Describing any game as “overrated” is a bold claim, but you can’t deny how catchy it is for a post title!

So whilst I don’t claim to necessarily abhor or resent the following games in much the same way as I did with my disappointments series, these are still titles that confuse me somewhat. I wonder how I’ve remained immune to their supposed charms in the face of criticisms that I’m surprised aren’t discussed more.

The list of games before you aren’t necessarily bad games, but they are ones whose reputation I often – not always politely! – call into question.


 

#20 – Lemmings 2: The Tribes

Lemmings 2: The Tribes

Lemmings 2: The Tribes

With Blinx: The Timesweeper just getting pipped to the post, in at number 20 is the first of many sequels on this list.

Lemmings 2: The Tribes is actually the third game in this incomparable puzzle series following on from the “data disk” come standalone expansion that was Oh No! More Lemmings.

As the first true sequel to the original classic, Lemmings 2 retains the overall visual style of the first game but features several expected improvements including new landscapes, new colours, new animations and of course; lots of new lemmings.

There are over fifty skills that can turn lemmings into everything from runners, jumpers, and skiers to more outlandish examples such as the grappling hook, flamethrower and super lemming. In fact, the best part of this game comes from simply loading up the practice mode and just experimenting with all the different things that the lemmings can do. It’s certainly fun… for a while.

But once you’ve exhausted those cheap thrills you’ll turn towards the story mode and for me, it just doesn’t measure up. Compared to the original I find the levels in this sequel to be lacking that special something; they just don’t have that same irresistible vibe about them. The easy when you know how vibe as I call it isn’t there for me.

This is in most part due to the wealth of skills that the lemmings can use, as unlike the original game, not all of those skills are as symmetrically pleasing and can sometimes be a bit awkward in their activation. Take the new fan tool for example, which allows you to interact with lemmings like the jet pack rider who can blown be about the screen or a surfer that can be made to skim across water.

It’s an interesting idea but the fan is often imprecise and it’s common to accidentally apply too much force or botch the angle and thus propel your poor lemmings off cliffs or into other hazards without meaning to. Other skills like the weed grower are almost entirely worthless and were probably just inserted as a joke rather than to have any meaningful effect on gameplay.

The difficulty balance feels bizarre too. Some levels are remarkably easy whereas others are brutally tough; there’s not enough of an in-between in my opinion. It’s harder still when you’re trying to recall the function and intricacies of so many commands. Granted, the original Lemmings had its fair share of difficult levels (it’s part of the charm after all) but Lemmings 2 can be downright infuriating at times.

Lemmings 2 is everything it perhaps should have been; it looks better, sounds better and is packed with plenty of additional features and improvements. But sometimes less is more and I wonder if the guilty thrills of practice mode have led people to prematurely give Lemmings 2 a bit more credit than it deserves.

It’s still a fun game but it doesn’t come close to the status of a superior sequel like I’ve sometimes heard it described in the past.

Turns out you really can have too much of a good thing.

 

#19 – Portal

Portal

Similar to Lemmings, Portal is a deliciously simple but often devious puzzler that combines genius level design and intuitive mechanics with a spot of dark humour. It’s easily the best video game on this list, but at the same time I can’t suppress my nagging feelings about it.

In perhaps the biggest hindrance to me seeing this game as a true classic is the fact that I don’t have much fun when playing it. Completing each challenge room is satisfying in its own way, but not overly so. The graphics are sharp and the sound effects are adequate and the game as a whole is dressed in a very flavourful futuristic glow.

The robotic voice of GLaDOS (the game’s pseudo narrator) has since become a part of pop culture but it honestly irritates me more often than not; especially when the voice clips start to repeat themselves.

Portal clearly has a commendable sense of humour, but it doesn’t work on me; I just don’t find it that funny. Even the writer reportedly grew tired of the over-quoted lines and cake references that persisted in the years following the game’s release. So much so that there’s only one reference to the meme in Portal 2 and it’s a remarkably subtle one too. Now that I find amusing!

There are a few cunning challenges to be experienced in Portal but the majority of the game is actually pretty easy. You’ll probably burn through this one in less than 6 hours and the last quarter of that time will be spent in the shoddier areas of the late game where you’ll be navigating tight platforms and balancing on chairs to reach exits.

Most of the ideas in Portal are entertaining and enormously interesting but they quickly grew stale and repetitive on me. The main attraction of course is wielding the wondrous portal gun that teleports you through space but as someone who completed (the admittedly forgettable) Prey beforehand, the effect isn’t quite as awe-inspiring the second time you’re shown it.

The sterile environments, threadbare story, and lack of extended challenge cripples Portal’s replay value and in spite of its innovation, the experience fell a bit flat for me when taken as a whole.

You could argue that a lot of these points are somewhat negligible when considering what insanely good value for money Portal represents as a release; seeing as it’s included in Valve’s remarkably popular compilation The Orange Box.

I’d agree that this is true, but it doesn’t effect the intrinsic quality of the game one bit and in that regard I feel Portal perhaps is a little bit too fondly remembered for its premise and “funny” robot voice than it is its lasting appeal as a challenging puzzler.

 

#18 – F-Zero X

F-Zero-X

F-Zero-X

This is a sequel to a lauded SNES original (which I haven’t played); a very fast albeit minimalist futuristic racer in same vein as Wipeout. But unlike Wipeout, F-Zero X has no weapons or power ups or in fact anything interesting to it at all. If you’re skilful enough, you can ram other racers to deplete their energy, but other than that it’s more of a straight focus on high speed boosting and cornering all the way.

The big feature of this game is the consistently smooth 60fps whilst rendering up to 30 different racers on the track at the same time. This is extremely impressive for a N64 game, there’s no doubt about that, but in order to achieve this lofty feat the game looks simplistic and unappetising.

The ships you pilot are made up of flat-shaded polygons and the colourful tracks lack a lot of detail beyond the odd rough surface here and there. You won’t see any obstacles on or besides the tracks anywhere and even the road itself lacks decoration. Racer portraits try to add some personality back into the game, but it’s not like each pilot has any special ability or interesting speech to offer; it’s all just as bland as the rest of the game. It’s worse still when you consider the overly noisy and repetitive rock music that this game blurts out from its sterile menu screens.

The developers have closely stuck with that typically dependable concept of ‘gameplay over graphics’, but even then I’ve never found the gameplay to be all that exciting either. The multiplayer is decent, but it’s still very limited and the Grand Prix mode which allows you to unlock more pointless characters is locked to single player too, so you can’t enjoy it with friends.

Considering how proud this game is with being such a smooth racer; would adding another player to the race really have impacted performance that badly? This is a 64bit machine- surely it could have managed it?

F-Zero X has quite the legacy, but to me it’s just another one of those beloved Nintendo franchises that has me thinking: “I don’t get it”.

 

#17 – Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto IV

It seems that every subsequent release of a Grand Theft Auto game is destined to become one of the most hyped video games in existence. Fuelled by its incredible popularity and guaranteed critical acclaim, GTA has never failed to get gamers parting with their hard-earned cash.

I deliberated for a long time on whether it was to be Grand Theft Auto IV or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim occupying this particular spot on the list as I have very similar feelings about both of them. I don’t enjoy these two titles for pretty much the same reason: they both deliver an ‘open world’ gaming experience that I tend to find more tiring than I do entertaining. Both games seek to empower their players through a veiled sense of freedom, but it’s just an approach that I’m not overly susceptible to.

To a certain extent, both games are very good at what they do and many people love them for that exact reason. Ultimately though, Skyrim dodged this list because when I finally did sit down to give Grand Theft Auto IV a chance I was surprised. Not because I enjoyed it, quite the opposite; I couldn’t stand it- but I was surprised by how undeniably drab this game was.

Part of this comes down to the added focus on realism. I found the sheer number of police cars in Liberty City to be overly excessive and a huge barrier to the game’s fun factor. During my limited time playing this game I found it very hard to make it to any new mission objective without accidentally committing an infraction that would have the police pestering me.

I suppose it’s commendable that there’s a larger commitment to story in GTA IV but it’s still chock-full of stereotypical characters and the sort of excessive profanity that makes 18-rated games of this calibre feel so overwhelmingly derivative of the movies they clearly idealize so much.

Grand Theft Auto IV is bursting at the seams with missions, mini games, and extra content, but it just doesn’t add up to anything I can really admire.

 

#16 – Carmageddon

Carmageddon

Carmageddon

Carmageddon is one of those controversial video games that I find controversial for all the wrong reasons.

For me, the outrage in this title doesn’t come from any childish violence or exploding geriatric pedestrian; it comes from vehicle handling so shoddy and so poor that it makes the likes of Dark Castle seem playable by comparison. Well, maybe not that bad, but you see what I’m getting at.

But time after time I hear people tell me how much they enjoy this game and I just can’t for the life of me work out why.

It’s all meant to be in good fun of course and indeed there are a few visceral thrills to be found in smashing rival cars to pieces, performing flips, and mowing down the various pedestrians, but for me the experience keeps getting brought down by how abysmal the vehicles handle; it’s just so hard keep them under control even when there are no opponents in sight.

The various power-ups and collectibles hardly help, especially the ones that make your car jump every three seconds or the one that activates ‘pinball physics’ and sends your car bouncing off of every obstacle you so much as brush against.

It’s a technically impressive game for its time (the vehicle damage is very convincing), but I still think the whole show looks ugly, with the overall menu presentation and audio seeming a bit crude. There’s no minimap from what I remember or any markers that highlight the opposing drivers, so it’s extremely easy to lose sight of them and the open design of each track will make it easy to get lost or stuck.

I can distinctly remember speeding towards a raised bridge in one particular race; the idea being that drivers accelerate to the top and launch themselves to the other side. My car sped towards it at max speed and hit a rogue piece of geometry at the foot of the bridge thus smashing my vehicle’s bonnet and twisting it cartoon style so it could only drive in circles! Extremely funny I admit; but come on!

The media circus that ensued during this game’s original release is no doubt part of why it’s so vividly remembered and I can still recall people on the radio being so taken aback over this game despite it being far too ridiculous to approach with any legitimate concern.

Carmageddon is chaos on a disc and if that’s your bag then more power to you, but for me it doesn’t impress. I doubt the concept and pure nostalgia in this brand is enough to do well by today’s standards, but then I guess we’ll see for sure when Carmageddon: Reincarnation finally sees release.

Despite this franchise not being my style, I’d still like to be proven wrong.

 

#15 – Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Nintendo DS PAL Box Art

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Essentially a lawyer simulator, Phoenix Wright is a text-heavy adventure that scores high marks for originality, but falls remarkably short in delivering a consistently enjoyable experience.

The game is split into two parts: a detective phase where you investigate crime scenes and talk with various witnesses followed by a courtroom phase where you are tasked with defending your client from the wrath of injustice. The problem is that the detective parts of the game are remarkably boring and amount to little more than a hidden object game with clues that are tiny and take far too long for you to spot.

There is also the necessity to show the different NPCs the various pieces of evidence you’ve collected in order to get more information, but this drags on due to the simple fact that you’ll likely have no idea what needs to be shown and you’ll spend time clicking on everything in your inventory to try and move the story forward.

The courtroom phase is more entertaining as you diligently work to find holes in a witness’s testimony whereupon the game will prompt you to yell “HOLD IT!” or “OBJECTION!” into the Nintendo DS microphone at key moments.

It’s a fun touch, but the novelty quickly wears off and woe betide anyone who should let their mind wander during the near endless reams of text, lest they be stuck at a crucial moment wondering what evidence they need to offer to prove that a client is lying. In a similar fashion to Rockstar’s overreaching L.A. Noire, it can be hard to contradict a witness when what they’ve said is so vague.

The amount of text throughout the game will likely test your patience as the flashback heavy plot forces you to revisit several conversations that you’ve already seen in order to establish the traits of the game’s colourful cast of characters. Without spoiling too much, the plot takes a considerably silly turn at one point and starts introducing some very bizarre supernatural elements that seem somewhat at odds with the rest of the game’s setting.

Phoenix Wright is maybe half of a good game and I’m convinced its original premise and heavy anime style has helped it procure a lot of fans in spite of its glaring rough points. I can’t comment on any of the numerous sequels, but this first entry didn’t grab me at all.

 

#14 – Halo 4

Halo 4

Halo 4

Halo 4 is an entirely average game whose campaign is so lacking, so short, and so disappointingly derivative, I actually found it a bit difficult to play at times.

The Halo series has always been a trendsetter in terms of FPS gameplay and to see Halo 4 borrowing so many features from other games is just painful to witness. From the sigh inducing inclusion of quick time events to the underwhelming ‘Spartan Ops’ multiplayer mode, Halo has never felt so… soulless.

In fact, it’s difficult to praise any aspect of Halo 4 without adding an asterisk to almost every point; it’s just one of those games.

The plot isn’t bad, but it’s difficult to invest yourself in and when another Halo weapon shows up towards the end, you’ll be wondering why they bothered to dig up Master Chief for all of this again.

The game offers up a convoluted excuse for why you get to fight Covenant stragglers in the early game and pretty soon it won’t even matter as you’ll be squaring off against a brand new evil race of aliens called the Promotheans with an equally derivative Star Wars style trench run segment on the horizzon shortly after. Originality isn’t this game’s strength.

The Prometheans are a race of evil cyborgs or some nonsense like that and these enemies are essentially made of light (or at least they disintegrate when killed) and their weapons are all modelled in a similar way; all lasers and weapons that fire light. The enemies are nowhere near as satisfying to kill because of this and similarly there’s no weight to any of their weapons either.

It’s a shame because the graphics are fantastic, the presentation is generally superb, and occasionally you’ll play a level that actually does offer a fun and exciting set piece. The four player cooperative campaign is back and there’s plenty of extra multiplayer content to get involved in should you find it enjoyable, and yet to me it all feels so stale.

 

#13 – Max Payne 3

Max Payne 3

Max Payne is another one of those video game characters that, similarly to Duke Nukem, emerged from years of hiatus for another big sequel that hits all the wrong notes. Whilst not as drastic a downturn as Duke, Max Payne 3 is still a let-down for a game that relies on a simple recipe of action and engrossing gun play.

The new developers Rockstar don’t seem to really get Max Payne if you ask me. The character is simply carted from one repetitive shooting gallery to the next with so few proper considerations towards the intriguing psychological insights into his mind that the previous games so effectively explored.

The writers have gone completely overboard with the depression angle and have written Max as miserable human being with absolutely no drive left whatsoever.

The biggest problem for me in this sequel though is the lack of a balanced difficulty curve. The intelligent adaptive difficulty system of Max Payne games past is now gone and the various difficulties now range from mildly pedestrian to brutally difficult. Max Payne games have typically worked better on PC, where pinpoint aiming is a more realistic proposition because using a console controller (as I did this time around) is extremely frustrating.

It’s so awkward to aim and Max’s usually spectacular bullet time ability is somewhat muted by the sheer amount of time it takes for the man to pick himself up after a lunge or dive. Max is cast as the ageing, middle-aged action hero and they’ve seen fit to incorporate this into the amount of time it takes him to move about. Fitting maybe, but a colossal pain when some sniper is getting ready to fire.

Being a Rockstar game, Max Payne 3 overplays all the usual adult content to secure an 18-rating; with excessive swearing, cringeworthy stereotypes, and over-the-top violence all present and accounted for. In fact, the overall action is extremely exaggerated compared to the more realistically shot scenes in the original games; you’ll see Max escape from crumbling buildings, wielding turrets, and even zip lining. It’s quite strange when you consider the slant they go with in the first half of the story.

To accompany a standard cover-system, the developers have added a stupid new mechanic called last man standing. If you lose all of your health, the game activates the slow motion for several seconds while a contorted Max has one last chance to kill an enemy before going down for good. Successfully manage this and Max is revived.

The main problem with this feature, aside from Max looking completely ridiculous as he flails around on the ground, is that it activates pretty much every time you die. If you were hit by a sniper in the distance for example (which can sap your entire health in one shot) then you have no chance of making that all important ‘revive kill’ and must endure this overwrought tumbling animation before Max submits and you can restart the section over.

Maybe Max is getting too old for this shit!

 

#12 – Fable II

Fable II

Fable II

Well, this is awkward…

Fable II is the sequel that had a lot to make up for following the disastrous showing of the original game in this now flagship series.

Whilst nowhere near as lacklustre as Fable, this sequel still seems a bit overrated to me. I must admit to being intrigued when reading the glowing review scores and so with one quiet week with nothing to do, I loaded up Fable II to see for myself if the game had indeed made amends.

Fable II is probably what Fable should have been that’s for sure; it’s packed with much more content (you can be a girl now!) and more things to see and do. But then it’s still a very lite experience overall.

The story is still curiously underdeveloped for one. It’s still short, cliché, pathetically easy, and rather dull; it’s just dressed up with more side quests to try and distract you from this fact.

The supporting cast of characters includes a notable bunch of voice actors, which is nice, but it’s hard to really care about them when you consider how overwhelmingly bad the final encounter is. In fact, Fable II might have one of the worst endings in all of gaming history- it’s that much of a let-down.

The novelties of getting married, having children and owning a house are no doubt attractive features to some players out there, but for me it doesn’t help make this game anything more than a fairly routine fantasy adventure. The dog that follows you is quite a unique addition to the game admittedly, even if it is just a glorified metal detector at times.

And I’ll challenge anyone to not get sick of the game’s incessant hand-holding.

“Did you know you can dig up treasure with your shovel?”

Yes. Stop asking.

“Make sure to spend your experience points to get stronger!”

Okay, thanks?

“Follow the sparkling trail to your next quest!”

I knew that!

“Oh by the way, did you know-“

GAAAAAHHHHH!!!!

 

#11 – Jet Force Gemini

Jet Force Gemini

Jet Force Gemini

Essentially a space-themed bug hunt, Jet Force Gemini is a third person shoot ’em up with an extremely steep difficulty curve and no tutorial.

The controls are difficult to learn and aiming can be painfully twitchy, especially when you consider how accurate you have to be with your shots. The intergalactic ants that you slaughter by the hundred are easy enough to shoot when they’re on the ground, but the air-based enemies and ones that carry portable shields require extremely precise aiming that the N64 controller is ill-equipped to provide. Holding the shoulder button grants a fixed aiming solution, but you’ll be entering and exiting this mode a lot and it’s so annoying!

You know, annoying is the word that best describes Jet Force Gemini. This is mainly because the game requires a truck-load, no; a convoy-load of patience.

Aside from the many long levels and double-tough bosses, each world contains several teddy bear creatures known as Tribals for you to rescue. If you want to actually complete the game then you are forced to find every single Tribal before the final level unlocks.

The problem is that these little bears are very well hidden and you’ll need to rescue every one in the same playthrough or the game won’t save your progress. If you miss just one during the playthrough then it’s back to the beginning of the level to do it all over again.

It gets worse. The Tribals love to chill out in bad neighborhoods, sometimes relaxing near explosive barrels and enemies that will actively try to shoot them if given the chance. It’s a cheap trick to pad out the length of the game and it makes Jet Force Gemini an unbearable experience if you want to reach the end.

Another sore point is the unreliable frame rate which doesn’t do anything to help the ailing accuracy of your weapons and the common slowdown makes the multiplayer mode a bit of a wonky prospect all things considered.

If you hadn’t guessed already, this is the one game that really doesn’t sit well with me. The controls annoy me, the difficulty imbalance annoys me, even the upside down dots on the logo annoy me.

 


Continue to Part 2 »