by Jed Pressgrove
Game critics often subscribe to a narrow-minded view of “worst” that results in self-congratulatory dogpiling of games like Sonic Boom. The following list shows that games in “working order” can be far more problematic, where an illusion of technical and artistic superiority hides insidious marketing; ignorance of video game and art history; disdain for thoughtful communication and potential audience; soulless repackaging of banal features and practices; fragile and unenlightened creator egos; and misrepresentation of human experience and culture.
Note: You can check out my 10 best video games of 2014 here.
1. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
Inspired by dark and trashy television, Ground Zeroes is a sly press release for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Hideo Kojima dresses his “stand-alone prologue” in 24 clothes, that is, Kiefer Sutherland and torture porn. Ground Zeroes’ rape-bomb combo is its answer to Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding and other “shocking,” “must-see” TV moments. Some call Ground Zeroes misogynistic, but the game shows contempt for everyone, not just women. For an appearance of real-world relevance, the game evokes Guantanamo Bay only to utter banalities about hopelessness. The stealth is also a joke, with trendy bullet time for those who thought the superior Metal Gear Solid 3 was unfair. The incongruous side missions depict a stealth sitcom without the laugh track.
(See full review of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes here.)
Mountain wins the Most Insignificant Game with a Significant Amount of Press award. The game’s “novel” approach to simulation is presented as a cute and mundane mystery, complete with smart-assed messages and backhanded features that prod players as if they’re cattle. Confusing condescension with creativity, developer David OReilly has nothing to say.
(See a comparison of Mountain to the superior Temporality here.)
3. Fantasy Life
Don’t be misled by the “addictiveness” of Fantasy Life. It’s just an old drug that prefers advertising over truth. The game’s commitment to childish banter and meaningless checklists exposes its cited freedom as a lie. Fantasy Life is only acceptable if one forgets every simulator and role-playing game that has ever been created. If you buy into Fantasy Life’s drivel, walking through a doorway is a quest or work. Publisher/developer Level-5 should be temporarily imprisoned for wasting composer Nobuo Uematsu’s brilliance.
(See full review of Fantasy Life here.)
4. Always Sometimes Monsters
Developer Vagabond Dog’s world of “no right or wrong” is preposterous, yet we’re supposed to be moved by Always Sometimes Monsters’ immature understanding of human experience. This (no shit) feces-obsessed game suckered some publications into thinking its depictions of sexism and racism are profound, but no matter what gender, sexual orientation, or racial group you choose, the story doesn’t recognize the privilege of its whiny protagonist writer. Like the diverse cast of characters, spirituality and labor are tokens on Vagabond Dog’s “progressive” checklist, casually addressed but never detailed in sociological or believable terms.
(See full review of Always Sometimes Monsters here.)
5. South Park: The Stick of Truth
Obsidian Entertainment tries to fool you into thinking The Stick of Truth is a good role-playing game by demonstrating what the fanboy consumer calls “faithfulness to the source material.” Standards in game criticism are so pitiful that if a game can manage to look like an episode of a popular cartoon series, the release will be hailed as a breath of fresh air. In reality, The Stick of Truth offers recycled jokes from the television show and parodic role-playing games, as well as an amateurish combination of Super Mario RPG battles and Elder Scrolls inventories/quests.
(See full review of South Park: The Stick of Truth here.)
6. Child of Light
This Ubisoft swing at the “indie” market pretends to be sophisticated and hopeful, but only the sound design and music suggest talent was involved. With poetry and hip visuals (that is, an awkward combo of bland polygons and water color backgrounds), Child of Light announces itself as an epic. Too bad the creators’ (mis)understanding of rhyming poetry is disrespectful: the game treats the rhymes as a feature rather than as part of a classic artform that requires skill, timing, and inspiration. The role-playing aspirations are similarly out of touch. The battles rely heavily on a real-time helper gimmick, ignoring the variety of turn-based possibilities in Penny Arcade 3. All of this inept execution exposes Child Light as a cynical display of fairy tale marketing.
(See full review of Child of Light here.)
7. The Plan
This five-minute game thinks dreariness amounts to a worthwhile existential statement. The use of Grieg’s classical masterpiece “Peer Gynt Suite No. 1” merely makes The Plan’s pretentiousness laughable. The game’s biggest mistake is prompting players to type words at the conclusion and then sharing previous player-written text (“kkk” was among the stupid things I read last time I played). This ending of uninspired player quotes suggests developer Krillbite Studio is unaware of Chris Johnson’s Moirai (one of the best games of 2013), which used player-to-player text to illustrate moral consequences and misfortune.
(See full review of The Plan here.)
8. Everything you swallow will one day come up like a stone
This game, recently praised in The New York Times, ensures its creator’s mystique at the expense of insight. Developer Porpentine deleted this Twine 24 hours after releasing it, with the idea that others would have to curate it to keep it alive (the deletion served as a forced metaphor for the loss of human life). The complexity of the subject matter, suicide and trauma, is equivocated by C-grade horror descriptions (“fridge dimension with endless icy corridors full of condiments and women‘s dead and mutilated bodies”) and a mathematical structure that requires hundreds (for some, perhaps even thousands) of tedious mouse clicks. The trapped feeling is no more than a wretched aesthetic, a tool designed to toy with your emotions rather than enlighten.
(See full review of Everything you swallow will one day come up like a stone here.)
Not even the old-school shooter can escape modern game development’s condescending vision to tutorialize and reward every player (in)action. In Luftrausers, Vlambeer attempts to lend gravity to its mindless instructions via Nazi and wartime suggestions, but the result is too antiseptic to approach an aesthetic. Unlike the remake of Gauntlet by Arrowhead Game Studios, Luftrausers doesn’t understand the strengths and weaknesses of traditional OR contemporary game design.
(See full review of Luftrausers here.)
The intentions behind Residue seem genuine, which makes the game an honest mistake. Awkward movement and choppy animation do enough damage to the seriousness of Residue’s narrative, but the storytelling itself never rises above a hackneyed sense of futility. This game is one more log on the reductive “Middle East sucks” fire.
(See full review of Residue here.)
The Wolf Among Us, Episodes 3 and 5 (see review of Episode 5 here)
Only ones I really (and I mean REALLY) disagree with are South Park and Child of Light, but that’s been discussed before. I understand why you don’t care for them, and you illustrated your points well. Everything else on this list, I can see why you didn’t care for. (The Plan and Everything You Swallow… seem like epitomized examples of pretentious indie trash)
Going to have to respectfully disagree with including Child of Light on this list. I’ve never seen anything like its mechanics, which were designed to be social, for “family play.” This social aspect extends to girlfriends & boyfriends playing together (re: the mouse function) on the PC.
Hey Fruzsina, I appreciate your comment. I can’t deny that the social aspect of certain games makes them more playable. For example, Resident Evil 5 is not a good game, but if you play it with a friend, it’s pretty entertaining. So while I don’t agree that Child of Light is unique, I do see where you’re coming from. I just feel the individual flaws and general direction of Child of Light strongly outweigh its positive qualities.
Perfectly understandable. I feel the same way about Shadow of Mordor – it has a few good aspects, but they can’t make up for what I ultimately considered a horrible experience. To each their own.
Your critiquing of Child of Light’s rhyme structure had me wondering – does this mean you’re not a fan of e.e. cummings’ poetry either?
I don’t see the connection between Cummings and Child of Light off the bat, but your guess is correct — I do not care for his writing.
I didn’t see it at first, but after a while I made the connection to the unconventional styles.
I’d rather play any of these games over Sonic Boom.
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