So You Think You Can Drive, Mel?
It has Mel Gibson! Booze! State troopers! "Hava Nagila"! And a Hasidic projectile-shooting rabbi! Beyond surreal, this little gem of a Flash-based game from GSN has players using the up and down arrow keys to maneuver Mel (who leers drunkenly from the window of a subcompact with the license plate "WTFWJD?") around a nighttime highway. You tag bottles of hooch for points while simultaneously dodging flying Stars of David thrown by bearded men wearing hats, shawls, and dark suits. Hit five state troopers, and the game ends. Play this game too much, and so might the world as we know it.
For: PC; Developer: Unknown; Publisher: GSN
Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar doesn't deserve the publicity this mediocre sequel garnered, but publicity it nonetheless received in spades, mostly after sales of the game were banned in Great Britain and it was initially given an AO (Adults Only) rating in the United States. Players have to perform visually detailed executions (styled as "hasty," "violent," or "gruesome") using objects at hand, e.g. shards of glass to slit throats, toilet seats to bludgeon, and hypodermic needles to jab enemies in the neck. What's most offensive about Manhunt 2 isn't its violence but its cruddy gameplay: Poor AI, boring environments, and blurry execution animations make Manhunt 2 a shoo-in for the year's "Sound and Fury" award.
For: Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable; Developer: Rockstar Games; Publisher: Rockstar Games
"Attention angry people, I will take this game down from [casual games site] Newgrounds if the donation amount reaches $1000 US," designer Ryan Lambourn wrote to visitors who found his simulation of the shooting at Virginia Tech this spring offensive. Emerging shortly after Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people in a campus shooting spree, Lambourn's Flash-based game, which allows you to plug dozens of pixelated students, just feels like a shallow cry for attention. As a shooter, it's on a par with a crude 1970s game. As social commentary, it's numbly sociopathic and vacuous. Can games address national tragedies? Absolutely. Is V-Tech Rampage trying to? Absolutely not.
For: PC; Developer: Ryan Lambourn; Publisher: Newgrounds
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is pretty much your average bloody buddy movie: A mercenary and a medicated psychopath go on a violent and chaotic spree of redemption and revenge. But what really upset people was the marketing campaign. "We're hunting for a dangerously sexy vixen with the goods to make us moan," reads an ad for a contest sponsored by IGN, MySpace, and Playboy. The ad was illustrated with a topless model coquettishly clutching her naughty bits. Unfortunately, the quest for a pinup girl had nothing whatsoever to do with the game. Said respected game site WomenGamers.com: "The next time people say, 'The industry does not objectify women,' we will point to that picture and this contest."
For: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC; Developer: IO Interactive; Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Mario Party 8
A Nintendo game makes the list of the year's most offensive? Made you look! But so did Nintendo this summer when it voluntarily pulled its minigame compilation from UK shelves over the oopsy-inclusion of a single word: "spastic." Call me uncultured, but I had no idea this playground term for someone acting like Chris Farley in, well, pretty much any skit was actually a dictionary term for "a person affected with cerebral palsy," and was offensive overseas. Nintendo quickly changed "spastic" to "erratic" and rereleased the game.
For: Wii; Developer: Nintendo; Publisher: Nintendo
Resistance: Fall of Man
Insomniac's critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic sci-fi shooter was actually a late 2006 PlayStation 3 launch title, but it wasn't until this summer that the offensiveness hit the fan. That's when representatives of the Church of England got publicly huffy over a certain gun battle that takes place inside a realistic rendition of the Manchester Cathedral. Their argument? "The use of [the cathedral] as a backdrop for a violent computer game is an affront to all those whose lives have been affected by guns." You could argue that the church leaders are being a little touchy--after all, it's not actually a church, it's an unblessed, unconsecrated digital replication. Maybe they'll take comfort in this: At least in Resistance you're shooting aliens to save humanity, and not targeting churchgoers for sport.
For: PlayStation 3; Developer: Insomniac Games; Publisher: Sony
You might think that offending someone with a game based primarily on one's ability to spell would be tough, but, hey, words hurt, people. In the year's second quirky semantic controversy, in September publisher Ubisoft found itself defending the game's inclusion of the word "lesbo," a derisive abbreviation for "lesbian." Ubisoft's defense? "The game uses a word list [from over 277,000] based on the Chambers Official Scrabble Dictionary and all approved words contained in this dictionary are playable in the game."
For: Nintendo DS; Developer: Wizarbox; Publisher: Ubisoft
The Darkness is a game about a mafia hit man who ends up possessed by a bunch of snakes that pop out of his jacket like the love children of Medusa, Dracula, and a jack-in-the-box. Singapore banned the game for "excessive violence," and Germany delayed its release by a month. Personally I liked the game, but I can see how the relentless heart-masticating (your eely entourage gulps down hearts from fallen foes to bolster your supernatural powers) might unsettle some gamers, especially since there isn't really a moral corrective for the protagonist, who feeds, penalty-free, on bad and good guys alike.
For: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360; Developer: Starbreeze Studios; Publisher: 2K Games
Lair is offensive not for its violent M-rated content, but for foisting on gamers one of the worst control ideas this side of Nintendo's hideous Virtual Boy. You're supposed to fly a dragon using the PlayStation 3's motion-sensitive SixAxis controls. Cool, right? Well, yeah, except for the parts were you have to twist and swivel, and shake-shake-shake, and hold some button while lining your soaring flame-throwing lizard up with some other dude's, and then stab your entire PlayStation 3 controller left or right, and pray that the invisible timer clocking the little screaming fire-bombed guys you're trying to protect down below doesn't expire and jerk you out of the moment with a hey and a "whoops!" and a "try again." Sony's misbegotten dragon-riding simulation is my most offensive-to-play video game of the year.
For: PlayStation 3; Developer: Factor 5; Publisher: Sony
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