Monster A Go Go. Manos: The Hands of Fate. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. What do these three titles have in common? Beyond their shared potential for metal band names, of course.
The answer? They’re all films that are so excruciatingly and irredeemably awful that they’re actually great.
These celluloid marvels are so devoid of intrigue, direction, coherent plot—and, often, acting—that there’s no other response than to offer a wry smile and claim the enjoyment is somehow ironic. They’re labelled ‘B-movies’: a highly inappropriate name which seems to forget that there are 25 other letters in the English alphabet, 24 of which would have been better suited for the task.
So resilient and widespread is the ardour for the wondrously shitty, there are still movies made for that specific audience. We have Sharknado, Sharknado 2, Sharknado 3 and the soon to be released Tornado: The Sharks Aren’t Here, They’re All Dead, The Sharknadoes killed them. They’re willfully inept, and they’re praised as such. But can the same be said for video games?
We’re basically asking three connected questions: Do we have video games which are bad? Do we have video games which are good? And are there any which are both? Here’s a handy Venn Diagram I drew to illustrate the point and to help reach this article’s image quotient:The games that fit in the middle are what we want. This isn’t mediocrity, where the bad serves merely to dilute the good; this is the bad being produced under exactly the right conditions and in such prodigious quantities to allow a mysterious fermentation process to take hold, creating something actually wonderful.
It seems prudent to delve into ‘cult titles’–those games which, often through off-kilter strangeness, have attracted a niche audience, as is the case with many of the aforementioned films. There’s a candidate here that’s as glaring as F.K in the coffee: Deadly Premonition.
Quite possibly the closest thing we have to a David Lynch-helmed video game, Deadly Premonition follows Agent Frances ‘Call-Him-York’ Morgan’s investigation into the ‘Rain Coat Killer’, an enigmatic and evil shit with a penchant for murder in a mackintosh. Along the way, York brushes shoulders with an eclectic cast of fascinating characters, each with their own quirks that are exaggerated to stratospheric levels–none more so than the ‘Mysterious Capitalist’ Harry Stewart who, while wearing a mask straight out of My Chemical Romance’s Black Parade music video, speaks vicariously through his P.A. in rhyming couplets.Deadly Premonition is a game seemingly detested and adored in equal measure, often at the same time by the same person. While there’s a lot to love about the game (including the janky animations, the esoteric car monologuing and the downright weird combat segments), there are also some significant drawbacks (including the janky animations, the esoteric car monologuing and the downright weird combat segments).
This is where the article should end, right? Deadly Premonition is the perfect example, right?
Wrong! For one thing, the word count on this is pitifully low. More importantly, this game doesn’t fit the formula that I’ve arbitrarily decided is absolute. Just because something is askew doesn’t mean it’s bad; we’re looking for unarguably terrible, not subversive.
This all comes down to that simple kicker which distinguishes games from movies: a game needs to be played. A movie asks very little of you in order to see it through to the end, and that which it does ask is either easily observed (i.e. ‘Don’t leave’) or out of your control (i.e. ‘Don’t die’). A game wants you to move about, shoot enemies and jump through all sorts of hoops, literal or otherwise. If it inadequately provides the tools to complete the job, how can you be expected to form any opinion on the game beyond ‘I can’t play it. Shame.’?
It’s not exactly the most satisfying of conclusions, I know. It’s supposed to be a ‘think piece’, not a ‘no think; piss’! Still, the only examples that come to mind as having even a shred of relevancy are games with mechanical shortcomings that are so slight as to barely be a burden, or those which, again, are out of the ordinary.
Spec Ops: The Line is a game where the mechanics are decidedly secondary to the narrative; it doesn’t fit. E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy gets pretty close, but even then it’s more haywire and overly-ambitious than straight up bad.There may be a game out there, somewhere–a flawed beast that’s frustrating, impenetrable and glorious all at once–but our search ends here. It’s a disappointing way to end an article, but this is how it must end. The greatest explorers live for that breathless moment of seeing new land on the horizon, not for resting their feet and admiring the photos on the wall. We sought, we failed, but at least we tried. And we will try again, just not today.
Just not today.