Since we enjoyed sharing our personal favorite games of 2010, we thought it was only appropriate to share the games that most let us down last year, the games that most drew our vitriolic ire. These aren't objectively the worst games of 2010 - they are the ones that most rubbed us the wrong way. There are even fantastic games on this list, but if everyone loved the same things, we wouldn't all be unique slowflakes in the great blizzard of life, now would we?
Eric Bratcher: I know I’m going to enrage a lot of fans, but I’m picking Halo: Reach. It’s not that it was awful; it’s that I expected AMAZING and I got average.
The story, clearly meant to be a majestic, melancholy Saving Private Ryan kind of heartpunch, fell almost completely flat for me. The characters were practically interchangeable, and the plot barely acknowledged their oddly random deaths (tell me again: Why was Kat a one-shot kill? It took me an hour to realize she’d died from that bee sting. And why couldn’t Carter just eject?). As a result, their deaths had no real gravitas.
Above: Personalities, now color-coded for convenient identification
Moreover, the single player campaign felt repetitive and undercooked, with too many small-scale skirmishes against the same three enemies. Where were the aerial dogfights? The vehicular shootouts? The OMG moments? Heck, forget the big set pieces, where’s all the cool stuff? Why do you almost never see Scorpion tanks, or Banshees, or Gravity Hammers, or Hunters, or Plasma Swords, et cetera? When the Scarabs finally showed up, I whooped out loud with joy – until the game made me drive right past them all. Like a friend who invites you to a 360 marathon but will only let you play Kinect games, Reach seemed determined to leave out all the stuff I loved about this series. And that’s why it was the biggest letdown of my year.
Above: When Keyes bought it, I wanted to cry. When one of these characters died, I paused and asked myself “Now, which one was that again?”
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I
Brett Elston: To say I was skeptical of Sonic 4 is an understatement. After years of objectively awful games and repeated promises of a big comeback, Sonic has continuously let me down. From bizarre sidesteps like Shadow the Hedgehog to misguided efforts like Sonic Unleashed, Sega’s former juggernaut has had a seriously shitty decade. But surely Sonic 4, which openly references and plays upon our familiarity with the beloved 2D Genesis games, will be the return to form Sega has promised time and time again. The screens, the trailers, even the pre-released music tracks screamed “classic Sonic.” Yes, this time they must be getting it right.
Above: Hey, look, we're locked on! Oh, wait, no we aren't
Aaaand of course, they found a way to shit it up. Sonic 4 is indeed invocative of the 2D originals, and does pay a fair bit of fan service to those who recall the ‘90s games, but its shortness, price, unimaginative bosses and completely borked jumping physics made it the most disappointing, bafflingly botched game I played all year. I’ve read several people claim the jumping isn’t actually that bad – bullshit, it’s unforgivably awful, as Sonic falls like a rock and has almost no inertia at all. The auto-target attack, meant to zoom Sonic from enemy to enemy, frequently locks and un-locks itself from enemies in mid jump, causing numerous deaths. The music starts strong, then becomes grating and derivative. The final area is rehashed boss battles. And then… it’s over. Episode I complete, sucker! Fifteen bucks for a third of a game. You could buy ALL FOUR original Sonic games on XBLA/PSN for less money and more gameplay! I commend Sega/Dimps for making the effort, and for dropping the extended cast of characters that’s bloated the series to Star Wars levels of ridiculousness, but you have to get the basics down pat – something that was already done nearly 20 years ago.
White Knight Chronicles
Carolyn Gudmundson: White Knight Chronicles' two biggest features, gigantic knights and the MMO-style multiplayer mode, end up ruining the game rather than setting it apart in any positive way. The knight powers are underwhelming to say the least – they look impressively large at first glance (although their size also tends to screw with the camera), but among each knight's handful of attacks, none are even remotely cool or even all that powerful. It feels tacked on and clunky, and the solo campaign is so ridiculously easy (and short!) that I never felt that transforming into a knight was ever necessary. The regular combat is drab too, and although each character can unlock huge lists of special attacks, all the attacks look and function pretty much the same.
Above: If ever there was a herp derp face...
Bizarrely, Level 5 insisted on awkwardly wedging your avatar into the story campaign without actually giving him/her a part in the lackluster plot, so your avatar goes through the whole game as a member of your party despite none of the other characters ever acknowledging his presence. Even more bizarrely, since your avatar never gets knight powers in the story, he apparently can't have knight powers in the multiplayer either. The multiplayer quests were supposed to be a big deal, but you can't even use the knight powers – it makes no sense! With no knights, you're left with the most crushingly bland pseudo-MMO ever, with boring combat and only a handful of locations and enemy types.
Henry Gilbert: I played games that were worse this year certainly, but a game like Alan Wake, with more than half-a-decade’s worth of anticipation and hype about its ability to change gaming as we knew it, had a lot farther to fall. Now, the gameplay and graphics were fine - my biggest gripe was what should’ve been Wake’s strongest point: the writing. Alan Wake was so full of itself and the power of prose that its average, benignly-told horror plot was a huge letdown. It “borrows” heavily from creators like Stephen King and David Lynch, but anyone who’s seen a Lynch film or King adaptation, let alone read King’s work, will see Wake as just a poor imitation of what those masters of suspense and horror have done. Also, Wake’s designers failed to steal any subtlety from those two, as all metaphor and subtext in Alan Wake basically slaps you in the face, underestimating its audience and screaming “GET IT? GET IT!?!?!”
Above: It's James Joyce! No, wait, Dean Koontz! Oh, that's right: it's "insert author name I know to prove I actually read books"
Plus the game steps all over its oh-so-precious story constantly. How can you feel any tension during a chase when you turn on a TV to see a Verizon commercial? How can you care about a character’s development when you’re searching for your 17th hidden Thermos? How can you listen to the bland dialogue and believe it when it has some of the worst lip syncing seen in a major title? What’s so inventive about game storytelling that relies so heavily on cutscenes for any plot development? I suppose when compared to just how weak plots are in basically every other game, Wake’s story is better, but gaming should aim so much higher, and I refuse to settle.