Just a few weeks ago we celebrated the very best of 2008 with our Platinum Chalice Awards.Today though, we must temper our merriment with disdain and head-sagging shame, for these are the moments that truly made our stomachs turn.
From gaming turning into a haven for babysitting software to developers calling out forum users, it was a strange time for our favorite hobby. Won’t you join us as we collectively hate the all-around worst parts of 2008?
We probably should have seen this coming from the moment Will Wright brought a computer city to life in 1989. If not back then, perhaps we should have suspected something when a virtual puppy became the hottest selling item of 2005. Of course, by the time the Nintendo Wii made videogaming as casual as a Hometown Buffet, the end result was inevitable. Babies.
Above: Hope you’re proud, Nintendo
Yes, the simulation genre – home to some of our hobby’s finest designers and most beloved classics – would eventually devolve into crying, pooping infants. The genre that taught us how to build entire civilizations, colonize entire universes and breed entirely new species would eventually teach us how to change a diaper with our stylus and shake a rattle with our remote. The genre that put us in the glorious roles of gods and generals would eventually put us in the vomit-stained shoes of babysitters and housewives.
Above: The bane of our, your, and people we’ve never met’s existence
In 2009, that eventuality became an inescapable reality, with terrifying titles like My Baby Boy and Babysitting Mania crowding the shelves of your local game store. In fact, we’re so damn excited that we lived to experience this historic year, we went ahead and made the maraca-playing mutant from the cover of Imagine Party Babyz our official Anti-Award 2008 logo.
From baseball, football, basketball, hockey and golf... to choreographed gymnasium dancing in glitter and skirts. Quite the downward spiral, to be sure, but games like We Cheer and All Star Cheer Squad are spared the winning spot for two reasons. First, we’d still rather play these than any of those turkey hunting games. Second, we got all the real hatred out of our systems here.
Every year we betray our better judgment and buy into the “Return of Sonic!” hype like a battered housewife taking back an abusive spouse. “He’s hurt us so many times, but we know deep down Sonic loves us and he really seems to have turned over a new leaf.” But we had good reason this time!
Sega’s proprietary Hedgehog engine was cranking out blisteringly slick courses in a gorgeous new setting and it looked as if Unleashed was going to maintain everything we liked about The Secret Rings, ditching the waggle and backtracking for virtuous new moves like drifting, strafing and powerslides. The world had every reason to brace itself for Sega’s Rodent Renaissance... until we saw the Werehog.
Above: Guess what they didn’t show us right away?
What are werewolves most famous for? If you said stretchable arms, unintuitive combos and thoughtlessly elongated gameplay, this is the one and only time you’ll ever be correct. How in the name of Miles Prower could a company that built its reputation on Beast Alteration make playing as the Werehog feel this horrible?! (Additionally, “were” means “human,” so it translates to “Manhog”... filthy.)
Above: It’s like Sega’s never seen a Manhog before
To its credit, the Hedgehog portions of Sonic Unleashed met our expectations. Unfortunately, the platforming Werehog levels take 5x as long to complete and makes what should be the core of any Sonic game feel akin to a Chaos Emerald bonus zone from the Genesis days. It was like the game was designed by two different teams: One that learned from Sonic’s missteps and listened to fans, and one that could care less and hasn’t played a game since the N64.
Somewhere inside Alone in the Dark lurked a brilliant game packed with brilliant ideas, but it was bogged down at seemingly every turn by crappy controls, bugs, camera issues and some genuinely shitty design decisions.
When it comes to “open-world” gameplay, few games can compete with Far Cry 2’s literal interpretation of the concept, with its 50 square kilometers of desert, savannah and jungle sprawling across a fictional African nation. Despite our infatuation with the game, we’re stuck at 73% complete (25-hours in) due to bizarre malfunctions. But wait – this is the fourth major issue we’ve encountered.
First we hit an unavoidable crash before even playing the game, and this is after installing the 1.01 patch. We found an obscure fix from resourceful gamers: go into the program files and delete our gamer profile. Wha? Yet it worked. Next, while playing, we noticed our depth-of-field felt funny. After more internet searching we found that there was no true support for widescreen in the PC version – the game just used 4:3 ratio and cut off the top and bottom of the screen.
Above: Metaphors running wild
Finally - and here’s the kicker – two main mission givers have become inaccessible (one vanished mid-mission, and the other is behind a door that won’t open). Other reports mention different disappearing, story-critical NPCs at different points in the game, and on different platforms. More problems include an impassable freeze and a corrupted save file on 360. Ubisoft has released a second PC patch (over two months since release), but it still hasn’t addressed any of the game-killing bugs that we’ve encountered.
But hey, other than that, pretty cool game.
Any owner of the console version can tell you how incredible the latest version of Liberty City is, but if you’re a PC gamer, be warned: the PC version has been called a buggy mess. It has also faced criticism for its use of SecuROM, its laborious install and login process, and its unrealistic system requirements. Rockstar has released a patch that should at least solve many of the bugs, but uh, we like our games to work the first time we pay for them.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that a PS2 game would be ugly to the eyes of modern gamers, jaded as they are by years of playing on next-gen consoles. But the PS2 port of Mercenaries 2 took half-assedness to a bold new level, producing a version of the free-roaming combat game that wasn’t just ugly by today’s standards, but somehow managed to be grossly inferior to its 2005 PS2 predecessor in every way. The combat was clunky, the textures were ugly, the cutscenes were grainy and the first game’s rolling North Korean fog was replaced with an indistinct blue haze. Worst of all, buildings and terrain features had a habit of not popping into existence until you were right on top of them, and sometimes not even then:
Above: Seriously, the worst pop-in ever
We all know the PS2 can do better than this. We’ve seen games like Shadow of the Colossus and God of War accomplish amazing things with the console’s supposedly limited capabilities. But with Mercenaries 2, we’re expected to shrug off the slapdashery because hey, it’s just a PS2 game, and the PS2 is crap, right? A half-baked abortion wheeled out to coincide with its current-gen brothers, Mercenaries 2 on PS2 should be viewed as nothing more or less than a cynical insult to those who still roll last-gen.
Take an already problematic, not-actually-scary horror game, strip down its visuals and gameplay for the PS2 and add a host of new bugs, and you’ve got an excellent reason to feel depressed about not having upgraded to a better console.