The price tag of game creation is becoming more translucent, with the rise in eminence of sites like KickStarter, and the games themselves are swallowing more money than ever before thanks to better graphics, famous voice actors, film licences and so on. They’re bigger than ever, and it stands to reason that more currency is needed to create them. But tragically, the mark of said currency is sometimes utterly mystifying. Some games are so expensive – and so bad - that you’d be amazed to hear they even cost money at all, as opposed to, say, being bartered for some eggs, or painting the developers garden fence.

Enter the Matrix – 2003

Estimated cost: $20,000,000

Oh God yes, a Matrix video game! You were blown away by its state-of-the-art visual trickery and mind-bending story of spirituality when it opened at the cinema, and now you get to take control of nouveau-Superman Neo as he nonchalantly brain-slams a bunch of well dressed henchmen and stops bullets in midair with only his well manicured hand. Oh, you don’t get to play as Neo? Well, who do you play as? Will Smith’s wife..? I’m out.

OK, OK, maybe that’s not fair. She was a feisty enough supporting character, and I bet those slow motion karate ballets are fun as Hell to execute. What’s that? The animations look like malfunctioning Jim Henson puppets? The official soundtrack tunes have names like “Kick Jab Stab” and “Smelly Sewer”? It was so severely drab and repetitive that you’d be hard pressed to even call it an ‘action’ game? Seems like maybe I should have gone with the blissful ignorance of illusion and swallowed that blue pill instead.

Beyond: Two Souls – 2013

Estimated cost: $27,000,000

I would imagine that a large portion of this vast, vast amount of money went on Ellen Page’s salary. And then, whatever David Cage had left over he gave to Willem Dafoe – because surely no money was spent on actually writing this turgid abomination. I’ve written before – at some length – for my hatred for this game, and finding out that Sony gave Cage nearly 30 million dollars with which to fuel his ridiculous mind-wank has done little to quell my rage.

To recap, you play Ellen Page, who plays some other girl, and she has some kind of pet ghost (called Aiden) who floats around watching her take showers and objecting to her dating. Dafoe looks after her for a while, and he works for the preposterously titled US Department of Paranormal Activity. Then she joins the CIA. Then she’s homeless. Then she’s in war-torn Somalia. Then she’s a clichéd goth teen again. Then she goes on holiday to the Bahamas and Aiden rides a jet-ski.

Fine, that last one isn’t true – but might as well be, for all the muddled nonsensical barf that Cage insists on covering you in. And you know what else they must have saved a lot of money on? Mapping actions to the controller. In fact, I’m 90% sure that if you threw your pad out the window it’d be about 3 or 4 hours before you needed to go fetch it again to press another button. Dammit, wait, this is the bit where I can take Ellen’s bra off! Where did I throw it this time?? OH GOD A RACCOON IS RUNNING OFF WITH IT.

L.A. Noire – 2011

Estimated cost: $50,000,000

I would be blown away if $49,999,999 of this didn’t go into those facial animations. I mean, look at them. LOOK AT THEIR FACES. Jesus, they’re so real. This game’s three yeas old now, and on a last-gen console, and it’s still outshining every single other game that dares try and have characters with faces in it. Even famous Hollywood characters with actual faces like Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe. Cough.

L.A. Noire was impossibly well presented, and a perfectly captured slice of the the dark underbelly of ’40s California. What it was not, on the other hand, was that good of a game. It hurts me to say it, even today, but there’s no escaping the fact that it was simplistic, disjointed, and dare I say it, a bit dull.

Rising through the ranks of the L.A. Police Department – as well as having free roam of the city itself – sounds like a virtual dream come true, but in practice it was little more than an on-rails point and click adventure. It was Grand Theft Auto with the stabilizers on. Arguably that gameplay choice was within context – to begin with at least – but that context quickly dissolves when you’re running around candlelit sewers looking for a schizophrenic with a flamethrower by the end of the game. If rumours are to be believed, this technology is coming back in a big way for next gen, with formerly broke developer Team Bondi’s spiritual sequel Whore of the Orient.

APB: All Points Bulletin – 2010

Estimated cost: $50,000,000

APB had the same budget as L.A. Noire. Scottish developer Realtime Worlds burned through it to make this game, and it ended very badly for them. The worst part is, it’s almost impossible to see why. Whereas L.A. Noire clearly used their credits to develop cutting edge technologies, APB just kind of… doesn’t.

Imagine, if you can be bothered, a Grand Theft Auto Online rip off, that’s somehow even more boring. A sparse, empty sandbox of a game, populated by a few other players aimlessly running about. Just running, not even deathmatching. Yes, despite being able to draw and fire guns, being outside of a “mission” will mean that the bullets pass right through you enemy. The worst you can do to the opposition in this instance is type out some “your momma” jokes.

Worst of all, for jaded hacks like me at least, Realtime Worlds set an embargo on the review that was not lifted until a week after the game had been released. That, quite obviously, meant only one thing – the game was mind-bendingly average, and they knew it.


Too Human – 2008

Estimated cost: $60,000,000

If I asked you to pick a game, any game, at random that you thought would have cost over 60 million dollars to produce, I wonder how many games you would list before you got to Too Human. My guess is too many. The reason it did cost so much is probably pretty simple to identify, however. Redesigning the cover art so many times.

You see, first announced way back in 1999 for the original PlayStation, Too Human spent an astronomical 10 years in development. It saw the PlayStations 1, 2 and 3 come and go before finally finding a home on the Xbox 360. And that’s a lot of cover art redesign. Think of all that printer ink they used! The more I dwell on it, the more 60 million dollars actually sounds about right.

The game itself was a distinctly mediocre experience, comparable to a cybernetic version of Diablo, if Diablo were terrible. You run around, hacking and shooting, looking for loot drops with which to upgrade your hacking and shooting equipment.  And then… umm… no, that’s it.

Crysis 3 – 2013

Estimated cost: $66,000,000

When it first entered the fray – with its tech requirements so high that only people with an IBM loyalty card could run it - Crysis was instantly divisive. Sure, it looked like nothing you’d ever even dared to dream about before, but was it actually that good of a game? Were graphics everything? Were they not remotely important? Either way, the benchmark had been set, and “can it run Crysis?” entered the lexicon for everyone measuring the power of their computer.

Then, shock of all horrors, it came to the console market with its sequels. Could the Xbox 360 run Crysis 3? Well, as it turned out, not really. It was buggy and more than rough around the edges, and the PC master race were furious that their game had to be dumbed down for the casual console crew.

Still, millionaire PC owners could max out the graphical settings if they so desired (which they absolutely did) and only then did that 66 million dollars worth of creation start to reveal itself. The overrun, I Am Legend-style New York looked sensational, and it probably would have fared better if it had simply remained nothing more than a kind of virtual art installation. The idiotic aliens ruined it, as is so often the case in life.

Disney Infinity – 2013

Estimated cost: $100,000,000

Disney Infinity opens like a multi-million dollar game. It’s really quite beautiful to behold, and captures that “magic” of Disney perfectly. I mean, if you’re into that kind of thing. It’s not long before it peters out though, and you’re left with nothing but an interactive pat on the back for the people that made the original films.

What do you do then? Well, you inhabit various characters from teeth-shatteringly cute Disney/Pixar films, and just go around admiring all the references to the films. That really is it – and I, for one, can’t get enough! I hope they monetize it by releasing DLC packs for future film releases!

In some respects it’s utterly baffling to see how this game cost 100 million dollars (!), because it’s just some run-of-the-mill platformer, no different to Spyro The Dragon or some other fluffy kids dross. Maybe developer Avalance Software had to buy the characters from Pixar individually, for like 5 million each. And if you’re sitting there thinking “Pixar?? How could they create something that’s terrible? They’re geniuses!”, then all I have to say to you in return is Cars 2.