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Games of the Year 2021: The Bad

I made a resolution to play more video games on subscription services this year. While there were some gems, more often than not I seemed to stumble upon some pretty poor games and some that were straight up unfinished.

1. Destruction AllStars

So Destruction AllStars isn't actually a video game. You just drive in circles hoping you crash into someone by accident because the "game" doesn't seem to do anything to facilitate what is supposedly its core gameplay.

Let's not forget that this was suppose to be a $70 USD launch title for the PlayStation 5 before it was delayed. But even after making it free and delaying it for three months Sony still released something that feels like a game design student's final year project.

2. Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance

The only reason Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is not at the top of this list is because it can technically be called a video game. There is some "gameplay" here but it is absolute trash that no one on this planet should be subjected to. Just like Destruction AllStars, it feels like a game design student's first attempt at making something with Unreal Engine.

To stop myself from spending more time writing about this game than actually playing it, I'm just going to quickly list of all the stupid shit it does:

This feels like a live service game made for China that Microsoft decided to buy for Xbox Game Pass. It is all about pointless grinding so your numbers go up and you can get more loot that doesn't make your character look any better. It blows my mind that this game actually got released. Gauntlet Dark Legacy in the arcade is a better game than this shit.

3. Oddworld: Soulstorm

https://twitter.com/statuses/1381797925903294466

I had really high hopes for Oddworld: Soulstorm. But about an hour in you're introduced to a new gameplay mechanic where you have to disarm mines. The game says to crouch, slowly walk up to the mine, and push a button when the light flashes. But no matter what I did my success rate always seemed to be a coin flip. So when I came across three mines there was a less than 12% chance I was actually going to disarm them all. I only ever got to the third mine once and failed. After about 15 minutes of constant failure I gave up and uninstalled the game.

4. Forza Horizon 5

I am a huge Forza Motorsport fan and cannot wait for the eighth entry in the series. I figured Forza Horizon 5 would be able to sate my racing game cravings in the interim. But it became apparent quite quickly that the Horizon series is not what I thought it was.

I was expecting an open-world game along the lines of Burnout Paradise where you are never more than 60 seconds away from starting a new activity. What I got felt more like an Ubisoft game where you are wandering aimlessly throughout the environment, just killing time and not really doing anything.

My first mission after the "tutorial" (which really didn't teach me anything) was to drive my car out into the middle of the woods to find a broken Volkswagen Beetle. I then put that Beetle on the back of a flatbed truck and began an arduously slow drive back to my headquarters. I thought this was suppose to be a racing game? But whatever, I looked and found on the map something that was explicitly called out to be a race. I drove over to the starting line (which took far too long) and picked my vehicle. I selected a recommended car and then proceeded to finish dead last in the race. Did I miss something? Is this some sort of super difficult race and I just don't have a good enough car? I try a couple of other races (still taking far too long to drive there) and get my ass handed to me again.

At this point I have absolutely no idea what I am doing wrong. The game isn't providing any guidance except for suggesting I try more main story missions. I'm leery to do this because of the previous Volkswagen Beetle shenanigans but I go against my better judgment and immediately regret it. The next mission is actually an expedition out into the depths of the jungle. I need to find a "lost" Mayan temple and take a picture of a jade statue. At this point I finally realized I wasn't playing a racing game and put the controller down.

It's been a month since I played Forza Horizon 5 and I still am struggling to understand what enjoyment people are getting from it. But I am obviously in the extreme minority based on the accolades it is receiving. Hopefully next year we'll get some information about Forza Motorsport 8 so I can get excited about a real racing game again.

5. Metroid Dread

Metroid Dread is two very different games.

One is an amazing successor to the original 2D Metroid games. It's extremely pretty, has all the exploration we've come to expect, and the combat is still fun if maybe a bit stale. For the very short amount of time I spent with this game I really enjoyed it.

The other is a stealth game with where if you are caught you instantly fail. Oh I'm sorry that is not true. If you succeed a quick time event (QTE) then you escape and can try to hide again. Unfortunately you fail that QTE 99% of the time. That is not a number I am making up for hyperbole by the way. Someone in the game literally says "I estimate a 99% probability of death if an E.M.M.I. captures you". It boggles my mind that this gameplay mechanic somehow made it past play testing because the game is unreservedly better without it. Even if there was a difficulty toggle to make the QTE much easier I'd probably have enjoyed the game. It's not hiding from the enemies that sucks. It's knowing if you make the wrong move you're screwed and have to replay a section again. After dying for the 15th straight time to this bullshit I realized the game didn't respect my time so I abandoned it.

6. Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin starts off strong. As someone who was raised by Pokémon, the idea of collecting cute stylized versions of creatures from the Monster Hunter series pushed all the right buttons inside my lizard brain. Sure the combat's not great but it really isn't that different from something like Pokémon. We're not looking for a super complex turn-based strategy game here. We just wanna collect monsters and the first 10 hours of Monster Hunter Stories 2 fit that perfectly.

Unfortunately as the game went on it became obvious that the developers thought their combat system was much better than it actually was. The game grew more and more difficult and I ended up having to grind to level up my monsters just to be able to progress to the next area. Also, whenever you catch a new monster they are ludicrously underpowered compared to the rest of your party so if you want to use them you needed to grind.

After about 40 hours I am approaching the end of the game and get absolutely destroyed by one of the final bosses. I realize that to beat this boss I am going to have to go and capture a couple of new monsters and then level them up so they can fight. I did some napkin math and calculated that I would have to grind for about 10 hours to achieve this. There would be absolutely no enjoyment in those 10 hours so it was at this point I packed Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin away for good.

Can I also take a minute here to harp against pointless open-world games. There is absolutely no reason for this game to have an open world. It is so sparsely populated that literal hours are wasted running from point A to point B with nothing occurring in-between. What ever happened to overworlds in games like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance? That would be perfect for Monster Hunter Stories 2 because it gets you into what is apparently the most important thing in the game, combat. Those 10 hours that I was going to have to grind, easily an hour or two of that would be me just running between monsters on the overworld to fight. Or worse, leaving a zone and coming back just so the monsters would respawn. There are mobile games that are better designed than Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin.

7. Halo Infinite

Gameplay for Halo Infinite was originally revealed in July 2020 and was scheduled to be a launch title for the Xbox Series X that Fall. There was such a visceral reaction to the gameplay reveal that the Studio Head lost his job and the game was delayed for an entire year. Halo Infinite was finally released in November 2020 and is still nowhere near finished. We have what could generously be referred to as a beta. We seemed to have moved past big "Day One" patches to fix a broken game and are now in the era of "Year One" patches.

Let's start out with a list of things that Halo Infinite was missing at launch:

Some of these things 343 Industries has already addressed such as adding the SWAT game type and Team Slayer only playlist. Others they have said won't be released until May 2022 at the earliest such as campaign co-op and Forge. The rest have been tacitly acknowledged but no indication has been made that they are a priority let alone being worked on.

So what did 343 Industries actually ship? Let's start with the campaign. It is essentially a Halo themed version of a Far Cry style open-world game from 10 years ago. Complete with "Ubisoft towers" and hundreds of collectibles. I am not trying to be derogatory but there really is no sugar coating it. The gunplay is still excellent because at its core this is a Halo game. But if you're not a fan of Ubisoft open world games you're probably not going to enjoy Halo Infinite which is a lot rougher around the edges. All of that being said I do understand why people can enjoy this game. I've beaten the Halo Infinite campaign but just like previous 343 Halo games I have absolutely no urge to go back and replay it. What I enjoyed about Bungie's Halo games were the tightly designed levels that perfectly showcased the greatness of Halo's "holy trinity": guns, grenades and melee. But 343 never really seemed to understand this and their decision to move Halo towards an open-world style seems to finally indicate that they really don't care.

But what about multiplayer? Similar to the campaign the gunplay is solid and the multiplayer actually does a much better job of showcasing the "holy trinity". When I get into a Team Slayer game with no network issues or hackers, I thoroughly enjoy my time with Halo Infinite. Unfortunately that seems to be few and far between. 343 has created the most bizarre progression system for a modern free-to-play game. When you log in you are presented with three weekly challenges (four if you've paid for the battle pass). The idea is that completing these challenges will give you experience to allow you to gain levels and unlock new items. For the time being let's ignore that the items given are actually pretty poor and all the good stuff can only be bought with cash. What are these challenges like? Some are really good challenges. Get 15 assists, kill 10 enemies with headshots, get a melee kill from behind. All of these challenges reward you for playing the game well. You should naturally complete them by being a good teammate. Then there are the not so great challenges. Play a game of Oddball, win a game of Oddball, get a kill with the Oddball. What if you don't ever want to play a game of Oddball because it is absolute trash? You can pay for a "challenge skip" that will randomly replace one of your challenges with a new one. Unfortunately that new challenge can be just as bad.

"But Reid why do you care so much about challenges? Just play the game because it is good."

You're 100% correct and I swear I tried. But with the number of hackers that I saw and the rampant network desync issues I found myself experiencing I just couldn't keep playing. When you play a bad match and get absolutely stomped, complete no challenges, and there is no stat tracking, then that game was a complete waste of time. When you have that feeling three or four games in a row then you ask yourself why are you playing this game? And it looks like a lot of people have been asking themselves that. Halo Infinite's player count on Steam has been in constant decline to the point where they are being beaten by not just every other major F2P shooter but even Rocket League.

I really wanted Halo Infinite to succeed. I truly did. But 343 Industries seemed to have squandered their opportunity by releasing a completely broken game and even if they fix everything by May 2022, I'm not sure how many people are going to want to give them a second chance.

#GamesOfTheYear