Videogame technology is evolving. Where animation for the Apple II’s Prince of Persia was achieved by the developer sticking a sheet of tracing paper over videos of his little brother performing acrobatics, we now have motion capture, destructible environments and specular reflection (whatever that means). Nevertheless, all the technological innovation in the world can’t save those games lacking that special something – good game design. Want a few examples? Read on...
Quantum of Solace
The ‘Call of Duty 4’ engine
60 frames-per-second and drop-dead gorgeous, Infinity Ward’s engine, previously used in Call of Duty 4, should’ve made Quantum of Solace the Goldeneye for the Mountain Dew generation. Instead of mind-blowing set-pieces and a multiplayer that kept you coming back for one last perk unlock (no Aston Martin Vanquish unlock, or poison pen sidearm?), what we got was a middling cover shooter with none of Bond’s swagger. Lacking imagination, variation, or even 007-type espionage (unless you count sidling along a ledge as a spotlight slowly pans around), the developers at Treyarch showed that even incredi-tech can’t replace pure old fashioned inspiration.
Above: It looked good on paper... no really, print this out and look at it. Not nearly as bad as the game, right?
Worst bit: The waxy character model used for Dame Judy Dench’s character, ‘M.’ Who would have thought ‘M’ actually stood for ‘mannequin’?
Id Tech 4 engine
Has a game with a decade-long development ever turned not terrible? Work on the game spanned a decade and a year, with developers Human Head finally positioning Prey as 2006’s perennial ‘remember me?’ game – the answer always being ‘no.’ It wasn’t for lack of ideas: you could play with portals a full year before Valve’s 2007 masterpiece, run and jump around spheres with their own constant gravitational pulls well before Mario Galaxy and occasionally walk on ceilings like Dead Space, but Prey was nowhere near the sum of these parts. The impressive Id Tech 4 (of Doom 3 fame) was used for nothing more than greasy, flesh-walled corridors and the odd monster ambush through a pre-positioned portal.
Above: How Lionel Richie's 'Dancing on the Ceiling' video should've looked
Worst bit: Sphincter doors
Factor 5’s in-house engine
With back-of-the-box headings screaming ‘SIXAXIS!’, ‘1080p!’ and ‘seamless air-to-ground combat!’, Lair looked promising. Sadly like using a paint mixer to combine lots of lovely nice colors, this big budget blockbuster was more big brown mess. Very brown. Factor 5’s tragic commercial and critical flop (53% on Metacritic) should’ve been an eye-wateringly delicious mix of Rogue Squadron on mount with a smattering of Lord of the Rings. Singe the heels of enemy dragon riders as you take chase, clawing and tussling in the sky as you glimpse an epic battle play out below in real time. Instead this looked like a poor man’s J.R.R Tolkien, played with an infuriatingly clumsy control scheme from the time when Sixaxis seemed like a good idea, and felt like being grounded by a disapproving parent whenever it sent you back to the start for missing a poorly explained objective.
Above: Do not be fooled by the awesomeness on display - this game is terrible
Worst bit: Protecting a convoy of slow-moving idiots for 15 minutes, only for them to later be blown to smithereens and for your progress to be undone.
A variety of games made with Unreal Engine 3
Unreal Engine 3
The Unreal Engine is synonymous with the development of videogames. So popular is Unreal 3 with current generation developers it’s bound to be responsible for a few gaming stinkers. To list all the crap games made with this great tech (which boasts HDRR, per-pixel lighting, and dynamic shadows) would take far too much space. So instead we’ll just list A through H: America’s Army 3.0, Army of Two, Blacksite: Area 51, Damnation, Dark Void, Destroy All Humans: Path of the Furon, Fatal Inertia, Hail to the Chimp and Hour of Victory. The embarrassment of such gaming failures are only made worse by this thought: Batman: Arkham Asylum and Gears of War one and two were made using exactly the same tools.
Worst bit: Unreal Engine 3’s only downside? The ‘this game appears to be smeared with Vaseline’ look.
Above: Damnation's 'Vaseline look' in all its glory