It’s that time of year again. A time when the holiday bustle descends upon us, when life is fraught with frantic urgency and a spirit of uneasy goodwill that saps every joule of energy from your body as you desperately attempt to avoid making eye contact with everyone you meet, especially that creepy fuck manning the Salvation Army kettle outside Target. It’s a time of giving, a time of going jowls-deep into debt, a time for pretending to like people you normally wouldn’t consider to be worth the pink end of a doberman, and of course, a time for the year-end list.
It seems like everyone loves year-end lists; the best of, the worst of, and everything in between gets a paragraph of smarmy commentary as a way to fill a slot during a season in which most writers would rather throttle their cares with four fingers of Maker’s Mark than come up with anything genuinely worth writing. And after looking at the games that were released over the course of the last twelve months, I’ll not be the first to cast any self-righteous AA chips in anyone’s direction.
Originally, we here at TGS (and by we I mean me) vowed to rise above the petty critiques and slavish fanboy stroke-fests that populate the legitimate media at this time of the year, but when we realized that it was also the end of a decade, it was too much for us to resist. And yes, we realize that the next decade doesn’t truly start until 2011, but in addition to our affected manner of referring to ourselves in the second-person plural, we’re also a bit impatient.
So behold part one of the first official This Game Sucks year/decade-end list of Stuff What Be Not Goode.
CALL OF JUAREZ: BOUND IN BLOOD (360, 2009)
At this point it’s hard for me to determine what’s dumber; the premise and the writing in this game, or me, for buying the damn thing. Twice.
Take three voice actors who’ve fashioned careers out of impersonating the likes of Ian McShane, Billy Bob Thornton, and Bill Clinton, cram their yammering pudding holes with dialog written in misguided earnest by the fifteenth runner-up in the latest Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, populate the game with the most reprehensible characters you’re likely to ever see in interactive media, and you’ve got the foundation for CALL OF JUAREZ: BOUND IN BLOOD.
If I want to watch assholes acting like assholes, I’ll do it for free the next time I drive, or open a newspaper, or play a game on Xbox Live. While I acknowledge that there are people who get off on this kind of storytelling, I am most certainly not one of them; the notion of the flawed protagonist, or the “anti-hero,” appeals to me about as much as does the notion of intentionally ingesting a cockroach on my next visit to Taco Bell. No doubt we’ve all eaten things that we’d rather not know about, but to do so explicitly because it’s disgusting, because it’s flawed, is the hallmark of burgeoning psychosis. Playing CALL OF JUAREZ: BOUND BY BLOOD might make for a good fraternity hazing, but in terms of storytelling it’s like finding half a Periplaneta americana in your Cheesy Gordita Crunch; in fiction, as in dining, intent is everything.
Sure, the game looks good, and the cover mechanic is unique and worth exploring in future releases, but to place the player in the boots of a Confederate deserter (whose desertion was incited not by the immorality of his cause, but solely by his own personal interests), demands a justification that the writers simply do not address. Additionally, wresting control from the player at multiple sections to unnecessarily show nothing more than an NPC’s progress, or an inconsequential cutscene, only further undermines the game’s maddening presentation.
And by the way, there’s already a word for the concept of the “anti-hero.” It’s called a “villain.”
THE CONDUIT (WII, 2009)
How can you go wrong with a first-person shooter that charges you with the defense of Washington D.C. against an alien horde and elements of a shadow government bent on the destruction of all that is righteous and pure and vital to the survival of the rebellion? Simple: Put it on the Wii, and let the shit fall where it may.
It’s not that developer High Voltage did a bad job, or phoned the game in. THE CONDUIT plays as though a lot of care went into its development; from the highly customizable controls to the specular sheen that adorns most metallic surfaces to the detailed textures on the walls and floors, it’s a game that would deserve a spot on anyone’s shelf, if it weren’t hamstrung right out of the box by the very system for which it was developed.
THE CONDUIT would have been a decent enough game in 2002, but today both the ragged-ass resolution and the carpal-tunnel-inducing control schemes bring it to a rubber-wailing halt just short of mediocrity. It’s almost 2010 — try finding a standard-definition TV on a store shelf, and keep the results of your search in mind when putting together a game for Reggie’s pretty white contraption. Ideally, graphics shouldn’t matter as much as they do, but when you’ve milked a console for every drop of eyeball nectar and your game still looks as though it was fingerpainted by a six-year-old using mashed up Froot Loops and a carton of strawberry Quik, something’s awry in hardwareville.
While most people will forgive dodgy visuals if compensated in equal measure with choice gameplay, THE CONDUIT offers neither, and much of that is the fault of the Wii Remote. Keep in mind that in all first-person shooters for the Wii, the player must aim and look using a device for which the primary design philosophy was “don’t intimidate the grandmothers.” Might as well use a slipper and a tube of Ben-Gay to navigate your way around the game.
While it’s far from perfect, the brand of conscientious diligence that went into THE CONDUIT suggests that High Voltage is ready to discard their Crayolas and graduate to the world of watercolor. All they need is a better canvas.
Look for part two next week, as the merciless festivities fall upon us swiftly and without respite.