Y'know, we run into bad games all the time. We've been coping with them since one caveman suggested an early form of charades to another caveman. But now that 2018 is drawing to a close, I have to say: there's something special about the way games are getting bad lately.
It isn't enough that a game is broken on release or buggy as hell (although we all know there's plenty of that). The massive army of indie games released on Steam every day alone is enough to inform you that, like the games we really admire, the games we truly hate have to stab us in just the right part of our loathing gland to truly receive the appropriate level of ire.
And 2018 had plenty of that. Shall we?
Is Bethesda okay, you guys? Does it need to talk to someone?
Because this shallow Petri dish of an online experiment isn't merely unworthy of the Fallout franchise, it almost feels like a cry for help. As if the Fallout 76 designers were being held against their will in a Saw-style murder basement, and the only way they could inform the outside world of their plight was to develop a game so unfinished, so buggy, so cynically jaded, and so contrary to everything that we had been hyped up for, that we would have no choice but to assume that someone over at Bethesda is in trouble.
But based on the insane number of microtransactions and the belittling lack of any real meat on this post-apocalyptic bone, I'd say that the only people in any real amount of trouble are the players themselves.
I'm not mad, We Happy Few: I'm disappointed.
You took what was a genuinely intriguing and exciting level of stylization and satire, and somehow came up with the idea of adding in tired, never-were-really-all-that-good-in-the-first-place survival mechanics. The decision was sort of flabbergasting: so odd, in fact, that if it weren't based on the notion of emulating the popular Twitch games of days gone by, then I would truly have to believe in mystical coincidences from beyond the mortal coil.
But what it feels like, unfortunately, is a great-looking game made sterile and ineffective in the face of too much attention too early and possibly the intervention of an overwhelming games publisher that got caught in the creation process needlessly and abusively.
Don't let the recent oh-so-meta-uber-hip trailers that just came out fool you into thinking that Square Enix was in on the joke from the beginning. The Quiet Man was an unironically buggy, janky, pretentious piece of drek that takes a truly interesting detail (a deaf protagonist) and proceeds to do almost nothing with it.
No pats on the back should be allowed when a developer realizes their art is bad and decides to milk that angle. It's what I told you guys about Tommy-fucking-Wiseau, and would any of you listen?? NOOOOO and now I gotta listen to everyone's take on that trash dance fandango as if ineptitude is celebration-worthy and (Editor's Note: it was at this point that the author of this piece was found throwing his keyboard into a crowd of concerned onlookers while rambling about Michael Bay. He has been sedated and fed. We apologize for the inconvenience.)
Zombies have become the Portlandia-style answer to anything gaming related.
"Need help making that game more interesting and fun? PUT A ZOMBIE ON IT!"
I've grown sort of used to the over-saturation of the walking dead that's taken an active role in everything pop culture related over the past decade or so. But if there's one franchise that I never expected to be tainted by boring, endless hordes of zombie-style antagonists, it would have to be Metal Gear (a few years ago I would have said the work of Jane Austen, but we fucked that up good and proper.)
Like many AAA games, Metal Gear Survive takes that gloriously unfortunate tradition of stitching together pieces of everything that was popular a few years back without truly understanding what made those things popular in the first place.
So instead of a tight, exciting, soap-opera blended smoothie of stealth action like we're used to, we got a survival-horror-base-builder-hide-and-seek mish mash that was, at its best, underwhelming and dull. At its worst, however, it's a physical symbol of what happens when a soulless games corporation attempts to emulate the work of an artist who they truly don't understand.
Do you remember the scene in Addams Family Values where murderous psychopath Debbie explains why she's killed every one of her husbands (and parents)?
"Don't I deserve love," she asks, "And jewelry?"
The Culling 2 feels like the digital embodiment of that cynical, ugly attitude. The original Culling, while flawed, at least had a level of uniqueness that drew some attention. Unfortunately, it just couldn't compete with the vicious, skyscraper-sized monster that was PUBG.
So when The Culling 2 was released this year, the ire of most gamers didn't come from a single source. It came from everything about this game. It really is simple math:
Buggy mess + cynical attempt to cash in on what's how right now = nobody wantsta play.
And it felt like it came from a place of childish foot stomping, where the decision makers were convinced that they'd somehow been cheated out of a piece of the pie. So instead of making something that gamers could get excited about, it went with that age old question: "What's hot right now?"
It's a real shame that the developers felt the need to recreate the game from the ground up instead of just improving and sharpening the original to make it more competitive. But this is the games industry: where no one seems interested in learning from the mistakes of the past.
Remember your high school friend who always took the joke a little too far? The one who thought South Park was the height of satire and had no ability to read between the lines? The one who thought the only funny jokes were dead baby jokes?
Agony is what would happen if that kid played 2016's DOOM and decided he needed to make his own version of it. Even if the repetitive gameplay, terrible save system, and clunky stealth mechanics were fun, you're still left with a game that seems to believe that the only way to be frightening is to disgust and sicken. It's horror without mystery, fear without the fun, and disgust without the meaning. It's a 100,000 word novel, but it's just the same word written over and over again.
That word is probably "agony", by the way.
(Editor's Note: this final joke has been put here by the recent law stating that a game review about Agony must contain some variation of said joke.)
"Hey guys: remember that terrible video game from the nineties that's basically become a meme? Wouldn't it be funny and ironic if we made a new version of it that's also bad?"
No. It would be neither of those things.
It might, however, be an incredibly shitty game.
Oh, who am I kidding? It would most definitely be an incredibly shitty game. Enter Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn.
The hype surrounding Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery was so great that even jaded old grognards like myself allowed ourselves a moment for excitement. Create your own Hogwarts student, join your favorite House, and have magical adventures of your own? Where do I sign up??
No, not for the microtransactions. For the game itself.
...Oh, they're one and the same, huh?
Let me be clear: I don't mind microtransactions in a free-to-play game. I think most of us recognized that that's the entire point of free-to-play. But there's a difference between "pay for a heightened experience" or "pay to play some extra turns" and "pay up every fifteen minutes or so if you want this to last longer than your average YouTube commercial."
And even if the transactions were justified, the game is just dull, dull, dull. I swear to god, I had to wake the Sorting Hat up from a boredom-induced nap before he would assign me to my House.
Here is the only advice you need when it comes to the art of seduction:
Women don't want to be seduced: they want respect and clothes with pockets built in. Offer both and you should get by just fine.
I've heard many people suggest that this game is meant to be silly or understood as a joke. And if that's the case, then the creator of this game's long career as a pickup artist must be such deep satire that it's virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.
Otherwise, I'd have to assume he follows the path of plausible deniability espoused by 20th century philosopher Nelly:
"I'm just kiddin'... Unless you're gonna do it."
And even if that were the case, the gameplay is awful, and the humor is as cringy as the time your father drunkenly wet his pants during the "drunken pants wetting" scene in A Star Is Born.
Don't learn to seduce from video games: I'm pretty sure there was a GI Joe "knowing is half the battle" scene written about that.
So that's it. And as clear-cut as many of the games on this list are to me, I'm sure there are plenty of you out there who would disagree with me on every single one of them (well, maybe not The Quiet Man).
And I'm good with that. Because my dislike of a game shouldn't take away your enjoyment of one. I have fun with lists like these, and then I move on. You should, too. Because the dirty little not-so-secret is this: none of us play games we hate for very long. I had so much damn fun with games this year, that I decided to have a little fun in the negatives, too. And I'd love to see what's on your list of refunds! Drop us a comment below, and have a great time with the new year! May 2019 bring us joy and pixels!