I think games are art. I think games are important. I think games have potential for greatness. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re all GOOD art, or anywhere near as important as they think they are, or that they’re great as default. In the same way that a security guard can mistakenly believe he’s the same thing as a vice cop, or someone who’s taken one lesson in boxing can think he’s a future villain for a Rocky movie, games can get a little too inflated regarding their self-worth.
Which isn’t to say some don’t deserve their PHD in straight-faced cleverness. Spec Ops: The Line, Dark Souls, The Talos Principle – all these games are best suited with a sombre frown, not a honking clown nose.
But the worst thing is when a game goes for that frown, but does it so badly that everyone decides to stick the clown nose on for them. So here’s our list of seven games that were true leaders of the medium, but only in the style of The Emperor ordering his infamous New Clothes. This is our list of seven games that we couldn’t take seriously – even though they wanted us to.
Shadow The Hedgehog
I get it, Sega, I really do. You wanted to make something a little darker, a little edgier, something a bit more adult that could be appreciated by an audience that had at least heard of puberty. I can respect that, but this is the bit I struggle with: why make a game with Lovecraftian horrors, unethical scientific experimentation, psychologically-agonising memory loss, military warfare, the dilemma of good and evil, and yet still feel the need to include the presence of goddamn Charmy Bee?!
Shadow The Hedgehog was created in 2005 and was met by derision from anybody with more than two brain cells, for taking a series based on woodland creatures bouncing around a forest world and turning it into the demented cousin of the Spawn comic series.
The list of face-palm moments goes on and on. Shadow drives a motorbike, uses a variety of generic firearms, talks in permanent Batman voice, and spends half the game staring into the middle-distance wondering about a girl he vaguely remembers from a Final Fantasy game. But never fear, all those annoyingly dark themes are made even more awkward by a bunch of Saturday-morning cartoon characters bouncing in to help our grim protagonist, like Barney the Dinosaur was the sidekick in a Jason Statham film. And the leading role, come to think of it.
A disappointing game to be sure, but I’m sure that the Sonic game coming out after this in 2006 will be much better, right?
Aliens: Colonial Marines
I really like the Alien franchise. It’s interesting, well made (most of the time), and above all else, creepy as hell. I still hold that the design of the xenomorph is one of the most compelling monster creations in fictional history, but it doesn’t mean much if that design is mishandled, and it doesn’t mean a thing if that design is mishandled very badly indeed. Even Jason Vorhees would look stupid if he were to slip on the shower mat, and Colonial Marines was the proverbial bathroom rug that was needed to make H.R. Giger’s masterpiece look like a master joke.
The game was a mess. Watching the aliens snap from once stance to another, run on the spot when getting caught on scenery, or moonwalk across the level like a backup dancer in a Thriller music video created enough unintentional comedy to keep YouTube busy for weeks, and the critics shaking their heads for longer than that. Game over, man, game over.
All Call of Duty Games Since Modern Warfare 2
“What’s up, bro?”
“Things are pretty tough, bro.”
“I know, bro, I get you. My bro was saying the same thing when we were at war with all of South America, and before then when we were fighting enemy bros in Russia. Also PMCs. Also robots. Oh, and all those terrorists.”
“Ugh, terrorists, bro. They’re so not bro-ish, you get me? I mean, do they even lift?”
“I know, bro. You best be sure that if I’m going to fight some bro, it’s going to bro-to-bro, even though we always have an unfair advantage with vastly superior firepower and a series of progressively more destructive drones and orbital weaponry every time.”
“Thank bro for that, right?”
“Hell yeah, bro. Now I got to go and heroically sacrifice myself in the name of bro-ness everywhere. Be sure that my funeral is American as f*** and that everybody has their own bald eagle to take home.”
“You know it, bro. When I’m there, I’ll be the first to press X to pay respects.”
You probably get the picture.
What is it with living amnesiac living weapons and this list? I know Jason Bourne was cool, but there was more to the character than a tough guy with a dent in his noggin. And likewise, there’s more to an antihero than dark clothes and a rasping voice. For one thing, he actually has to consider being a hero at some point, and maybe stop eating people for the sake of a cheap disguise. Perhaps a pair of spectacles and a fake moustache instead?
I’ll be damned before I say Prototype isn’t fun, but you certainly don’t have to go that far to make me shake my head at the narrative, mainly because Alex Mercer seems to be the good guy purely because the camera won’t leave him alone.
You can’t convince me that it’s any other reason than that. The best attempts to make him look like a wounded innocent searching for the righteous path failed pretty hard, particularly when you were encouraged to commit a number of comically evil acts. And I mean REALLY evil acts, such as absorbing old ladies for nourishment and going around turning other civilians into jam with a gloopy sledgehammer arm. Our tragic lead doesn’t look so tragic when he’s casually throwing window shoppers at the enemy, and doesn’t look so cool when he’s sneaking around under the guise of Betty Midford, age 82, complete with dress and beehive hairdo.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Yes, I know we’re all supposed to be nice to Hideo Kojima since Konami threw him out like a lost puppy into the rain, and I know we’re supposed to say he’s a great writer since he was one of the first to give complex storytelling in video games a try, but let’s be honest with ourselves: In any other medium, Kojima’s story ideas would’ve been discarded as the discordant scribblings of a lunatic. Sounds cruel, but it’s true, and nothing sums up Kojima’s mad writing better than trying to summarise the intro to The Phantom Pain to somebody who hasn’t seen it.
“So you’re this guy with the abilities of James Bond, the charisma of a floorboard and the name of a adult entertainer, and you’re staying in the hospital because a super villain named Skull Face blew up your helicopter by putting two separate bombs inside a little girl’s stomach. But then you wake up years later with a large horn in your head, plans for a robot arm and a bunch of suspiciously sexy nurses around you, and are interrupted when a girl who breathes through her skin, a flying clown kid in a gas mask and a man made of bullets and burning ham come to hassle you and kill people. But Jack Bauer helps you escape the building, and there’s a unicorn chase through the woods where you team up with a cowboy, and it’s all so you can go live on an oil rig and do cool army missions for ever and ever. Wait, did I mention the whale that gets set on fire, thrown through the air and ends up eating a helicopter? Yeah, there’s a whale that gets set on fire, thrown through the air and ends up eating a helicopter.
“Why are you looking at me like that? I’m not crazy, you’re crazy.”
Mortal Kombat (2011)
Mortal Kombat as a series may take a purposefully over-the-top attitude in the non-canon material – think Freddy Krueger popping up to lay down fatalities – but it often goes deadly serious in the main campaigns, all with disastrous effect. When one has constructed a game about freeze-ninjas, cyborgs, demon monsters, Kung-fu masters and a movie star apparently from the eighties, it might be smart to approach your subject matter with a hint of self-awareness.
2011’s Mortal Kombat game was not self-aware, and thus a source of many giggles, partly for the fact that you could feel the writers straining their brains for every plot thread and character idea. The rules of the titular tournament are more like vague suggestions, there’s a jarring moment where sixty percent of the cast are just thrown into a mincing machine and killed to raise the stakes, and when allied characters have minor practice fights or non-lethal skirmishes, it still keeps the brutal bone-breaking combat from before.
This means that you can smash your best friend’s skull into so many pieces that his head looks like a deflated balloon and still go for a friendly Starbucks afterwards, with no mention of it at all. “Eh, I accidentally knocked over your mailbox last week. This makes us even, when you think about it.” If that’s not friendship, I don’t know what is.
I won’t say that David Cage’s spiritual successor to Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy doesn’t have its moments, but moments aren’t enough to make us see past the very deep flaws in a very silly story.
Putting aside the big plot twist that’s only clever until you think about it, Heavy Rain certainly talks a big game, but ends up being only talk in something that isn’t even a game to begin with. Maybe some people found themselves weeping with sorrow, but I was just crying with laughter.
I don’t know how anybody could do otherwise. Whether it’s Ethan striding nowhere in a shopping mall whilst calling for his son in a barely-focused voice, Madison fighting dream ninjas in her underwear for no reason whatsoever, P.I. Pudgey living in a 1930s time warp, or even the fact that a major plot thread was cut from Heavy Rain, leaving large amounts of the narrative completely unexplained, there’s plenty here that’ll make people laugh like schoolboys.
And though it’s not entertaining in the way it hoped, I recommend it nonetheless. Heavy Rain is a pretentious, nonsensical, demented joy to behold, like watching a poet fall down the stairs and claim afterwards that he meant to do that. God knows how it got all those “Best Story” and “Best Game” awards in a year where Red Dead Redemption came out too, but I do feel like some of them should be retroactively taken away. In fact, when Heavy Rain got a PS4 re-release and Red Dead Redemption didn’t, I did wonder if God was a Quantic Dream employee. Or just a man with a golf club lodged in his brain.
That was our list of seven games that didn’t just require a grain of salt to appreciate, they needed all the filtered contents of the Dead Sea. But were there any important ones that we missed? Two Worlds had awful VO work and that uncomfortable obsession with the word “taint,” not to mention Resident Evil always being a source of guilty chuckles, but which games struck you as having their chins firmly jutting out and their trousers round their ankles? Leave your opinion in the comments as to which games deserve an afternoon in the stocks, and bring your rottenest tomatoes too.