Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Year in Review: The Worst Games of 2008

Above: "It's just me throwing a glaive for an hour and a half. It cost 80 million dollars."

Today through Christmas Eve, we'll be recapping the year that was. Today: The worst games of the year.

To start with, let me say that I played nothing this year as cynical, calculated, or insulting as the two worst games of last year. The generally acceptable level of quality in 2008 extended to the weaker games, most of which were at least competently executed, and only lacking imagination in some crucial way or another.

Take Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law. It was exactly like a (marginally) interactive version of the television program, which I enjoy. But it turns out that it is not fun to (barely) interact with a TV show, or to (almost) affect its storyline. Even when the jokes are good. Who knew?

And when I say that Dark Sector was one of the worst games I played this year, part of the reason why is that it could have been really good. I loved using the glaive, at least at first, and for the first couple of hours of play I was convinced that this game would turn out to be a real sleeper. But then I started getting bogged down in all the little annoyances and aggravations, and it became harder to appreciate what the game was doing well. Ultimately, I think there were too many possibilities left unexplored. Why could you only electrify the glaive in designated hotspots? Why couldn't you shoot out a lightbulb and electrify it that way? If that would have messed up the play balance, there's a simple solution: make an enemy that's invulnerable to electricity. There you go.

Similarly, The Bourne Conspiracy was a great game to look at, but that was all you could really do: look at it. Its total reliance on quicktime events meant that you'd have about all the fun you were going to have with it by the time you'd reached the first driving level. Matt Damon was right when he said they could have made a better Bourne game by trying to be more cerebral.

Look, I just don't find Super Smash Bros. Brawl fun in any way. I apologize. I'll accept that I'm wrong about this. But to the guy who commented on that review at thephoenix.com to make sure everyone knew that I was an idiot and it was a surefire game of the year contender: how are you feeling about that prediction now?*

But there was one game this year that soared well beneath the rest. A game that was not just poorly conceived, but actually physically painful to play. I speak, of course, of Guitar Hero: On Tour, whose non-ergonomic peripheral was even more agonizing than listening to the hot licks of guitar legends like Maroon 5, Smashmouth, and Los Lonely Boys. As I said, on one level I'm amazed they could even put together a Guitar Hero game for the Nintendo DS, but otherwise there was nothing good to come of this. Easily the worst game I played this year.

*Note: After writing this post, I recorded the Brainy Gamer podcast with Spencer Greenwood, who actually did choose Smash Bros. as his game of the year. So much for that zinger.

Tomorrow: The best games of 2008.


Anonymous said...

I'll admit that I'm new to your blog and your writing (and also very impressed, by the way), so I don't know the history of your arguing against Smash Bros. Brawl. Still, I agree with you 100%, and I absolutely *loved* Melee, which I played and played and played until I actually physically broke a GameCube controller. Brawl is slower, yet more chaotic; it's bigger, but more of a chore; it adds new game modes, which don't add to the experience. Worst of all, it made certain parts of the game *worse*, which is just...it's just wrong. I tried to play it over and over, and I just couldn't find the joy in it that I found so easily in Melee.

As for GH:OT, I didn't think it was so bad for what it was, maybe because I have more of a tolerance for the likes of Maroon 5, maybe because I never physically hurt myself, even after playing it way too many times to try and master that Ozzy guitar solo on expert. It's certainly not the lasting experience that the console versions can be, but it works for me when I'm on the road and bored. Not a ringing endorsement, I guess, but I still think it's something better than awful.

My worst would probably be Smash Bros., if only for the disappointment. Next? Maybe We Cheer. Can I vote for We Cheer? Talk about a broken game.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if one of the reasons why you dislike Brawl so much is because you perhaps played it alone? It is dull and unengaging when played alone - especially in the god-awful Subspace Emissary mode.

If you mostly played it with others in the room, then I'll be surprised. I mean, your pick of the year was Rock Band 2, and that is fun for similar reasons. I might even have chosen it if it had been released in this country yet. I quite like the Rock Band games (though playing them alone/sober bores me).

Oh, and I just want to remind you that Brawl is technically my favourite game of 2008, and not my goatee. I want to talk about what I think is the best game of the year next week, once I've finished it and gathered my thoughts. I don't think that it'll be any less controversial a pick, though.

Alex said...

Hey, a list I agree with. (Or the 60% that I played, I agree with.)

And I'm on board with Mike about Brawl, the series just lost its magic and innocuousness.

Mitch Krpata said...

Spencer, I did mostly play it alone, it's true. (I mostly played Rock Band alone, too.) But I did have some people over to play it with me, and we all just sort of had the same reaction. "Is that all there is?"

Fortunately, I did not play against my one preternaturally skilled friend, against whom, in past Smash Bros. games, I would have better luck simply placing the controller on the floor and walking away.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I know that feeling. I recently published a post on my blog about a discussion between me and a really hardcore Smash Bros. player. This guy was really into the competitive scene - not someone I'd have much fun/luck playing against.

Anonymous said...

What, Mirror's Edge didn't end up on your worst games of the year list?! I'm shocked ;-)