The Most Overrated Games of 2008
Last month, we cast our critical eye on the most underrated games of 2008 (i.e. the stuff you should have bought last year, but didn’t). Now, in accordance to classic (read: hackneyed) tradition we present the most overrated games of 2008. It’s the obligatory bookend that nobody demanded!
If you missed out on some of the overlooked gems from our previous article, these games were the likely culprits. Some are bad, some are good and some are merely mediocre, but they all share one thing in common — relentless over-hyping from the gaming press. (So no change there then.)
Grand Theft Auto IV (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Despite what Rockstar’s legion of fans might tell you, GTA IV is unquestionably the most overrated game of 2008. Having single-handedly amassed over $710 million in publishing revenues and taking out the year’s top spot on mertacritic.com, its placement on this list was assured from the very start. Relentlessly smug comments from Rockstar Games didn’t help matters either. For example, "GTA IV sets a new benchmark for interactive entertainment". After lofty proclamations like this, how could it not be overrated?
While unquestionably a very good game, GTA IV is not the revolutionary slice of perfection that so many critics claimed. It certainly isn’t the best video game of all time, or even the best game of 2008. In fact, we’d argue that THQ’s Saint's Row 2 provided the best virtual sandbox of the year, despite being thematically shallower.
For every moment of sheer, unadulterated brilliance, GTA IV throws up something boring or boneheaded to counter it — from the baffling omission of ambulance/pizza missions to the terminally dull man-dates. (No Steve, I DON’T want to go bowling!) Old gripes like the car handling remain largely unchecked, while some of the all-new features (like watching TV) are a complete waste of time. Brilliant characterisation aside, the game is far from perfect — something which the majority of the gaming press conspicuously failed to notice.
(You can read a more detailed account of our love-hate relationship with GTA IV here.)
Grand Theft Auto IV
Grand Theft Auto IV averaged 95 per cent across all formats (source: gamerankings.com). We feel a score of 85-90 per cent would have been more sensible.
Braid (Xbox 360)
Some of you may think we’re being needlessly mean by including Braid on this list. After all, it’s just a cheap little XBLA download by a tiny independent developer — surely it deserves a (love) bone or two?
While we appreciate the Herculean effort it took to get Braid made (developer Jonathan Blow reportedly sunk his lifesavings into the project), we still feel that some critics went a little overboard in their praise. “Beautiful, entertaining and inspiring”, gushed Eurogamer.com. “Among the best games of the generation”, squealed Xbox World 360 magazine. “Erases videogame norms and re-imagines the way we look at the medium,” concluded Gamervision.com (all of whom incidentally gave the game 100 per cent).
Based on the above commendations, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Braid is a timeless masterpiece of interactive art — instead of a quaint 2D puzzle game built on the creaky backbone of nostalgia. We think the universal acclaim Braid received says more about the gaming press than the game itself: namely, that it comprises almost solely of pompous, bearded Gen-X nerds who never got over their 16-bit consoles.
As the game’s official website proudly points out, Braid is currently the highest-rated Xbox Live Arcade title of all time, and the 10th highest-rated Xbox 360 game. This puts it on equal footing with Halo 3, Gears of War 2 and Fallout 3. (Personally, we prefer the hack n’ slash tomfoolery of Castle Crashers… which apparently means we have no soul.)
Braid received an average score of 92 per cent (source: gamerankings.com). We think it deserved a mark in the high 70s at best.
Call of Duty: World at War
Like Will Wright's Spore, Call of Duty: World at War was a victim of hype-by-association. Its phenomenally successful predecessor helped to redefine the benchmark for first-person shooters. With its memorable set pieces, superb level-design and innovative multiplayer mode, it became an instant genre classic that arguably no game has managed to surpass. In other words, 2008’s pseudo-sequel had some pretty big shoes to fill.
That it failed to deliver on almost every level is perhaps unsurprising. After all, the original developers were conspicuously AWOL, leaving game-creation duties to the underwhelming Treyarch. Then there was the much-maligned return to a WWII setting (including yet another Normandy-style beach landing. Hnngh.) Basically, everything that made Call of Duty: Modern Warfare so refreshingly original was removed in favour of run-and-gun Nazi cliches. Despite the gravelly voiced presence of Jack Bauer from 24, the game’s single-player campaign failed to engage on an emotional level. Your NPC squad mates felt like lifeless cardboard cutouts (by contrast, the guy with the muttonchops from Modern Warfare was so awesome that we wanted to kiss him.)
We also think it's a bit insensitive to use archival footage of genuine war atrocities — particularly when they’re jazzed up to look like MTV music videos. And the less said about the impromptu bursts of rawk guitar, the better. Despite the inclusion of Nazi Zombies (who amusingly make their first appearance after a written dedication to WWII veterans), it was a bit of a stinker all round.
And yet, the game managed to score favourably across all formats and was one of the biggest hits of the year (in fact, it went on to outsell Modern Warfare by a ratio of 2 to 1). The only explanation is that everyone was infected by the rose-tinted afterglow of its predecessor. It’s Call of Duty, so it’s got to be good, right? Wrong.
Call of Duty: World at War
Call of Duty: World at War averaged 87 per cent across all formats (source: gamerankings.com). We reckon it deserved around 70 per cent.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (PS3)
The Metal Gear Solid series has always had a contentious relationship with gamers: you either love its silly chat-laden formula or you loathe its very existence. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was no exception. It seems that for every diehard MGS4 groupie in the world there’s an equally passionate dissenter, with fiery, protracted flamewars raging in every corner of the Web (well, the gaming bits of the Web).
As one particularly disgruntled gaming veteran put it: “There are things worse than death, and that includes wading through nine hours of wannabe-Z-movie cutscenes of dribbling nonsense written by an overindulged Japanese scifi nerd for the occasional brief snippet of video game.”
Clearly, a game that divides its audience so fiercely should have received some equally mixed reviews, but such was not the case. The lowest score the game received was a wholly commendable 8.7/10, with most publications plumbing for a score of 100 per cent. We thought a critic’s job was to speak to every member of its audience? Like so many other ‘Triple A’ titles, MGS4 seems to have enjoyed a free pass due to its prestige status.
No doubt said critics would defend their stance by arguing 'it’s exactly what the fans want’, but this doesn’t hold water in our opinion — you don’t see film critics giving rubbish like Epic Movie two thumbs up based on the whims of its idiot fanbase, do you? Now, we’re not saying that Metal Gear Solid 4 is as bad as Epic Movie [Yes you are — Ed.], but it certainly didn’t deserve the praise it so slavishly received. Games journalist, it’s time to face facts: you are Kojima’s biatch.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots averaged 92 per cent across all publications (source: gamerankings.com). Depending on which camp you belong to, that’s either 8 per cent too low or 92 per cent too high!
Little Big Planet
Yeah, you heard us. Alongside the risible interactive advert known as PlayStation Home, Little Big Planet was Sony’s Big White Hope for 2008. Combining the cutesy-pie adorability of Nintendo’s Miis with the compulsive customisation of The Sims, it was supposed to be the next big thing in gaming. (Indeed, it was developed under the working title The Next Big Thing. Whoever said Sony was arrogant?)
While deserving of praise for its quirky originality, the game certainly isn’t without its flaws. For starters, the single player campaign (if it can be called that) feels like something of an afterthought, with a handful of levels tied together by a trite storyline. A fun diversion maybe, but in the face of something like Super Mario Galaxy it’s just plain embarrassing. The controls need some work too.
Then you have the Create mode, which allows you to custom-build your own levels from the ground up. Unfortunately, the user-interface is incredibly fiddly and time consuming, with even the game’s most avid devotees conceding it’s a pain to use. This leaves the Share section, which allows you to download other people’s user-created content — provided it gets past Sony’s draconian IP policy, that is. While we understand the legal necessity to ban copyright infringements, did they really have to be so brutal about it? On a daily basis, user-designed levels are cruelly culled from existence due to their slight resemblance to a film or video game. Hours of painstaking work irretrievably flushed down the drain, with zero warning.
Despite all these problems, the game was universally praised by critics as the best thing since sliced bread. Some even suggested it was the ‘future of video games’ (a phrase we thought went out of fashion with the 3DO), while others cited its existence as reason enough to buy a PS3 (…you know, along with PlayStation Home.)
Little Big Planet
Little Big Planet received an average score of 94.4 per cent (source: gamerankings.com). That’s 10 per cent more than it probably deserved.
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