What can we learn from gaming's failures? I don't mean the usual, well-documented critical duds like Duke Nukem Forever and Daikatana . I'm talking about the industry's crater-deep disasters.
To answer this question, I dug up the five lowest-scoring PC games ever registered on Metacritic, which proved to be an interesting list. Interesting, as in the most terrifying growth you've ever seen on an elderly person’s back. That kind of interesting.
Worse games may exist, surely, but these five received universal disdain and did something to attract people's attention. Maybe it was because they preyed on post-9/11 tensions or because they were so bad that the developer had to release an official apology.
These are those games. This was my mistake.
U.S. Navy Seals: Weapons of Mass Destruction
U.S. Navy SEALs: Weapons of Mass Destruction was released in 2003. That’s the same year as SOCOM 2, Freedom Fighters, Splinter Cell, Rainbox Six 3 , a Command & Conquer Generals expansion, and SWAT: Global Strike Team . Tom Clancy and "counter-terrorism" were the flavors of the day.
During this time, ValuSoft, a subsidiary of THQ, trafficked mostly in the kinds of "budget games" that earn those scare quotes. Before mobile games did their darnedest to sound like and resemble more popular video games, these kinds of bargain-priced CD-rack games dominated the dustiest PC games shelves at places like Target, where unsuspecting, birthday-shopping grandparents would be most likely to find them.
Woe be to the child whose grandparents stumbled upon USNS:WMD . The game feels like the set of an old movie Western movie —the kind where all the buildings are just flat boards pretending to be buildings. Enemies, weapons, environments: they all exist, but mostly in name.
At the start of the game you’re dropped (apropos of zero context) in front of an enemy base. (Which country? Beats us.) The two guards outside can’t see you, despite the completely barren terrain, until you’re about 10 yards in front of them. Once you've made their acquaintance, they’ll either stand still and shoot at you, like Disneyland animatronics that have had their motion sensors tripped, or sprint back and forth on the same four second loop. While screaming.
There’s no music to cover up the death-curdling screeches, despite the options menu claiming otherwise, so you better shoot these guys quickly. There's not much else to do, anyway. You have silenced weapons, but they’re functionally no different than your louder ones. That's not surprising. The ValuSoft game that came before Weapons of Mass Destruction , Elite Forces: Navy SEALs , sported night-vision goggles that only tinted the screen green. So there's a history of faux depth to this storied franchise.
At some point you're carted off to look for those titular WMDs in North Korea—this being a game set in post-irony society, after all. Despite the extra context, however, USNS:WMD remains the same. You still walk from one point to the next, through seemingly concussed foes, only bothering to shoot when they remember to fire first (not all of them do).
There’s nothing redeeming or fun about USNS:WMD , because the developers weren’t out to make something redeeming or fun. They just needed something that looked enough like a full-fledged product to sneak past quality assurance.
THQ has evaporated, and “budget games” aren’t what they used to be. But the logic behind them hasn’t gone away. You can still find exactly this sort of fare—and worse— in any given week of Steam Greenlight releases .
Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny
I must admit to not being familiar with Realms of Arkania's source material. It's apparently based on a German tabletop RPG— The Dark Eye —that's since been translated into other, better games. This game, originally released in 1992 or 1993 depending on where you lived, wasn’t terribly well-received at the time, although it apparently drew something of a cult following.
Nostalgia for the turn-based RPG led to a remake in 2013, and that’s the version we’re talking about now.
Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny was damn near unplayable at release. Trawling the game's German forums reveals a mountain of hilarious sounding issues, including "Dead Companions don't say goodbye any more" and "Goblins now have sound." Other glitches aren't as funny, such as save files getting corrupted after finishing a fight.
Things get weirder when you look at the game's development history. Blade of Destiny was published by German budget publisher United Independent Entertainment—another studio best known for cheaper spins on more popular games. The actual development was handled by Crafty Studios, a small team that had up to that point worked on web-browser games. At some point, the game’s original producer was pulled from the project to get it out the door—regardless of the many issues yet to be resolved.
Thankfully, the game is better now than it was at release. All that work implementing missing content and fixing absurd bugs resulted in a game that is at least playable. But it still feels unfinished, particularly the many areas where no one bothered to translate the text from German to English.
The game's NPCs are stiff, awkward, and all seem to be voiced by the same voice actor, regardless of gender or appearance. They also don’t offer much help explaining the obtuse game mechanics, which would have been useful in terms of combat. After an hour or two spent wandering around the game's opening area, I was dragged into a fight I neither understood nor could apparently win. My party members repeatedly failed to hit, cast spells, or even move. I’m still not sure why.
Afterwards, I was unable to replicate these results. I walked up and down the starting area, left town, rested my party where we weren’t supposed to, and for the life of me couldn't actually find a combat encounter. The task of looking for a fight proved to be painful, too, since the game doesn't use mouse-look by default. Instead you have to switch between it and a set of pseudo-tank controls to move around.
The developers were at least committed to sprucing Blade of Destiny up as best they could, but after my play session, I'd say their efforts were more for the sake of personal pride than to actually make the game worthwhile.
NRA: Varmint Hunter
After buying a copy of NRA: Varmint Hunter from Amazon, I can only hope that the money went entirely to a used game store in Arkansas, and not into the pockets of those whose name is on the packaging. I'm not sure how I feel about directly funding an organization that, from whichever angle you want to spin it, makes the use of guns look this simple.
Nor would I want to support such an awful, awful game.
If you look at shooters as an efficient means of leveraging force over obstacles—turning ones into zeroes, and the satisfaction that comes with that progress and control— Varmint Hunter is technically a shooter in its purest form. Zero friction stands between you and your ability to take out your targets—which, if you're wondering, are gophers, and other wholly immobile rodents whose ability to retaliate is about as strong as it is in real-life.
Having grown up in the Midwest, I'm no stranger to people who kill defenseless things for sport. That said, I'd say even they would have trouble finding the joy here. There's no challenge to the act of just clicking on static targets and thus basically no reward. Heck, you won't even find the steadily climbing numbers and chemical thrill of rising efficiency that "idle games" like Candybox and Clicker Heroes have produced in the years since Varmint Hunter came out.
I should point out that all of this is based on memory, secondhand accounts, and watching videos of other people playing Varmint Hunter .
Despite buying a physical copy, I haven’t actually been able to make Varmint Hunter run on a modern PC. Even Windows' compatibility mode knows it's too good for this game. Subsequent attempts to find illicit versions online infected my desktop with a virus that almost bricked the thing. Meanwhile, I've found next to zero forum chatter about other users getting past the game’s installation bug. It seems everyone online is too smart to bother trying to play this game in 2016. Everyone but me, that is.
The one positive thing to come out of Varmint Hunter for me, personally, happened years ago. Televised review show X-Play had just awarded Varmint Hunter its "Golden Mullet" award for worst game of the year. X-Play , with its mockery of awful games like Varmint Hunter , was a big inspiration for me growing up. It's just a shame I couldn't install this thing and take a trip down mud-soaked memory lane.
- Uh Oh, I Have Become A PC Gaming Snob
- Steam Link Android app review: PC gaming goes mobile
- PC Gaming Show E3 2018: Everything and the kitchen sink
- How to stream PC games on your iPhone or iPad
- Everything shown at the PC Gaming Show
- Your Favorite PC Games Might Be Watching You Play (Just Like Mobile Games Always Have)
- How to Stream Your PC Games to Android with Steam Link
- NBA Finals: What Warriors’ Quinn Cook learned from his time in Cleveland
- Ready, draw! Nightly pop quizzes help Miami Dolphins TE Mike Gesicki learn plays
- Wayne's Words: Time to wean off gaming
- England vs Panama, World Cup 2018: What time is Sunday's game, what TV channel is it on and what is our prediction?
- Kangaroo invades field, stops play during Australian woman’s soccer game
What I learned playing Metacritic’s all-time worst-scoring PC games have 1680 words, post on arstechnica.com at August 7, 2016. This is cached page on Business Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.