Every gamer has a tale of the worst game they ever played.
It may have been the utterly catastrophic sequel to a much-loved classic, a rushed tie-in with a favourite movie, or an experimental new release from a favourite studio. But we’ve all had that moment of excitedly unwrapping the box, shoving the disc (or cartridge) into the machine and then ... then comes the horrific realisation that you have wasted £45 on the interactive equivalent of a late-career M. Night Shyamalan movie.
To create this list, four veteran game writers gathered together to relive our own experiences of this gut-wrenching phenomenon. Our criteria was simple. As hundreds of games are released every year, there are certainly thousands of unmitigated digital disasters that very few people have had to suffer because they sank faster than a pair of solid-iron water wings. We’ve ignored those.
Instead, we’ve gone for both the absolute legends of gaming wretchedness and, more controversially, the titles that promised the moon on a stick, but then cruelly delivered a deflated football on a rusty metal shard – which then gave you tetanus.
Erm ... enjoy?
50 Cent: Bulletproof (Multiple formats, 2005)
Released at the height of the rapper’s fame, Bulletproof is a violent third-person shooter in which a shirtless Fiddy swears and murders his way around a series of gritty urban environments on a ludicrous quest for vengeance (accompanied by Eminem, Dr Dre, and G-Unit, naturally). Clumsy, linear, and – thanks to a lack of any kind of auto-aim – overly difficult, Bulletproof is a woefully generic, resolutely dumb shooter with incongruously lavish production values. Sequel 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand was, however, surprisingly decent.
The only game in recent memory considered so bad that it inspired a lawsuit from disgruntled players (incensed by the disparity between the pre-release marketing materials and the grim reality of the finished product) Colonial Marines was widely considered a tired and derivative first-person shooter*. Although Gearbox got the visual style of the movies just right, consulting with Ridley Scott during development, the end result is a glitch-ridden mess. As Eurogamer put it: “For a game all about exterminating bugs, it’s a fatal irony.”
*Note: at the time, the Guardian’s reviewer disagreed with this assessment, and thoroughly enjoyed the game.
Bad Street Brawler (NES, 1989)
One of only two games specifically designed for the NES Power Glove controller – and five seconds with this agonising brawler will tell you why. The protagonist is “former punk rocker” Duke Davis who is now somehow doomed to patrol a city park, beating up circus midgets and bulldogs. The player had only three moves available: punch, kick and return game to shop. The limited interaction was the fault of Nintendo’s daft glove gadget, which was awful as a controller but marginally better as the star of classic movies such as The Wizard and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.
Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing (PC,2003)
Hailed as “blatantly unfinished” by the gaming press, Big Rigs was a truck racing sim in which players had to haul cargo across the US, avoiding the cops and out-speeding computer controller rivals. Except there is no cargo, there are no cops and the rival truck never moves off the starting line. Although the controls are terrible, development studio Stellar Stone (which outsourced most of the work to a team in Ukraine) got round this by simply not including any collision detection. The stuff of legend.
BMX XXX (Multiple formats, 2002)
Essentially Dave Mirra’s Freestyle BMX, but topless. And terrible. Publisher Acclaim Entertainment was desperate for attention at the time, pulling stunts like asking people to change their names to Turok and offering to pay for Shadow Man themed tombstones. BMX XXX was the nadir, partly because, unlike most of the other ideas, it actually happened – even if it’s primitive 3D graphics were unlikely to arouse anything but mocking laughter. Mirra bolted from the project when he heard the plan and sued to be kept out of it. “Sex sells!” screamed the marketing guys, but this time they were wrong: it shifted less than 100,000 copies.
Bomberman Act Zero (Xbox 360, 2006)
“How can we update our seminal speed-puzzle series Bomberman for the Xbox 360,” asked a Hudson Soft executive at some point in 2005. The answer, sadly, was to take the beautifully cute Nintendo games and put them in a dystopian future or darkness and brushed steel. What’s more, the designers saw fit to ruin all the deftly balanced mechanics, add a bunch of risible single-player modes and, worst of all, overlook local multiplayer in favour of online battles. Surprisingly, the servers were not highly populated.
Bubsy 3D (N64, 1996)
First came Super Mario 64, showing how platform games could make the jump to 3D. Then came Bubsy, an obnoxious alien critter, tripping, falling, and smashing his own teeth out in order to show the exact opposite. Bubsy was already one of the more unpopular mascots of the 16-bit era – his tie-in cartoon show could be used as an instrument of torture, and featured the soon to be very unfortunate catchphrase: “What could POSSIBLY go wrong?!”. This game made him a symbol for technological disaster, with its drunkenly uncontrollable camera and a 3D engine so underpowered it could barely render its own failure.
Custer’s Revenge (Atari 2600, 1982)
Not only is this infamous release from Mystique a crude and unlikeable game, it is also a crude and unlikeable game in which you play as the historical character General Custer attempting to rape a native American woman who is tied to a pole. This grim theme is not some sort of commentary on colonialism, but intended as a piece of titillation, produced under the publisher’s “Swedish Erotica” label alongside other pixellated porn. “I just don’t believe that adults want to shoot down rocket ships,” said one Mystique exec at the time. A shameful episode.
Daikatana (PC/N64/GameBoy Color, 2000)
This long-delayed shooter managed to upset gamers before it had even been released thanks to a magazine advert in which designer John Romero (co-creator of Doom) promised to “make you his bitch”. He has since apologised, but after a troubled development, the game was met with a chorus of negative reviews. Dumb AI companions, limited saves per level, and dated tech were among the biggest complaints. Watching your sidekicks repeatedly get crushed by doors or wander aimlessly into your line of fire was maddening, especially since their death meant an instant game over.
Duke Nukem Forever (Multiple formats, 2011)
The fourth title in this classic shooter series famously spent a whole generation wandering in development hell, notching up 12 successive appearances in Wired’s annual Vaporware Awards. When it did arrive, courtesy of a rescue bid by Gearbox Software, it was awful – a brainless, poorly designed linear shooter tied to a witless, terminally unfunny script filled with idiotic one-liners and dated pop culture references. Much like its macho hero, it felt like a humiliating relic from the past.
ET the Extra Terrestrial (Atari 2600, 1982)
Yes, this is the game that failed so spectacularly that tens of thousand of unsold copies had to be buried in the desert at Alamogordo, New Mexico. Sure, designer Howard Scott Warshaw deserves a break: he was given just six weeks to program the thing thanks to a reckless deal struck between Steve Ross, chairman of Atari’s parent company Warner Communications, and Steven Spielberg, who sold the game rights to his film for $25 million. Five million copies were shipped to retailers in time for Christmas 1982, but word soon got out that ET had very much phoned this one in. The disaster was so huge, it contributed to the legendary video game crash of 1983. Oops.
The Guy Game (Multiple formats, 2004
Questions in this salacious trivia “game” mostly involved guessing the answers given by girls on their spring break – who would then slowly strip off. So basically Family Fortunes for pervs. Too bad for this misogynist paradise that one of the featured contestants was underage. Consequently, a judge ordered for it to be removed from shelves and the woman sued developer Topheavy Studios with the lawsuit, reportedly stating: “(The) plaintiff is still a teenager and wishes to attend college, develop her career and be active in her community and church.”
Hatred (PC, 2015)
Dark, bloody, violent and really, really boring, Hatred longed to be hated, to be held up as an example of everything wrong with games – but really, all it stands for is how unspeakably dull most attention-grabbing games are. The horror or amusement of rampaging around a city murdering everyone you meet lasts for about half a level, after which all that’s left is a twin stick shooter where it’s hard to even make out your carnage amid the gothic darkness. Nihilism has never been less rewarding.
Haze (PS3, 2008)
Billed as a rival to Bungie’s era-defining Halo: Combat Evolved, Hazeearned its hype through an impressive heritage. The game was directed by David Doak, the Northern Irish designer who worked on Rare’s seminal shooters Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark before founding Free Radical Design and making Timesplitters. The concept is interesting too, with players subject to the hallucinogenic effects of a space-age stimulant. But Haze proved a hollow disappointment. The plot was impenetrable, the characters laughable and the single player campaign judderingly short. There are rumours it was rushed out prematurely by the publisher – a great shame to those pulled in by the “Halo meets Apocalypse Now” premise.
Hotel Mario (CDI, 1994)
Nintendo doesn’t often let others play with its toys and this disastrous partnership with Philips Interactive Media shows exactly why. Hotel Mario is a horrific attempt to cash in on the full-motion video capabilities of the useless CDi console, marrying a weird door-shutting puzzle game with terrible animated cut-scenes. And it wasn’t alone, there were also three Legend of Zelda titles too, and these were just as bad (although notable for actually allowing the titular Zelda character to have an active role). Needless to say, Nintendo doesn’t care to talk about any of them – except perhaps during expensive therapy sessions.
Part two tomorrow!
This article was written by Keith Stuart, Andy Kelly, Simon Parkin and Richard Cobbett, for theguardian.com on Thursday 15th October 2015 07.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010