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.
Resistance: Fall of Man – It seems like you can’t be an exclusive PlayStation 3 release unless you’ve got colon in your title, a hypothesis supported by the aforementioned Uncharted, along with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, and the launch-day brownfest more commonly known as Resistance: Fall of Man. While a first-person shooter set in the long alternate-history aftermath of World War I is an intriguing premise, the appeal quickly wears off once you experience the generic nature of the worldbuilding and the repetitive, single-path gameplay. In fiction, masters of the alternate history genre (such as Harry Turtledove) unfailingly provide specific, compelling human details of their worlds, but Insomniac – whose work I’ve admired since Spyro – missed the mark with Resistance. Good storytelling doesn’t care which medium tells it, but ultimately a story has to be about something greater than the vague generalities espoused in Resistance.
Mass Effect – I can’t say that I specifically disliked Mass Effect, but the damn thing wouldn’t sit still long enough for me to get to know it. Is it an RPG, an action game, or a conversation simulator? Maybe it’s just my tachyon attention span talking, but if I wanted to watch people walk and talk, I’d go to the mall and stake out the food court. In addition to its Jimmy Hoffa action sequences (where’d they go?!), the game seemed to overtax the 360’s hardware, causing it to access the disc with a zealous fervor that would make the Heaven’s Gate cult seem positively Unitarian by comparison. On a platform whose reliability rivals that of a thirty-year-old Alfa Romeo, this is not a good thing; I acknowledge that Mass Effect is a polished game by a respected developer, but I was more than occasionally bored off my ass.
Super Mario Galaxy – Let me just get it right out into the open, my little plumber pal; Super Mario 64 was fun in 1996, but if I ever enjoy another one of your games, I’ll personally purchase a ticket on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic mesosphere hopper and jettison myself into space. First of all, shaking the controller to perform an action which is better handled by pressing a button is going to lose me, no matter what your name is or how many games you’ve been in. Gratuitous control schemes are responsible for more deaths every year than cancer, drunk driving, and politicians combined, so don’t expect me to guzzle your Power Star Kool-Aid this time, paisan. I’ve been keeping my eye on you, so I know that the Freezeflame Galaxy wasn’t such a unique experience; you changed your name, got a new girl, and you’ve been skating for twenty-three years now. You cad.
It’s impossible for me to consider any of these games empirically bad, but they all contain elements that severely hampered or entirely prevented my enjoyment of them. Come back in two weeks for the opposite side of the collector’s coin; examples of truly horrible games that completely and illogically consumed my life in spite of their reeking ineptitude.
Matt Turano is part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor.