When ‘Bad’ Games Are Still ‘Fun’ Games
I’ve recently been replaying BloodRayne, spurred in part by the recent announcement of BloodRayne: Betrayal. I’ve been a fan of the franchise for many years, mostly due to how utterly ludicrous it is, but I haven’t played a BloodRayne game in at least five years, and long before I began to look at games with a more critical eye. Replaying BloodRayne, there’s no escaping the fact that it’s not a very “good” game. This is a fact I knew even back when I had first played it. However, it didn’t matter to me then, and it doesn’t matter to me now. BloodRayne is fun to me, and the only thing that my critical eye has changed is the fact that I am now compelled to examine why the game is fun, rather than just accept it.
When I confessed my love for BloodRayne on Twitter, I was met with a healthy dose of cynicism in response, as my followers let their negative opinion of the game be known. The thing is, I cannot blame a single person for disliking BloodRayne. Any criticism you could have of it is absolutely true — the combat is unrefined to the point of feeling sloppy, the backtracking and lack of direction makes for some tedious moments, the character of Rayne is salacious to such an extreme that it could be taken as quite offensive. Any critique I’ve heard of the game is one that I’ve found fair and impossible to argue against.
Yet … I do not think BloodRayne is a terrible experience. Taken at face value, with its messy controls and poor pacing, BloodRayne is a “bad” game for sure. Yet still, do I find it thoroughly endearing. The combat is certainly messy, yet it’s quite satisfying to mindlessly run around Nazis, slashing at them with dedicated repetition until their arm flies off and they run away bleeding from the stump. Rayne is an absurd male fantasy, but making her wrap her legs around enemies and moan seductively while she drinks their blood never seems to get old. It’s stupid but it’s infinitely amusing. The whole game is over the top, crude, and lacking in polish, and that’s what makes it so enjoyable.
BloodRayne isn’t a pretentious game. It knows what it is and it relishes the fact. It’s accepted that it’s a gory, brainless, flagrantly sexualized experience, and it makes no apologies for this. The title refuses to take itself seriously and if you’re willing to lower your standards while temporarily taking your intellect down a notch, Majesco’s sleazy, hyperviolent fetish-fuel is ready to provide a few hours of shameless gaiety. Of course, you’re going to have to forgive the title’s many and varied issues, but if you can do it, the rewards are there.
There’s a case to be made for titles like this. I utterly hate drawing comparisons to film (I find it quite lazy), but for the sake of instant recognition, games like BloodRayne are the interactive equivalent to B-Movies.
One far more popular example of a B-game would be Earth Defense Force 2017. Now, I personally have never cared for the game, but many do, and I can see why. Like BloodRayne, it completely lacks any sort of polish, and it is ostensibly nothing more than a tactless, repetitive, gormless shooter. However, you’re fighting giant ants in some of the most absurd combat situations ever seen in a game. Yes, it looks pretty ugly, there’s not much in the way of a story and the gameplay is an endless cavalcade of pointless insect-mulching, but there’s a distinct purity to the experience. Like BloodRayne, Earth Defense Force 2017 is comfortable being what it is — in this case a low-rent excuse to get some massive guns and blow up some bugs.
To be more controversial, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is another game that I would define as a good experience in spite of being a bad game. The title deserves all the criticism it gets for again being sloppy in the combat department, with AI partners that have zero brainpower whatsoever, random difficulty spikes and a cover system that doesn’t always want to work. If you can get over the fact that the core gameplay is inherently rubbish, however, you’ll find a game that does things no other title does. For a start, the co-op casts one player in the role of a schizophrenic who hallucinates, and these hallucinations manifest for that player only. While that player is killing random, bizarre enemies, the “sane” player is witnessing a massacre, the reality of a player who is murdering civilians.
Dead Men also takes you through various levels that haven’t been pulled off with so much intensity and style before. There’s a fantastic prison break scenario and an engrossing bank robbery section, both of which are delivered with such impressive pacing that it makes you wonder how IO Interactive can’t figure out basic combat mechanics. Not to mention, the depressing and morbid story, married as it is to two of the most morally reprehensible playable characters in history. Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is a “bad” game, but it’s one of the most remarkable “experiences” of this generation.
I’m sure this can be applied to many of the games we fondly remember from our youth. Just as Transformers is actually quite a bad cartoon, so too is the original Legend of Zelda a much less tight and fascinating experience when viewed with adult eyes. It doesn’t matter though, because there’s still fun to be had there, even if sometimes the fun is a little ironic. So long as it’s entertaining on some level, then I dare say we can forgive much in the quality department.
When I reviewed Deadly Premonition, I quite notoriously awarded it a 10/10, calling it a beautiful trainwreck. The individual elements of Deadly Premonition are terrible, but together, they create the perfect storm of “So bad it’s good.” Again, it comes down to the entertainment I got from it — Deadly Premonition either deserves a one or a ten, and I could not in good faith award a one to a game that had made me laugh so hard and so genuinely. It epitomizes everything a B-game should be, a game so unashamedly amusing that it manages to make up for every fault. Sometimes — in the case of Swery 65′s opus — the faults can become so endearing that they become intrinsic parts of the experience, to the point where having any of them fixed would ruin everything.
Of course, there are limits. A game like Alpha Protocol, for example, is broken beyond forgiveness, stuffed to the gills with glitches, enemies that have zero ability to fight intelligently, a cover system that almost never works and a total lack of compelling missions. It’s difficult for a game to be bad yet also be fun, because ultimately the player’s progression and patience is at stake. A B-movie is easier to come by because of the passive investment the watcher makes. A player has to be active with a game and if you don’t make your title rewarding enough in some way, having bad mechanics will just frustrate and annoy. There has to be something to make it worth the player’s time and patience, and many bad games simply lack that crucial element. You find a game that does the improbable and manages to be bad and fun at once, however, and you have quite a treasure. A wholly subjective treasure, mind you. One man’s trash, and all that nonsense.
So this is why I love BloodRayne in spite of knowing, to my very core, that it’s not a very good game. It doesn’t matter how good the game is, because it’s still somehow fun, and that’s the most important factor for me when judging a game’s merits. When I think about some of the major AAA titles on the market — ones that boast all the production values in the world but simply aren’t fun — I think I’d rather have a crappy budget game that strives to entertain than a Hollywood-flavored, big budget one that strives to do “more” but emotionally provides so much less. If I had to choose an industry of BloodRaynes or an industry of Heavy Rains, I’d go with BloodRayne every time. No, it might not “move the industry forward” but it would make the industry a bigger frigging laugh.
I know that’s what I got into games for.