Month: December 2015

Game Bias’ 10 Worst Video Games of 2015

by Jed Pressgrove

2015 has been a banner year for bad games. Even though one could easily riff on the top 20 (or more) worst games of 2015, this list is limited to 10 and two dishonorable mentions for the sake of brevity and good cheer. (For more reading, check out 2014’s top 10 worst games.)

1. Game of Thrones

This HBO show wannabe provides the strongest argument yet against the televisionization of video games. It’s downright insulting how Telltale’s episodic player-choice hogwash continues to lead to poorly drawn fantasy with “shocking” gore. Game of Thrones wants to manipulate you by torturing likable characters and barely attempts to disguise this old trick as cynical commentary on political history. Even if you can excuse the further debasement of pop culture, good luck trying to find good design in Telltale’s action sequences. Press this button at this time to dodge left. Press this button at this time to dodge right. Press the power button now to make yourself happy.

(See full review of Game of Thrones here.)

2. Pregnancy

Pregnancy is the worst Telltale-inspired game yet, outdoing its idiot cousins Life Is Strange and Until Dawn. Unlike last year’s stellar Choice: Texas, developer Locomotivah fails to convincingly illustrate the psychological and sociological challenges that can come with unexpected pregnancy. Beginning with rape and ending with toothless political commentary, Pregnancy is wasted labor.

(See full review of Pregnancy here.)

3. The Beginner’s Guide

With The Beginner’s Guide, developer Davey Wreden expects players to have more respect for him than he does for them. Maybe Wreden’s condescending style could be occasionally forgotten if he had one decent point to make. The passive-aggressive saga of Wreden the narrator and Coda the friend doesn’t say anything genuine about art, the audience, or criticism. Admittedly, The Beginner’s Guide could have been a halfway entertaining toilet read as an article in an indie-gamer tabloid.

(See full review of The Beginner’s Guide here.)

4. The Old Man Club

Has developer Michael Kolotch ever read Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (snarky online summaries don’t count)? The question must be explored after playing this homophobic, racist, and anti-spiritual joke. Leave it to the alternative press to praise this bogus men-hating adaptation.

(See full review of The Old Man Club here.)

5. Fingered

Misanthropy and trial-and-error design make an irritating couple. Developer Edmund McMillen skates around the issue of injustice just so he can say he made a new game. Perhaps Fingered could be tolerable if the jokes were impressive for a 13-year-old or if McMillen could see the irony in his own bigotry.

(See full review of Fingered here.)

6. Undertale

One might say Undertale’s pacifism/genocide/neutrality oversimplification could be a lesson for kids, but we wouldn’t want younger generations to think meta-nonsense should be celebrated or tolerated. Desperate fans argue one must “complete” this role-playing/shooter bastardization more than once to get the point. Nope. The evasive heart avatar would have lacked kinetic vitality in the 1980s, when classics like Xevious, 1941, and Blazing Lazers took dodging enemy attacks to new heights, and moral consequences mean nothing when you’re dealing with beyond-stupid monsters and the dullest protagonist in recent video-game history. Prayer in Undertale is only a culturally hollow means to jump one of developer Toby Fox’s tongue-through-cheek hurdles. Prayer in Earthbound, Fox’s main influence, showed what faith can mean to people all over the world — what it can mean to us. Undertale might seem good if I forgot decades of history.

(See full review of Undertale here.)

7. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

Dennaton Games continues its non-commentary on violence with this long-winded sequel. Perhaps we’re supposed to ignore the phoned-in Cold War politics in the fragmented story, but how can you ignore that Hotline Miami 2 even lacks the juvenile charm of 1995’s Loaded? Despite its inclusion of high scores, this pile of crap favors gore-ridden surrealism over arcade populism. Play Gain Ground instead.

(See full review of Hotline Miami 2 here.)

8. Her Story

Given the appeal to found-footage movies and wronged-male horror, one wonders why Sam Barlow didn’t go with his basest instinct and call his game The Blair Bitch Project. Her Story is addictive with its Google and YouTube evocations, but playing with a contemporary interface under the pretense of a 1990s setting is silly in hindsight. Lady-psycho and insane-twin cliches say nothing about the human condition.

(See full review of Her Story here.)

9. Bloodborne

Director Hidetaka Miyazaki doesn’t make video-game blood rise above its predictable pornography. You’ll see claims that Bloodborne expands on H.P. Lovecraft’s stories (Sunless Sea actually resembles the author’s work), but this pathetic Dark Souls sequel has more in common with Castlevania, superficially evoking horror to give its methodical action some edge. While director Hitoshi Akamatsu peaked with Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, Miyazaki turns into a hack with the shiny, flat-looking Bloodborne.

(See full review of Bloodborne here.)

10. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Developer The Chinese Room desperately wants to comment on what binds humanity together but forgets the little things that make people alive and unique. This oversight means Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture misrepresents religion and science, not to mention simple signs of existence. On top of that, The Chinese Room cares too much about the “walking simulator” insult directed at similar first-person games and unintentionally parodies artsy-fartsiness with a sprint button that results in what could not be reasonably called a sprint.

(See full review of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture here.)

Dishonorable Mentions

Life Is Strange

Let’s place aside Life Is Strange’s allegiance to player-choice marketing and pick-who-dies banality. We’re left with the walking cliche of a sweet bookish girl who meets preposterous people during a series of preposterous events to make white liberals feel mushy and superior.

(See review of Life Is Strange Episode 1 here.)

Sunset

Through bad writing, bad voice acting, or a combination of both, Tale of Tales’ Sunset has inspired me to share another list.

Top 5 Unintentionally Hilarious Lines in Sunset

1. “Burning plants to inhale them. It’s kind of gross. But kind of mystical as well.”

2. “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. Kennedy said that. Just before they killed him.”

3. “The bath is a hole in the ground. Like a grave.”

4. “Ortega has more books than furniture.”

5. “The demons are gathering at the table, and the angels are nowhere to be found.”

undertale

Undertale Review — Progressively Pointless

by Jed Pressgrove

If you kill just one monster that threatens you in Undertale, at the end you will be asked, “Is killing things really necessary?” This question isn’t morally serious, as developer Toby Fox’s message goes on to explain that playing through the game again without killing anything will give you a “happy ending.” This awkward moment confirms Undertale as little more than an obstacle course posing as an aspiring pacifist’s wet dream.

Though not marketed to children, Undertale often resembles a patronizing lesson for kids. When monsters start fights with you, you can either kill them to become stronger (the traditional role-playing game outcome) or make them lose their will to fight by talking to them, flirting with them, and so on. For one monster, you can select “Don’t pick on,” and the monster feels much better about itself and can be spared. For another monster, you have to laugh after it tells a joke in order to make peace. However, some enemies must be attacked until they’re too weak to continue, so the “merciful” path isn’t necessarily obvious. Ultimately, showing mercy is another turn-based routine that can be tedious, raising the question of whether it’s violence or monotony that prevents audiences from caring about throwaway characters.

The flaccid stakes in Undertale highlight the lack of a significant message in the killing/mercy dichotomy. Fox wants players to think twice about killing enemies while largely reducing the latter to unfunny punchlines, as when two dark knights finally realize they’re into each other or when a flamboyant robot turns into a pop star diva. Undertale’s depiction of humankind is even shallower despite the trusty find-a-way-back-home plot. Take a long look at the protagonist. The flaw isn’t the lack of next-gen polygons; it’s the absence of soul. (Undertale’s rambling about the souls of humans and monsters doesn’t make up for this limitation, either.)

The off-putting vacancy in Undertale’s main face is especially puzzling given Fox’s schmaltzy attempt to undercut typical turn-based combat. Almost jokingly, you dodge the attacks of enemies in real time as a heart avatar. Does Fox think the mere shape of a heart can be a stand-in for human depth? If the little snot you play as is supposed to comment on a hollowness about previous role-playing games, Fox takes the lazy route. The silent protagonist cliche, already parodied well by Super Mario RPG, does not complement any inventiveness Fox squeezes out of the monster encounters. And if the hero is meant to resemble a dead fish to show that “anyone can be a hero,” Undertale should come with a bucket to vomit in.

Undertale seems rather desperate when you enter a church and are told “You will be judged for your every action.” After a laughable sermon about RPG design (“[EXP] stands for execution points.”), you are instructed to think about your actions in Undertale. But what’s there to contemplate? Either you managed to spare a goofy-looking thing that attacked you or you didn’t. Unlike Jack King-Spooner’s Beeswing and Brian Fargo’s Wasteland 2, Undertale pushes make-believe morality — a sort of BioShock bullshit — as opposed to situations that get to the essence of life and struggle.

There’s a part in Undertale where you can pray to remind an enemy of its conscience. Such flippant moments suggest that Fox misinterpreted Earthbound, Undertale’s biggest influence, as merely quirky. Earthbound was strange, but its spiritual consciousness and emotional warmth were striking and genuine, especially in the prayer-centered climax. The final fight in Undertale doesn’t have much to show other than creepy sadism. Before the concluding battle, the game literally turns itself off, and it will turn itself off again if you happen to lose. If you win, the binary choice returns: kill or have mercy. If you want to be “good,” you have to pick mercy over and over and over before Undertale almost shuts up. Fitting that the big bad guy at one point says, “You idiot. You haven’t learned a thing.” That’s a perfect encapsulation of how pointless Undertale’s wannabe progressivism is.