How The Worst Video Game Ever Made Taught Me The Most About Video Games

Recently I made a conscious choice, of my own volition, to track down and play Eutechnyx’s notorious biker title, Ride to Hell: Retribution. As a professor who has committed themselves to analyzing and understanding the evolution of narrative in video games, I figured it was high time to explore the “less” sophisticated narratives that exist, and try to understand not only why someone would make it, but how we can learn from such egregious failures and make better games. It’s ended up being far more than I bargained for. The horrendous gameplay is bad enough; I am constantly dying and restarting checkpoints, even on easy mode. But the story itself, the characters, the conflict, when viewed from a 2024 perspective, are laughable, but also kind of horrifying. Because it’s impossible to look at a game like this and wonder about the intent of the people that made it. 

Released in 2013, Ride to Hell: Retribution tells the story of Jake Conway, a Vietnam war vet who has just returned home from deployment to his hometown of Dead End (yes, that is the actual name of the town). It is implied that Jake suffers from PTSD related to his experiences in Vietnam and is promptly never mentioned again. Jake goes to live with his uncle Mack and younger brother Mikey, and Mikey is the most overdramatic teenager in existence. He runs off after a complete non-argument over how he shouldn’t go out to see a girl that night because the town is more dangerous at that time, promptly leading to Mikey’s murder at the hands of a sadistic biker gang called the Devil’s Hand. Seriously, they slit his throat for seemingly no reason, and with that, we are off to the races on our Revenge Tour of Dead End. 

Jake hugs his younger brother Mikey as his Uncle Mack looks on, following their reunion at the beginning of the game.

The game starts with ear splitting rock music and the titular Jake Conway blasting a bunch of random bikers with a machine gun and then some random fist fight, which it seems was intended to explain the game’s mechanics (but is really just a random drop into a seemingly important moment in the plot with zero context). That is pretty much the essence of the entire game; Jake marching his way through various locations to find each of the men responsible for his brother’s murder, and taking zero time to pause and reflect on their motives or even understand his enemy. The levels are ridiculously repetitive; Jake rides his bike and shoots random police officers or bikers that get in his way, then he gets to his destination and blasts his way through waves of predictable enemies that all use the same 3 character models, and finally engages in combat with that level’s “boss,” which is usually just a fist fight where they shout the same 3 insults at each other while the music keeps blasting. Sometimes, to really spice things up, the music will just randomly stop and you will proceed through the rest of the slaughter in silence, which is a development choice that even I with my years of experience in analysis couldn’t hope to understand. And on and on the wheel turns until everyone is dead and Jake lives happily ever after whilst sleeping with every woman that steps in his path. 

I think this is enough of a description to paint a picture of the type of game this is. The only thing worse than all of the above is the presence and depiction of women in this game, which is honestly more like objects than human beings. During his rampage, Jake will stumble across random women who are clearly sex workers being harassed or threatened by potential clients. Jake steps in, knocks them down with a few punches, and the player is immediately greeted with a scene in which Jake and said woman engage in fully clothed sex to cliched saxophone tunes. Literally, Jake can veer away from a literal mission where he is actively chasing down his target, and the game will throw in a woman to save from a harasser and he will stop the chase to do the nasty. Again, fully clothed. It is truly a sight to behold, and promptly feel ill. 

The gameplay on motorcycles is incredibly buggy and a single mistake sends you back to the start of the level.

So what makes this particular game so bad? It can all be narrowed down to one key component, which is the theme of hyper-masculinity that bleeds into every aspect of the gameplay and narrative. The objective was to create a game where young men could feel like a badass biker shooting a bunch of thugs and having all the women they want. This isn’t a new concept and honestly, most games of that time in the early 2010s leaned heavily into this hyper-masculine concept, albeit much less overtly. The game is certainly a product of its time, but it’s the gratuitous nature of these unattractive qualities that make it so unplayable, even for their target audience. Games like Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect, and God of War touted these machismo concepts as well, but we think of them so much more fondly. And that’s because the characters themselves had depth, their stories made sense in the worlds they inhabited, and the gameplay was responsible and sensible. Ride to Hell represents that time in gaming as a primitive backpedal from progress, to satiate the desire of a very particular audience of men. And the developers were not shy about that. 

Funny enough, what really irked me about the game was not these narrative depictions, it was the gameplay. One of the game’s early missions took me almost 2 hours to complete because the game kept stuttering and my gun would just randomly not fire. I died no less than 20 times, and I was playing on easy mode. I never rage quit games, even when I probably should. But after that level, I didn’t pick up the game again for 2 weeks out of sheer spite. I can handle a bad story, but bad gameplay will make me chuck my console out the window. 

Protagonist Jake Conway cries out in despair; presumably due to the travesty that is this game.

Despite it all, Ride to Hell served a unique purpose in my continued research and analysis of video games and their evolution. Video games were by no means primitive in 2013; after all, The Last of Us was released the same year and set the standard for video game storytelling. But Ride to Hell does represent a serious regression in its depiction of overused tropes and the concept of resolving conflict through mindless brute force. And it’s not a unique instance; we’ve seen similar failures over the years, even if not quite on the same scale. For all of the progress being made in developing games that are more dynamic and inclusive, there still remains a market for outdated stories in games. If there wasn’t, no one would bother to make them. 

All of that said, the game’s hugely negative reception and continued presence on every “worst game ever” list, plus the fact that you can’t purchase it anywhere unless it’s used, is a testament to how far we’ve come collectively as a community. We recognize crap when we see it, and we call it out for what it is. And that gives me a lot of hope. People might keep making games with archaic stereotypes, but the more we talk about it, and the more we counter that with groundbreaking and inspiring developments in video game storytelling, the less we will care. And that’s the ultimate victory. 

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