Monday, March 14, 2016

10 Most Overrated Video Games Of All Time

First of all, this is not troll bait. Or click bait. Or any other contrived idea to get people fired up just for the sake of it. Let’s be crystal clear right out of the gate here: the ten games which grace this list are all very, very good. Ok? It’s inevitable that some of these titles will be sitting on your game shelf right now, or perhaps rested on a bed of rose petals perched on a stone plinth surrounded by dribbling black candles – yes, as passionate gamers we take these things seriously. And it’s well known that when we feel a strong connection to a specific game we are inclined to fight tooth and nail to defend its honour when challenged, as if we birthed it ourselves.

With that as the context here, we have also all come across those games which have an immensely passionate following, which bring out the most feverish of zealotism, but which our inner voice tells us can’t possibly be as life changing as they’re made out to be. Games considered the embodiment of perfection, but which when viewed without the rose tinted glasses of nostalgic bias prove to have their fair share of flaws. Then there are those titles which, fan base aside, were praised so lavishly by the gaming press upon their release that we almost felt we had to love them regardless of our true feelings – the gaming equivalent of being shy to admit to others that you “just didn’t feel” films like The Godfather or The Shawshank Redemption.

And that is the focus here: highly regarded titles which could never realistically live up to the colossal reputation built around them. It’s all completely subjective, obviously, which is what gets people’s heart rates soaring and the comments box overflowing with fanboy machismo. Games with fair merit, but which for some range between merely dull and incredible but imperfect. Whether it’s number one or number ten on this list, there’s a very good chance that at least one of the games here will evoke that very specific emotion: that memory of when you fired up that critically applauded blockbuster or emotionally charged fan favourite for the first time, your gamepad trembling under the weight of expectation and crowd-sourced excitement, and what you felt can only be articulated as… “meh”. It’s not quite a genuine dislike, more just a sense of disappointment; an echo of “what’s all the fuss about?”.

You know you’ve all felt it.

This can’t be exhaustive list to appease everyone, since there are just too many games and none of them are perfect, our tastes are too diverse. Also, what feels horribly overrated to one person will probably be loved with a near religious fervour by someone else. Instead, this is a collection of the releases which divided us so decisively – games that millions love, but a love that many of us just can’t fathom or relate to.

Check your fanboy fundamentalist belligerence at the door.

10. Assassin’s Creed

Ubisoft’s first foray into this whole assassination business which has pulled in serious cash for them over the years was three things: hugely hyped, critically acclaimed, and just not as good as we like to think it was. The hype is understandable  – Ubi had a lot riding on Altair’s debut outing, since any new IP is a substantial risk in this age of never-ending blockbuster sequelisation, especially so soon in a new hardware cycle. But it was a gamble which paid off with Assassin’s Creed earning a bevy of big scores from the gaming press and opening the doors for countless sequels of its own. One of the prominent franchises born in the last generation, this was a game which started off with a fantastic gameplay premise, an enthralling setting and a huge sack of promises.

Promises which slowly started to dissipate once we had the game spinning happily in our disc drives. Promises which probably should have triggered a bit more skepticism in the first place. The immense freedom we were expecting was a bit of a stretch, as was the intuitive quad-limb parkour-flavoured gameplay that has us all in a blur of excitement pre-release. Many of us didn’t even stop to wonder quite how this revolutionary new control mechanism would be possible within the parameters of a standard gamepad and the limitations of having only two thumbs each. Still, we stormed the gates of out local game boutiques on release day and were shocked down to our pointy Templar boots at the splendour of it all – the stunning landscapes; the intriguing story laced around mysterious half-truths from history; the guilty joy of stabbing street urchins and dragging their corpses into the dark corners of Jerusalem’s dusty streets. It was immaculate in many ways and still ranks as one of the most memorable games of its time.

The party ended early though. Once the initial excitement of clambering up church steeples and hopping into hay carts had faded, many gamers grew tired of Assassin’s Creed’s repetitive nature. What started off as a unique, gripping experience decayed into a bit of a grind, with Altair stuck in a Groundhog Day loop of near-indistinguishable mission objectives. The headline assassinations we all looked forward to also proved to be nowhere near as free as we had expected, misled by stunningly atmospheric pre-release trailers. We were forced to look beyond the widespread critical acclaim and accept that Assassin’s Creed simply wasn’t the consummate free-roaming stab-em-up we were told it was.

9. Black & White

There are a handful of developers in the game industry who have been elevated to near rock star status. Personalities who are bigger than the companies they represent, and who’s names have become part of our general lexicon. Peter Molyneux is one such character, an industry legend most deserving of his place in the gaming hall of fame. As the man behind a long list of innovative classics – hits like Populous, Syndicate and Dungeon Keeper (the original, not the miserable free-to-play version) – we were programmed to expect greatness from the ‘Neux. So, when the head of Lionhead Studios started rattling on about his upcoming god game Black & White, expectations were sky high.

These days we know to be a little more cautious. Over the years Mr. Molyneux has proven to be something of a hyperbole-slinger, over-amping his new concepts so highly that it all starts to sound a little far fetched, and then justifying our cynicism when the final product doesn’t match up. Project Natal, anyone? But in the days of Black & White we were naive and easily impressed, hence the near unanimously high ratings for the overly ambitious but muddled and unpolished strategy title.

Critics harped on about revolutionary design, the groundbreaking creature AI and an intricate narrative. Gamers followed suit, eagerly singing the praises of this rough diamond like it was crafted by a higher power. But a rough diamond it was – with emphasis on rough. Brave detractors would risk the wrath of the faithful to point out a clumsy control system which had would-be virtual gods accidentally flinging hulking boulders at their worshippers or plopping cows into the sea willy nilly. They would point out that the combat was an unrefined click-fest, and that the creature development system and AI were nothing near as complex as we were assured they were.

It was an incredibly highly rated title which introduced a new generation of gamers to the genius of Peter Molyneux, but also to the unfortunate side-effects of his apparently endless capacity for rampant exaggeration.

8. L.A. Noire

Give us an open-world adventure, slap a Rockstar logo on the box, and we’ll come running. Throw in a properly captivating plot, generation-defining facial animation technology and set us free in an authentic recreation of 1940s Los Angeles, and we’ll practically throw our money at it. And so we did when Team Bondi dished up the stylish crime saga, L.A. Noire, bolstered by a critical response which the developer would have been rightly proud of.

But all was not well in the city of angels. For every group of L.A. Noire fanatics unable to tear themselves away from the amazingly realistic characters and silky-smooth storytelling, there was a handful of aspiring detectives who couldn’t overlook the games’ underlying flaws. Flaws which unshakable fans chose to bury under a thick layer of enthusiasm for this astounding achievement in immersive narrative and mould-breaking design. Many saw weaknesses where others saw innovation, especially centred around the headline feature of the game – the interrogation and investigation mechanic. Nay-sayers called it limited and stifling, when we had been assured of a dynamic investigative procedure unlike anything we had experienced before.

Visually, and in terms of delivering an unforgettable cinematic experience, Team Bondi exceeded expectations. Even the cover-based gunplay was well above average for a third-person adventure game. But criticisms aimed at the cardboard cut-out feel of Los Angeles and a disconnect between player and certain game mechanics, being funnelled in a scripted direction instead of given the freedom hoped for, left some as cold as a body found in the trunk of an abandoned Cadillac Series 62. Oh, and a quick sidebar: Lead protagonist Cole Phelps was (possibly intentionally) an unrelatable, obnoxious twit.

7. Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII

Square Enix’s Final Fantasy VII, an often bullied poster child for overrated games everywhere, turned out to be one fantasy too many for a lot of fans of the veteran RPG series. Something of a watershed for the franchise, Final Fantasy VII played an important role in the growth of the RPG genre and the solidification of the original Playstation as the console of choice in its day. It was a sprawling adventure with impressive visuals and copious amounts of rendered cutscenes – advancements facilitated by the move from Nintendo’s ageing cartridge system to Sony’s optical discs. Final Fantasy VII ate three of these all on its own. But for all it brought to the series, it was this seventh iteration which divided public opinion more than any other.

So, why the vitriol? How could the venerated Final Fantasy story gather so much negative heat from one release to the next? This is, after all, arguably the game most directly responsible for bringing the Jap RPG into the Western consciousness, and a trendsetter for a new, more modern aesthetic within the genre. But with a labyrinthine story that threatened to collapse under its own weight, some truly annoying characters and changes to the classic battle system that no one asked for, many gamers who had been travelling the Final Fantasy path since the beginning were unimpressed with the supposed advancements.

Convoluted as it may be, champions for FF VII’s place on the RPG throne continue to yelp and howl that the storyline carries a more meaningful, immersive atmosphere than its predecessors. Those in the opposing camp will cry that the writers’ unrelenting attempts to inject emotion and drama wherever possible felt forced and shallow. Undoubtedly one of the most passionately supported role playing games, Final Fantasy VII definitely had it’s share of flaws, and will be remembered for that as much as for everything it got right.

6. Call Of Duty: Ghosts

Activision has milked this cash cow so dry by now that its once perky teat has become chapped and withered. Yet every year, like clockwork, another Call Of Duty game is spat out into the world, guns a’blazing. And every year we bury our clammy fists into our wallets and slam another pile of crumpled notes down for what is becoming the most tedious big name shooter franchise on the market. Infinity Ward’s Call Of Duty: Ghosts follows this trend, shrouded in a mist of familiarity and smelling somewhat of lazy repetition. What makes Ghosts unique on this list is not that it’s overrated, but that its critical rating is spot on (sitting somewhere around the 70 Metascore mark on everyone’s favourite review aggregator) and no one cares .

It’s as if the gaming press is shouting from inside a vacuum. We, the masses, can see their lips moving, but can’t hear what they are saying. So, ignoring the pearls of wisdom from the collective critical voice of the industry, we dash out and buy whatever uninspired nonsense Activision has seen fit to pop under our Christmas trees. Before long we are ranting fanatical propaganda all over the internet, cursing one another’s matriarchal family figures in public forums and hailing Infinity Ward’s latest offering as the messiah of first person shooters. It’s like we can’t help ourselves. The figures speak volumes: something like $1 billion day-one sales is a clear indication that we just won’t listen to reason.

The fact is that there is nothing especially bold about Call of Duty: Ghosts. Nothing fresh of substance that makes it stand above its predecessors. The single-player campaign is typically vacuous and linear, tacked onto an unambitious yet still immensely popular multiplayer component. Obviously it’s not a terrible game – Activision would have the development team strung up over an open fire should they ever deliver a truly dismal Call Of Duty game – but it’s plainly not worth the amount of fanfare that the gaming public showered it with.

5. Minecraft

Mojang’s block builder is a prime example of polarising public opinion. Critically there is hardly any sign of debate – you’ll struggle to find an industry voice prepared to level serious criticism at this pixelated monstrosity, beyond a playful dig at the visual style. For the gaming public, though, there is a huge disparity between those who love Minecraft and those who loathe it. For most high profile releases tagged with the “overrated” label, the idea is that we’re dealing with an undeniably good game, but one with enough chinks in its armour to make us question the legendary status the title has earned. With Minecraft there isn’t much in the way of grey area: either you’re frothing at the mouth and spitting rabid praise for Notch’s supposed masterpiece, or you venomously hate it and everyone who plays it.

Easily one of the most factionalising titles of any generation, nothing matches the passion of Minecraft’s supporters other then the passion of its detractors. For those who consider Mojang’s hugely popular IP to be nothing more than badly drawn imaginary Lego blocks, there’s no gentle nitpicking here, and no careful consideration of pros and cons… it’s all hate, all the time. Perhaps it’s because of the sheer enthusiasm of Minecraft’s fan base that the griefers feel they need to bash it with such animosity.

This is a severe imbalance, and a rarity for a game with the level of critical acclaim that Minecraft has secured. Yet we sit with a massive section of the population which feels that this game has transcended its medium and become a way of life, and an admittedly smaller slice of the gaming world which actively revolt against this indie gem. And when a game can extract this level of bile from those apposed to it, we have to accept that it is far from perfect without even having to look at the reasons why… regardless of how many 10/10 scores it has notched into its bed post.

4. The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Picking an overrated game from the world of The Legend Of Zelda is risky business. We’re talking about a franchise with almost 30 years of goodwill backing it up, and critical acclaim across its lifetime that is saved for only the most revered game series’. Looking at the average ratings for Zelda games over the years, there has been hardly a step out of place since we met Link for the first time. But, as with any consistently celebrated franchise, there will be those who feel compelled to stand up and take a negative stance against it.

Some of these cynical voices come from the usual suspects – forum trolls who will take an uneducated swing at anything with a passionate fan base. But there have been releases in Zelda canon which have received opposing sentiment from more openminded elements of the gaming public too. Gamers who have spent years in Link’s boots, but take legitimate objection to something from Miyamoto’s revered franchise. Ocarina Of Time tends to be the go-to game for spiteful Zelda-bashers, but that’s just bitterness – Ocarina is one of the top rated titles of all time for good reason. A more considered attack was launched against the more recent Wii MotionPlus swing-fest, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Another cracking Zelda adventure, Skyward Sword racked up perfect scores like a Soviet gymnast, but it wasn’t immune to criticism.

For a game generally bathed in love and adoration, some long-time fans took Skyward Sword to task for its inconsistent motion controls, lack of innovation and a painful reliance on fetch quests and backtracking. Criticisms were also levelled at the slow-moving narrative, incessant hand-holding and a terribly annoying in-game helper in the guise of your spirit guide Fi. More than anything, those who felt the game was overrated complained that Nintendo had become lazy with Skyward Sword, hoping that the newfangled motion control system would be enough to hide the shortcomings of a game which hadn’t advanced much in the past decade or so. And they got away with it, for the most part.

3. World Of Warcraft

Judging a constantly evolving massively multiplayer online game like World Of Warcraft is a complicated affair. After all, the heart of WoW is almost ten years old, yet because of its persistent online nature, it’s also current. What passed for groundbreaking in 2004 is now archaic and long forgotten, yet Blizzard’s seminal MMORPG still captivates around 7 million active gamers, something few other decade-old titles can claim. It is one of those rare games which has become ingrained into popular culture – when South Park makes an entire episode based on your game, you know you’re onto something special. But, like Britney Spears, One Direction and the like, just because a bazillion people love you, doesn’t mean you’re any good.

World Of Warcraft earns its steaming vats of hatred in a similar way to Minecraft, although the two games couldn’t be more different. Where Minecraft is the gaming equivalent of a lonely child sitting in his bedroom building castles with blocks of wood and wishing he had friends, World Of Warcraft is a massively social experience… in theory, at least. In practice, much of your time is spent on that most degrading of game activities: the grind. Like with most successful freemium titles – those pitiful little dung gems which are programmed to waste your time or cost you money – World of Warcraft requires an immense investment from the player for even the most menial progress. Yes, we also throw hours of our lives into a game like Skyrim, but there we have a palpable sense of relevance within the game world, as well as a complex, engrossing storyline to pull us forward.

With player numbers steadily on the decline since its peak, it would appear that World Of Warcraft is finally starting lose its shine – something which Activision Blizzard tries to remedy with substantial expansion packs. But, like trying to patch a sinking ship with Sellotape, these attempts are starting to reek of desperation. At this rate it won’t be long before the remaining 7 million-odd supporters realise that their beloved World of Warcraft is nearing it’s expiration date.

2. Halo

Is anyone still genuinely surprised to see the original Halo on a list like this? Surely by now we’ve all come to terms with it, haven’t we? Of course, out of respect, we still spit and pound our fists against our chests, we shake our cages violently and fling our poo at heretics who dare the blasphemy of taking Master Chief’s name in vain. But deep down we know the truth, and most of us have quietly accepted it in our hearts: the start of Bungie’s formidable Halo franchise had a few cracks in its supposedly immaculate veneer. None which significantly damage its place in FPS history, but enough to tarnish the perception that Halo is the eternal pinnacle of shooter perfection.

For the millions of Xbox gamers who frantically snapped up a copy of the game at launch, Halo is considered to console shooters what Mario is to platformers – not genesis as such, but the game which kicked up so much of a fuss that it’s still held as the blueprint for the development of the genre. It’s praise which Bungie has earned outright. But it’s also worth noting that a number of the supposed innovations had been done elsewhere before, albeit in a less pronounced form. Gameplay advancements aside, haters had derogatory things to say about the sometimes uninspired level design, jaded space saga narrative and a visual style that didn’t appeal to everyone – a little too colourful; a little too “generic space army” for some.

A lot of the hate thrown Halo’s way was shallow scorn from Playstation fanboys, but these issues are definitely enough to make us question if the first Halo is the quintessential console shooter that we claim it to be. But Bungie had hit their stride by the time the Xbox 360 exploded onto the scene, forging Halo’s place as one of the most loved – and furiously defended – franchises in gaming history.

1. Grand Theft Auto V

It’s unrealistic to hope to lay a bitter wreath of negative sentiment at the feet of a giant like GTA V without being stomped into oblivion by the collective ubertroll of the interwebs. But it’s worth a shot. Not to antagonise the masses or to reignite an already tired firestorm, but purely because Rockstar’s crown jewel deserves to be examined with an open mind. This is a case of playing the Devil’s advocate – only the most wicked of cynics would argue against GTA V as a defining game of its generation, but is it truly deserving of the praise continually dribbled on it? We all agree that Rockstar’s latest money spinner is an exemplary technical achievement, a masterclass in narrative construction and a most impressive way to kill upwards of fifty hours of your life, but let’s be honest: it’s far from perfect.

It may seem like a cheap shot to call out the biggest game of the last generation’s twilight years, but it needs to be looked at critically. For all that GTA V pulled off with aplomb, there are a number of missteps which we’ve been all too eager to ignore. Some of these are ancestral sins, niggles which troubled GTA IV and the games which came before it; things that Rockstar was surely aware of but didn’t deem worthy to rectify. Things like fiddly gunplay and quirky camera positioning issues. Or the continually flimsy vehicle handling – no one expects Gran Theft Turismo here, but it’s still too difficult to weave through traffic without clipping an indestructible park bench and being sent reeling into a Cluckin’ Bell drive-thru window. A persistently heavy reliance on padding also needs to be addressed – some of the time spent on throwaway sideshows could have gone into refining the core experience.

For some the biggest concern is not a legacy issue, but an all new element, one which was raised early in the hype cycle: Rockstar’s decision to split the story into three character threads. Some felt that having three protagonists sharing the spotlight brought new depth and more opportunity for character development. But for those with a bone to pick with GTA V, this new idea took something away from the experience – the feeling of intimate connection with the player character. In the same way that Call of Duty insists on ripping the player in and out of various roles like some kind of out-of-body spirit traveller, flicking between Trevor, Michael and Franklin was enough to jerk us out of the dreamworld we were lost in.

For a game so set on creating an all-consuming immersive second-life experience, some saw this as a design concept at odds with itself. Irksome? Possibly. Enough to damage Grand Theft Auto V’s reputation os one of the greatest games of its generation? Unlikely. But anyone who tells you that this is the perfect game is having a laugh.


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