Also On: PSN, XBLA
Developer: Old School Games
Somewhere, at any given time, a video game discussion inevitably includes the infamous Atari 2600 game E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Somebody will bring up how it nearly killed the video game industry, another will chime in by saying it is the “Worst. Game. Ever.” A few will mull over the infamous dumping of Atari cartridges in Alamogordo, New Mexico (see also: Wintergreen’s Music Video) during the subsequent video game crash.
Whatever lessons the industry probably should have learned in 1983, they immediately forgot. Licensed games became a safe haven for mediocre-bordering-on-terrible titles banking on the popularity of a hot property to sell. Anyone who had a NES in the 80s likely had half of their collection loaded with the same licensed dreck The Angry Video Game Nerd curses on a semi-regular basis. Even the best of the licenses of the era had only a tenuous grip on the source material, with only characters or locations loosely adapted.
Turning to film, most scholars in the field are in agreement: Stanley Kubrick was amazing at doing the same thing in loose adaptations of novels and short stories to the silver screen. Roughly speaking, his talent was in taking the characters—whole characters, not just names and appearances—and transferring them to a good script. He had inspiration, funding, time, and an almost disconcerting level of obsession with making things perfect.
Look even at the increasingly antiquated pinball market, which has operated on popular licenses for decades. Two of the top three ranked electronic tables on the Internet Pinball Machine Database are licensed games, with an extended look at the list revealing that reviled game licenses such as The Simpsons, the majority of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s careers, and even Shaquille O’Neal (a man whose film- and gameopgraphies are dire-cum-parody) have had great success on the coin-op plane.
So why are licensed video games so universally lackluster? Because all the inspiration, funding, time, attention to detail, or even basic fundamentals of game design are outside of the reach of most licensed projects. Everything good about adaptations elsewhere in entertainment is missing in video games, which is why licensed games have skittered away into the darkness of the downloadable market. Why waste money on things like original games, distribution, or a proper marketing effort when you can jam your title squarely into the new page of Steam, Google Play, or the Apple App Store and hope people notice your hot IP, low price and good-in-screenshot graphics?
I’ll be the first to admit I feel a bit of schadenfreude when I open the newest roundup of Android games from AndroidPolice and read the slight bit of despair as the author sees yet another batch of Angry Birds, Temple Run, and Infinite Blade with a bevy of famous names attached to them. Even Batman, paragon of licensed titles with the Arkham franchise, is no stranger to the ripoff runoff of disappointing shovelware saturating the downloadable market.
In a way, R.I.P.D. is a sort of meta-shovelware. In promoting R.I.P.D. the film, Universal has cunningly copy-pasted all the moments, archetypes, characters, props and even sets from the similarly developed-from-a-nearly-decade-old-obscure-comic-book-movie Men in Black. It was a shrewd move, especially with the lead casting of noted box office poison Ryan Reynolds (See: Bill Simmons’ brutal and totally accurate critique) alongside Jeff Bridges phoning it in as hard as humanly possible. If there were a film equivalent of licensed games, it would be R.I.P.D.
As a result, R.I.P.D. the game is a sort of horrifying exponent of planned adequacy that cuts so many corners and does so many fundamental things wrong I’m frankly surprised it runs on my PC. Not that the game is poorly developed, which it is, but rather this is the level of game that would find itself comfortably at home in a mobile app store. R.I.P.D. is so safe, so boring, so stripped of features and proper game design it doesn’t even qualify as a trainwreck. It’s a transparent cashgrab based on a transparent crashgrab.
Even the very basis of the game, a technically co-op only horde mode game with a small handful of environments and a weaponset earned entirely through in-game currency made me feel the same sort of dread that comes when I venture into free-to-play games. Most of the weapons and upgrades get past the five-digit price range, and at a typical bounty of $5,000 if you even complete a match session.
Yes, complete. Not finish, not win, not default because your co-op buddy decided to ditch five minutes into a fifteen minute that feels like an hour or simply cut off his internet in a honorable effort of self-sacrifice. You have to complete the five-round match, which is dull from minute one and never really improves. Enemies are universally stupid, with pathfinding so rudimentary I felt like I was playing a first-gen PlayStation 2 game.
Not only are they stupid, the character designs in R.I.P.D. are just plain awful. Less than a dozen models populate the entire game, with the majority of the undead either looking like homeless people or Ray Liotta. The latter is somewhat excusable, because Ray Liotta has made a career of being hateable—but the former, man. Somehow Russian developers essentially putting a cowboy and a really depressed looking Ryan Reynolds into the frontlines of a twisted War on Poverty doesn’t rest well with me. I’m sure Lyndon B. Johnson never intended it this way.
Destroying the legion of spirits is equally terrible and boring, with third-person shooting that somehow manages to be worse than the rest of the game. At once able to be sluggish and imprecise whether with mouse or controller, the game’s aim assist is a necessity to make any sense of combat. Even then, aim assist tends to freak out and aim between targets, which makes for some irritating fights.
Killstreaks, on the other hand, are 80% ineffectual. Of the five available skills (healing, freeze one enemy, automated turret placement, decoy, a small area of effect ground-punch), only the turret has any efficiency. That is, when it works. I’ve dropped a turret several times to have it not work at all, refusing to target any enemies in range. When turrets do work, however, they’re amazing at their job.
At the end of a mission, a final hurdle stands between the titular R.I.P.D.: take down a random enemy (or if you can tolerate to play the game long enough, Kevin Bacon (!)) and stand vaguely near them for a minute while wave after wave of even more stupid undead run at your position. Or you can shoot them and end the mission. Apathy will probably win that battle.
Apathy is also the only emotion I feel towards R.I.P.D. It’s a rushed, lazy, poorly developed game that barely stands up on its own. Somehow it gets even worse with the license, bringing it into a bad licensed game pantheon alongside E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Fight Club. In a positive note, at least the wonders of digital distribution guarantee that landfills won’t see the added efforts of developer Old School Games’ latest production.
Doesn't stop it from being garbage, though.