Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The pain, oh god, the pain!

Welcome back for another day of meaningless crap! Today, as promised, we'll be discussing the five worst computer games I have ever played. As with our earlier feature on the five best games, these games will only include PC software and will focus on the single-player content. So, if your favorite MMORPG or console game is ignored... well, you'll be happy, since I'm talking about games that suck. Also, as before, these games are not listed in any particular order, except for the first one, which is hands-down the most agonizing gameplay experience I have ever known. So, let's get right to it, shall we?

The Total Drek Dirty Five:

(1) Given that one of my favorite games, Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares, is a science-fiction themed strategy game, it is only appropriate that my absolute least favorite game of all time is another sci-fi themed strategy game: When Two Worlds War. This game is bad. I mean really bad. Apocalyptically bad. This game is so bad that it's probably what they make you play in hell. Lake of fire? Sodomy with a red hot poker? Fuck no: you get to play When Two Worlds War. This game is so spectacularly awful that whenever someone mentions a bad computer experience, this f-ing game springs to the forefront of my mind. So what makes this game so bad? Well... everything. The basic idea is that you are the supreme commander of a planet's military forces- in other words, it's George W. Bush's wet dream. Your goal is to defeat your opponent, another planet within the same solar system. You will accomplish this objective through economic power, scientific prowess, and military supremacy. Well, more accurately you'll accomplish it through the power of sheer dumb luck since no amount of strategizing will allow you to succeed in this game. This game was, admittedly, revolutionary in certain respects. The main way in which this game innovated is that it was one of the first of the Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games. For the uninitiated, this means that rather than taking turns as you play, opponents issue commands in real-time. You might think that this style of game rewards knee-jerk reactions and shallow thinking rather than serious deliberation, but in reality you'd be totally right. This game also tried to include considerable flexibility, allowing you to design your own units and even to write subroutines to guide them using a "simple" in-game programming language. Sounds cool, right? So what went wrong? Well, put simply, everything. It would take too long to detail eavh and every flaw in this game, so I'll just hit the highlights. First off, the graphics and menu design are so poor as to make it difficult, if not impossible, to figure out what is happening, much less influence it. Random sounds and alerts really aren't what you want in an RTS game. Secondly, the extent to which you can "design" your craft is limited. At best you can purchase and install higher numerical values on your pixel-blobs, but none of the components behave at all differently from each other beyond that. So, whereas particular technologies can radically alter tactics in MOOII, in WTWW new technologies just mean slightly higher to-hit calculations. "Woot" indeed. Third, the "simple" programming language is simple because none of it works. Let me say that again: you will never successfully program a unit to do anything useful. Oh, they might fly around in circles, or drive into a mountain range and get stuck, or even fire on friendly units, but useful? Nah. Just not gonna happen. The only "useful" unit I ever managed to cook up was a "battle satellite" to defend my planet. Those were only useful becase I loaded up the pre-made "kill the enemies" program, gave them a big gun, and didn't install any engines. Without the ability to move, they couldn't really get into any trouble. Finally, your reward for winning this crapfest is a tiny "portrait" of you and an invitation to play again. If you actually select "yes" I can only assume the game reports you to the proper authorities as a clinically disturbed individual.

(2) Back in the days of yore (Meaning roughly 1993) there was a gaming sensation known as Doom. Doom was popular for its immersive gameplay, interesting weapons, and gory graphics, all of which combined to make it an enormous hit. I've always been a little different, so it should come as no surprise that I thought this game blew gopher pole. Basically, it is an FPS game in which legions of generic monsters are thrown at you with no concern for plot, characterization, or even believability. Even worse, the game relies on absurdly dark (As in "poorly lit" not "morbid") settings in order to create "atmosphere." Bullshit, it creates "eyestrain" from squinting at the goddamn monitor so much. Further adding to the pain is the fact that Doom has no interesting puzzles or settings. One may as well put a shooting gallery on a treadmill and allow the targets to shoot back. Unfortunately a lot of gamers love this sort of mindless entertainment, so by this point we've seen three Doom games and a series of Quake games that all use the same basic "Gamers are eight year-olds with ADD" approach. It looks to me like we can expect more of these agonizingly painful games in the future, but we must all remember that the game that started this bizarre descent into hell was the original Doom. Fuck you id Software.

(3) On my list of favorite games were Freespace and Freespace 2, two games that fall into the sci-fi sim genre (I can already hear Kieran phrasing a remark about how it's impossible to simulate a fictional thing). Our third craptacular game falls into the same category, but instead of simulating a fighter squadron, tries to simulate capital ship and naval squadron action in space. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Rules of Engagement. In theory, RoE could have been very neat. The idea is simple: you play an officer in a future interstellar navy. You must complete missions, in the process gaining in rank and gaining access to larger commands, by achieving particular objectives. Relevant factors include speed-of-light communications lag, planetary positions, stellar size and configuration, and a variety of other complications. The reality is that RoE is an unplayable mess. The controls are terribly complicated. Vastly, horrifically complicated. Settings are spread across so many screens, crammed into so many panels, with so few intuitive effects, you'll swear this thing was coded by Derek Smart. Added into this control insanity are a number of logical issues. I won't go into all of them, but will provide one for your amusement. In this game there are a number of distinct ship classes, ranging from "Scout" to "Dreadnought." This makes perfect sense: real navies use a variety of specialized craft, and there's no reason to expect this to change in the future. The problem, however, is this: Scouts are the slowest of all ships, Dreadnoughts are the fastest. Yes, you heard that right: the craft that is ostensibly meant to go out and find the enemy is so slow that you'll want to get out and push, while your big heavy-hitting capital ships are the fastest. Obviously, you're thinking, that means you just scout with the dreadnoughts. You're right, but that leaves you with a crucial question: what the fuck are the scouts for, then? Why would anyone even build one? Questions, my friends, that only the coders for RoE or a malevolent god could ever answer.

(4) World War II has been popular lately. Between all the books, movies, tv shows, and games coming out, you'd think that the U.S. was longing for a time when war was morally justified and our national mission was clear-cut. *ahem* In any case, one such game is Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. In this game you take on the role of a U.S. special forces soldier in World War II whose missions against the Nazi hordes will take you from Northern Africa, to France, to Germany. I really wanted to like this game, and I'll admit that the Normandy invasion level is pretty damned amazing, but three things utterly ruined it for me. I'll take these from least severe to most severe. First, for some reason certain Nazi officers seemed to have been the result of a bizarre genetics experiment involving frogs, or perhaps kangaroos. I say this because while using their pistol to shoot at you they take short lateral hops to evade incoming fire. Look, I don't care how much of a dandy you wanted to make these guys out as, I'm pretty sure evading gunfire largely involves running and ducking, not short balestra-like hops. Second, the game just sort of ends all of a sudden. I don't mean that there's a conclusion, I just mean that you finish a level, get on your escape train, and the screen fades to black so the credits can roll. I like to think this is because your character was killed by a bomb dropped by a passing Stuka, but that's because I came to hate the game character. Finally, and most importantly, this game sucks because of the clairvoyant Nazis. I don't mean that there was an element of the paranormal in the plot, I mean that the Nazi snipers in this game seemed to have some sort of precognitive ability that allowed them to sense that you were going to appear moments before you did so. Certain levels of this game are a grinding exercise in dying, reloading, and dying again until you figure out where the sniper is and manage to be fast enough with your rifle/pistol/machinegun/bazooka to kill the fucker. While this issue isn't unique to MoH:AA, it is so pronounced that the term "clairvoyant Nazi" has come to be a generic label for enemies in any game (*cough* Hitman 2 *cough*) that seem to be inhumanly quick to notice you.

(5) Finally, last but not least, we have an old classic: Zork. Now I know that many people have a warm place in their hearts for Zork, but I am not one of them. This isn't because the name is stupid, or because the box art made the protaganist look like the lost member of the Village People, but rather because this really wasn't a fun game. Bascially in this game you are a treasure hunter in a world of high fantasy who is exploring the ruins of an underground empire. Fine. Great. This was a very, very early game, however, and was therefore entirely text-based. One proceeded by entering commands into the game, things like "look goblet" which instructed the game to "look" at a "goblet." If looking at a goblet was physically possible the game would report back on what happened, often with such elaborate and useful descriptions as, "You see a goblet." Unfortunately, this system had some flaws. Aside from the already-obvious ones I mean. One of them was that the sequence of commands necessary to accomplish some objectives wasn't clear. For example, some objects you had to be holding in order to look at them. Others you must not be holding. Sometimes you had to figure out an exact sequence of arcane commands in order to complete a simple, but unavaoidable, task. This game is also famous for being painfully unhelpful. Often you might enter a command like "use potion" only to see the game reply, That won't help. Why thank you, Dr. Phil, could you maybe be a little more informative? You know, like saying, That won't help since the proper command for potions is 'drink potion,' dumbass. Such incredible command specificity, coupled with such impenetrable ambiguity, was a truly awful combination. Now, I'll readily concede that Zork was one of the earliest games to be broadly popular, and probably played a large role in generating the modern video game industry, but let's all be honest: the game sucked. Even for the time when it was written it was a frustrating trainwreck that would never have caught on if not for the novelty.

So, that wraps up our review of shitty, awful games. A number of lousy games didn't make the list, but I think I'm satisfied with the ones that did. Disagree wtih this? Have other nominees? Feel free to comment. I'll feel free to ignore you, and we'll all be happy.


Blogger Erin said...

Hey Drek, have you ever played "cosmoserve"? The PhD I t.a. for, she invented it. I think it has a cult following, just as she has a cult following as an instructor. She also plays the celtic harp. Just wondering if you've played the game.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004 7:47:00 PM  
Blogger Starstuph said...

I'd add Operation Flashpoint to the list. I'm pretty damned good when it comes to computer games (you know, for a female who shouldn't be playing to begin with), but that game is just plain frustrating. Guess it probably does a good job of being super warlike, though--you can't get too terribly far without getting killed. Just as there are no saves in war, there are none in this game (none that I know of anyway). We all need to save every fricking once in a while! Operation Flashpoint = major suckage.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004 10:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

> I can already hear Kieran phrasing a remark
> about how it's impossible to simulate a
> fictional thing

I don't know about that. Have you seen The Return of the King, for instance? Seems like a pretty good simulation of Middle Earth to me.

-- Kieran

Thursday, December 02, 2004 5:33:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

Erin: No, I haven't played Cosmoserve, but it looks like it's available for download online as Freeware. It sounds like an interesting concept... particularly since I used to mess around with oldschool BBS systems, so maybe I'll give it a try.

Starstuph: Yeah, I've heard Operation: Flashpoint was pretty ugly. I haven't played it, though, so I couldn't very well have put it on my list. I must admit, I loathe games that restrict your save options. I mean, realism is nice and it's good to emphasize that war is hell, but we're not playing these games because we enjoy being frustrated. It's good to hear from a female gamer, though. There aren't enough... well, in the PC area anyway. I hear mario party is fairly popular among the console crowd.

Thursday, December 02, 2004 9:18:00 AM  

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