Slightly Broken Games and the People Who Love Them

I wrote about this, albeit from a more philosophical angle, about Fallout 4 a while back.

Some current-gen games manage to emulate humans in a way that’s convincing enough—at least within the confines of their controlled, scripted cutscenes, but lose their lustre when control is returned to the player. Many games avoid this issue entirely by doubling down on their cartoonishness with a healthy dose of self-awareness, reminding us that the actors are nothing more than pixels and code. Fallout 4, however, exists in a state of limbo between these polar extremes, at once reminding us of the franchise’s inherent silliness while still attempting to tell an emotionally weighty story. And it would work, if only the game’s inner code weren’t held together with Wonderglue and Insta-Mash.

In general, I think it largely depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for in a game, and what your expectations are from the outset. An open-world game like STALKER or Fallout brings a lot of promise for immersion, but it seems that a game’s open-endedness is often inversely proportional to its stability.

I tend to approach games from a narrative/immersive side, caring less about “gameplay” if the world itself can engage me, but bugs can immediately torpedo that sense of immersion. At that point, a shift in perspective needs to happen if I want to continue to enjoy the game. Bethesda games being a great example, I can enjoy their stories, but being constantly reminded of their janky, robotic Potemkin Villages of environments, I’m forced to engage with these games more as “toys” than as “storybooks.” That doesn’t make them any less enjoyable — it simply requires the player re-align their expectations on what the game can realistically offer them.

The buggiest game I ever played was Sacred 2 on my PS3. It taught me to save every 30 seconds or so because you just never knew when the darn thing was going to freeze & require you to reset the console. With all of that, it is still my favorite ARPG.

Anyone who enjoys ARPGs in the slightest should give it a go - just remember to save often!

Feel like Alpha Protocol fits this category almost perfectly. While I love Obsidian as a developer, they do have a track record for releasing buggy games. Fortunately by the time I played Alpha Protocol most were ironed out (did had a bug related to furthering Sister’s story). Considering you can find this game for roughly 5-10 dollars these days I would recommend picking it up if you’re in the mode for a stealth/Mast Effect like game. It can be a little broken but I feel like at a low price it is a hidden gem.

Should a game no one can finish because of bugs never get scored?

Oh boy, let me tell you about Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and how breakable it is toward the endgame. Pick up a shield rod and pair it up with the Alucard Shield. Hold it up and steamroll your way to victory. Buy a duplicator and spam every item imaginable. Neutron bombs? Magic arrows? Power of sire? Spam it all, then spam the meal ticket and drop an endless supply of healing items.

These are things that I think add to the charm of the game. Cheesing your way to victory with the shield rod and the duplicator is one way to approach it. Another is to do an unarmed run. Maybe a luck run, where all of your stats except for luck are handicapped. That’s without getting into the fact that you can glitch outside of the castle, and end up with a traversal move that basically lets you fly. Symphony of the Night gives the player a LOT of power to break the game, and it’s a fun sandbox to mess around in when you know it well enough as a result.

Why not? But then, I think review scores are awkward compared to alternative methods of summarizing an opinion.

At any rate, in the specific example (and I took pains to speak in specifics in my original post), Prey was not a game no one could finish, even before the patch that fixed the corrupted saves. Lots of people (reviewers and ordinary players alike) had finished it on PC before the review came out. It was appropriate to warn players that they might hit a crippling bug that could ruin their experience, but it was also known (or easily knowable) to the reviewer that this wouldn’t be all players.

I think Bionic Commando '09 definitely belongs in this category and I love that game to death. It has really weird gunplay where nothing feels like it has any weight behind it, a ridiculous story that makes little to no sense, Steve Blum doing the Steve Blum thing, and the best webslinging since Spiderman 2. Movement in BC09 is so fun that it basically overrides everything else bad about it in my mind, and my biggest complaint is the weird out of bounds radiation they put into the game. BC09 is fuckin amazing.

Man, I love so much things about Brutal Legend. Aesthetic and soundtrack, God I loved it. But the actual battles woof. I still never finished it because one of the final fights is just too much.

Doing rts stuff at the same time as an action game with additional little rhythym segments to use abilities is just too busy and I couldn’t handle it

Empire is still something of a mess- they abandoned the naval section completely and the cavalry never worked. it breaks several of the AI factions (england specifically) but its still a complete delight in the same way that most ‘make your own history’ games end up. storming the fields of mexico city with polish hussars, or conquering london with a full army of native american warriors is inherently delightful

I couldn’t tollerate Fallout 3 or Stalker for any length of time because of their tech issues. Stalker’s were just minor things really, but I’d not found anying in the game underneath that made me want to put up with them so I dropped it. Fallout 3 is just so irredeemably broken then I couldn’t stand the thing even modded to shit, and again there just didn’t seem to be anything beyond the mountains of tech issues to make me want to put the effort in.

Skyrim, however, I could do. It didn’t dump so many problems on me as soon as it opened that I couldn’t push through to just exist in a place with some cool toys to play with, especially when some of those toys came from excelent mods like Brenin’s Better Vampires and Dwemer Certified(both of which are dead now I think, unfortunately). Thing is, Skyrim just accumulates problems, over time the little quirks of it’s cardboard and glue construction stop being cute, like mamoths stuck in trees and giants punting you inty the sun. It starts being, everything in your house isn’t yours now, and you have to manually reassign it as yours again with console commands. Eventually it all adds up to another experience that’s more about tollerating things and troubleshooting than it is about enjoying the game.

I’m actually really excited to play Skyrim on Switch completely vanilla. I recon I can enjoy as a place to relax in now that I’m not tempted to install a billion mods to try and turn it into a barely functioning immersive sim.

I’m very lenient with games (and uh things in general) and frankly think very little of these kinds of small failings in games. I tend to think very experientially about playing games and at the end of the day “broken” moments in games are still experientially real, valid and valuable, so if i can still play the game (or at the moment figure out how to “game the brokenness”) then it’s all good, just particularly different and unique to my own experience of that game. Which is perhaps better put as, i wouldn’t consider there to be some special, regal palate to games that run flawlessly which is instantly lost in the event of unsightly physics bugs.

I have always been tolerant of the many bugs in Paradox’s big strategy games like Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis because of their scale and ambition. CK2 is weird and buggy and patches regularly make it borderline unplayable but there is no other game remotely like it so I soldier on.

I don’t see any difficulty in discussing or reviewing a buggy but interesting game if you’re not being hampered by the straitjacket of score assignment, tbh. When I find myself hard pressed to give a game a clear “recommend” or “do not recommend” on Steam, for instance, that’s not an issue with games as a medium or me as a player, that’s an issue with Steam.

edit: I also don’t buy the idea that caring about bugs is some kind of artistry-denying, consumeristic thing. Bugs potentially impact the ~artistic~ experience just as much as any other element. On the flip side, a review that discusses any interesting artistic moves or statements that a game makes is also of interest to me as a consumer. The whole affair is a bit of a false dichotomy imo.