It’s a depressing truth of modern games development that strikingly good, original games often sell very badly. Partly that’s a question of mean-minded publicity – I had to catch a bus to Neptune to lay eyes on an advert for Sega’s sorely under-appreciated Binary Domain, for instance. Timing can be factor, too, as the excellent DmC: Devil May Cry’s probably going to discover next week. But I suspect there’s also a problem of consumer hypocrisy to reckon with. Oh, you’ll say you’re hell-bent on buying the latest, delicately shaded, engagingly abstract new IP de jour. You’ll talk the hindlegs off any number of donkeys about how eager you are to lay hands on unconventional properties. But much as the smell of hot grease tends to lure me away from my super foods lunch, so the sight of something uncomplicated lowbrow flashing a bit of thigh at CEX has a way of disabling arty aspirations. Here are some extra-smelly specimens to add to your pile of shame. Not all of them are terrible, but you probably don’t want to be caught clutching a copy.
1. Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
A toxic Wild Western shooter that’s so hammy you could clamp a burger bap around the disc and slap it into a MacDonalds box. The eternally daft Techland conjures up a North American frontier that’s one part indestructible crate to one part on-rails AI henchman to one part jowly, hard-breathing chunk of exposition. The highlights are probably the “breach” sequences, which see the McCall brothers blowing cowboys from their seats in slow motion, and the high noon duels, in which you keep one hand predatorily poised near your arsecheek till the clock strikes the hour.
2. Dante’s Inferno
A solid action game that just happens to be the most breathtakingly flagrant rip-off ever torn from the billowing coat-tails of a passing bandwagon. Visceral’s debut brawler makes no bones of its borrowings from the God of War franchise, seeking instead to bury that odour of familiarity beneath high octane allegorical stylings and heaps of bustling, bursting cleavage. There are some pleasantly outrageous boss fights in store, though the concluding punch-up with Lucifer is a bit of a damp squib.
3. Dead Island
Another, more infamous Techland effort, which makes up in anecdote-friendly weirdness what it lacks in polish. I’ve not had a chance to play this one at length – mainly thanks to Mike, whose obscenely levelled character ran me over with a pick-up truck the second I entered his gameworld. Later, we fought a protracted fight with an extra-tough zombie which boiled down to endless kicking and throwing of boxes. Sort of like a round of Streets of Rage gone mad. Subsequently, I drove an SUV into a jacuzzi.
4. Doom 3: BFG Edition
Feel like the spark’s gone out of the shooter genre? Pick up this glossy, HD-friendly remaster and marvel at just how far we’ve advanced since id Software discovered that demonic possession is a fine way of explaining away boring spawn patterns. Doom 3’s space station setting is a nice place to visit, admittedly, but you’ll win every fight the same way – by clamping the trigger down and backing out of reach.
5. Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters
Ergh, a comicbook movie spin-off! Which trades fairly unimaginatively on an established archetype! Which is actually a decent laugh given a reasonable tolerance for camp dudes in spandex! Rise of the Manhunters is a particular treat when enjoyed in company, thanks to an extensively idiotic library of object-summoning moves which allows for a fair degree of personalisation. I favour spiked balls and a chaingun, myself. Matt’s been known to get busy with a giant emerald sawblade.
6. Hunted: The Demon’s Forge
I really wanted to love this one, but it’s not quite as alluring as the elevator pitch “Gears of War meets Diablo” makes it sound. The two leads animate like marionettes covered in glue and beachballs, the cover-driven fights lack the structure to compete with Gears of War’s tactical blasting, the “dungeons” are corridors with a few (admittedly robust) side areas, and the level editor’s a lame duck. Still, warm up with a few pulp fantasy novels (you know, the ones that have maps on the inside cover and ludicrous subtitles), and you should enjoy yourself, just about.
While we’re on the subject of crass Gears cash-ins, how about this disgracefully muscle-headed effort from the team behind Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary? Its contribution to the third-person shooter genre is malleable gravity – catapult a splodge of blue sci-fi juice at somebody’s feet, and you’ll hoik the poor sod skywards for the purposes of idiot-proof evisceration. There’s a multiplayer component which features maps that wrap round 180 degrees, which is kind of fun.
8. Kinect Star Wars
Log hated this one, and with good reason – wielding a four-foot length of compacted plasma has seldom felt quite so much like flailing around in a sack of polystyrene. But if you can get over the abysmal gesture recognition and the sight of Princess Leia objectifying herself for the purposes of a song and dance, Kinect Star Wars may entertain. There are lots of modes, the Star Wars fiction is lampooned throughout, and when you do manage to deflect a blaster bolt or carve up a droid on purpose, it’s hard not to cackle.
9. Sniper Elite V2
Rebellion’s WW2 sandbox enjoys the dubious distinction of being the only game to seriously challenge Zumba Fitness at retail last summer. The execution is too ropey, and the level design too restrictive to really deliver on the promise of a serious sniper simulation, but those X-ray sniping sequences are enjoyably gross.
10. Steel Battalion: Heavy Armour
The trick with Heavy Armour is realising that frustration is the point. Which isn’t a very convincing point to make, perhaps, but all credit to From Software for pushing the envelope, a sizeable assortment of Kinect implementation problems aside. Players take charge of an ungainly mechanical dinosaur, stuffed with gadgets that break all the time and crewmates who spend every other battle in a state of unconstructive hysteria. Get through the introductory, 45 minute “apoplectic rage” barrier, and the war might just be worth waging.