If you play games with any regularity, it's inevitable that you'll eventually come across a roughly-made, unbalanced, unpopular, or straight-up broken title that you grow attached to regardless of how low the score on Metacritic drops.
Despite friends telling you that you're crazy for liking it, maybe there's a certain character that resonates with you, or a unique concept that no other game has captured. Maybe there's one puzzle that lit your brain on fire, or you adore a unique visual style. Whatever the reason, I'm betting that every gamer out there has at least one of these awkward, ugly ducklings that they hold dear—and I've invited a group of guest writers to kiss and tell.
Tonight, there is no shame and no judgment. Tonight, there is no regret. Tonight, I invite you to join us in embracing things that may not be worth $60, but hold priceless value in our hearts.
Tonight, we revel in part two of Broken Love.
We ask that question a lot when a game runs out of development time or tries to do too much with too few resources. The best example of this concept I can think of is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, the sometimes brilliant (yet mostly tragic) follow-up to the masterful Knights of the Old Republic.
I was a big Star Wars fan in my childhood and teenage years. In some respects I still am. I read most of the novels, had a ton of the toys, and gobbled up every piece of the Extended Universe I could find. Then in 1999 the first of the prequel films, The Phantom Menace, was released. I was turned off in every way imaginable, and I all but abandoned the franchise after that. However, in 2003 the original KOTOR was released, and suddenly my Star Wars fandom was resurrected. It still stands as one of my all-time favorite games, even if some parts of it haven't aged particularly well.
Naturally I was stoked for the release of KOTOR II and the chance to expand on this new version of the Star Wars universe. I wanted the Star Wars breakthrough that I had longed for since my youth, and KOTOR II's character Kreia came oh-so-close to giving it to me.
Kreia is much more than the standard video game villain, and she represents the brilliant interpretation of the universe that I had always wanted to see. Jaded and disillusioned with the Force itself, she seeks to destroy it rather than master it for any nefarious purpose. That's a gross oversimplification of the idea as it is presented in the game, but that is why it's so wonderful for a longtime Star Wars fan—KOTOR II's world presents real depth that is much more complex than a simple battle between good and evil.
As for why it's on my "broken" list, KOTOR II was bugged all to hell. The game was famously rushed out at the urging of LucasArts for the 2004 holiday season, and a ton of content had to be cut. As a result there were countless glitches, major plotlines that went nowhere or just plain vanished, and the final level is a complete disaster. It stands as a testament to the work behind KOTOR II that it contained the brilliance that it did, but to this day I still have to wonder… what if?
Dynasty Warriors (PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Vita, Portable, Xbox 360, Xbox)
by Lucas Fox AKA Xeserox Just Press Start
Dynasty Warriors wouldn't generally be considered broken, but it has been negatively seen by a large portion of critics out there. This series saw its best ratings early on, but as time passed, the ratings continued to drop. Warriors (as a whole) isn't safe from the ire of the gaming masses, but it's still a game that I love to call my guilty pleasure.
I can't even begin to describe the countless hours I have sunk into these games over the years. I made sure that I unlocked every character, grabbed every item, and unlocked every last thing the they had to offer. I am proud to say that I own every one of the core games, and at least one of the add-ons for each. I also count Samurai Warriors and Warriors Orochi as well.
You see, when I was a really young gamer, I loved figuring out and learning how to play the games that my father was playing. At the time (the late 80s) my father and his friends were playing Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the strategy game that Dynasty Warriors is based off of. I always wondered what it would be like to play one of the generals on those battlefields, cutting down hundreds of soldiers like many of them did in the stories.
When the game came out, I was hooked, and since then I have loved every version that has been released under the banner. What I never understood was why they were so harshly reviewed. The game did have its flaws, but it got to the point that reviewers complained just because they had to review another Warriors title.
What I like to point out is that most of their comments were based on how the story was exactly the same, or how the gameplay didn't feel any different. Most reviewers would cite that it was the same old same old, time and time again. Even though there were minor tweaks and new content added, it just wasn't enough for the reviewers. I always found this amusing because some of those same reviewers would go on and give glowing remarks year after year for games like Madden, FIFA, and lately Call of Duty. Hearing every year that the latest Madden is the greatest version of the game to hit the shelves, and then finding out that Madden '03 (PS2) is still the highest rated on Metacritic makes me wonder...
We'd all thought Silent Hill 1, 2 and 3 were some of the best-written and most sophisticated games out there, boy howdy. Their stories weren't just handed to you—you had to read between the lines and figure out just how haunted this haunted town was. They weren't zombie-killing fests like their boorish older cousin Resident Evil—they were more deliberately paced. Silent Hill went out of its way to avoid adolescent power fantasy cliches, casting ordinary, out-of-shape characters as its protagonists, and so the games always felt so much more adult; so much more respectable.
Shattered Memories tells a surprising story: Instead of the world-altering calamities of most games, it presents a very small, personal tale. It distorts and remixes some of the salient features of the Silent Hill mythos into a literalization of the psychological process of resistance. (Quite a far cry from Silent Hill 2, which was widely praised for illustrating the fact that James has sexual anxieties by, for example, simply making some of the enemies be sexy nurses.)
Ultimately, the game is about someone visiting a psychiatrist in order to deal with a past trauma, realizing some repressed truths, and taking the first tentative steps towards healing. It is also a game that loves its characters so much that it explicitly urges us to understand the forces which drive them—and urges us to understand the same about everyone around us.
Unfortunately, Shattered Memories was kind of doomed from the start, and many fans took the game's very existence as a giant fuck you: it changed the game's setting from the familiar rust and blood that we'd been traipsing through for the past six games; it redesigned some of the main characters; it was (in some ambiguous way that the developers seemed almost cluelessly cryptic about) a complete continuity reboot. It appeared on the Wii and featured full waggle action, and the developers were previously known only for some console ports and the least interesting game in the Silent Hill series—things didn't look good.
In a perfect world, Shattered Memories would have heralded a new era of narrative sophistication which told stories speaking to truly adult concerns, but no one talked about the game when it was out, and it was forgotten about it almost immediately. Meanwhile, the upcoming Silent Hill: Downpour will feature breakable melee weapons, will be viewable in 3D, and will feature a song by Korn. In the video game world, adolescent spectacle wins out over thoughtful nuance every time.
A wise (and probably very crotchety) old man once said that nostalgia is the enemy of truth.
Although I am loath to admit it, sometimes fondness of a certain point in time and the aesthetics associated with it can cloud our judgement of the qualities associated with that era. Video games are no different, and perhaps it is through these DOS-colored glasses that I find such an attraction to many old and seemingly antiquated games of yore. (Read: the 90s). This may explain what I find so compelling about Frogware's modern Sherlock series, specifically the enchanting horror of Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper.
A point-and-click adventure at heart, Sherlock vs. Jack is a living museum celebrating an all-but-abandoned style of gameplay. While it can be played in the traditional third-person, it really sings upon toggling into first-person mode, a perspective typically reserved for shooters—but ironically, there is no combat. At least, no combat in which the player is an active participant.
Regardless of which perspective you prefer, the game suffers from clumsy navigation, a/v-sync issues and the type of graphical glitches you might expect from a game 15 years its senior. For example, in one instance an NPC was being murdered during a cutscene where the murderer was not rendered, so it looked like a woman being strangled by an invisible ghost.
Still with me?
Good, because like many of its point-and-click predecessors, Sherlock vs. Jack is insanely engaging. The written narrative is translated to gameplay in a way that has not turned me on since The Longest Journey.
To break it down, the information you gather questioning NPCs or at various crime scenes is parlayed into an actual game mechanic by way of deduction boards. Once enough evidence has been gathered, Holmes & Watson retreat to 221-B Baker Street where all the information is laid out on a giant board in text boxes, the details of which are chosen by the player from a few multiple-choice options. As the deduction board is populated with clues, more specific scenarios emerge which create new clues, new text boxes and a narrower path to consider. Eventually, the board leaves our heroes with only one conclusion, and all the legwork, puzzles and document-skimming proves extremely rewarding.
Board aside, perhaps what is most enjoyable about Sherlock vs. Jack is the atmosphere. Any mechanical flaws I experienced at the get-go were immediately forgiven once I began to explore Whitechapel, the infamous English village terrorized by Jack the Ripper before the turn of the 20th century.
Like fog rolling off the Thames, it simply exudes charm. It's painted on every brick and cobblestone. The somber tone, whimsical, eerily charming characters yield something along the lines of a Dickensian cross between The Nightmare Before Christmas and Law & Order: SVU—there are lots of references to uteruses. The game's rudimentary graphics might be a turn-off at first, but the more I played, the more I felt they supported the tone and really jived with the story in the same way an artist like Sean Phillips' work (The Walking Dead, Criminal, Fatale) supports the mood of his writer's stories with high-contrast, low-detail penciling.
I mention comic books because fans of creative fiction will dig this game. While it probably goes without saying, the idea of an elseworlds story pitting the greatest detective in history against the most diabolical serial killer to confound Scotland Yard is a dream come true for crime fiction aficionados. And like many of our favorite comic books, Sherlock vs. Jack maintains cult-status as an under-appreciated gem waiting in the stacks to be discovered, enjoyed and passed around inner-circles. I certainly hope it makes its way into yours.
Continued in Part 3