Friday, March 7, 2014

Major Bummers

Bad video games are a dime a dozen, but every once and a while there's a sequel released that is a true let down (particularly in the shadow of its fore bearers).  Which game depends largely on the person in question.  Generally speaking, there seems to be a lot of lists at the end of the year that fall into the category of "most disappointing."  For me though three games that really standout.  One from my childhood, one when I was a teenager, and now one recently in my adult life.  Here they are in that order:

I've played all the Space Quest games from beginning to end except for the sixth and final installment.  It's that bad.  Bugs aside, the creators of the series (those Two Guys From Andromeda) were gone at this point along with their noteworthy brand of humor.  Instead, Space Quest 6 relies on a lot of poorly applied puns and tired jokes for laughs.  Rather than employing drop-down or pop-up menus like previous games, Space Quest 6 has a fixed UI hogging up valuable screen real estate on a permanent basis.  The worst offense though has to be the story line which completely ignores or outright nullifies significant events in previous titles (seriously...where's Beatrice, and what's this crap about having to be a janitor yet again?).  Also unlike previous entries, Space Quest 6 starts off by simply dumping series protagonist Roger Wilco in a generic sci-fi city on "shore leave" without any real direction or goal.  What a crappy end to such a great franchise...then again I supposed that could be said about most of Sierra's IPs.

The original Vandal Hearts is not particularly well known.  It's basically one of those early fantasy-themed tactical RPGs on the PSX.  What made Vandal Hearts special though was its (for lack of a better term) "mature Saturday morning cartoon vibe."  Oftentimes while playing it, I was reminded of children's TV programs like "Exo Squad" or "Pirates of Dark Water."  The graphics are crude, even by PSX standards, but they have a lot of spirit.  The camera zooms in for attacks, showing characters dramatically readying their weapons, then follows up with a satisfying *thwack* when a hit lands.  Slain sprites vanish in over-the-top geysers of pixelated blood or debris.  Overall, gameplay is similar to chess (if it were on steroids) with each side taking turns one after the other.  The sequel really drops the ball though.  Character sprites and portraits are awful, and the fundamental gameplay was changed to a clunky simultaneous movement system.  Attacks are dull to watch and defeated targets simply wink out of existence.  The original Vandal Hearts begins with a team of player controlled patrolmen luring a bunch of ruthless bandits into a counter-ambush.  The sequel, on the other hand, starts off with the player controlling children fighting giant slugs with salt sticks.  I got this game at release as a present and to this day I still feel bad about asking for it.

I really enjoyed Thief: The Dark Project, and thought Thief II: The Metal Age was pretty good too.  Thief: Deadly Shadows was kind of hit and miss for me, but exploring environments like an abandoned orphanage and storm-wracked manor house were a lot of fun.  Oddly, this new Thief reboot feels like a concerted effort to remove all the best aspects of previous entries while trying to retain the worst.  No Pagans, Hammerites, or Keepers...seasoned voice actors from all the previous games have been replaced with a generic voice cast spewing modern sounding English peppered with four letter expletives.  I guess words like "taffer" and "manfool" fell out of fashion in the city where Garrett lives.  For some reason he has a false eye still even though there are no Mechanists.  Oh wait, it's magical now...right.  Well, what happened to his sword and dagger?  Why hasn't the AI or audio improved at all from past installments?  Where does Garret keep all this stuff he's stealing?  Oh yeah, and rope arrows still don't work as well as they did in Thief I and II.  An amnesia plot?  Really?  I guess it's to be expected given that the publisher is Square-Enix.  The only genuinely good thing I've seen or heard about about Thief is the robust options menu on the PC.

Unlike Space Quest 6 or Vandal Hearts 2, I was able to steer clear of Thief for the most part thanks to all the quick looks, LPs, and reviews on the internet.  My gratitude to all those guys and girls for saving me significant amounts of time and money.  Sadly, nothing can save me from feelings of disappointment though.  Especially when I think about what could have been...and then there was this other game called Golden Axe: Beast Rider...nawh, just kidding, I'm done for now.

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