2013 may very well go down in history as the year of the overrated game. I haven’t seen so much pretentious mediocrity being passed off as a masterpiece since the days of grunge. Don’t get me wrong: this year was pretty bad all around in terms of not only video games, but also TV and movies. Still, critical overhype this year seems to have gotten worse than ever before.
And so, a week too late, without anyone asking and in no particular order, here are my five most overrated games of the year.
To paraphrase one Noah Antwiler, there’s innovation and then there’s putting bacon in milkshake. You will find few better illustrations of this distinction than this game. Gone Home developers, the Fullbright Company, take pride in their game having no combat or puzzles, but forget that it’s not enough for a game not to have things; it should also have other things for you to do in their place. Instead, Gone Home has you trudge around a house, listening to bad 90s music and reading journal entries detailing a story with all the literary merit of an episode of Dawson’s Creek (see, I can make 90s references too).
I already wrote a whole article about why Fullbright should be ashamed to take 20$ for this worthless piece of junk, but really, why do I even have to convince you? No one looking for a game would ever think this demo version of an early 90s point and click is a worthwhile investment in terms of time and money. The only reason you might think so is the overwhelmingly positive response the game got from mainstream critics, so next time GameSpot tries to pretend to be more professional and serious than other gaming websites, remind them that they gave this game a 9.5/10. So you know, better than Mass Effect (and the same price on steam, too!).
Speaking of which…
Mass Effect 3: Citadel
Mass Effect 3 is one of my favorite games of all time, second only to Arkham City. It also has an incredibly idiotic ending that made me want to never touch it again when I first beat it. By the time I got over that, my love of the franchise was attacked once more in 2012 by the Leviathan DLC. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but suffice to say, it contains some of the most stupid backstory in any of the games.
Skip to 2013, when BioWare made a third attempt on the life of its most celebrated franchise with the Citadel DLC. What is this thing supposed to be? How high were the writers when they were working on it? Here we have a series famous for its fantastic plot and dialogue, yet BioWare decided to release DLC for it filled with the most awkward banter and lame jokes ever heard, turning our beloved characters into macho douchebags at best and gaffawing jackasses at worst. Usually when I play ME3, I walk around and talk to everyone at every possible opportunity so as not to miss a single line of dialogue; I would pay good money to expunge every piece of dialogue spoken in Citadel from history.
Probably the worst thing about Citadel is what it does to Wrex as a character. When you first meet Wrex, he comes off as just another insufferable meathead (you know, like most ME2 characters were for the entire duration of that game), but the more you talk to him, you realize there’s a lot more to this guy. By the end of the game, he becomes one of the most important leaders in the galaxy, uniting most Krogan under the banner of peaceful coexistence with other races. But you can throw all that complexity out the window now, because in this one, Wrex is just the guy who calls enemy soldiers “princess”. The one line that almost made me ragequit Citadel is “that’s why I love hanging out with you guys: why shoot something once when you can shoot it 46 more times?”
Yeah writers, that’s exactly what Mass Effect is like. Bravo.
I could go on for hours about all the things that are terrible about Citadel, and yet, I can’t really get mad about it. The ending and Leviathan made me mad because as badly written as they were, they still felt like they were part of this game. They got to me because they tainted the story and universe I grew to love so much. But Citadel? Pfft. Citadel feels so alien, so not Mass Effect, that I really can’t say it arouses any emotion in me at all. It’s crap, unworthy of your time or money, but after you play it and shake your head at all of its stupidities, you’ll probably just forget about it. The idea of Shepard and co. having a party in a fancy apartment and screwing around the Citadel while the Reapers are tearing the galaxy apart is so utterly ridiculous that by the time you get back to the Normandy, it seems like it was all just a very poorly conceived dream.
Overrated as it is, I really like this game. Bioshock Infinite is great as a mindless shooter, featuring more large-scale, fast-paced combat than any other shooter I can think of. It even has some tactical depth in terms of using special powers (tears and vigors), and it has some great weapons and enemies, even if it is lacking in terms of variation.
That’s the thing, though: Infinite is a great mindless shooter, and nothing more. It’s an 80s Schwarzenegger flick, and people are talking about it as if it’s The Godfather. Hell, Predator had more solid science than this game. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but suffice to say, killing a version of a person in one dimension will do exactly nothing to kill the other versions of him in other dimensions. It won’t, end of story, no matter how much you’ll throw the word “paradox” around.
Most inexplicable is people taking this game as some sophisticated political commentary on racism, but even in terms of racial sensitivity, it loses to Predator – that movie at least had a positive black character. The only thing you can conclude from this game’s plot is that racially oppressed people will become a mob of child-murdering, anti-Semitic scum given half a chance. I don’t necessarily think that’s the point the developers wanted to make: I think that just like with the pseudo-science at the heart of the plot, they didn’t care enough to think about their story’s implications. And if they didn’t bother to think too hard about it, why the hell should we?
The Last of Us
This is another game that I reviewed in the past, and at the time I really liked it, even though I thought it was incredibly overrated. Looking back, my opinion of it today is even lower. Its combat, while still fun, is incredibly simplistic, and to call it a stealth game in a world where Metal Gear Solid exists is a joke.
But forget about all of that. Here’s a more important question: do you remember this game? I mean, of course you remember it exists – the single-player DLC rumors are keeping its hype machine alive – but do you remember anything about it? I played it all the way through several times, but I struggle to remember anything noteworthy about it. Ultimately, this game’s most grave sin is that it is so goddamn forgettable.
There has to be a variant of the “do not make monuments to the living” rule for works of art. If M. Night Shyamalan were a video game, mainstream critics would give him the Best Director Ever award right before Signs came out. You can’t give a game a title like “Best PS3 Game Ever” without putting it to the test of time. My bet is that by the time we reminisce about the good old days of the PS3, The Last of Us will be largely forgotten.
Also, enough with the zombies already. Zombies were played out five years ago. We get it: walking corpses are creepy. Let’s move on.
The PS4 and Xbox One
These are technically not games, but no recap of overrated things released in 2013 would be complete without mentioning the currently most overhyped things in gaming – Sony and Microsoft’s next-gen consoles. Not because they’re bad consoles – apparently they’re hilariously buggy at the moment, but that’s probably temporary – but because of the comically disproportionate reaction they got from critics and gamers.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit to being something of a Nintendo fanboy, but I have nothing against the PS4. I own both a PS1 and PS3, and some of my favorite games of all times are for these platforms (Final Fantasy VII, the Metal Gear Solid Series, Symphony of the Night, etc.). As for Microsoft, well… I do use Windows. But can anyone give me a reason why it’s a good idea to buy either one of these new consoles now rather than a Wii U?
Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty of reasons to be mad at Nintendo for the Wii U. They made some truly inexplicable design choices, released the console with serious software issues (which have thankfully been fixed by patches since), and still have practically nothing to show for in terms of exclusives. Nintendo seems to have been so concerned with releasing their new console a year before Sony and MS that they just rushed the Wii U out the door, when it should have been released around the same time, if not much later, than the other consoles.
However, when you get down to it, the Wii U has some excellent ports of games like Arkham City, Mass Effect 3 and Ninja Gaiden 3, as well as exclusives like ZombiU and New Super Mario Bros. Not very exciting exclusives, I know, but then, what do the other consoles have to offer? Battlefield 4. Oh, and I hear there’s a new Killer Instinct for the Xbone, so you know, yay for that.
I already know I’ll get a PS4 the moment Ground Zeroes is released, but spending so much money on the new consoles makes no sense given the nothing that they have going for them at the moment. So have fun playing Knack – I’ll stick with Human Revolution Wii U for now.
Honorable Mention: Grand Theft Auto V
Why just an honorable mention? Because I never played GTAV. So why is it here? Because I’m sick of all this adulation for GTA. Even I like the original, but the series has grown to represent everything wrong with gaming: misogyny, escapism, and general pandering to the broskies. GTA is a game for teenage boys to feel like big strong men, and the way so many people take it seriously is nothing short of hilarious. Then again, it’s a AAA game by a US developer, so what are you gonna do – not give it a 10? Just ask Carolyn Petit what that’ll get you.
That’s it for this year. Here’s hoping I won’t have enough material for a Most Overrated Games of 2014 article.
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase your ticket now to save $200!