Way back in 2004, I reviewed “Strike Force Bowling” — a game which arbitrarily placed your bowling lanes on poorly realized representations of other planets. These extraterrestrial backdrops had no impact on the gameplay, which consisted of setting the trajectory of your ball with a thumbstick and then pressing a button to hurl it. The problem was that the default trajectory (if left undisturbed) always resulted in a strike, so you could bowl perfect games with the repeated press of a single button. This set the bar for zero-star games deep within a chasm, below an abyss, at the bottom of a bottomless pit. “Ride to Hell: Retribution” has somehow managed to limbo under that bar. This lurid tale of biker gangs and vengeance began development half a decade ago as a sort of “Grand Theft Auto” on two wheels. Somewhere along the way, the open sandbox design was scrapped for a more linear format. And everything that could possibly go wrong… did.
Our hero is a war veteran just back from Vietnam, who barely has enough time to showcase his horrendous voice acting, robotic animation and hilariously bouncy mullet bangs before his brother is killed by bikers. Choppy storytelling some how manages to make this simplest of premises confusing. Nevertheless, the vendetta begins, with our hero knocking off gang members (and their inexplicable armies) one by one. Periodically, he pauses his quest to rescue some vacant-eyed vixen that promptly rewards him with sex (which manages to be surprisingly graphic despite the bizarre fact that neither person removes his or her clothes). So far, all of these problems could carry “Ride to Hell” into the realm of “It’s so bad, it’s good” if only the game weren’t so agonizingly joyless to play. But the driving sequences are endless and handle poorly, and in the running-and-gunning stretches, enemy A.I. alternates unpredictably between omnipotent marksman and sitting duck. And I haven’t even mentioned the outlandish assortment of game-crippling bugs. One freezes the load screen, requiring a reboot to continue. I strongly recommend skipping that reboot.
Stealth games frequently feature covert agents, thieves and ninjas slinking through the shadows, stalking their prey. Since this format is basically the nightly routine for a vampire, it’s surprising these bloodsuckers have never featured in such a game before. Sadly, the fanged protagonist of “Dark” is quite possibly the least stealthy character to ever crouch-walk through the genre. Even equipped with teleportation and x-ray vision powers stolen from “Dishonored” (one of last year’s best games), this undead predator and his heavy steps manage to alert every patrol in the area. You’ll pray for an early sunrise to end your misery.
Judging from all the post-E3 hype for “Titanfall,” story-based online multiplayer shooters look to be the nextpopular trend in gaming. So “Scourge” serves a valuable purpose in demonstrating what this burgeoning genre needs to avoid. “Borrowing” copiously from “Crysis” and “Gears of War,” this third-person shooter still manages to feel entirely generic. The characters are forgettable, the narrative lacks coherence and the enemies desperately need Ritalin to curb their hyperactivity so they don’t needlessly dart out of cover to be slaughtered all too conveniently. CV
Matthew Scott Hunter studied video games extensively while attending the University of Nevada Reno and Vancouver Film School (despite the fact that video games were not part of either school’s curriculum). He has been writing Sore Thumbs since 2004.