by Jed Pressgrove
2016 brought more mediocrity than disasters in video games. For the first time, Kentucky Route Zero resembled a sitcom too comfortable in its clothes, but Act IV wasn’t a stupid game by any means. Street Fighter V gave the middle finger to the working class with its lack of a traditional single-player mode at launch and its requirement of online fees; at the same time, the strategic possibilities of the game are impressive. While Dark Souls 3 is pandering and regressive compared to the original, it did manage to be more tolerable than last year’s flat-looking Bloodborne. I’m not saying we should be thankful for these titles, yet their shortcomings don’t compare to those of the following choices. (For more reading, check out 2015’s 10 worst games.)
1. Final Fantasy XV
This is the clunkiest, stupidest Final Fantasy yet. I would now welcome the frustration of watching characters swat at thin air in the original Final Fantasy on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Even the majority who praised this entry admit any sense of meaningful narrative is virtually nonexistent, so in theory I don’t have to talk about the story of four privileged meatheads performing beyond-banal extermination and fetch tasks, which should be unacceptable in light of the humanistic side quests of last year’s Witcher 3, if not those of 1999’s Planescape: Torment.
Director Hajime Tabata can prepare software patches for Final Fantasy XV’s plot during the entirety of 2017, but that won’t fix the delayed “real-time” attacks of the player’s avatar. Has SquareEnix forgotten its own action/roleplaying games Secret of Mana and Secret of Evermore, which made you feel uniquely connected to your character’s slashing and bashing? (I might ask the majority of game critics this question, too.) Moreover, the platforming of Final Fantasy XV is limited and stiff compared to that of Super Mario RPG, and running in the two-dimensional settings of Final Fantasy VI, the greatest SNES RPG, is more exhilarating than dashing in the big and boring world of XV, whose protagonist eventually gets tired, an irritant to the player just looking to explore.
Anyone who calls Final Fantasy XV a road trip should play any game with great driving (like Driver). What good is having a car in an open world if the game steers for you and if, about two seconds after you press a button, the vehicle initiates a joyless U-turn? The mechanic who fixes your automobile is even more atrocious: don’t tell your “paw-paw,” but you’d have to be an urbanized ignoramus to think anyone in the South talks like Cindy Aurum.
And as if to further infantilize audiences to cover up the fact that the developers have churned out what amounts to Chocobo excrement, you get a “Report Card” after battle. One needn’t bother giving this game a grade because everyone involved deserves expulsion.
2. Mafia III
Racial and ethnic conflict sets the stage for fun and catharsis in this reprehensibly pretentious action game. The creators should knock off the bullshit about being aware of historical discrimination: the nonstop racist stereotypes and laughable moral debate in Mafia III dangerously suggest there’s no point in trying to respect people and their histories.
3. Pony Island
This abomination from Daniel Mullins offers a type of cynicism that doesn’t know or care about video-game history. Most of Pony Island’s jokes (e.g., evil narrator, a game with a mind of its own, etc.) are so old and/or childishly executed that everyone should be rolling their eyes, but maybe some players welcome this audience-insulting garbage because they’re bored with big-budget franchises and hyped indie releases. Pony Island might appear to pull back a veil with its hacking and glitching exercises (which are inferior to those of Hack N’ Slash and Liz Ryerson’s Problem Attic, respectively), but even something as unnecessary as Halo 5 could teach you more about game design than this descent into hipster cleverness.
4. The Voter Suppression Trail
Chris Baker, Brian Moore, and Mike Lacher think it’s cute to obfuscate U.S. voting problems with nostalgic references to The Oregon Trail. This game serves as more disappointing evidence that too many people in the United States would rather encourage partisan smugness than articulate real-world experiences.
5. No Man’s Sky
Ed Smith said it best when he compared the planet-generating No Man’s Sky to “the novel-printing Versificator in [George Orwell’s] 1984.” The protagonist’s too-slow gait and crappy jetpack prove that developer Hello Games is insecure about its universe: being able to zip through these worlds would only further reveal that the discovery experience is almost always the same.
6. Enter the Gungeon
I get it, Dodge Roll. You combined the words “gun” and “dungeon,” then you copied and pasted environmental details from the mobile game Wayward Souls, then you threw in a dodge roll because your studio is called Dodge Roll. Bravo for a flagrant lack of creativity in the year of Assault Android Cactus coming to consoles, a brilliant counterpunch to Enter the Gungeon’s lighthearted laziness.
Director Arnt Jensen fetishizes child death for the second game in a row, all the while encouraging yawn-inducing interpretations about power, whether that of a video game over players or that of an immoral society over human experiments. Nihilism is unenlightened when it is violent, unoriginal, and ambiguous like Inside.
The film aspirations of directors Jonathan Burroughs and Terry Kenny emphasize something needed in so many video games: editing. Unfortunately, Virginia’s usage of cuts is often repetitive in smaller moments (e.g., riding in a car) or confusing in big moments (which involve enough plot threads and themes for multiple works), rendering the game tedious and bloated.
9. Umbrella Corps
This Resident Evil online shooter approaches “so bad it’s entertaining” territory. Although this backhanded compliment can’t be applied to the choices above, Umbrella Corps is undeniably a waste of time — and puzzling, considering the high standards set by The Mercenaries modes in recent Resident Evil games.
10. Uncharted 4: Thief’s End
Notwithstanding pretty graphics or well-constructed scenes, you can’t excuse something as full of it as Uncharted 4: Thief’s End. To address the dishonest subtitle, there is zero lasting reflection on the actions of Nathan Drake. Jesus Christ, who is referenced in Uncharted 4 because of his crucifixion between two thieves, said on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The moral and spiritual points that show up at the beginning of Uncharted 4 might very well ask the same thing of the charlatan directing team of Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann.
How can you care about the interpersonal relations of people in a horror story when they are too politically correct, like the protagonist Alex, or annoyingly underdeveloped, like the antagonistic Clarissa, who, if writer/director Adam Hines cared about complex emotions, should have been the star of Oxenfree? The proceedings aren’t helped by the worst visual aesthetics of any indie darling in 2016.