As I type this, I’m hunched over my keyboard, greased up with Vaporub and more than a little doped up on Nyquil. When I was asked to come up with the “Top 8 of ’08,” I initially thought that it would be an intensely boring article where I simply regurgitate what games I hearted over the year…Dead Space=Yay!...Fallout 3=Yay!...Six others=Yay! Well, to be honest, as I’m coughing up all the colors of the rainbow and practically drowning in Chloraseptic, I’m not feeling particularly in the mood for positive reminiscence. No, I’m annoyed. Annoyed at my plugged ears, annoyed at my sinus headache, and annoyed at some of the goddamn stupid things that the industry pulled over the last 366 days…hey, it was a leap year, remember? So in no particular order…
As I type this, I’m hunched over my keyboard, greased up with Vaporub and more than a little doped up on Nyquil. When I was asked to come up with the “Top 8 of ’08,” I initially thought that it would be an intensely boring article where I simply regurgitate what games I hearted over the year…Dead Space=Yay!...Fallout 3=Yay!...Six others=Yay!
Well, to be honest, as I’m coughing up all the colors of the rainbow and practically drowning in Chloraseptic, I’m not feeling particularly in the mood for positive reminiscence. No, I’m annoyed. Annoyed at my plugged ears, annoyed at my sinus headache, and annoyed at some of the goddamn stupid things that the industry pulled over the last 366 days…hey, it was a leap year, remember? So in no particular order…
8) Condemned 2: Bloodshot
Hypothetical question: you’re working on a follow-up to your sleeper hit of 2005, Condemned: Criminal Origins. You’ve got improved graphics, a tightened combat model, and virtually every problem that the first one had has been eliminated…so why the hell do you go and make a whole new set of problems by wrapping it all together with a story that borders on offensive? C: CO’s original story was a charming blend of hyper-real prime time cop drama, cat and mouse interplay, and a tiny dash of the supernatural. Bloodshot threw all that out the window by ruining once likable characters (Ethan Thomas is now a drunken hobo, his ex-partner Rosa is suddenly a spunky hottie) and pitting their new, mangled shells against an evil cult bent on taking over the world with sonic frequencies that incite violence. Worst of all, they tie in Ethan being some prophesied “Chosen One” who will bring down the dastardly cult (whose corruption penetrates to the highest seats of government…sound cliché enough yet?) with his ability to make people’s heads explode with a sonic scream.
Oh. My. God.
I apologize for that little spoiler at the end there (is there a statute of limitations on these things?), but I still can’t believe it 9 months after the fact. You’ve got a good thing going, so why the hell would you ruin it with such an idiotic story with an even more idiotic twist? Worse yet, what the hell do they have planned for the possible third game of the trilogy? I tremble at the thought…
7) Dead Space: Downfall
Another hypothetical question: You’re EA, trying a fresh new approach to your lineup: new, exciting IP’s to win over consumers with originality and quality rather than the same tepid crap recycled year after year. Your crown jewel? Dead Space, set in the sorely underused subgenre of space horror, blending elements of Resident Evil 4 with The Thing and Event Horizon plus a little dash of Doom for good measure. You’re going all out on the marketing blitz, including viral sites, an animated comic drawn by Ben “30 Days of Night” Templesmith, and a feature-length animated movie…
So out of this entire equation, why do you screw up on the movie, the one other element besides the game that could directly make you money? Dead Space: Downfall, instead of filling in important back story about the characters I grew to love over the course of the game, gave me a half-assed Ripley and her team of cookie cutter Colonial Marine wannabes fighting off the Necromorph hordes who, to be frank, look pretty goddamn goofy as 2D animated characters. The script was a mess, the animation abominable, and the whole thing just felt like a waste of a perfectly good IP. In these turbulent economic times, you need to give people a damn good reason to take the plunge on something new. Tie-ins like this don’t help.
6) Alone in the Dark
I know what you’re thinking: “But Carl, you never reviewed Alone in the Dark.” You’re absolutely right: I never reviewed it because I couldn’t in good conscience. After all, bias mixed with the complete and utter lack of playtime I put into the game don’t make for a fair and honest review.
Alone in the Dark, when I played its first installment almost 20 years ago, was fresh and exciting. Turn of the century setting, Lovecraftian beasts, sumptuous hand-drawn backgrounds populated with polygonal actors, devious puzzles…I relished playing the part of the mustachioed Edward Carnby throughout all three of its original installments (even the kinda crappy third one where you fight zombie cowboys and turn into a cougar) sticking it to the monstrous man with equal parts brains and brawn. Well, good old Atari, refusing to acknowledge what made the originals so popular in the first place, decided to change Edward Carnby from a private dick to a complete dick. That’s right, throw an unlikable, profane anti-hero into the middle of a bullshit plot involving yet another frigging prophecy where he’s the goddamn “Chosen One” to combat an extradimensional evil and its cult...where else have I heard that this freaking year? Oh, and just in case you were worried there weren’t enough clichés in there, you’ve got amnesia to top it off. Sweet merciful Jesus.
Oh, and how about the lousy gameplay? Or the inherently flawed inventory system which will get you killed as you slog your way through your virtual pockets? Or the mechanic where you need to drag your enemies through fire or else they’ll keep resurrecting on you? There’s a reason I never reviewed this: I couldn’t play past 45 minutes without my brain simply telling my hands: “Just stop already. It’s not worth it.”
5) Xbox Live
When Duke Nukem 3D was released on Xbox Live a few months ago, I was genuinely excited for what it promised: quite possibly my favorite multiplayer game of all time coming to a playing field with virtually limitless opponents to face off against.
The downside? Those virtually limitless opponents are the usual Xbox Live crowd.
My fond memories of blasting the hell out of friends in awesome levels like Stadium and Tier Drops were evaporated by the immaturity that notoriously plagues the Xbox’s online service: more voices cracking than the first three seasons of Saved by the Bell, a stream of nonsensical profanity (somebody called me, if translated literally, a homosexual African-American), and the grumpy “get the hell off my lawn” mentality that I get when I’m facing off against opponents who are dropping f-bombs before their balls. It gets to the point that when playing online if I see a speaker icon next to someone’s name, signaling that they have a headset plugged in, I will intentionally avoid them altogether. If not, I can look forward to brilliant lines like “You don’t kill Reaper, Reaper kills you!” repeated ad nauseum. Yay.
You ever wonder why I don’t discuss multiplayer that much in my reviews? This is why.
4) Crappy Movie Tie-Ins
Marvel Studios, Marvel Comics wholly owned movie studio, made sure that 2008 was the year that turned the idea of comic book movies completely on its head: cross over movies to establish their own universe, making a cinematic macrocosm that lends a genuine sense of size and weight to its events and characters. Wait, comic book movies establishing a universe like the comics they’re based on? Astounding! Better yet, Marvel Studios has almost complete creative control over the production of their films, guaranteeing that these movies can travel down the path that Marvel themselves intend. The first two fruits of their labor, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, were very successful both critically and financially (the former more so than the latter), proving that this new business model can be beneficial and lucrative.
It’s too bad that Marvel couldn’t exercise this same control over the obligatory tie-in games that Sega published. Iron Man was a bona fide turd, marrying bland combat to the most ridiculously complicated controls ever mapped for a game (I seriously felt like a flipper baby flying a helicopter), whereas The Incredible Hulk was a less-charming retread of the prior Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, but without the sense of fun that the previous game had. In Sega’s defense, they tried to establish a similar universe idea between their two games: in The Incredible Hulk, you face off against a suit of prototype Iron Man Hulkbuster armor, and even unlock a playable version of the armor…if you have a save game for Iron Man present on your hard drive. Guess that’s one achievement I won’t be unlocking anytime soon. I sincerely hope that the licensed games for Thor and Captain America turn out better, but I won’t be holding my breath.
or, even more so...
3) Silent Hill: Homecoming
I know what you’re thinking: “I thought you liked Silent Hill: Homecoming!” You’re right, I absolutely do. I love it even, but for all the wrong reasons. SH:H represents exactly what happens when fanboys get their way. When Konami decided to go a little off the beaten path for Silent Hill 4: The Room, their reward was a slew of angry fanboys ready to beat down their doors for the transgression of progression. When taken as a game on its own, it’s pretty damn good, and the claustrophobic, first-person room mechanic is a nice diversion from the formula that the first three stuck so religiously to. Unfortunately, crybabies afraid of a little change made sure with their flaming posts and their closed wallets that Silent Hill would never be like 4 again.
So instead we got a game that, while I do indeed adore it as a Silent Hill game, it feels a little hollow. Playing through it again it hit me that it feels less genuine than I originally thought. To draw an odd comparison point, there used to be a nightclub on the edge of the UConn campus called Husky Blues, who featured a revolving door of tribute bands. Riders on the Storm: The Doors Tribute Band, Shakedown Street: The Grateful Dead Tribute Band, etc. While these tribute bands could be quite good at times, and they gave you the rare opportunity to see a live song you could never see in a genuine setting, it still doesn’t change that it’s still just some random guy up on stage howling out L.A. Woman and not Jim Morrison. That’s kinda how I feel about Double Helix handling the 5th (or is it 6th?) Silent Hill. Their cover is damn good, sure, but they ain’t the Lizard King.
2) Operation Darkness
OK, this one stings a lot. To any of you that know me on any personal level, let me rattle off a synopsis to you, and you tell me how I would react to this: Hitler has employed the undead in a desperate attempt to bolster the ranks of the Third Reich, and only you and your brigade of werewolf soldiers can stop him…in tactical RPG combat. Needless to say, I nearly crapped myself upon reading that summary.
Upon playing Operation Darkness itself, I did indeed crap myself, but for entirely different reasons.
OK, a few things: I’m no graphics whore, but I do want to feel that I’m firmly seated in the current gen. Operation Darkness’ clunky graphics, atrocious sound effects, and overall amateurish presentation completely fail at feeling anywhere near a 2008 title.
Second, a tactical RPG has this important operative word in its name…starts with a “t,” ends with an “actical.” In order to be tactical in a game like this, you need to have a camera system that isn’t completely f*cking broken so you can plan your strategy and be tactical…imagine that! Again, Operation Darkness fails at doing this.
What does Operation Darkness succeed at? How about driving me to such a point of impotent, blind rage that I fling my controller as my squadron takes a tank mortar square up their collective asses because the game gives you absolutely no sense of place or depth. There’s a goddamn reason Final Fantasy Tactics has stuck with a fixed perspective for the last gazillion installments, people.
Again, one I couldn’t even stand to review, because I love you guys, but more importantly I love myself.
1) Store Exclusives
OK, my pickups on New Release Wednesday usually occur in the following fashion: I leave my day job, pick up the highway onramp, hop up north 3 exits, stop off at the local GameStop, hop back on the highway, go north one more exit, and I’m home. Convenient, right?
However, my overwhelming desire to be a cheap bastard who also amasses shiny trinkets like a giant bourbon-guzzling raccoon will often overwhelm the simple pleasures of this easy-on, easy-off method. In which case, I now have to head even further north up the highway past my apartment, then do even more back roads travel depending on which store will offer me the shiniest tchotchkes. Sometimes, it can be a genuine headache to figure out exactly who has the best deal.
Sometimes it’s cool, other times it’s just more unnecessary crap to clog up my already bursting room. For every nice idea (free Xbox Points, a keychain), there’s got to be countless ideas that simply aren’t (exclusive “player skins” that add jack shit to gameplay, an “exclusive lithograph” that’s really just a screenprinted 5x7 card). It’s even worse when you have multiple stores that offer up something good with major tentpole releases like Gears of War 2 (an Xbox theme? A remote control tank? Xbox Live Points?), so you’re left hemming and hawing over who has the goody you really want. It certainly hasn’t hit the point that DVD releases have (there were what, 7 versions of Iron Man for chrissakes?), but it’s getting there.
So hope you folks all have a safe and happy holiday, and I hope that if there’s a “Top 9 of ’09,” I can be full of rainbows and bunny poops instead of piss and vinegar. For all our sakes.
Something else get your digital goat this year? Let us know on the messageboards downstairs...