What am I Not Seeing?: Highly Praised Games That Just Don’t Click

This is a topic I’ve wanted to do something on for over a year, namely as a podcast or PolyNerding Out episode done in the style of a round-table discussion with two or more other people chiming in (hell I may still do it anyway down the road) but right now I feel I have to touch on it with the written word.

Recently the fine folks over at Game Informer have done a few things, either as a part of their game club or on their Super Replay series, that have once again pushed this topic to the forefront of my mind and made it something I wanted to get out of head and into the world.

So what do I mean by “What am I not seeing”? What does “do not click”?

Several times a year I read a review or listen to a podcast and I read or hear words from individuals whose opinion I hold in high esteem that make we really want to get my hands on a game.  In many cases these are people who when they say a game is good I find I agree with their views 90% or more of the time.  So when I get my hands on the game, the inevitable install is complete, followed by the almost equally inevitable download of a day one patch and I am poised on the edge of my seat with my controller in hand ready to dive into this reportedly great experience…well let’s just say I find it equally perplexing and dismaying when the game I find myself playing doesn’t live up to the praise the normally on-point reviewer/personality led me to believe I would be experiencing.

What follows are games that I tried out expecting something great and was left scratching my head about.  Some of these games I bounced off of like a rubber ball shot out of a canon and into a trampoline.  Others I poured 40 hours in trying to dig deep enough to find the precious gems that had been described only to feel like I’d digging in sewage.  Others are games that I quit for months on end only to return to in the hopes that by purely stubborn persistence I would finally see what others saw.  Many of these games are games that I enjoy parts of or that I desperately wanted to enjoy but just never found that “it” factor that makes a game enjoyable.

To be honest I’m a little heartbroken that many of these games are on this list but sadly reality tells a different tale.

So let’s start things off with a big one from last generation, one that recently received a remaster bundle with its sequels.

1) Bioshock.

Bioshock was one of the first two games I picked up when I finally got my hands on a Xbox 360 way back in 2008 (the other being the supremely disappointing Too Human but that’s a game for another list).  I had read and heard so many things about the game, from its beautiful design to its great story and hints at an awesome plot twist.

What I found was an undoubtedly beautiful game that I quickly discovered I could not stand to play.  The opening sequence was jaw dropping and left me spellbound.  I was so completely in awe of the way the game opened and how beautiful it looked as I made my way to Rapture for the first time that I had to start the game over just to find someone to show it to.  Arriving in Rapture will forever be one of my favorite moments in gaming, sadly it was immediately followed by game-play I don’t care all that much for.

The environments are such a treat to explore and look around in but the game is marred by some of my least favorite combat and controls of last generation.  As much as I want to enjoy the special powers granted by the plasmids (and to be honest they are quite cool) I just don’t care for the way the combat works or feels.  I found the run of the mill Splicers to be way too bullet spongey and never once enjoyed fighting a Big Daddy as they were even more imbalanced.  I didn’t care for the way I was constantly out of Eve or nearly out of ammo in big fight.  I absolutely abhorred the hacking the game, as I do in all games that aren’t the last three Fallout games (say what you will about the Fallout hacking but I find it the least intrusive of all such hacking segments).

Between 2008 and 2010 I made multiple attempts at playing Bioshock, usually when I didn’t have anything else on hand to play, before bouncing off of it nearly for good after the first instance where you had to fight a Big Daddy.  Sometime in 2014 I gave Bioshock one last attempt, getting as far as the Fontaine Fisheries area where your weapons are stripped of you by Peach Wilkins prior to an ambush.  After several frustrating attempts to survive the splicer onslaught while combating the now very aged controls I put the game up for good.

I recently took in all the story beats of the game via a 2 hour supercut done by the folks at Gamer’s Little Playground and was able to enjoy all the fantastic stuff the game had to offer without any of the displeasing game-play I so hated.

I also bounced off of Bioshock 2 fairly quickly, sometime around the first or second Big Sister fight.

Bioshock: Infinite on the other hand may well be one of my top ten games of last console cycle, so they at least did right by me once.

2) Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Another often praised first person game from the Xbox 360 generation that just didn’t hit the mark with me.

Human Revolution was my first Deus Ex game and was one I was very, very interested in after reading about how amazing the originals were in their time.

I very quickly learned DE:HR was all too similar to Bioshock in that it was set in a world I found absolutely fascinating but could not stand the game-play of.  There were some highly questionable decisions made with the mechanics, such as requiring a battery charge for stealth take-downs in a game built for stealth, and some of the worst boss fights in modern gaming history.

Oh the boss fights were so bad that I’m fighting the urge to clench my teeth just thinking about them.

The game seems very geared towards playing in a stealthy fashion (the gun-play was the worst) yet the boss fights (at least the two or three I encountered) force your hand into a more combat oriented game-play style.  This means if you have built your character with stealth in mind, you are almost certainly boned when it comes to a boss.  I barely beat the gun-armed fella at the end of one area and found myself with only a pistol to fight one of the next bosses.

In the years since I’ve learned that the boss fights were outsourced to another studio but that does little to make up for the fact that I was left with a game that I wanted to love but will never get to fully enjoy.

3) Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

The first entry from the modern generation, MGS V is an example of a game I put real time into (40+ hours) before deciding that I was wasting my time and was never going to find the highly praised game others apparently had.

Like many other games on this list, there were things I loved about this game.  The way it played was fantastic.  The shooting was tight and responsive.  The stealth game-play was fantastic.  Fultoning “recruits” off the battlefield never got old and ranks up there as one of my favorite things to do in a game.  There was a lot to love here.

Unfortunately there wasn’t much beyond the game-play mechanics.  The story was almost non-existent, I felt like I played a full time jobs worth of game time and advanced the barely existent plot a hair.  The mission structure was repetitive has hell, leading a few commenters on my streams of the game to remark how much it seemed like they’d seen me do what I was doing many times before.  Simply put it was a whole lot of sprinting across open deserts or swampy marshlands to do a thing and run back across the open land to an extraction point.

Again.

And again.

And again.

No amount of fulton balloons could mask the dull nature of the missions, nor could they make up for the ridiculous design of Quiet or her incessant humming (even if her sniper skills made her a bad-ass companion).

The MGS series was always one of my favorites and it makes me incredibly sad to see it end (as far as I’m concerned the Survive mess isn’t a thing) on such a down note.

4) Resident Evil 4

Truth be told, the Resident Evil series is one of my all time favorite series, I’m particularly found of the second and third entries (I’ve never finished the first game but you can see me try here).

Resident Evil 4 initially was released on the Gamecube so I didn’t get to play it.  I read a ton about how much of a “game changer” it was for the series and for both survival horror and shooters as a whole and couldn’t wait to one day play it.  The praise was nearly unanimous then and largely remains so to this day.

When it was released on the PS2 I would finally get my chance and as soon as I found a copy of it at my local Hollywood Video (remember rental places?) I couldn’t wait to throw it in and play as Leon Kennedy once again.

Remember my rubber ball fired out of a cannon metaphor?

This is the game that birthed that image.

I made to the first village of the game before taking it out of my Playstation and returning to the video store for something else.

Nothing about the game felt good or right to me.  I hated the gun-play.  I hated the camera angle.  I hated the enemies.  I hated it all.

To this day I still can’t see what others do inthe game.  Recently Game Informer put up a complete play-through of the game and I’ve watched about 8 hours of it over the last few weeks.  Capcom employee and former GI writer Tim Turi was the one playing and while he made the game look smooth as could be I still found myself hating the game-play almost as strongly as I enjoyed the actual story of the game.

Resident Evil 4 is a game I disliked so much that prior to playing the demo of Resident Evil 7 (which you can see here) I had completely steered clear of the series.

5) Elder Scrolls Online

If one thing is true about the last console cycle it is this: I loved me some Skyrim.

It was easily one of my favorite games last generation, if not my actual favorite (Red Dead and it more or less are neck and neck).

I love it so much so that despite putting in literal weeks of my life into the game I’m looking forward to picking up the remastered version sometime between now and the end of the year so I can play even more of it.

ESO was one of the first two games (is this a trend?) I purchased on the Xbox One and within an hour or two of game time I knew it wasn’t what I wanted.

What I wanted was Skyrim writ-large and experienced with old friends and new.

What I got was a by the numbers MMO that took the things I hated about past Scrolls games and combined it with seemingly everything I hate about playing online with strangers.

Loud obnoxious music, check.

People playing in seemingly crowded rooms with open mics, check.

Towns/hubs full of people committing immersion breaking jack-assery, check.

Poorly designed quests with lackluster rewards, check.

Quests locked out of solo play requiring teaming up with the aforementioned jack-asses, check.

I really wanted to like this game but it was apparent I was not getting what I desired out of it and aside from the times my better half dabbled with it, it collected dust until I traded it in for a couple of bucks months later.

6) The Witcher 2

This is another one of those games that I had my eye on long before I was finally able to play it and in that time had read so much positive about it I couldn’t help but have lofty expectations for it.

When I finally got my hands on the game I was pretty quickly underwhelmed by a number of its systems.  I didn’t really care for the combat, the crafting, the interactions with the other characters or the world itself.

I did like the character designs, the opening levels (with you imprisoned and recounting a prior event) and overall plot as well as the way the game looked.  The world of The Witcher is a sight to behold.

The game also opens with one of my all time favorite sequences (this) and has one of my favorite soundtracks of all time.

Which makes it that much more of a shame that I found the game itself to just not be that good.

The Witcher 3 was high on many Games of the Year list last year but my underwhelming experience with this game has kept me very far from it out of fear I’ll just be repeating the past.

7) Assassin’s Creed 3

I absolutely loved the first few games in this series.  The first game provided an excellent foundation for an amazing sequel that itself spawned at least one amazing offshoot (I only played AC: Brotherhood not Revelations)

When it was announced that Desmond’s story would be wrapping up in a game taking place in one of my favorite historical eras, the American Revolution, I was beyond excited.  I couldn’t wait to see how Desmond’s tale would close out and how they would insert his ancestor into such an amazing historical period.

One day I found AC3 at a local Redbox kiosk (how I miss the video stores of my youth) and I snatched it up, eager to play it as soon as I got home.

I reached a point where my player character was on a boat crossing the Atlantic and a sword fight occurred.  The fight was hands down the worst and most glitch ridden sequence I had experienced in a long, long time.  The controls weren’t responsive, blows were falling way wide of the character models yet inflicting damage and the killing blow came with the combatants several feet apart and facing 90 degrees from one another.  As I watched my character thrust his sword into nothing and a man five feet to his right doubled over in pain, I reached for the eject button.

The yearly release cycle had finally claimed one of my favorite series and a buggy turd had been put out as the end to a trilogy I had loved.

8) Destiny

This is an entry I went back and forth on before deciding that it did in fact need to be included on this list.

I tried Destiny out on the 360 but waited to purchase it until after the Taken King had come out.  My 360 experience did not match the reviews and personal accounts I had heard of others’ experiences with the game so I chose to wait.

Once TK was out I picked up the whole collection on sale and dove into with a friend.  We breezed through most of the game, he being a much higher level character took out the vast majority of our foes while I sort of tagged along in my own game, enjoying the core shooting mechanics some and our conversation more.

We played one big marathon session, reaching the beginning of the TK part of the game and haven’t gone back together since.

I’ve tried a couple of times solo and just haven’t found it nearly as enjoyable.

Our conversation made all the difference to me.  Without a buddy to chat with while blasting hordes of aliens the game just isn’t that good to me.

Looks great.  Handles well.  Far too little going on to hold my attention though.

Here’s hoping Destiny 2.0 or 2 or Destiny: The Next Generation/Deep Space Nine, whatever it eventually is titled brings with it a much, much deeper experience because if it follows the pattern set forth by the first game I’m going to steer well clear of it.

9) HALO: ODST

I’m not the biggest fan of the HALO series to begin with but I still enjoyed the core trilogy more than not (well aside from the big middle finger that was the ending of the 2nd game).

When ODST dropped I was intrigued by the praise I had read in the coverage of it.  Lots of outlets and people I respected were spoke highly of how a new way of approaching a story within the HALO universe was tied into the same solid shooting of the regular games.  I was intrigued by the concept of film noir designs being brought into a HALO game that didn’t star unstoppable killing machine Master Chief.

I only played about an hour of the game before souring on it.

To this day I still can’t put my finger on what I didn’t like about but I bounced off this game nearly as hard as I did RE4.

Maybe someday I’ll revisit it but back in 2009 I was extremely displeased by it, despite the fact that it was one of the top selling 360 games that year.

I’ve spent all morning thinking about this list and sadly cannot come up with a tenth game to round out the list.

As I look back at the list I can’t help but feel an overwhelming dual sense of annoyance and confusion, both inspired by my dislike of games I should love and my dislike of games so many others love.

It is what it is though.

So dear reader, I ask you, what games do you dislike that are highly praised?  Do you have any similar feelings about the games I’ve listed?  Do you hate games I love?  I’m interested in having that conversation, and maybe one day will get some friends together to have that long dreamed of podcast/video.

Until that day, well, we’ll always have Paris, I mean, this list.

-Shad (@PolyNerdic)

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