2014 has been considered  a troubled year for the gaming industry and community. Aside from various media controversies which I will not discuss for the sake of my sanity, the first full year of the eighth console generation was viewed as lackluster by many gamers. A number of “cutting edge” next-gen titles appeared to offer little more than fancier graphics and system-specific gimmicks without any improved quality in narrative or gameplay. Digital distribution through Steam and the App Store has become a dumping ground for bland, broken titles created only to take money from the naive. Major studios have jumped on the atrocious microtransaction bandwagon in an effort to squeeze even more money from loyal customers who are already paying $60 and upwards for full products. Though I try to remain optimistic about the future of the medium, I can’t deny that this year has seen some of the worst practices and produced some of the worst games. So in a break from my normally positive year-end retrospectives, I will be looking at the most horrendous titles I played over the past year.

 

This list won’t be like the majority that are being published around this time. I managed to avoid utter garbage like Sonic Boom, Rambo, Air Control, Dungeon Keeper Mobile, and the multitude of unfinished Early Access titles. The games that earned my ire were primarily ones that had potential to deliver some interesting story or idea yet failed because of poor writing, mechanics, or a combination of the two. If the industry wants to keep progressing, it should use these five games as reference material on what not to do when developing a new IP.

 

#5) The Old City: Leviathan – While I normally tend to roll my eyes when games heavy on exploration are derisively labeled “walking simulators” or “not a game”, the banal experience delivered by The Old City makes it a fitting target for those who use such descriptors. Player “interaction” with the world is limited to nothing more than opening doors as they’re guided along a predetermined path through a post apocalyptic world that intrigues but never opens up. Backstory is provided only through long-winded collectible notes that drag on and on as they go off on various cynical tangents about how pathetic humanity is. The protagonist’s constant shallow, nihilistic philosophizing made me want to find a chasm I could jump into just so he would shut up. The promise that I’d see a world through the eyes of someone with a troubled mind ultimately boiled down to a few surreal images with no context and no significance in the overall plot. The Old City is a pathetic attempt to appear profound and intelligent, yet achieves no more than pissing in the wind.

 

#4) Murdered: Soul Suspect – Airtight Games’ final release before closing down attempted to merge investigative adventure gameplay with some semblance of survival horror, yet botched the execution of both. Soul Suspect is riddled with plot holes, from the explanation of ghost powers to crucial clues pointing towards the truth. Every character is a one-note stock personality ripped from some other form of detective fiction. Sections where you’re required to piece together evidence to draw a conclusion are rendered meaningless since even if you’re wrong, you have a chance to try again with no penalty. An interesting game could have been salvaged from this mess if more effort had been put into development, but clearly no one cared.

 

#3) Gods Will Be Watching – Survival games are the hot new trend in indie gaming, and when people try to capitalize on a popular fad, shoddy products are bound to pop up. Gods Will Be Watching presents the illusion of high-stakes survival with a large group since, even if characters end up dying, they’ll reappear in successive chapters because they’re necessary to move the plot along. When any consequences for the player’s actions are removed, the entire premise of the game becomes pointless. And yet Gods Will Be Watching continues to drag on with random incidents that can wipe out the entire team (even if you’re well prepared) requiring you to start the chapter over again. Randomness can work, but it’s contrary to a game that emphasizes the importance of strategy and planning. Coupled with a cliched, badly-translated story about a galactic empire fighting a rebel group, the game’s ultimate test of endurance isn’t seeing whether you’ll survive to the next chapter, but how long your patience will hold out until you get sick of it and quit.

 

#2) Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor – If you follow me on Twitter you’re already familiar with my disdain for Shadow of Mordor, so forgive me for continuing to beat this dead horse. I know that many of the people who’ve played it had a good experience, and I don’t fault them for enjoying it; I just can’t understand why they enjoy it. Monolith took one of the most popular fantasy worlds in fiction and turned it into an dreary, empty wasteland. Nothing is done to expand on Tolkien’s mythos, only referencing popular elements from the Lord of the Rings series to appeal to fans. Talion, Celebrimbor, and almost every side character have little personality except for being a grim, battle-hardened warrior driven by vengeance who never shows any emotion. Gameplay is lifted from two other franchises, yet instead of refining these mechanics they were made worse. There is no variety in mission structure; every task is just about killing Orcs. If it weren’t for the innovative Nemesis system and branding mechanic, there would be nothing redeeming about Shadow of Mordor.

 

#1) Wayward Manor – I’ve railed on Shadow of Mordor more than any other game I’ve played this year, so why isn’t it my pick for the absolute worst of 2014? Because for all its flaws, for how much I hated it, it at least did a few things well. Wayward Manor, however, fails on every level. The motivations of the protagonist and antagonist (who is arbitrarily introduced near the end of the game with no foreshadowing) are flimsy. So many plot points are left unresolved that they don’t feel like questions deliberately unanswered to retain mystery but instead tangents that the writer decided to abandon because they couldn’t come up with a conclusion. Trap mechanics are rendered mundane thanks to a lag in controls, reused tools, and situations where more intriguing devices can become useless if they end up in the wrong area of the room. Aesthetically the graphics are amateurish and sound design is grating. The final insult is that this dreck had Neil Gaiman, my favorite living author, attached to it, and it was far below his usual stellar quality of writing. Wayward Manor is an ugly stain on both Gaiman’s career and on the medium of video games as a whole.

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