We’ve all had love affairs of which we weren’t particularly proud: the girl with the squinty eye or the boy who smelled a bit funny. And the fact that we didn’t necessarily want to admit to our guilty pleasures doesn’t mean that we didn’t have an awful lot of fun while they lasted. So it can be with games: it’s not unusual to fall in love with a butt-ugly shooter that’s just too damn fun to ignore or a maddeningly broken strategy game that, after years of loving effort, finally starts to reciprocate. Unfortunately, the fact that we aren’t too keen on owning up to the fun we might have had with Bomberman Zero on a hot summer’s night when nobody was watching means that there’s little opportunity for like-minded souls to follow our example and get in on the action themselves. It’s all very well reading countless end-of-year Best Of lists telling us that RPG fans should checkout Fallout 3, and that platforming fanatics will have a blast with the new Mario game, but we already know that the games on these lists are pretty great. Inevitably, they’ll be the same stellar titles that have been gathering nines and tens from reviewers ever since their release. Sometimes, it would be nice to see some retrospective praise for games that didn’t score too highly with the critics or were widely panned for failings that some of us might be willing to forgive. It is in this spirit of forgiveness that P*N presents the Top 3 rubbish games of the current generation of consoles. We can all guess the contenders for the three best current-gen titles but the following three represent this writer’s opinion of three games that, however flawed, might just be worthy of a second chance.
3. Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
With a sequel just around the corner, now’s the perfect time to revisit the original hideously hyped and much maligned third-person swear-em-up: Kane & Lynch: Dead Men. Released in Europe and the U.S. in late 2007, Kane & Lynch was gritty and brutal, and it polarized opinion amongst critics as much as it did throughout the gaming public. Some praised its earthy story-telling and compelling action, even likening its set-pieces to the stylish Hollywood bombast of Michael Mann. Many more seemed to take the opposite view, however, grumbling that it was visually dated (it was), that the controls were awkward (they were), that the aiming and collision detection were virtually broken (guilty as charged), and even that the constant swearing of the game’s protagonists wore thin (a strange objection, given the subject matter and the profusion of bad language in many films set in the same thematic world). Ultimately though, IO Interactive’s problem child has a lot to offer, from its ambitious storyline, superb characterization, and sterling audio production through to its daringly different multiplayer component, Fragile Alliance. With scores on Metacritic for the Xbox 360 version of the game ranging from an impressive 84 down to a miserable 30, it’s clear that Kane & Lynch already has a cult following of sorts. It just seems a shame that many of the mainstream reviewers and top magazines and sites chose to give K&L a mediocre score, rightly pointing out its deficiencies whilst unfairly damning it with a huge dollop of faint praise. The pre-release hype surrounding the game didn’t help its cause any, but if there’s one thing of which you can’t accuse Kane & Lynch, it’s being mediocre enough to deserve a score of 5 or 6 out of 10. You’re either going to love it or hate it: so if you haven’t yet had the chance, why not have a root around in that bargain bin and find out?
2. Saints Row 2
To be fair to Saints Row 2 – and its many reviewers – Volition’s gangster sandbox sequel actually scored pretty highly when it rolled into town in October 2008. Some critics were happy to dish out an eight or even a nine out of ten for its light-hearted take on the open world template established by Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series. Unfortunately for Volition and publisher THQ, Saints Row 2’s release was always destined to be overshadowed by the arrival of a certain game going by the name of… Grand Theft Auto IV. Less than two years later, whilst people still talk fondly of Niko Bellic’s adventures in Liberty City, Saints Row 2 appears to have been consigned to the dustbin of history. There’s no denying that the Stilwater experience can’t hold a candle to Liberty City in terms of atmosphere and storytelling, and nor is it possible to imagine the Saints Row franchise ever having been conceived without Rockstar’s earlier work serving as inspiration, but to label Saints Row as nothing more than an opportunist charlatan would be unfair. Whilst the latest Grand Theft Auto title sought to remove many of the frills from the GTA experience and to provide a greater degree of realism, Saints Row 2 went the other way, seeking only to give players more and more opportunities to lose themselves in gleefully destructive fun. Guiding Niko around Liberty City was too often an exercise in discovering what you could no longer do within the game world: the payoff for streamlining and added realism coming in the form of increased restrictiveness and a certain loss of the childlike sense of wonder that did a lot to first popularize the sandbox concept. Saints Row 2, meanwhile, may have been decidedly buggy and appallingly crass, but it offered a glimpse back into a past life in which we played games on the edge of our seats, wondering which previously un-thought-of possibility would amaze us next. Yes, it was big and unwieldy and yes, it was stupid. But it was also consistently entertaining to a degree that GTAIV arguably didn’t reach. If you’re wondering which old sandbox title to dig out for another run-through this summer, you owe it to your inner child to say “Peace” to Volition and give Saints Row a chance.
1. Alone In The Dark
Bringing a much-loved franchise back to life several years after its initial heyday is always a risky business. Atari took the plunge with Alone In The Dark in 2008 and it was met with a storm of criticism so severe that the likelihood of another entry in the series now seems dimmer than ever before. Surprisingly few gamers remembered the original AITD games but back in the early Nineties they represented the first green shoots of the successful industry that the survival horror genre has subsequently become. As a result, developer Eden Games largely avoided any flak for the fact that their reimagining of the classic series bore very little resemblance to Infrogrames’ early vision. Instead, it was a myriad of other issues that rankled with the critics, from dodgy cameras to maddening difficulty curves and a distinct lack of polish in several key areas of the production. What this new incarnation of Edward Carnby did manage to hang onto, however, was the spirit of originality that always marked the series out as something special. The episodic structure of the story was stylishly executed, taking its cue from the world of television drama and managing to ramp up the addictive drama of its frequent cliff-hangers to levels rarely witnessed in a videogame. Whilst some dubious design choices were made, and the whole production had an unpleasantly half-baked feel to it, the reboot was also chock-full of innovative ideas and deserves to be remembered as such. Some of its moments of inspiration seemed to inspire love and contempt in equal measure (like the inventory system, which had been re-jigged in response to harsh criticism by the time the game released on PS3) whilst others (like the dynamic fire effects) were very, very hard not to adore. For all its exciting innovation and gripping drama, the Xbox 360 version of Alone In The Dark currently languishes under the cloud of a Metacritic score of 58. Yes, it could have done with another few months (at least) of development time. And yes, the story made absolutely not one bit of sense. But whilst Alone In The Dark’s 2008 reboot frequently got so frustrating it made you wish Atari had sold the exclusive franchise rights to Uwe Boll, it never got boring. And how many games can you say that about these days?
What do you think? What are the best bad games you’ve played this generation?