We like to end things on a positive note. That’s why 2009 was capped with not only our annual Platinum Chalice Awards, but also a whole week’s worth of celebratory articles talking about the accomplishments of the past decade. Now though, with ’09 safely out of range for a retaliatory strike, we can piss all over the idiotic, baffling and just plain dumb occurrences that peppered our otherwise fine year.
Each unlucky winner walks away with a specialized trophy that encapsulates the worst aspects of the year; previous trophies included a bronzed Imagine Baby and a winged Red Ring of Death. This time, everyone gets their very own Tony Hawk Ride board.
Eat it, last year.
At their best, stories in games will keep you playing just to find out what happens next – and the story in Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard was just engaging enough to keep us slogging through some of 2009’s most repetitive, uninspired run-and-gun action. Never mind that roughly 70 percent of a game meant to spoof the entire history of gaming was set in ugly warehouses (funny on paper, but insanely boring in practice), or that we kept getting pinned down by respawning waves of idiotic, inhumanly tough construction workers and generic, squirtgun-wielding goons. It was almost worth it all just to see aging, fourth-wall-breaking action star Matt Hazard team up with parodies of game heroes, winkingly gun down silly action-game archetypes and eventually battle his own publishers in a bid to keep them from killing him off.
Above: Almost… worth it
Admittedly, Eat Lead’s story took a few dives into banality, but it also delivered some of the funnier gags we saw this year. Its nods to games like God of War, Wolfenstein 3D and Duke Nukem Forever didn’t go amiss, but its best moment was unquestionably the fight against Altos Tratus, a goofy, effeminate Final Fantasy parody who spoke only in text boxes and displayed damage with flying numbers.
Couple that with fun performances by Will Arnett and Neil Patrick Harris, and you have a narrative that manages to be entertaining even when the actual game isn’t.
The sole survivor of Little Big Horn is whisked away by the time police to travel to major historical events and combat a rival group trying to change the past; a surefire premise. Using modern weaponry in the comparably backwards Civil War and ancient Rome is also a topsy-turvy surprise. Unfortunately, all the good ideas in the world can’t save this fundamentally flawed, cripplingly linear brown mess with its Rain Man AI and more invisible walls than a homeless man’s house. Darkest of Days is proof positive that great ideas can’t code AI, design a decent level or any of the practical things that make a game enjoyable.
As crusty old gamers of the ‘80s, we sure do love our classic franchises, especially those that disappear for nearly 20 years and then suddenly make a big-time comeback. All we wanted out of this new Bionic Commando was a cool set of levels built for swinging and baddy-stomping. What we got was a heavy-handed, M-rated gruff-off between the original game’s hero and some nuke-happy terrorists. And as with any shitty retcon, developer Grin felt the need to “explain” the bionic arm firmly attached to Nathan Spencer, answering a question literally no one was asking: How does the arm work?
The arm is Nathan’s wife.
Above: You may now kiss the bride... arm
Yes, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, all the bionics in Bionic Commando must share an emotional connection with the host. In this case, Nathan’s arm turns out to be the remains of his wife Emily, who conveniently went missing while he was undergoing his enhancement procedures. So the whole time you were enjoying the NES version (or the superb Bionic Commando Rearmed/Rewifed), that wasn’t a fancy techno arm you were swinging around with – it was the essence of your dead wife.
Above: Here’s a goddamn blueprint in case you can’t make the connection
Why do this at all? Why overcomplicate what was simply a grappling hook hand and turn it into an angsty plot device? Of all the twists you could have employed, this is what everyone in the room thought would work best? It’s not like we’re hardcore sticklers for Bionic canon, but c’mon… this is like saying Link’s Master Sword is actually the Triforce’s severed dick.
Whilst it could be argued that the entire plot of Modern Warfare 2 was one long, nonsensical plot twist (we even wrote an article about it), we’ll pick one egregious example as a focal point for our befuddlement. When General Shepherd turned his gun on Ghost and Roach, we were shocked. Angry. Vindictive. And then… confused. Shepherd’s supervillain monologue during the conclusory fisticuffs did little to clarify his thinking or make sense of the scenario either. So… he was working with the terrorists all along? To get new recruits for America’s army? Couldn’t he have just whipped up a propaganda-laced videogame and put it on the internet for free?
There are controversial games, there are divisive games, and there are games that spark endless internet debate for years after their release. But before Killzone 2, we’d never seen a game that stirred up so much venom from its alleged supporters as to eclipse any rational discussion of the game itself. In the months leading up to its release, a group of dedicated Killzone 2 fans met any perceived criticism of Killzone 2 from game publications – no matter how minor or superficial – with angry jeers, accusations of console bias and the insistence that anyone who wasn’t completely in love with the game had a secret agenda to destroy it, and by extension, the PS3.
Above: BIAS BIAS BIAS
At first, we thought the rage directed at us was just normal fan-anger following a few critical previews, but a quick glance around the internets revealed it to be a more widespread phenomenon than we realized. But we didn’t understand just how ridiculous it had gotten until G4’s Adam Sessler directly – and angrily – addressed some of the more asinine responses to his own 5/5 review of the game.
Was it an organized attempt to pressure reviewers into doling out favorable scores? Was it a bunch of Xbox fans secretly trying to stir up anti-Sony sentiment? Or was it just that a disproportionate number of the game’s fans got a little hysterical after years of waiting? All we know is that it was baffling.
After Left 4 Dead 2 was announced, over 30,000 L4D fans joined the L4D2 Boycott (NO-L4D2) Steam Group. For them, the sequel was a slap in the face and smacked of broken promises that Valve would continue to support the original L4D with new content. But from our point of view, the boycott group lost all credibility once we checked out its Steam page and saw a ton of members playing Left 4 Dead 2, the very game they claimed should be released as DLC and would ruin the L4D community.
Above: Visit the L4D2 Boycott group’s page and you’ll be sure to find hypocrites
Halo 3: ODST’s live-action short made the game look like an interstellar Saving Private Ryan. It crammed a ton of narrative into two and a half minutes as it followed a young man’s journey from grieving relative to new recruit to salty, battle-scarred veteran. The rugged men, spectacular effects and haunting score generated palpable excitement. This here was no mere expansion pack: it was to be a full on, balls-to-the-wall Halo experience. But when we finally got to partake of the game for ourselves, something seemed amiss.
Slinking around the city in the dark was decidedly anticlimactic after the rush of the live-action short. To be fair, the short provided much-needed context and showed us that ODSTs are tough sons-o’-bitches. If we have to play someone besides Master Chief, we reckon these mugs will do. The game itself even did a decent job with story and character development. But the slick action and taut pace of the promotional video set unrealistic expectations for gameplay and ultimately just made us want a proper Halo movie.
In case you’re wondering how playing The Old Republic stacks up to the breathtaking trailer from last year’s E3, we can confirm that Jedi and Sith will fight each other. But the similarities end there. Instead, ready yourself for average graphics (to ensure that the MMO will run on a wide array of PCs), the usual click-and-wait combat and a fair number of shady Sith Lords whispering you “to please to visit www.oldrepublics.credits.novirus.net for power leveling and cheap credits.”