Here's the situation: you've been anticipating a title for months. The hype has been extraordinary, the press coverage relentless, the previews have all been favourable, and you, by golly, have just got to have it. So you went to the local shop where you satisfy your gaming itch, picked up your very own copy, got home, threw it into your system, and...
...boy did it suck.
Seriously, you think to yourself, what the hell were they thinking? Then, you turn the blame inwards. What the hell were you thinking? It's not the first time it's happened either. You're a gamer. You're smarter than this. Where did everything go wrong? And more importantly, now that it has, what are you going to do about it?
I'm so glad you asked. Because while buying a crappy game sucks, there are often a number of things you can do to either completely or partially salvage the situation, and that's the purpose of this blog.
First and foremost, let's be realistic: I'm not in any way, shape, or form claiming that crappy, unplayable games don't exist. They do. By the thousands of titles. Shovelware is, sadly, a fact of life, and no blog post or editorial will ever change that fact. Secondly, let's continue to be realistic and say that if you are a PC gamer, you are generally out of luck. Thanks to modern-day DRM practices, issues with licensing codes and digital distribution mediums such as Steam, generally speaking, you are out of luck both in terms of trying to return it (most stores only exchange for like titles, and you cannot return software purchased via digital distribution) and in terms of trying to resell it or give it to someone else. For that reason, the following ideas will apply more to console games as opposed to PC titles. With that out of the way, let's get to the meat.
The single best way you can avoid this feeling is by being truly realistic about a game in the first place. Even if every website and press outlet in the world is heralding "The King of Street Kombat VI: Special 'Your Mother' Hyper Edition" as the Second Coming, keep your expectations in check. If you aren't a fan of fighting games, chances are that even the best one on the planet isn't going to change your mind. And even if you are a fan of that genre, there could still be things about it that don't strike your fancy. So be realistic, and even when the reviewers are handing out 10s like crack dealers giving out free samples, keep your expectations in check. Expect a good game, and you can be surprised when you get a great game. Expect a great game, and you can be disappointed when you get "only" a good game.
An obvious workaround in every situation is to never purchase a game before you've rented it, but this isn't always feasible. The newest titles are always the hottest titles, and unless your local rental establishments stock thirty or forty copies of the game at a time (and most don't), the chances of you being able to try before you buy on something new is minimal at best. Waiting can sometimes work in your favour, but if the game is truly sought-after, it can be a frustrating gamble even after a few months to find an available copy at Blockbuster. Also, renting games can be expensive. Renting ten games at five dollars a title means that you've just forked out $50 that you could have used to buy another game. If you're so hardcore that you can beat every game you rent in 3-5 days, then you're saving money. If you're mostly into RPGs that have 80+ hours of gameplay, you're not going to be able to use this route. Renting isn't for everybody, so this is a personal decision you'll have to make for yourselves.
OK, so your expectations were firmly in check, you bought the game, and it still sucks. Now what? Well, first and foremost, it may not be the most exciting thing to do, but read the instructions. Yeah, I know, I know, the instructions are for sissies and your momma didn't raise no sissy. I don't care: read the damn book, nancy-boy. You'd be amazed at how often this provides results that turn an unplayable game into an enjoyable experience once you realize that there are control options and moves that you didn't realize existed. There may be ways to lower or raise the difficulty level to your tastes, reconfigure the controller options to something you are more comfortable with, and notes of abilities that the in-game tutorials (if they exist) may not explain adequately enough. Imagine finding out that the button you thought was useless at first because it didn't do anything when you pressed it wasn't doing anything because you weren't currently in combat or weren't fulfilling some condition that allowed the button to do its job? Maybe that "unplayable" game with the "unfair" enemy AI gets a lot easier once you realize that you can take cover behind an obstacle and blindfire from there. But you didn't know that because you didn't read the instructions. Now you can go online and pop all the nancy-boys who didn't read the instructions. Feels good, doesn't it?
Well, what happens if you read the instructions and they don't answer all of your questions? That's OK, it happens. All is not lost. If you're playing a PC game, the first thing you should do is look for a patch. These days, it's almost an anomaly if a commercial title doesn't have a patch for a game within days (or even before) the game releases. If you're playing on a modern console, (PS3, 360, etc...) hook your system up to the internet and see if the game downloads an update. If this happens, try playing the game again and see if anything has changed. Maybe those controls that sucked before were fixed by the patch, or the difficulty was toned down and you only have to face one Giant Mutant Lettuce at the end of the first level instead of two.
No patch available, or the update didn't solve your problems? Take another look at what, specifically, you don't like about the game and see if maybe you can look at it differently. Understand that often times, sequels of games can do things differently than earlier titles because of new features that developers add or a different engine being used. I personally experienced this problem with the second Mercenaries game. The original Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction is one of my favorite games of all time. Mercenaries 2: World in Flames does things an awful lot differently from the first game. But instead of trying to play and enjoy it as a completely different title, I was attempting to play it as "Playground of Destruction with prettier graphics." This was a losing proposition, because Mercenaries 2 is not the original Mercenaries. Once I got that through my head and started playing Mercenaries 2 as its own game, I still found some things that annoyed me, but nothing that was truly game-breaking in terms of making me want to get rid of it. This won't always be the case, but if you can re-adjust your views, you will sometimes find that you can salvage a game that you originally thought of as unplayable.
Let's assume you just can't salvage it though. It's not a sequel, you had no preconceived notions, and the patch only added trophy support. It's time to get a second opinion. Find a friend who likes the kinds of games that you like and invite them over to play it while you watch, or watch while you are playing. Another pair of eyes can often help you spot deficiencies in your own personal playing style that you overlook, or give you assistance in solving puzzles. Give your buddy the controller and watch how he or she goes about playing the game and adjusting to the situations that arise. If your friend can put a new spin on things ("Hey, I never thought to use a grenade like that..."), then all is not lost. Try incorporating that playing style next time you give the game a go and see if maybe your experience changes. If you can't find a buddy to play with, you can always try going online with games that offer that as a feature and observing how the other players do things, especially in a cooperative game like the co-op campaign in Resistance 2. If the game doesn't offer online play, or only offers it for deathmatch style and you're more interested in learning the single-player ropes, head over to YouTube and look for anybody who is making "Let's Play..." or "Walkthrough" videos for the game in question and watch them play a level or two. Many gamers run commentary as they play, either by voice or through captions, that explain what they are doing and why they are doing it so look for those and give the game another shot once you've picked up some tips.
Maybe all of this isn't your cup of tea though. Let's assume that the game really is terrible. In fact, it's so awful you just cannot imagine how it ever got out of the studio in the first place. Now it's time to call over your friends, but for a completely different reason. If the game sucks, you might as well get a few hours' worth of enjoyment out of how bad it truly is. "Dude, you cannot believe how bad this game is...you've gotta see it for yourself." Words of magic to any gamer's ear. Get the gang together, haul out the pizza and Mountain Dew, and have an hour or two of enjoyment playing to see just how badly one of you can suck ("You know, I never saw Scott the whole time we were playing that death match." "Yeah, I think he fell in the lava at the beginning..."), or how cheesy the voice acting is, or how terrible the AI is programmed, or anything else you can get a laugh out of. Sure, it won't get you your sixty bucks back, but time spent laughing with friends is time well-spent any day of the week.
But now you really, really don't want the game. If you purchased it new, or from a place like Wal-Mart, chances are you're out of luck. Many places won't accept opened software or video games for a refund, even with a receipt. Most big box stores will only go so far as letting you trade the game for a copy of the same game, which prevents you from getting stuck with a defective product, but that's about all they are in for. Video game chain stores such as GameStop and the like, usually will let you return the game within seven days, but again only for a like title. If you don't want it, they'll still buy it back from you, but you won't get back anywhere near what you paid for it, and even less if you opt for money instead of store credit. Any way you look at it, you're going to get boned, and it'll suck. The best thing you can do is chalk it up to experience, try not to dwell on it, and look around for something good to play while you work through your frustrations. If the game sucked for you because it was too simple, see if you could instead sell or trade it to a friend for a game they thought was too hard or have already beaten, or use it as a birthday gift for a younger gamer who may not be as elite as you are (keep in mind the ratings...just because you are 25 and can play Virtual Criminal Simulator: Icepick Sociopath without giving yourself nightmares doesn't mean that your 12-year old cousin can, and his mommy and daddy might not be terribly pleased with your choice of gift). Another perfectly acceptable option with most titles is to try and resell them yourself on the internet via eBay, Amazon, or some other auction site. Selling a brand new, hot game for $10-15 below the retail price is a great way to recoup nearly all of your investment in cash, and it's a lot easier to suck down a $10 loss on a game than it is to stomach a $30+ one.
If you purchased the game used, your choices are usually a lot better. Places that deal in used merchandise almost always have return policies that allow you to bring the game back, for any reason, and receive a full refund, if not in cash then at least for full value in store credit. You did keep your receipt, right...? If you didn't, you're hosed. If you were smart though, pretty much every store will take it back and at the very least let you apply the purchase price towards something else. So maybe Murderzone 2 didn't quite life up to the hype, but when you bought it you were deciding between that and Silent Space. Give the other one a go and see what happens. In gaming terms, you're just burning an extra life, and it's not the end of the world.
Lastly, there is one final option...you can go nuclear. Maybe this game sucked so badly that you are willing to eat the money you spent on it just so that nobody else will be stuck with your copy of it. In your mind, $40 is an acceptable price to pay for not inflicting this torment on another soul. If that's the case, then all the rules go out the window, and it's time to lay the smackdown on the game itself. But don't just throw it away. C'mon, you're more hardcore than that. Just tossing a game in the ol' circular file is the n00b's path. Pwn that sucker in style! Gather the group and make an event out of it: build a sacrificial bonfire, see how many times you can drive over it with your car or bike before it breaks, drag out the pliars and blowtorch, see if you can train your dog to retrieve it as a flying disc, put it in the microwave and watch all the pretty blue fireworks, incorporate it into your Backyard Wrestling routine somehow (not recommended or endorsed by myself or this website!), execute it in effigy in front of the developer's or publisher's studios (only works for locally-produced games, but make sure somebody's got the camera for a post-execution YouTube upload), Zerg Rush (use your imagination), or have it die the death of 1,000 cuts where each of you takes a turn scratching the disc in some minimal fashion and see how many rounds it takes before the game can no longer boot up in your system. Whatever method you choose to dispose of your craptacular purchase, make sure that there's no alcohol involved unless you are over 21, no fires involved unless you are over 18 or have adult supervision, and nothing but the game gets the crap beat out of it in the end.
Buying a crappy game sucks. There's no two ways about it. But it's something that even the most cautious gamer will experience at least once in his or her lifetime. When you do, just keep in mind that it doesn't have to be the end of the world and it can still be the catalyst for some great future stories and memories. Who knows...it might not turn out to be as bad as you originally thought. And that's the best outcome of them all!