Last year saw the glimmer of a movement to get a video game based on Sons of Anarchy, FX's biker gang series and a vicarious lifestyle fantasy for many viewers, one of them me. The possibility seemed to go no further than series creator Kurt Sutter's own hopes.
Still, he vowed anything the show licensed "won't be some slapcrap browser thing." Well, there are things worse than a slapcrap browser-based game. There's a slapcrap console game, the likes of which I just purchased for $30 and still find myself oddly drawn to, even if it may be, legitimately, one of the worst titles of this console generation.
Let's be clear: I was not fooled. This was a clear choice and one for which I take responsibility. There was nothing in Ride to Hell: Retribution's résumé to recommend it to any knowledgeable gamer, much less to someone whose job is to write about video games. The goddamn thing lists for $29.99 on PS3 and Xbox 360, a statement of no confidence that should have been a big red light by itself. Announced with great ambition in 2008, Ride to Hell went nomad almost immediately, resurfacing at the last minute earlier this year.
Everything about its lifespan and publishing suggests Ride to Hell's owners just wanted to salvage whatever work had been done and get on with life. Eutechnyx is a racing studio. Ride to Hell's driving is some of the worst I've ever encountered, probably because people who are actually good at making that experience interesting and fun were instead trying to develop brawling and shooting systems and a lot of on-foot action instead.
Other than The Lost and Damned from Grand Theft Auto IV—I never finished the main game, and I never picked up the standalone disc—I don't really know of any current motorcycle gang game out there. (Reaching back, yes, Full Throttle is an excellent game, but is more of a science fiction adventure with biker themes). Besides, The Lost and Damned is set in what is basically New York City, which hardly fits the biker flick subgenre.
That's all I was after here, the same I was for many other games I bought over the past decade that barely rose to the level of guilty pleasures. They were just filling a void, a bad relationship with nothing to offer, but it's not like I could find anything better, or anything that could make me feel the way they did the first time I brought them home.
There was Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance, right after I got my Xbox in 2003. I bought that because—are you ready for this?—I had been reading I, Claudius and wanted something, anything, set in ancient Rome. Gladius, by Lucasarts, was a legitimately great game, and I sunk tens of hours into it. But as a strategy title, in a fictitious land, it left me unfulfilled. I put it down when my school made it to Imperia, then actually picked up Circus Maximus and battled its inscrutable controls, convincing myself I was having fun. By the time God of War arrived three years later, I didn't have a PlayStation 2, or any urge to imagine its landscape.
I had moved on to the cowboy genre, thanks to Red Dead Revolver. Once it had been played, and replayed and practically completed (except for unlocking Manny Quinn) I needed something to take its place. I found Dead Man's Hand on GameFly. One had to make an enormous suspension of disbelief for Red Dead Revolver to work, but if you did, it rewarded you in spades. Dead Man's Hand was little more than a bucket full of clichés and, again, bad controls.
Gun was a crushing disappointment, teasing with the vision of Grand-Theft-Auto-in-the-West but coming nowhere close to the length of experience that franchise offered. Then came Call of Juarez, in 2007, with horrid, guess-what-I'm-thinking level design and wretched voice acting propping up a dime-a-dozen story. I revisited Call of Juarez on Wednesday and was reminded of all the reasons I couldn't take it for more than two hours. Even after Red Dead Redemption showed up in 2010 and kissed every one of my tears away, the fact I still have Call of Juarez, still unfinished, should say something.
Like Call of Juarez, Ride to Hell: Retribution opens with a flash-forward sequence of you manning a machine gun turret to no consequential outcome. From there, you jump-cut through disposable characters (one of them your brother), have laughable fully-clothed sex a few times and use a walkie-talkie like it's a cell phone. There's no sense of motorcycle club identity and no sense of place, two bedrock necessities of this particular genre. I haven't finished it but it's so unchallenging I feel like I should just to salvage some self-respect for buying the goddamn thing. Besides, Jake's "fists of rage" quicktime supermove is preceded by such a ridiculous hulk-out animation, it had to be intentionally awful. The game's poor design doesn't seem to me to be lazy or incompetent. It all feels resentful, the work of professionals who felt set up to fail, and were ordered to hurry this out the door, with their names alone accountable for the disaster.
I didn't buy Ride to Hell: Retribution because it was a good game. I bought it for the same reason I bought every bad game that still sits on my shelf. Despite what I knew could only be a disappointment, it was still the only place I could find the experience I really wanted. It's probably the reason you've hung on to a bad game. It's also the reason you hung on to the good ones.