Every game starts off as a perfect 10. During those virgin moments when I'm loading up a game for the first time--Havok acknowledgement, Bink Video acknowledgement (what the hell is "Bink Video" anyway, and why do some many games seem to depend on it?), and so forth--my heart practically explodes with hope. (I wrote about this peculiar brand of hope in detail in this post.) I'm at maximum optimism, baby. I want the game that I am about to play to be nothing short of spectacular. I want my head to be blown off by how terrific the game is.
Then, as usual, almost always, the game turns out to be complete and utter dog shit.
Scientific fact: Approximately one out of 20 games is interesting and worth playing. Another scientific fact: Maybe one out of every hundred games is legitimately great. In baseball, you get one hit for every 20 at-bats, or one home run for every 100 at-bats, and you're out of a job pretty quickly.
Yet we gamers continue to march into game stores, continue to gladly hand over $60--or in Canada, $70--only to receive the videogame equivalent of an exploding cigar in return. I remember living on 106 Street in Manhattan about 10 years ago. Money was tight back then. I was working at a terrible job, trying to survive, trying not to have to pack up my belongings and go back home.
One day I marched into the nearby EB Games and saw that the Dreamcast version of Soldier of Fortune had just come out. I bought the game. I'd read quite a bit about Soldier of Fortune, and always wanted to play it, and finally it was out on a platform that I owned. I headed home with my new game, loaded it up (hope, hope, hope, hope, etc.) only to be completely fucking soul-crushed by the atrocious load times and shitty gameplay.
I promptly took the game back to the store, hoping to trade this trash in for something better. The gloating cashier--at least he seemed to be gloating--informed me that in its current "opened" state, the game was only worth $20. Even though I'd paid $60 for it only an hour or so ago.
I said: "So, as soon as I take the shrink wrap off the game, it loses two-thirds of its value?"
He said: "Yes, that's right."
I said: "This is bullshit."
I was practically in tears. I grabbed the stupid fucking game off the counter and exited the store, my face hot with shame and embarrassment. As soon as I got home, a terrible electrical storm hit New York. Rain came down in sheets. Lightning pinged off the tops of buildings. I sat by the window, watching the storm do its work, clenching and unclenching my fists, not realizing in this moment that I was experiencing my own super hero-like origin story. It was on this night, as rain and lighting came from the sky, that my life took a turn, that I forever became someone else.
Thanks to that piece-of-trash port of Soldier of Fortune, I became who I am today.
So the next time you think I'm being too hard on a game, that I've handed out a score that seems cruel and unusual, remember this: All I'm trying to do, you dummy, is to make sure you never have your own Soldier of Fortune moment.
Anyway, here are five $60 exploding cigars from 2010.
5. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (LucasArts, PS3/360)
This one really hurt. Sure, it looks a little better than the original--a game that I loved dearly, mostly because it let me feel like a Star Wars fan again--but the sequel is short and repetitive, and worse still, just plain fucking dumb. The writing is terrible. The story: Also terrible. The game has huge narrative holes in it that imply that it wasn't even close to being finished. LucasArts has the best intellectual properties, the best facilities, the most talent and money, etc. Star Wars: TFU II is basically a greeting card from George Lucas that says: "Dear Gamers, Eat shit. Love, George." Price: $59.99. What the game is actually worth: -$2.
4. Mafia II (2K Games, PS3/360/PC)
I could not wait to play this game. I thought: "This is a smarter, more mature Grand Theft Auto." Note the Roman numeral in the title. As a general rule, games with Roman numerals tend to always be smarter and more mature than games that feature regular numbers. But what Mafia II turned out to be was a painfully linear, painfully dull experience. Also: Collecting old Playboy magazines was cool. But who leaves their old Playboys sitting around on coffee-shop counters? I don't. So even the whole old-Playboys thing was ruined. Also: driving old-time cars is never fun. Never. Also not fun: a mini-game centered around selling cigarettes out of the back of a truck. Fuck you, Mafia II. Price: $59.99. What the game is actually worth: $4.99.
3. MAG (Zipper Interactive, PS3)
To be honest, I sort of knew this one was going to be terrible in advance. Because I am psychic? No. (Though I've always thought that I might be a little psychic.) This is why: Because you can't hang a game on what amounts to basically a technological boast. Sure, you can DO 256-person multiplayer. Yes, it is POSSIBLE. But you still need A REASON to have 256-person multiplayer. Because, just being able to do it does not qualify as a reason. So, what you're left with is a heartless, soulless experience where, instead of working together in factions, most jagoffs run through the game as if they are auditioning for Rambo 9. We need faces, Sony. We need story. We need more than tech. Price: $59.99. What the game is actually worth: $3.
2. Crackdown 2 (Ruffian Games, 360)
I loved the original Crackdown, and I thought that I loved the sequel, too. Crackdown 2, to be fair, was a fun little diversion for a few nights. Yes, I obsessed over the orbs. My beloved orbs! Yes, I enjoyed driving through zombie hordes at top speed. But like a pork taco purchased from a street vendor, what tasted pretty good at the time moved through my system at an alarming rate of speed. Explanation of my elaborate metaphor: Crackdown 2 is the pork taco. And the whole "moving through my system" thing is a reference to poop. What I am trying to say is that this game barely registered on my gaming psyche. And now the Crackdown "series" ends after two games. Price: $59.99. What the game is actually worth: $7.
1. BioShock 2 (2K Games, PS3/360/PC)
More Big Daddies. More Little Sisters. More BioShock. PLUS: MULTIPLAYER!!!!!! (NO WAY!) BioShock multiplayer, in my opinion, wins the award for Unholiest Abomination of 2010. I feel terrible for the poor people who had to build the multiplayer component. Sure, you can still find a few lost souls playing the game online. Yet, I can't shake the feeling that anyone who is still playing BioShock 2's multiplayer must have had something go horribly wrong in their lives. Maybe their wives left them. Or they lost their jobs. Or they are in a prison because they were wrongly convicted of a crime of passion and the only game that the prison owns is BioShock 2.
They must have experienced some sort of devastating tragedy. Because no one plays BioShock 2 multiplayer of their own volition.
Also: The Big Sister concept sucks. Remember how strange and unnerving the Big Daddies were when you played the original game? The Big Sister, by comparison, always announces her arrival by practically banging pots together. Then she just flies around and causes havoc exactly like enemies do in about a billion other games.
And while the whole game looks like BioShock and plays like BioShock, and smells and tastes like BioShock, it's not BioShock. None of the BioShock soul made it into the sequel. It's an empty, hollow, cold, heartless, obvious bid for more popularity and more money. That's all it is. It goes exactly where you think it's going to go, every step of the way, making it the absolute worst kind of exploding cigar: the kind that explodes on you only after you've already invested five or so hours into the game.