Being in the video game reviewing and reporting business critics – as you may imagine – play a huge amount of games. When they review a game fans hope they take their job seriously and give them the most even-handed take on the title. After all it's the gamers' cash that goes down for these games. Being a hype man in the video game reviewing business means having a very short lifespan. So reviewers, including myself do our best to give gamers the facts about the games you're shelling out $60 for. In the case of titles like Grand Theft Auto V or Assassin's Creed IV that mean staying up for a day or two in a Redbull induced haze to give you, the gamer, the deets.
But like any other gamer, critics have their own particular tastes which often lead to so some interoffice battles with denouncing and defenses of just what makes a game good or not. So while Grand Theft Auto V, The Last of Us and BioShock: Infinite were all rated very highly, what about the games on the bottom of the list? The ones in the middle? The worst of the year?
Three games from 2013 that got an especially bad wrap were Lost Planet 3, Remember Me and The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. From this point forward I will unashamedly take the side of these three games that some critics hated, or at best thought we're sub par and got swept under the rug. Those which gamers have the opinion that they're not worth playing and do my best to give them a reason to care. While none of these titles lived up to their potential and they're certainly not for everyone there is still reason to play each and why, much to the chagrin of my fellow reviewers, I'm always defending “bad” games.
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Lost Planet 3 – The Trilogy That Couldn't
This third installment to the massive monster vs. robot smashing series never found its niche. While the third try is probably the finest of the series it managed to cut out many quirky aspects that made the series unique in the first place. Gamers who've played Dead Space will instantly recognize the controls and atmosphere but that doesn't really help it. This is definitely an action game but it attempts horror that never really gets off the ground, or rather, is wholly unscary. One of the most disturbing parts of the game is the discontinuity in quality between the cut scenes and what's actually going on in the player controlled portions.
Lost Plant 3 didn't bomb, it wasn't buried in the desert like that famous ET Atari game, instead it's been thrown into a place even worst. The land of “meh.”
If you're looking for a casual game with a great story and probably the finest voice acting and dialogue of the year that's on par if not better than many 'best of the year' winners then you're in for a secret treat. In fact the head writer Richard Gaubert along with two other writers from the game were nominated just last week for best writing of the year from the Writers Guild of America Videogame Writing Awards. Part of understanding a game is knowing exactly what you're getting into.
You're going to find monsters, but they're mostly the same. The guns in the game are lackluster and of course, there will be space marines. It's not an open world but unlike other on-rails games you don't have to follow anyone around; just you and a huge mech. But that doesn’t mean it's not fun. After an hour or two in I was calling up friends asking if they'd played and no one had because everyone assumed it was trash. Don't be a follower.
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It's no secret why Remember Me got on the bad side of gamers and critics. It was a hype letdown that couldn't live up to the larger gaming market and received the most mixed reviews of 2013. No one could figure out if they loved it or hated it. Billed as the genre-bending third-person fighter that incorporated incredible music with simplified yet engaging hand-to-hand combat in a future where the player could hack inside a foe's mind and reprogram their memories. Sound ambitious? It was. A little too ambitious and though all the ingredients were present in this dystopian future Paris it just didn't bake out right in the end and needed more time in the game development oven.
A strange thing happened with Remember Me. The farther away from it's released date, the better new reviews got. Why? Perhaps it was a little too weird for people to get into at first. The game throws tons of information at you that without instantly understanding, you're going to be hopelessly lost. Most reviews list the combat as “frustrating.” I would respectfully argue that it is complicated, though not broken as some imply. Remember Me requires the twitch muscle control of playing fighting games with the perfect timing of Dark Souls melee. So while being unforgiving the rewards are great.
In the course of combat, successfully completely certain moves recharges health, energy and continues the soundtrack. Complete a combo and the excellent soundtrack thumps on, get hit and it screeches to a digitized halt. So when everything is going right, the soundtrack builds to crescendo of ass kicking, it's one of the best ideas in games last year. Just describing it as “great music” doesn't do it justice, it's an interactive soundtrack.
The core story of Remember Me is based around the idea of memories being controlled and manipulated. The main character can hack certain opponents memories in an instant completely changing the course of action. Players rewrite memories by drifting, angle-like, over the scene as it unfolds and given the options of moving, or manipulated a series of items in the environment to completely change a persons memory. In one instance a foe is about to grace the main character with a Cuban necktie because you killed her husband, the next you've hacked her memories and changed its order so that your would-be killer thinks the doctor did it and converted her to your side.
It may have not lived up to its lofty ambitions but Remember Me is still worth playing. Despite reviewers calling the game broken, it's certainly not. It's just a beast all unto itself. If you like a challenge and aren't afraid to learn to play in a new way, Remember Me is going to surprise you.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
The original XCOM was massive success for computer gaming. But being a classic franchise means always being constantly drawn upon to be reinvented and released as a new direction for the series. Sometimes these branches succeed but in the case of the XCOM series it had an abundance of games that deviated from the turn-based play of the original and flopped. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified wound up in the middle ground of game reviews, again stuck in the “meh” not great, not terrible, just there.
The biggest problem with The Bureau is that it has XCOM attached to it. A third or first-person XCOM game had been in development in one form or another for a decade and passed between developers and publishers so many times it's a wonder it exists at all. Without the XCOM brand attached it would have been just a unique, difficult, squad based strategy game that pulls the combat styles of titles like Mass Effect and adds a new spin on it. The Bureau couldn't live up to XCOM fans standards but offered a new direction that most gamers just didn't know what to do with or never found out about.
The Bureau fills a gap in a gaming that's somewhere between third-person shooter, real-time strategy and military tactics games like SOCOM. In an interview with developers last year I got to sit down and pick the brain of the lead narrative designer Erik Caponi, who revealed that the team working on the game were heavily inspired by realistic military squad-based games like Full Spectrum Warrior. That series' style of gaming has never been a massive hit in the market, but who has always had a devoted cult following.
While the prequel storyline may throw off hardcore old-timer XCOM fans - I confess I am one - the gameplay itself is shockingly challenging from the start. Unlike most modern triple-A titles whose tutorials seem to meld into hours of gameplay. The Bureau gives you a little taste of what's possible then cuts you down to size. Gamer's who like a challenge and enjoy the idea of controlling a battlefield with a small squad are going to fall in love with constant sense of dread and being outnumbered in The Bureau. Sound like your forte? Get it commander.
While very few reviewers completely miss the mark there are many games that languish in a no mans land of mixed reviews and hype fails. Popularity doesn't make a great game and maybe you'll find a game that feels like it was made just for you. It's certainly not an excuses to grab every title the day it drops - pay attention to your favorite reviewers - but sometimes it pays to wait and pick up some bargain bin gold. Next time someone tells you a game is bad, ask why and if they ever played it in the first place. Even “bad” games deserve – at the very least – a second chance.