The Bad, the Worse and the Ugly: In defence of “bad” games.

The Bad, the Worse and the Ugly: In defence of “bad” games.

In this article, I’ll take a look at some games which I personally enjoyed that were given generally poor reviews when they first came out. Some of them I will admit to being objectively bad – and yet there is still something about them that captivated me. Others were ill-received when they were first released but have since gone on to be appreciated more over time. And then there are the games which are so bad that they’re funny.

Nobody else will love you the way that I love you. They just won’t understand.

So, why play “bad” games? If a game has been given low scores by a bunch of reviewers, shouldn’t that be enough of a reason to steer clear? Well…not necessarily. I mean, you may not want to remortgage your house or sell your kidney in order to purchase the Collector’s Edition of the game when it’s first released but that doesn’t mean that you should dismiss it entirely.

I tend to make use of game rental services for the shorter games. With longer ones, I wait for the inevitable price drop when critics have all taken turns kicking a game whilst it’s down. Once the game is curled up in the corner whimpering “Leave me alone – I’m already dead!” and the price drops to a point I’m comfortable with, I’ll buy it. Picking up a used game is a distinct possibility too but as money doesn’t go to the developer that way, I  generally prefer to buy them new. Let’s face it – the developers of these games need all the sales they can get.

In terms of why I would want to play a game that is judged to be a bad game, there’s always a chance that my opinion will differ from the reviewer(s). Then there are games that technically may be bad but still have a charm to them. With the budgets of AAA games going through the roof, a lot of big publishers are afraid of taking risks. So it’s left to the indies, the crowd-funded games and the B-listers to do something different. It may not always work but at least they tried.

So, there you have it. Now that the introduction’s out of the way, onto the games!

1) Deadly Premonition

Never before have I seen a game which divided opinions so much. Not just of the players – but of critics too. When it first came out, I remember reading some reviews where it was given 9s and in one or two cases even 10s. Then there were other reviewers who gave it 1s and 3s. So which one is it? Is it a work of genius or is it a terrible game? Well, the thing is, it’s kind of both of them. Technically, it’s pretty awful. The graphics look like they’re from a console at least one generation prior to what they should be. The lip syncing only occasionally works. And aiming can be awkward as hell thanks to dodgy controls.

So, that’s graphics, visuals and controls all criticised then. In that case, why do I like it so much? Well, it’s partly because it’s so damned weird. Deadly Premonition is a bit like playing a videogame version of Twin Peaks. There’s ham acting, bizarre lines of dialogue and random events which only made sense in the head of Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro – the creator of the game.

Francis York Morgan

The protagonist is detective Francis York Morgan. He’s  a troubled but basically good-natured man, who may be mentally ill. York heads to Greenvale to investigate the murder of 18-year-old Anna Graham. Once there, he teams up with the naïve but equally troubled county sheriff George Woodman and his conscientious deputy Emily Wyatt, who later becomes the game’s love interest.

What starts as a straight-forward whodunit turns into a surreal game of cat and mouse between York and a psychopath who relives the horrors of the Raincoat Killer. The Raincoat Killer terrorised the town about 60 years prior to the events of the game. A core aspect of the game involves piecing together evidence found during nightmarish “Otherworld” sequences, which remind me a bit of Silent Hill. Unfortunately it’s in those sequences that combat also takes place (and it’s pretty poor).

It’s unclear whether York is mentally ill or if he has supernatural powers related to criminal profiling. as each piece of evidence he finds lets him to replay the event of the crime as if he was there himself. This profiling is usually relayed via conversation with Zach, who may be an unseen entity which cohabits York’s mind. You’ll never hear or see Zach, but his presence has a significant role in both the story and your understanding of the hero’s past.

Deadly Premonition

The strangest town in the world

Greenvale is populated by a whole host of bizarre characters. Take Harry Stewart for example – a man who orders the “Sinner’s Sandwich” to atone for his past sins. If you want to make it yourself it contains turkey, strawberry jam and cereal. Enjoy!

The savagery of the 1950s Raincoat Killings has had an impact on everybody. Greenvale’s inhabitants follow an unspoken rule to lock the doors, stay home and keep your head down when it’s raining.

Then there’s the music and dialogue. York’s odd but lovable inflection is delivered with comical sincerity which is both dramatic and cheesy. Emily too delivers her lines well and in the latter stage of the game where she becomes the love interest, she provides the game’s most emotional scenes.

Deadly Premonition is a game that everybody should try. Possibly about half of those who do try it will hate it – and I understand why. For the rest of you, you’re in for a treat.

2) Alpha Protocol

Next up, Alpha Protocol. Here’s a game which seemed to be hated by most people when it was first release. However, over time more people have come to see the light. It’s currently sitting on an average score of 9/10 on Steam. So, why did people initially hate it so much? Well, it was buggy and for an action-RPG, it was surprisingly short. Like No Man’s Sky, it was also hyped far too much and promised the world. You’d feel like Jack Bauer, Bourne or Bond depending on your choices! It’s the first secret agent action-RPG every! It’s going to be so amazing! And then it was actually released.

It turns out, the game’s protagonist wasn’t either Bauer, Bourne or Bond. In dialogue, you basically have three tones to choose from: dull and matter of fact, impatient ass and smarmy narcissist. Depending on your choices in missions (both tactically and dialogue-based), there are main characters who you may not even met on your play-through. There are also four different love interests and an achievement for making it through a playthrough without “loving” anybody. It’s here that the short length is a boon. Because there’s a lot of replayability to be had.

I liked Alpha Protocol when it was first released and I still like it now – despite its many faults.

3)  Earth Defence Force

The entire series of Earth Defence Force thrives on its badness. It’s a silly game about blowing up bugs with hilariously overpowered weapons. In contrast to the game’s silly premise, the dialogue is delivered as if the story should be taken seriously. It’s so melodramatic and the juxtaposition of the silliness with the serious delivery really makes it work. Similarly, it is a really ugly game. But it being so ugly means that hundreds of enemies can be on screen at once, which makes for frantic fun.

4) Two Worlds

Two Worlds was supposed to be an Oblivion beater when it was released. It fell shy of the mark by at least a few thousand miles. On paper, it sounded good. There was a multiplayer mode. You could join plenty of factions. There’s also a reasonably interesting world to explore. So, what went wrong?

Well, it didn’t help that there was Shakespearean-esque dialogue. It also probably wasn’t a good idea for the developers to do all the voice acting themselves instead of hiring voice actors. But hearing these lines being delivered so poorly does add to the amusement factor. Then there’s the many bugs. For instance, one which would cause one of your companions to go crazy and start killing everybody in the village.

Two World definitely isn’t a great game. But playing it is quite an experience. Despite it being so bad, there was a sequel and it was amazing. No, just kidding – that was pretty awful too.

5) Harvester

Harvester is a point-and-click adventure game which was released in the 90s. The game features badly digitised characters who are as weird as they come. For instance; extremely camp firemen, a murderous teacher and local cultists. The game’s puzzles are non-sensical, it’s disturbingly violent in places and the combat is poor. And yet, it’s also so compellingly insane. It hasn’t aged well but it’s both funny and interesting; almost a proto-Deadly Premonition.

So, which “bad” games do you like? It’s okay – this is a safe space. You can discuss your guilty pleasures here.

Want more opinion pieces? If so, you may want to read The hardest games ever made. Or you could read Do you stroke the kitten or put it in a blender? RPG morality.

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I love gaming, creative writing, the theatre, anime, watching football & spending time with friends & family. I'm also a bit obsessed with superheroes.

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