It was inevitable really.
You don't become a juggernaut of the video game industry without a few mistakes here and there. After all, since it's establishment in 2002, Microsoft Studios have owned or collaborated with numerous developers and publishing houses. It also doesn't hurt when you've developed some of the most iconic franchises in recent video game history, such as Halo or Gears of War. And the recent acquisition of indie behemoth, Minecraft for $2.5 billion speaks of Microsoft's commanding power.
But that's not to say that Microsoft Studios is without fault. After all, no company is without controversy and Microsoft is right up there with the likes of Sony and Nintendo in producing some of the most offensive characters a player has had the unfortunately luck to control or run across during game play. Some are subjective, gratuitous fan servicing for some, and at times, genuinely troubling – displaying forms of racism, sexism or cringe-inducing annoyance making the game beyond salvageable. Others dare to insult the intelligence of gamers with the lackluster game play and corporate greed.
Whether or not the offense is intentional or a mere slip on the part of the developer, most of these have made even the most seasoned gamer blush – so here are the 15 biggest culprits in Microsoft's library that doesn't deserve any extra lives.
15 Makarov, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
There really was no need for the inclusion of the "No Russian" mission to one of the most critically acclaimed shooters in Call of Duty's library. Its interactive atrocities have sparked numerous controversies and conversation, and though its intention was to further the plot, it doesn't contribute to the substantive and coherent part of Modern Warfare 2's bigger universe. After all, "No Russian" is one of the few missions in the Call of Duty franchise in which you can actively skip the mission entirely.
Rather, it serves as emotional masochism, embedding your character in a Russian terrorist cell led by Makarov as you progress through Moscow International Airport mowing down innocent bystanders. Of course there's no recourse if you don't pull the trigger or if you just stand idly by. It's a brazen, nihilistic sequence that only serves to emphasize the needlessness of virtual massacre.
14 Native Americans, Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs
One of the most definitive real-time strategy games, Age of Empires has always offered players the freedom to redefine moments in history, intricately blending the New World with the Old World in brilliant detail and immersive game play. But meddling with history is fraught with pitfalls, especially when dealing with timelines charged with conflict and tragedy. An interpretation of history for entertainment value always begs the question, who's the man behind the curtain controlling the narrative?
Ages of Empires III: The WarChiefs plays on tired stereotypes of the Old West. After all, "Native American" is a broad term, representing numerous cultures and tribes, and the stereotypical "Cowboys and Indians" theme means a definitive bad guy – often the bloodthirsty savages. The WarChiefs treads on a fine line of how a civilization should be portrayed, begging the question, if history is written by the victors, who defines your gaming experience?
13 Gangs of Pacific City, Crackdown
Crackdown wasn't the first free-form action game of its time. GTA had already established the open-world adventure genre when Crackdown was released in 2007. But what Crackdown did that made it such a standout free-roaming action RPG was its immense scale and gravity-defying vertical game play. While Crackdown was a trend setter and near-perfect game, it still fell for the same vices that many video games have – racial stereotypes.
It's hard to imagine that even in a futuristic, fictional metropolis such as Pacific City, minorities are still misrepresented. Los Muertos? The Volk? Shai-Gen Corporation? Where's the Soccer Mom Militia or the Wolves of Wall Street? Somehow, in a futuristic world where your protagonist can leap tall buildings in a single bound or scale impossibly vertical walls, its comical how certain stereotypes of minorities still persists. Futuristic or not, they're outdated, embarrassing stereotypes that need to stay in the past.
12 Sgt. Avery Johnson, Halo
Halo explores a lot of complex themes in depth – identity, redemption, and the use of child soldiers – and yet, somehow amidst all this, Halo still clings on to an outdated stereotype, the angry black man.
Don't get me wrong, Sgt. Avery Johnson was integral to the expansive world of Halo, humanizing the human race and adding a layer of depth beyond Master Chief and Cortana. But that doesn't escape the fact that Bungie developed him as a gruff, cigar-chomping, straight-cussing, grizzled-voiced angry black man. A reincarnation of the Mr. T persona, Johnson is an embarrassing caricature – a clumsy depiction of an otherwise great black character. But as one of the few black heroes in the Halo series, the potential to depict Sgt Avery Johnson other than the exasperated "tough black guy" trope was there for the taking.
11 Psychos, Dead Rising 3
An open-world action-horror game, Dead Rising 3 gives you control of protagonist Nick Ramos, who surprisingly is a well written character, a departure from the traditional Hispanic stereotypes faced by his predecessors.
No, the problem isn't Nick. It's the cartoonish cast of "psychos" Nick faces as the narrative moves forward. Some may call it satirical humour, but it's far from it. It's a mean-spirited parade of dumb caricatures, that has no room in the current and future state of video games. There's Zhi, a monk garb wearing Asian hiding away in his zen garden, Darlene, the tragically obese psycho who seemingly can't stop eating in her buffet sanctuary, and Jherii, the heavily-muscled, gruff bodybuilder who Nick gleefully misgenders over and over again. It all feels rather mean-spirited and the joke never hits its mark, rather it feels like a mockery of these subcultures. It's downright lazy writing and humiliatingly juvenile.
10 Thunder, Killer Instinct
If there's two things Native Americans are known for in video games, its being tomahawk-wielding, scalp-collecting villains in western games like Red Dead Redemption or Age of Empires and the tired fighting stereotype – the red-skinned, warpainted, bare chested variety, sporting cliched tomahawks.
Thunder sadly, fits in the latter category, because apparently, the Native American trope doesn't generate upstanding citizens like doctors or lawyers. Up until 2013 reboot of the Killer Instinct franchise, Thunder was the generic, token "Native American," with no distinct tribe or region to call home. The cultural insensitivity was prevalent. Despite the modernization of the character, Thunder stills calls upon a gallery of skills that are culturally insensitive. While other fighters have normal punches and moves like "Fireball," Thunder has Horn Breaker, Sky Fall, and Call of the Earth, alluding to bygone era that should no longer persist.
9 Marius Titus, Ryse: Son Of Rome
If your main criteria for a great video game is strong visuals, then Ryse: Son of Rome will keep you entertained. But if your preference is for a more in-depth game with terrific game play and a whole package that immerses you into its story, then look elsewhere, because Ryse is none of those things.
What's Marius' crime to subject him to such a list? Marius is straight up boring. The dialogue is full of clichés and embarrassingly elementary. Brainless game play features the traditional hack-and-slash method, which quickly becomes mind-numbing and tedious. Sure, Marius' brutality is an impressive feat of strength, but after a few gallons of barbarian blood it's banal and repetitive, only keeping you awake long enough to await the next sequences of buttons to press. Its an insult to the intelligence of the gamer – a maddening experiment on just how far visuals can carry a game.
8 Everything About Powerstar Golf
While the game can be lauded for its eccentric cast of characters, its colourful settings, and unique locales, Powerstar Golf always just manages to land short of the green every time. The graphics felt comparatively outdated considering it was a next gen Xbox One exclusive release. It feels like a game that should have been released on the Xbox 360, rather than its more impressive successor. It also does the bare-minimum to try and replicate the success of Wii Sports, but falls ridiculously short. A lack of online multiplayer diminishes it longevity after you've cleared through all the single player games and events. It targets the lowest common denominator and insults gamers' intelligence.
But what really makes this an offensive game is its use of micro transactions. A definitive way to ruining a gamer's experience, when corporate greed locks away the full experience behind a pay wall, nobody wins. Most certainly not the gamer.
7 Humba Wumba, Banjo-Tooie
Originally a replacement for Mumbo Jumbo, Humba Wumba makes this list in part because of the sexualization of her character and the rather pedestrian depiction of Native American women. Much like Killer Instinct's Thunder, Humba Wumba is as ambiguous of a character as you can get. She lives in a "wigwam" and is portrayed in the traditional "Native American" garb – feathered headband and moccasins. She's serves as the game's shaman who appropriately speaks broken English, who serves no other function than to cast spells on the titular protagonist.
Her linear portrayal objectifies women, namely those of Native American descent, as Humba Wumba becomes further sexualized in daisy duke shorts, cowboy boots and a flanneled top that exposes her mid-riff. Somehow, even with this updated wardrobe, she's still sporting a feathered hair band to add a sense of "exoticness" to the game play. She's a background decoration that serves no other purpose in the Banjo-Tooie games but as a derivative, and rather shameful eye candy to players.
6 Dragons, Crimson Dragon
This is considered by many as the spiritual successor to the highly-regarded Panzer Dragoon series, thanks in part to the similar game play style, but also the return Panzer Dragoon staff. But in reality, that's where the similarities stopped.
Crimson Dragon is a third-person rail shooter, giving you the opportunity to choose the dragon that suits your game play style. You traverse through linear levels engulfing your enemies in flames, which is everything you want in a dragon game, right?
Character selection is probably as fun as the game gets. The levels are repetitive, forcing you to spend hours playing a handful of locations, that in the end, all blend into one boring playing field. Missions are a downright chore and the fact that you have to complete similar objectives repeatedly becomes mindlessly tedious. But the biggest offense of all? The use of micro-transactions means this game was always meant to crash and burn.
5 Pablo, LocoCycle
If there was ever a game that epitomized the ideology of "so bad, it's good" mentality, it would be LocoCycle. But it's actually so bad, and very little of it is good.
LocoCycle puts you in control of I.R.I.S., a Knight Rider-inspired sentient motorcycle that drags along the unwilling mechanic Pablo, who's inexplicably stuck to her tailpipe, along for the ride. Released exclusively for the Xbox, playing LocoCycle will definitely teach the player that patience truly is a virtue. Pablo, the unwilling participant to the madness that is LocoCycle, falls within the demographic of a one-note character. He adds no depth to the story or game play, and as his repetitive pleads to be released from his torment goes unheard, it becomes apparent that Pablo was intended to be a racial punching line. A character used as a running gag and one we're supposed to laugh at, as opposed to laugh with.
4 Baldur, Too Human
While the character Baldur isn't offensive in the generic sense, he is the central cog of this abhorrent cybernetic retelling of Norse mythology, meaning he's equally to blame. Too Human is a meager 10-hour story with derivative game play and no real sense of originality. Missions are linear, and while the combat mechanics are fun and the loot immense, the game feels like a sad attempt at copying games like Devil May Cry and Diablo. At times, the game at time slows down to an insufferable crawl. Even your home base, Aesir, is unnecessarily vast, resulting in underpopulated empty spaces that feel like something's missing.
What are the fruits of this tedious, yet herculean task you ask? A never-to-be-resolved cliffhanger at the very end for a sequel to never come. To err is human after all.
3 Conker, Conker's Bad Fur Day
The twisted 3D platformer from Microsoft owned-Rare, Conker's Bad Fur Day is a game that's beyond mature. A memorable platformer thanks in part to its ability to poke fun at its own genre, humorous mature content, and explicit game play. It is toilet humour at its finest. Yet beneath the critically acclaimed exterior lies a trash-mouthed rodent, filled only with vulgar and offensive references.
Conker's offensiveness can be pointed at a variety of directions. His treatment of women as mere sex objects? Check. The crude offensive language that can't seem to stop spewing out of mouth? Double check. Using alcoholism as a punchline? You guessed it.
While the graphics and game play can be lauded as some of the best that Rare has ever produced, the central themes Conker's Bad Fur Day dances around are abysmally offensive and utterly repulsive.
2 Augustus Cole, Gears of War
There's no question about it, everyone loves the "Cole Train." Since he burst onto our screen in Gears of War, Augustus Cole has been a fan favourite. A successful thrashball player, the Cole Train joins Marcus Fenix and his motley crew when Alpha Squad disbanded.
While many fans can argue the Cole Train is charismatic and exciting, Augustus Cole just had to be black and, stereotypically, a former athlete. Why couldn't he be a vetenarian before Emergence Day? Or a judge? Nope, he had to be portrayed as a "jive talkin' black man" who's loud and full of cursing even as he guns and saws his way through hordes of Locusts. While his character gets considerably toned down in his Gears of War 4 cameo, it's still difficult to hop on board the "Cole Train," when Augustus embarrassingly remarks, "yeah, woo, bring it on sucka!"
1 The Kinect
The Kinect was supposed to be Microsoft's answer to Nintendo's Wii system and the differentiator between the Xbox One and its competitor, the PlayStation 4. But since its release with the Xbox 360, the Kinect has been plagued with problems, further exasperated when used with the Xbox One.
Originally a peripheral gadget to enhance your Xbox 360 experience, the Kinect became a required component for the Xbox One system, which meant it was always on and connected at all times – Big Brother has come to roost. But it tops our list with its biggest offense – the poor library of games that utilizes Kinect's biggest feature – motion sensor. From Xbox Fitness to Kinect Sports Rivals, its seemed like Microsoft forgot who its target audience was and rather tried to appeal to the mass audience, failing miserably as more often than not, the motion sensor failed to track your movements making gameplay feel clumsy and difficult to navigate.