At the tail end of the seventh generation of gaming consoles, the community was treated to one of the worst games to ever appear from the miasmatic bog of bad games. Ride to Hell: Retribution, after being announced in 2008, “cancelled” in 2009, and re-announced in 2013, couldn’t have made a worse impression. This “first installment of a franchise” did nothing for gaming except induce millions of facepalms all over the internet. Earning unanimous disapproval across the board (including our own Steve Hannley, who had the heroic privilege of being the first to review it), Ride to Hell: Retribution was widely considered the Worst Game of 2013 (Hardcore Gamer included). But it was also labeled the “worst game of all time” and in that regard, I agree. It’s the worst game of all time, but only because, unlike its putrid peer Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, Ride to Hell: Retribution can be called a game. An abysmal abomination of a game, but still a game.
It takes a special kind of perverse abhorrence to challenge a game like Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing for the dubious honor of Worst Game Ever Made. Let’s think about it: Big Rigs was not even a functional product. The basic elements that a game or technical device requires to work were non-existent. Sure, you could move, but there was no reason to. The “game” portion did not exist. You weren’t racing anyone since they didn’t move from their stationary position at the starting line. There were no obstacles, no penalty for driving up a vertical cliff, through the bottom of a bridge, or into the eerily empty white void beyond the game map. Once you got to see the “You’re Winner” emblem on your screen, the game was likely to straight up crash when you start to load the second track. So with no incentive or obstacle preventing you from completing a race when begun, you weren’t playing a game. It was devoid of any sort of element required to classify it as a game. The retail product wasn’t just technically broken, but fundamentally broken. There was no game in Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing.
When Ride to Hell: Retribution was universally panned, I didn’t think much of it. Yes, it’s a bad game. A very bad game; there’s no way around that. It has no real redeeming qualities: terrible combat controls, technical glitches, levels not loading, failing a mission for no real reason, along with a story that constantly seems to forget what it’s doing after every scene change. And those pointless and random sex scenes with fully clothed, mannequin-faced creatures only solidified the concept that the game designers’ minds were not in the building.
But at the same time, Ride to Hell: Retribution has something that Big Rigs doesn’t: based on its own design framework, it is a game. There are obstacles that are preventing the player from reaching an ultimate endpoint, a goal is in place, and there is (ideally) a way to reach the game’s conclusion. So, despite how terribly putrid everything in the game is, the fact that it can still be called a game is something a lot of people overlooked when comparing it to Big Rigs, a game so terribly broken that the flaws erase what fundamentally made it a working game. You can’t really lose in Big Rigs, and that’s not inherently an issue. Lots of games do that these days, but Big Rigs doesn’t just remove the ability to lose: it removes the ability to be challenged. Nothing is standing in your way (literally). Even if you can’t lose, games are able to compensate for that with steady challenges, spikes in difficulty or anything to add some topography to the difficulty curve. Big Rigs never did that. It was impossible to fail and the challenge was simply out to lunch. Its gaming guts were drained.
Ride to Hell: Retribution has difficulty. Yes, it’s smothered under some terrible controls and a story incentive that means zilch from square one, but you can lose. The game at least puts up a fight and there are ways to fail. The problems with Ride to Hell stem from those smaller problems that eventually stack up to sky-high piles of worthlessness. You can’t change the unwieldy controls. The voice acting is absurdly terrible. The graphics glitch up a whole lot. Load times are long and frequent. The story is total garbage. The character models look like partially melted wax figures with crayon drawn on them. They’re all horrible features, but at the end of the day, all of these things combined cannot 100% prevent you from reaching the end objective. There is a slim chance that Ride to Hell’s massive truckload of issues will offer a brief gap through the crap and into completion. It’s there, and since it is there, Ride to Hell: Retribution can by definition be called a “game.”
And maybe, that’s why Ride to Hell: Retribution really is the worst game of all time, because Big Rigs is so devoid of design, gameplay, structure, aesthetic or functioning technology that it can’t be called a game at all. Anything required for a title to actually be called a functioning game has been ripped from Big Rigs’ heart. Ride to Hell narrowly dodges that bullet, but just enough to keep going at its dizzy, stumbling, alcohol-induced stupor. It might not get far, but it can continue past that shot.
If someone asked me, “what’s worse: Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing or Ride to Hell: Retribution?”, I would always, always say Big Rigs. If someone asked me, “what’s a worse game: Big Rigs or Ride to Hell?” I’d say Ride to Hell. Why? Because for all of the problems, for all of the issues that are stacked to the peak with ineptitude, Ride to Hell is still a game. It has the absolute bare minimum in its design to be called one, but it’s a game. You can finish it. You can progress in it. There’s an objective, an obstacle, a set of interfaces that allow the player to actually be able to do something in the game, resulting in the potential ability to reach that objective. Big Rigs doesn’t. It’s not a game. It’s simply a broken technical apparatus that will forever be immortalized in gamers’ minds as one of the most defective pieces of technology to ever crawl into the medium.
I have no problem calling Ride to Hell: Retribution the Worst Game of All Time, but only because it just barely qualifies as a game, when its worse peers missed the sign-up date and can only be called “total crap.” So congrats, Ride to Hell. You made the cut. Now go away forever.