Discord and Rhyme: Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough

Matt Turano | 10 Sep 2008 21:00
Op-Ed - RSS 2.0

We've all known those particular people, whether at school, work, or even at home, who are so unequivocally adored by everyone that you'd think they shit oatmeal raisin squares. It might be the annoyingly decent idiot in the cubicle next to yours who's just so funny and bright and wonderful, or maybe it's even an older sibling; in any event, the prevailing consensus surrounding these folks is one of sickening, unanimously overwhelming approval, which - who knows - they might even deserve.

Yet if you're like me, something about them rubs you the wrong way badly enough that you'd enjoy nothing more than to push these paragons of popular acclaim down a flight of stairs, set them on fire, and roast marshmallows over their smoldering remains. And if you're really like me, more than a few widely beloved games have had the same effect on you.

Sometimes a game can do everything right in both its presentation and execution, but for some reason its overall individual appeal lies somewhere between chewing a mouthful of thumbtacks and watching an anaconda cozy up to your firstborn. Whatever technical or aesthetic appeal the following universal favorites might possess is, for me, eclipsed by a certain pervasive something, otherwise known as "meh":

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - It seems to have everything going for it, including an unflappably composed, smartass Han Solo/Lara Croft wannabe main character, a jaded sidekick, a convincingly plucky anti-damsel, loads of guns, vehicles, and a lush tropical setting. Unfortunately, it sports about as much personality as a Goldman Sachs board meeting; while it's true for just about all games, Uncharted undoubtedly feels as though it was designed by a committee, hitting all the predetermined focus-group concerns at the appropriately predetermined times. It didn't do anything specifically wrong except fill me with spine-curving dread at the prospect of jumping across one more gap or being shot at by one more enemy whose marksmanship skills rivaled those of Annie Oakley with cybernetic targeting implants.

Gears of War - You've gotta hand it to Warhawk, a multiplayer-only game that knows it's multiplayer-only and doesn't try to throw some half-assed single-player campaign in your face as an attempt at paying thumb-service to the seventeen of us left on the planet who could give less than a bag of steaming llama turds about multiplayer. Gears' campaign played like an afterthought, a gratuitous inclusion to help justify the game's team deathmatch raison d'etre, rife with special-case design (use only this gun to kill this enemy, use only this tactic to get past this situation) and wafer-thin, unsympathetic characters. The cover mechanic was forced to the point of tedium, and just for the record, "destroyed beauty" is a background, not a theme.

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