Merry Festivus, everyone! Today is the holiday for "the rest of us," and we at USgamer are celebrating with the annual airing of grievances. Please join our staff and key contributors as we lament the absolute worst, most unenjoyable, most utterly punishing games and ideas we experienced in 2013. And please join the holiday festivities by airing your own video game grievances in the comments section!
In an experience akin to eating a delicious meal while a hobo takes a huge dump on the table next to you, my worst of 2013 was also one of my favorites. I’m talking about the Jeckle and Hyde Forza 5, a stunning-looking, fantastic-playing next generation racing game that’s simultaneously the ultimate showcase for the power of Xbox One, and definitive case study in how microtransactions can totally stink a game out.
I’ve put a fair amount of time into Turn Ten’s latest over the past month or so - although nowhere near as much as I thought I would when I first started playing it. The reason for this is because its gameplay has been cynically compromised in the name of profit. Compared to prior editions of Forza, less money is earned from racing, and the cars you need to buy with your winnings to progress are more expensive. Essentially, the game has been turned into much more of a grind that it ever was, making you work harder for less. So why would anyone want to do that to their game? Oh, perhaps to encourage players to use microtransactions to buy in-game tokens so they can temporarily boost their earning rate back to normal Forza levels, or use them to buy new cars outright.
I don’t have a problem with microtransactions per se. I’ve used them to spend a fair chunk of change on a variety of games over the last few years. But almost all of those games were free-to-play/”freemium” products where microtransactions are understandable and justifiable. In the case of Forza 5, it’s far from free. It has a $60 price tag, yet it’s been blatantly engineered to extract even more money out of its users post-purchase. The game also offered DLC almost straight out of the gate, which I don’t necessarily have a problem with - but at the same time, it’s pretty obvious those downloadable cars were created at the same time as the game, but weren’t shipped with it so that Microsoft could shake a few more shekels out of the Forza player base. The whole thing just stinks of profiteering.
That’s such a shame, because behind the stench is an absolutely wonderful racing game. Forza 5 is smaller than previous Forza games - understandable due to its foreshortened development cycle - but it nevertheless packs a great range of cars, some beautifully landscaped tracks and features the best racing action video gaming has to offer. It’s a fantastic game, but it’s been tainted, and ultimately feels like every time you reach the finish line, there’s a person rattling a tin cup at you, trying to catch your eye and relieve you of your pocket change.
Fortunately an upcoming patch will boost earnings and reduce car costs and bring them in line with previous Forza games - and that’ll certainly get me playing again. But that still doesn’t change the fact that Microsoft thought that launching a game with this kind of microtransactional model was okay in the first place. Shame on them.
I went into Knack expecting a totally mundane, unremarkable game. I’d demoed it at E3 and figured I had a pretty good sense of what it was about. What that 15-minute session couldn’t prepare me for, though, was just how much mundane, unremarkable content a single game could contain. As a four-hour experience, Knack might have been borderline-tolerable. Stretched to more than three times that length, however, it became utterly unbearable.
In reality, it took me two solid days to play through Knack. Subjectively, though, it felt like the experience stretched to years. Time lost all meaning. I could feel wrinkles deepening on my face and arthritis claiming my dexterity. My wife and I had a child, who grew up, went off to college, and came back with his own children calling me "grandpa" in the ages I spent with Knack. Civilizations rose and fell around me. I watched as the sun aged into a red giant before collapsing into a feeble brown dwarf, spent of its billions of years of atomic fuel. I witnessed the heat death of the universe and the genesis of a new one. And all I have to show for it is a handful of trophies and a review that has earned me nothing but contempt from particularly dyed-in-the-wool PS4 crusaders -- as if I hadn’t already suffered enough by playing through Knack. Hardcore platform fanboys truly are a cruel bunch.
Listen, Knack is not a good game. Its creators want it to be Crash Bandicoot, but it turned out to be more like God of War minus all the interesting combo mechanics and inventive puzzles. The game can’t seem to decide if it’s a platformer or a brawler, but it doesn’t really matter because Knack is terrible at being either one. Quality and fun are not linear mathematical functions; you can’t bolt a mediocre brawler to a mediocre platformer and hope it adds up to a good whole. The half-baked nature of each component multiplies, and you end up with a quarter-baked creation. Knack offers the most limited, stagnant range of gameplay mechanics I’ve seen in a game since the 8-bit era, yet it stretches that stiflingly tiny palette of abilities across a journey that spans untold hours of mindless, repetitive, arbitrarily designed tedium. And somehow this wreck has given the utterly sublime Super Mario 3D World a run for its money, sales-wise, which is exactly why our species will be the first against the wall when the alien invasion comes. We’ve earned our extinction.
As I’ve said in other articles, I just started reviewing games this year. I’ve been lucky to be able to avoid games I wouldn’t enjoy since I wasn’t always a day one buyer. But this year I had to review Killer is Dead, a game I would’ve definitely avoided if given the option. Killer is Dead has been forged of children’s tears and hardened by the despair of the average salaryman. It has been sent our world like the Lament Configuration, to torture and enslave me.
It’s hard to put a game up in the Worst of 2013 when that game isn’t broken. That’s what most people think of when they call up the “worst game of 20XX” in their mind. If I was choosing in that direction, I'd probably have to go with Battlefield 4 multiplayer. Killer is Dead isn’t broken. It works. It does what it sets out to do, but it commits a greater sin in my mind: Killer is Dead is just plain boring.
Killer is Dead marries a bland art style, rote combat, and tedious Gigolo Mode missions with rampant randomosity. “This is so cool, now we’re in Alice’s crazy wonderland, now we’re on the moon!” the game wants you to say, but the scenes are completely unconnected and disjointed. I can do random. I’ve watched and loved things that are Japanese and random: Excel Saga, Nichijou, and the currently-airing Kill la Kill to name a few. But the random has to funnel you in a direction and I never felt that direction from Killer Is Dead.
Killer Is Dead probably wouldn’t be on this list if I just had to Redbox it, because a few missions in, I would’ve just returned it. But I was reviewing it, so I had to slog through the whole, boring thing. Like Jeremy’s pick, trudging through boredom elevates a game to a whole new level of dislike. And so, Killer Is Dead is my worst of 2013.
Final Fantasy All the Bravest
My pick's a mobile game. This may seem like an easy target, since a depressing amount of mobile fare is scraping-the-barrel shovelware of the worst possible kind, but no mobile game made me more angry than Square Enix's utter defilement of Final Fantasy that was Final Fantasy: All The Bravest.
What made it worse was that it was teased extensively prior to its release in January of 2013, getting people excited for a new Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy Dimensions had proven that Square Enix still had what it took to make a good, new 2D Final Fantasy, but All The Bravest just threw that all out of the window in favor of catering to… I honestly don't know, really. It should be pure Final Fantasy fanservice, but what it actually ends up being is a game where you repeatedly rub the screen in a quasi-masturbatory motion and then occasionally get bugged to spend some money in order to acquire the characters you might actually want to play as. To make matters worse, it adopted a "blind bag" system for buying new characters, so if you wanted a specific one you'd have to keep paying up until you got it.
All The Bravest was, for me, symptomatic of everything that is wrong with both mobile and free-to-play gaming in 2013. There have been plenty of good examples of both mobile and free-to-play games in 2013, but there have been few worse than the fetid pit of despair that is Final Fantasy: All The Bravest.
2013 was irrefutably a good year for games, but it also had more than its share of duds. Amidst that mess of half-realized ideas and outright ineptitude, Hometown Story stands out at the worst game of the year for me. Now, on cursory examination, it isn't necessarily terrible. A little drab, perhaps, and rather unimpressive-looking compared to a lot of entries in the 3DS's roster of purchasable goodness. But not tooth-achingly bad in the same way, say, The War Z was (is).
My beef with Hometown Story is that, to put it bluntly, it feels half-assed. Lazy, even. Being a shopkeeper, for example, in Recettear was amazingly fun. You could haggle your way into maximum profitability. Heck, you had to. The risk of losing everything you knew and loved made cutthroat capitalism mandatory. With Hometown Story, however, you didn't really have to do much of everything in the store. Sure, you can arrange items, tinker with prices, and arrange display shelves for better feng shui but there is no urgency to the game. Many of your customers will wait long into the night for you to ring them up. They might fume a bit but they invariably come back the next day to regurgitate meaningless one-liners and buy your overpriced fish.
The art felt sub-par, the music was humdrum, the characters ripped straight from the most generic anime manga ever. I could just be a little cynical these days but I expect more from my life-sims, especially when it has such incredible predecessors and an even more impressive pedigree. (The guy who made Harvest Moon captained this ship.) Mostly, though, Hometown Story felt like a missed opportunity. This could have been Recettear with an incredible budget. Instead, it's more an endless succession of milling through a largely barren town, outfitting a boring store, listening to even more boring quips and occasionally engaging in less-than-interesting quests.
Final Fantasy All the Bravest
There's a right way to monetize a mobile title, and there's the Square-Enix way. Games like Final Fantasy: All the Bravest make people mistrustful of in-app purchases, and for good reason. This crummy battle simulator offers nothing resembling the strategic fights we've come to associate with the Final Fantasy series, yet it thrusts out its hand constantly for your nickels, dimes, dollars.
All the Bravest puts up to 40 fighters from varying Final Fantasy classes on the battlefield. You command each one to leap on the enemy with a simple tap. Problem is, your warriors have a couple of class-dependent attacks, and you don't choose which one to use, nor do you choose your target. The whole experience is automated, so your role is to paw at the screen and put your heroes' fates in the claws of Shinryu.
Worst of all, if you want to recruit a recognizable cast of characters, you'd best be prepared to pay dearly. To score a named fighter -- Squall, Cloud, Terra, Cecil, you know, the gang -- you literally put a dollar into a lottery that selects a random hero for you. Oh, you wanted Locke and you got Lightning? Tough cookies! Cough up another dollar, Returner.
I go into every single game I play hoping to be pleasantly surprised. It's no fun to get stuck reviewing a game that you hate, especially when it's a really long RPG. Unfortunately, Project x Zone was every bit as lousy as I was expecting it to be... and then some.
It wasn't even that its depictions of women were gross... which they were. Nor was it the fact that it did no service to the superior games that it represented, like Street Fighter, Mega Man X, and Valkyria Chronicles. It was just a really awful strategy game, utterly devoid of anything resembling tactics, skill, or customization -- otherwise known as the elements that make an RPG worth playing. What few mechanics that are available are mostly superficial, making the majority of the combat a mash-fest of predetermined combos. That's how it goes for dozens and dozens of interminable levels, many of which take more than an hour worth of repetitive motion to complete.
Remarkably, Project X isn't even the first in the series. Somehow, Namco Bandai looked at Namco x Capcom and decided that it would be a good idea to make a sequel. That game, however, at least had the decency to stay in Japan. I don't often say this, but I wish Project x Zone had done the same. What a shame that this pile got the nod from Namco Bandai over Super Robot Taisen OG on the PlayStation 3. What a pity.
Dead Space 3
I don't imagine most people would consider Dead Space 3 to be a terrible game. Its cover-based gunplay gets the job done about as well as any other post-Gears of War third-person shooter, plus it happens to look pretty spectacular a good portion of the time. Plenty of games have gotten by on less than that.
Dead Space 3 is, however, a terrible Dead Space game.
The original Dead Space and its sequel stand out to me as two of the most remarkable experiences from this generation of consoles. Both games expertly piled on the tension as you explored the dark confines of their derelict spacecraft. Without much in the way of health or ammo pickups, every battle felt like you just barely squeaked through with your life intact. And, as harrowing as encounters with Necromorphs were in those games, the long, quiet stretches in between firefights could be so much more nerve-racking.
Contrary to its predecessors in every way that matters, Dead Space 3 turns the series away from subtle horror and toward bombastic monotony. Gone are the peaks and valleys that kept me on edge throughout the first two games, now replaced with a constant flood of predictable, ammo-saturated combat arenas. And while I delighted in skulking around the painstakingly-crafted environments of the Ishimura and Sprawl from Dead Space 1 and 2, Dead Space 3's world bored me with some of the most obvious copy-and-paste jobs since the original Mass Effect. Even the new crafting system, which should have encouraged experimentation and creativity, only drove me to build one powerful, all-purpose weapon that I used for the bulk of the game.
Did I mention that you spend way too much time in Dead Space 3 fighting other gun-toting humans? How about the fact that none of the characters' motivations make any sense -- especially the main antagonist's? Or that the whole thing ends with the biggest laugh-out-loud plot twist I've ever seen in an otherwise serious videogame?
Dead Space 3 clinches this one for me not only because I don't care for what it is, but also as a result of what it isn't -- and what that signifies for a franchise that I had grown to love over the past five years. It might not be the worst game of 2013, but it's definitely the one that bummed me out the most.
Dead Island Riptide
My experience with the original Dead Island was none too positive. First, I couldn’t join my friends’ party to complete a co-op game. Then, key elements to finish off a quest were simply missing. I couldn’t make any real progress. I was forced to restart several times to get anywhere, even after patches were rolled out. After all the mess, it was a completely lackluster adventure to start with, so I wasn’t sure why I was even interested in its pseudo-sequel.
Dead Island: Riptide, from its inception, was a silver lining -- a chance to undo the damage done by its predecessor and start fresh. And yet with everything on the line, Riptide still disappointed, a slapdash collection of the same pitfalls seen in the original game, including the survivors themselves. Still the same racial stereotypes, same bizarre combat, and fetch quests as slow as before. Zombie games need to be visceral. You want that satisfying “thwack” when you plant an axe in the side of a walker’s head. That’s missing from Riptide and its predecessor.
What’s more, you never feel as though you'll ever actually connect with its motley crew of characters, especially when their behaviors and actions feel inconsistent with that of normal people. For example, Xian Mei's still decked out in formal attire and high heels on an island rife with wreckage and likely flip flops. This warrior is still traipsing around in untarnished stilettos and attire from the original game. It may seem like a minor nitpick, but for a game that parades realism with degradable weapons, stamina bars, and locales, moments like this (and the fact that characters still look straight ahead when driving, even when turning) hamper any means of suspension of disbelief.
There’s a word that sums up Dead Island: Riptide: airy. It aspired to do so much but never cleared up the issues that plagued the original. It lacked any real substance, instead choosing to bask in gimmickry and the momentum from its fan base rather than polishing itself up and aiming to create a stable and engrossing experience rather than coasting along on a sinking ship. I can’t forgive a franchise that doesn’t learn from its own mistakes.
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