I didn’t play a lot of bad games this year, so my “worst of 2018” list wound up being pretty short. I suppose that’s yet another thing that makes this the year of good news. In fact, even this “worst of” list is pretty tame compared to years past.
I guess I should give some sort of honorable mention to Mass Effect: Andromeda. It didn’t come out this year, but I played it this year, and it easily qualifies as the most frustrating waste of potential I’ve seen in ages. Bioware spent five years and a fortune to make this half-baked unfocused mess of jank and cringe.
Here are my big disappointments, in no particular order:
What a shame. I really liked parts of Neir: Automata. I was interested in the ideas it was playing with. I loved the world and the brilliant character designs. It was gorgeous, fun, and thought-provoking. But it was also broken.
This is a game you’re supposed to play through several times, because you get to see the world from the viewpoint of different characters. I made it a little ways into my second playthrough before I got sick of the crashes and played something else.
Yes, I installed the Far Mod that supposedly fixes the game. It didn’t help. And before you blame my machine, let me just point out that I played lots of different games this year and none of them were prone to crashing every twenty minutes.
This was exacerbated by the save system, where you have to reach certain locations in order to save. That’s pretty standard for the genre, but when combined with the random crashes it made for infuriating setbacks.
Adding insult to injury is that Square Enix didn’t support the PC release at all. No patches, not even to correct for the widespread and well-documented problems. But they did release more DLC for it. And now they’re working on a Game of the Year edition. Still no patches.
But Shamus, why didn’t you just get it for the console?
A better question is why didn’t Square Enix fix the bugs? I got the game for my preferred platform, and if Square Enix didn’t want to support a PC release then they shouldn’t have made one.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
This franchise spiraled into mediocrity rather quickly, didn’t it? After the Tomb Raider 2013 reboot got everyone’s attention and gave us a fresh new take on the character, the sequels have done everything they could to make this new world as dull as possible. The series decided to go toe-to-toe with the storytellers at Naughty Dog, but did so without the vibrant characters and sense of fun that made the Uncharted series such a hit. We have an unlikable protagonist with a bland sidekick following a predictable plot to fight a generic group of villains to obtain a vague doomsday artifact using rote mechanics.
This could have been a more systems-driven counterpoint to Uncharted. Rather than blowing money on lavishly produced cinematics, this game could have focused on the mechanics. The game has a good base of climbing, shooting, looting, crafting, exploring, puzzle-solving, sneaking, and collectable-finding systems. This game could have given us a contemplative metroidvania-style game about getting around and uncovering secrets. Instead, the pacing is driven by the cutscenes. The story dictates where you go, when you go there, when it’s time to sneak, and when it’s time to shoot.
You’re allowed to backtrack, but you can’t sequence-break or experiment with different builds. Often the game decides to shove you though one of the scripted set-piece action sequences where you need to out-guess the designer to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing. You end up feeling less like the main character and more like a stuntman who isn’t allowed to read the script.
The story is given such a ridiculous focus here, to the point where it constantly interrupts gameplay. For whatever reason, the weakest part of the game has been made the central pillar.
The story doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. The action beats are larger-than-life action schlock, while the dialog and subject matter are relentlessly self-serious. At one point our heroes are in an airplane that gets blown in half. There are no parachutes, and the thing basically falls out of the sky. Lara is in the front half of the plane and sidekick Jonah is in the back, and yet somehow they both miraculously survive their respective crashes. Not only that, but they both escape with little more than bruises. These cartoon physics might work in a more lighthearted story, but when paired with serious tone it comes off as childish.
If there was ever a story that needed an injection of banter, running gags, one-liners, and bromantic tensionOr romantic tension. Between whomever. I don’t care. Just have people tease / flirt and have a good time., it’s this one. As it stands, playing this game feels like watching the second season of the Walking Dead while riding a rollercoaster. Are we supposed to be invested in the drama or enjoying the ride? I don’t know what the writer wants from me.
But Shamus, not everything needs to be jokes and banter! Not everyone likes the Marvel formula!
That’s fair. The problem is that right now this game is roast beef and ice cream. I think fun and adventure would match the gameplay much better, but you could go the other way and make the cinematics more grounded. You can prefer the ice cream or the beef, but one of these ingredients needs to go.
Note that I did not finish Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Maybe things open up after six hours and it gets really good, but I spent a long time being very bored before finally giving up on the game.
This is a racer where you hover along a glowing neon track at insane speeds. The music is a suitable pumping electronic beat. The hover cars are cool looking and customizable. The tracks are gorgeous.
The problem is that I can’t play it. It’s far too fast.
I was always in first place or last. I’d pull ahead, but then in the blur of hairpin turns and vertical loops I’d snag the wall and find myself instantly in last place. The other AI drivers were clustered together, but I rarely saw them. I was just barely able to control my car at normal speed, but as you go around you’re supposed to drive over these booster pads. That’s the only way to keep up with the AI. The problem is that hitting a booster made the car more or less impossible to control. The turning radius of my car was many times the radius of the actual turns. Am I supposed to avoid certain boost pads?
I did the first race a dozen times. I gradually improved at the game as I memorized the course, but it never felt good. Despite the extreme speeds, I never got a sense of exhilaration. There are traps on the course that you’re supposed to avoid, but they blended in with the scenery to the point where I’d slam face-first into one without seeing it. The whole thing just feels awful. I felt less like a high-speed pilot and more like a pachinko ball bouncing randomly through a noisy contraption.
On top of all of that, the game uses a low camera angle that makes all of the above problems worse. Low angles are good for limiting your visibility while creating a sense of speedLike in movies where they stick the camera to the bumper at wheel level and you can see the road markings zoom by in a blur., but the movement in this game is already so fast that the camera makes it more frustrating without making it more fun.
Fans with younger eyes and sharper reflexes have enjoyed better success with the game. But based on their Steam reviews, it doesn’t get to be much more fun. Apparently even if you’ve got the reflexes and patience to make progress, the core gameplay involves endlessly grinding for upgrades in repetitious races against flagrantly rubberbandingThe further ahead you get, the faster the AI goes, even if that means cheating. A.I. Regardless of your skill level, this game doesn’t feel like a fair contest against a well-defined system of rules. The AI is always putting its thumb on one side of the scale or the other, to the point where it’s more about your participation than your performance. Again, this is based on reading feedback, not personal experience. Still, that’s not a very enticing.
A shame, really. This game is a great concept with fantastic art, but the gameplay doesn’t work. That’s the one area where a racing game can’t afford to fail.
I realize I don’t usually put indies on my loser list. I’m sorry if this seems a little mean. I know I’m dumping on a small team of hungry indies who worked hard, and I realize that’s a lot different from tearing apart a major studio backed by a monolithic publisher. Partly I’m doing this because I want to contrast Antigraviator with some other stuff I played this year. We’ll come back to this topic later in this series.
What a disaster. Bethesda’s brilliant idea was to strip out all of the characters, towns, dialog, moral choices, factions, worldbuilding, companions, and roleplaying, and replace it with a shitty Day Z knockoff. They decided to make a Fallout game without any Fallout in it, so they could show up two years late to fad genre that was played out before the game was even announced.
That alone would be enough to earn the ire of the Fallout fanbase, but then the game came out and it was unforgivably buggy, even by the extremely liberal standards afforded to Bethesda games. Then on top of that they added a gross microtransaction store where they tried to sell you shit that you used to be able to earn or find in previous games. On top of that, the multiplayer system was built in the laziest way possible that left the entire system wide open to hacking and cheating. Back in the 90s I worked for a company that used this exact same client-server model. That was 20 years ago, we were a 12-person company, and our software was based on social interactions instead of PvP, and even back then we recognized the system as antiquated and inadequate.
And then there was the whole ridiculous canvas bag story that resulted in them accidentally doxxing their customers when trying to make good on the flagrant bait-and-switch used to market the ludicrously priced $200 Power Armor Edition.
Lazy. Incompetent. Apathetic. Cynical. Grasping. Dishonest. Shitty.
What a disgusting display. Bethesda should be ashamed. And no, I didn’t actually play this one. I’m just joining in the industry-wide dogpile.
Shamus, it’s not fair to criticize Fallout 76 without playing it first!
Maybe that’s true, but it’s even more unfair that Bethesda got to make Fallout sequels without playing Fallout first. Life isn’t fair. Life sucks, and so does Fallout 76.
That’s enough negativity. Next time we’ll say goodbye to 2018 by talking about what I loved.
 Or romantic tension. Between whomever. I don’t care. Just have people tease / flirt and have a good time.
 Like in movies where they stick the camera to the bumper at wheel level and you can see the road markings zoom by in a blur.
 The further ahead you get, the faster the AI goes, even if that means cheating.
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