure was added because you could see the lock closing, signifying the time limit imposed.
Pin tumbler locks are the most common locks worldwide, which is why lock picking in the latest Risen games is so entertaining. The arcade-style lock picking has a simulation shell, which makes you feel like you’re really picking the tumbler lock. Instead of lining up tumblers to open the lock, the same way a key works, it was unlocked by finding the pattern instead.
Oblivion's lockpicking is more simulation than most of the others so far, and many of us undoubtedly remember breaking pick after pick trying to open a lock labeled very hard early in your adventures. Using the pin tumbler approach, you were required to lift the tumbler up, but it also required that you lock it in place when you lifted. There are always five tumblers to lock in place, but the difficulty of the lock determined how many were already locked into place at the start of your burglary attempt.
With its sandbox-style gameplay and fast paced combat, the slower, more simulation-style lock picking in Sleeping Dogs was a nice change of pace. By moving the tumbler to a set point, which turned the tumbler green when you hit it, you’d lock the tumbler in place before moving on to the next. Despite its simplicity and accuracy to real lock picking, there was a certain tension created when you were trying to escape a dangerous situation or stay unnoticed and were forced to have a steady hand.
Similar to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, in Fallout 3 you’d simulate using a bobby pin and a screwdriver, though without actually seeing inside the lock. Instead, moving the bobby pin around the lock would find the “sweet spot,” at which point you’d simply turn the lock. It was a simple idea, but it worked because of the game’s tone. The world was enormous and most would take their time exploring, but because locked doors were more a slight hindrance than blockade, creating a difficult or elaborate lock picking system would have been detrimental to the overall flow that made the game so enjoyable. Likewise with Skyrim, where there’s so much world and narrative to discover, the lock picking works as a minor hurdle, but still allows you to feel as if you’re accomplishing something without being overly difficult.
Another trip in the wayback machine takes us to 1993, where RPG Betrayal at Krondor decided to use riddles in place of lock picking. Called “wordlocks,” you were presented with a Bilbo-meets-Gollum type riddle to decipher. To make it a bit easier, you were given the number of letters to the answer, whether one word or multiple, and had the option of flipping through letters to piece together the words. Because of the RPG aspect of the game and the Tolkien aspect of each puzzle, it fit into the world perfectly. Instead of using force or character skill, instead it relied on your intuition, something few games have used since.
When it was rebooted earlier this year, Thief received mixed reviews, but the simulation-style lock picking is something it should be commended for. Initially, the lock picking requires that you simply use your pick and, depending on the number of tumblers, set it in the correct position for each one. While it’s not too difficult, if you upgrade your character, you can actually get another more simulation-like lock picking option. Using your “focus ability,” you’d actually see inside the lock. Using your pick, you were tasked with lifting tumblers, each requiring a different amount of pressure, and lining them up to the “shear line” to unlock it. Because of Thief’s dedication to the trade, the simulation of the lock picking worked well.
Wolfenstein: The New Order featured another arcade mini-game. When you popped off the outer casing of the lock, it was up to you to line up an arrow with the tumblers at the top of the lock. The difficulty was that the tumblers shifted back and forth, requiring you to rotate your thumbstick to match it. The only way to unlock the door or window you were entering was to keep your arrow pointed at the tumblers. It wasn’t too difficult by any means, but with the shooter blending stealth and hellish gunplay, if you took too long it could be the difference between finding that much-needed ammo or going into a shootout with little resources.