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Patrick Hope: Daikatana: One of the worst games I’ve ever played

By Patrick Hope

Yeah, I said it. It’s Thanksgiving time, so it only seems appropriate to discuss one of the biggest turkeys in gaming history. There are a lot of bad games out there, but there’s something special about one that made itself out to be the next big evolution in shooters and completely flopped.

It’s a special kind of bad, like “Heaven’s Gate” or “Battlefield Earth.” It’s an “expert first-person shooter.”

It’s Daikatana.

To understand the colossal failure of Daikatana, you need to understand its not-so-humble origins. Daikatana means “big sword,” which is as disappointing as when I found out that the Bolshoi Ballet literally means the “big ballet,” is the brainchild of John Romero.

Romero worked at Id Software and helped create Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake. So when, in 1996, he bailed from Id to form his own studio, Ion Storm, under the credo “design is law,” a lot of people were extremely excited for his first big project, the incredibly ambitious Daikatana.

There were supposed to be an insane 25 weapons and 24 levels. There would be an artificial-intelligence partner to assist you. It was also supposed to be ready in Christmas 1997, about six months after production started. It was not. In fact, Daikatana, in its almost laughably clunky final form, didn’t release until April 2000.

So what makes Daikatana so bad? Where do we even start?

Maybe it’s the graphics. Quake got some flak for how brown everything in the game was. So in Daikatana, Romero made the brilliant decision to make everything green, at least for the first world — which is all most anyone who plays will ever see anyway as they’ll just tap out pretty early on.

It’s not a pleasant green either. It’s this unnatural, headache-inducing green. And it is everywhere. The opening level is supposed to suck a player into the game and one that’s as visually unappealing as Daikatana’s creates a pretty big hole for the rest of the game.

But hey, it’s not like that even matters, because the rest of the game is just as bad. Many of the enemies move really quickly, which is a bit of a problem as the guns are inaccurate and fire slowly. Or they have bouncing projectiles that can come back and hurt you. It has a shotgun that fires six shots at once, making it absolutely useless unless you really like wasting ammo by shooting in the air or at walls. There’s even a really powerful weapon called the Eye of Zeus that more or less destroys everything on screen, unless there’s nothing on the screen, in which case it kills you. FUN.

But what of Daikatana’s innovative AI companions? This might come as a shock to you, but they don’t work correctly either. Or at all.

Let’s completely ignore the fact that one of them is a black dude named Superfly. Yes, somehow the team at Ion Storm decided this was a good idea. Let’s get into the fact that Superfly and the other AI helper, Mikiko, don’t do anything more than get in your way or get stuck in walls. I don’t think I ever saw either of them actually shoot anything unless by accident. And speaking of getting stuck in walls, you also might find yourself stuck in walls, as the game is more or less unplayable without being patched.

Doors also might not work as they’re supposed to and if you don’t no-clip through them, you won’t be able to progress. When your game can’t function in any way close to what it’s supposed to be, it’s not a good sign.

If you’re really curious, there is a story to Daikatana, not that it matters. There’s something about a virus and time travel, but I doubt many people got far enough into the game to care. There’s also a large sword, called the Daikatana, that can travel through time and was taken from one of Romero’s Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. This means the game is skirting the boundary between original work and Romero fan fiction. That’s not a place you want to be.

As I said before, Daikatana is a special kind of bad. It represented one man’s complete dedication to his pet project, no matter how awful an idea that may have been. This game more or less ended Ion Storm, which was bought by Eidos in 2001. Romero went on to do absolutely nothing of note and Daikatana cemented itself as one of gaming’s biggest disasters. It’s available on Steam now, so if you really are masochistic, you can buy it. Though I can’t imagine why you’d want to do so.

So I guess that wraps things up. Have a Happy Black Friday and Happy Black Friday Eve and … wait, what? I can’t finish the column? Oh, right. I have to go back. Stupid Daikatana.

I can’t leave without my buddy Superfly.

Hope is a Dickinson attorney and video game enthusiast.