Some games are bad; some games are truly abysmal. Oftentimes the bitter aftertaste of such titles can simply be washed away by a good measure of better games. Yet nothing can enrage the gaming population like wasted potential or a broken promise. At this point lead designers singing tunes of ‘truly immersive gameplay’, ‘gameplay better than ever before’ and ‘innovative ways to play’ are beginning to sound like broken records.
E3, Gamescom and all manner of other press events are packed with those exact promises; and, in equal amounts, populated by gamers all too ready to believe these promises. Not surprisingly, disappointment is omnipresent in the gaming industry. Sometimes developers simply drop the ball; leaving fans to begrudgingly pick up the pieces. Inspired by the many a Neogaf board fuelled by fiery rage and embittered longing for the game that could have been: Power Up Gaming presents its list of the most disappointing games of the seventh console generation.
Hitman: Absolution (2012)
The critically acclaimed Hitman series has been delighting and horrifying gamers with equal parts whimsy and ruthless efficiency ever since its debut in 2000. Players take the reins of the stoic, bald-headed protagonist Agent 47 as he is placed in a series of self contained sandbox environments. Just as the name suggests, the goal is to eliminate high profile targets; often easier said than done. The brilliance of the Hitman series was that it did away with handholding checkpoints and scripted set-pieces: how 47 took out with his target was completely up to the player. Take the series’ 2006 entry Blood Money, for example. Bloody Money was endlessly inventive. The world was Agent 47’s oyster as he gallivanted all over the world from Vegas to Snowy Peaks. Gameplay was tough but profoundly rewarding. Players could choose between the sheer joy of assassination via poisoned donuts or the immense satisfaction found in achieving the coveted ‘Silent Assassin’ accolade. The Hitman series was lauded because it didn’t treat its audience like idiots. So, surely, when Hitman: Absolution arrived in late 2012 gamers could look forward to a continuation of this rich legacy, right? Wrong.
Hitman: Absolution was a hollow shell of what the series once was. Developers IO Interactive stepped away from their refreshingly open approach to mission design in favour of a much more claustrophobic experience. Blood Money’s nebulous playgrounds of murder were replaced with sequential corridors densely packed with enemies. Somewhere along the line in Absolution’s development cycle it was decided the premise ‘I’m a Hitman; I assassinate people’ wasn’t enough – and this is where everything went wrong. Square’s over-emphasis on a generic ‘on the run’ plot line meant enemies were ever hot on Agent 47’s heels. ‘The world’s number one assassin’ was reduced to gluing his bald buttocks to pieces of cover for 12 hours. The game offered its players no room to breathe. The new approach was not so much bad as generic. The once unique franchise was watered down to the point of being near-unrecognisable among the pool of stealth-action games. Gone was the wonderment of exploration. Gone was the satisfaction of finding a radically different way to dispatch of a target. Gone was the feeling of being a formidable Hitman.
What’s even more crushing is that, in the rare occasions where IO Interactive did resurrect its delightfully sadistic sandbox assassination missions, Absolution completely lived up to Blood Money. True HD graphics and impressive crowd engines made the experience more immersive than ever before. These segments became taunting reminders of the greatness that could have been.
Absolution is a prime example of why having a gaming market over saturated with shooters can be a bad thing. Someone, somewhere among IO Interactive or publisher Square Enix’s chain of command decided that a game which solely rewarded patience and measure was far too risky a venture in 2012. The sad reality is that developers are afraid to innovate on consoles. Persistently, they are hounded by the fear that if their game is not a big, brash action-driven thug-fest their title will simply not perform.
In an attempt to make a game that appealed to everyone IO Interactive created a game that wowed no one. For this reason Hitman: Absolution truly belongs on this list. The game was not mediocre because it couldn’t live up to Blood Money; it was a disappointment because IO wouldn’t let it live up to Blood Money.
Today Sony’s Playstation 4 is significantly outselling its competitors. Seven years ago, however, Sony’s grip on the home console market painted an entirely different picture. A hefty asking price and lack of compelling titles ensured that Sony’s PS3 performed disappointingly in its emergent years. Sony initially even faced a significant amount of flak (and lawsuits to boot) for its alleged ‘copying’ of the Wii’s motion technology via the Sixaxis controller. The Playstation 3 was regarded as an overpriced commercial failure. Only one thing could save Sony’s fledgling console: games.
Cue Factor Five’s announcement of Playstation 3 exclusive Lair. Factor Five’s blockbuster pitch of Dragon Riding and Civil Wars was tantalising. Touting high production values near unheard of in 2007, Lair promised to be the Playstation 3’s first killer app. Lair was also to be Sony’s first significant title tailored exclusively around its controller’s Sixaxis function. Lair’s success thereby became doubly crucial; it became evangelized among the Sony faithful as the game which would simultaneously compel the masses to flock to the Playstation 3 and the tech demo which would finally validate its high asking price and criticized hardware.
Much to the dismay of the platform’s few early adopters, this was not to be. Dragons proved too unwieldy to tame solely via Sixaxis technology. So much so, in fact, that in 2008 Factor Five was forced to patch the game with analogue controls. Playstation fans were forced to come face to face with the demoralizing reality that the PS3’s motion technology was not all it was cracked up to be. All of Lair’s potential crashed and burned under the crux of a frustratingly inadequate control system. Nearly six months after its release the Playstation 3 had yet to offer any tangible proof that its investors had made the right decision. In the PS3’s infant years the title became, not only a reminder of a disappointing game, but a reminder of a disappointing system.
Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)
After losing his way somewhat following the decline of the Dreamcast in 2001 and the critically-mixed games that followed on the Xbox and PS2, Sega’s spiky blue-haired mascot looked set for a triumphant return in 2006.
The announcement at E3 2005 that Sonic the Hedgehog was to be rebooted in time for the series’ 15th anniversary and the launch of the Playstation 3 was met with both trepidation and excitement amongst gamers.
Although initial preview builds of the game looked technically impressive, behind the scenes development was proving to be extremely challenging after the resignation of the visionary that is Yuji Naka from Sonic Team. The developers subsequently split into two distinct groups; with half working on an upcoming Nintendo Wii game – Sonic and the Secret Rings – and the other half continuing on with Sonic ’06 for the Xbox 360 and PS3.
Faced with the halving of its staff and the challenges of developing for two systems, it became a race against time for Sonic Team and Sega to get the game out in time for Christmas 2006, which also coincided with the launch of the PS3. As a result, the game suffered catastrophically; plagued by camera and collision glitches, poorly-scripted segments and unfinished elements, it was hard for gamers to take any enjoyment whatsoever from Sonic Team’s rushed efforts.
The game featured a storyline most critics and gamers alike deemed too ridiculous even for a talking blue hedgehog to be a part of; the introduction of the human princess Elise as a love interest for Sonic was particularly lamented. That is, of course, if users were able to progress that far as the game’s strenuous loading times were enough to put many off early on.
Assassins Creed 3 (2012)
The insanely popular Assassins Creed franchise needs little introduction today. The titular stealth-action title Assassins Creed 2 put the series on the map when it debuted to much fanfare in 2009. Ubisoft’s virtual rendition of 15th-century Italy stunned audiences, and the game’s vast, visceral open world set new precedents for what a sandbox game could achieve. Few games, however, could so effectively juggle story, setting and gameplay, including the franchise’s successors.
Assassins Creed: Brotherhood (2010) and Assassins Creed: Revelations (2011) charted a gradual plateau in the series. Ubisoft’s stubborn assuredness to sticking to the Anvil engine tested the patience of hardcore fans. Game development has always been a fast moving industry; what was graphically impressive in 2009 became decidedly average by 2011. Games such as Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption (2010) had since further perfected the open world model. The Assassins Creed franchise had lost its status as being among the select prospectors of the next-gen frontier. Even worse was that fancy furnishings peeled away to reveal rocky foundations. For all their new gameplay elements Brotherhood and Revelations did nothing to improve 2’s core gameplay. What were minor annoyances in 2 accumulated to become glaring issues by Revelations. The parkour system was clumsy. Stealth mechanics were frustratingly shallow for a stealth game. Repetitive mission structures facilitated mind numbingly drawn out exposition quests. The once-great Assassins Creed franchise had become stale and was in urgent need of revitalisation.
Assassins Creed III was the title which would right all of these wrongs. Fans were asked to brush Brotherhood and Revelations away as inconsequential cash-ins: Assassins Creed 3 would be the real deal. Renaissance Italy had been traded for Colonial America. Three years had been spent recreating the War of Independence. The game was pegged to immerse players in a world so far untapped. Gamers would supposedly be given the chance to participate in one of the world’s most bloody and defining wars to date. The pitch was intoxicating. Needless to say, Assassins Creed 3 brewed a monumental hype-storm in 2012.
But, surprise, surprise, things didn’t turn out quite how fans expected. Giddiness inducing visions of huge set-piece battles proved to be nothing more than fever dreams. A handful of short lived ‘iconic(ish) War of Independence moments’ were buffered by hours upon hours of the franchise’s stale, old mission structures. The control scheme overhaul the series had been in desperate need of since 2010 was nowhere to speak of. Even worse was that, when players did finally arrive at these most elusive ‘iconic moments’, they were completely underwhelming. Indistinct locations, a lump of indifference for a protagonist, a poor story and damn-near offense Native-American stereotyping all served to top of the list of grievances among fans.
Ubisoft’s addition of an entirely new ship piloting mechanic proved to be the game’s saving grace. Yet, this still did not negate the fact that Assassins Creed 3 was not the Assassins Creed game its fans were promised. For this reason, Assassins Creed 3 is almost unanimously regarded as the low point of the series.
Resistance: Burning Skies (2012)
At its 2011 announcement, Sony marketed the Playstation Vita as the Gucci of handhelds. The Vita was conceived and marketed as the one and only place to find console standard gaming while on the go. The console’s second analogue stick ensured it alone could deliver the first-person shooter experience that the Call of Duty-obsessed masses craved for in portable form.
Nihilistic Software’s Resistance: Burning Skies was in many ways the moment of truth for the Vita; it was the first ever FPS to grace the micro-console’s screen. Much like Lair on the PS3, Burning Skies was set to act as the Vita’s proving ground. Yet Nihilistic Software proved – just like every developer featured on this list – that words are wind.
Picture, if you will, Resistance 3 for the Playstation 3. Resistance 3 was a compelling diatribe of everything a console FPS could be. Tight mechanics, a powerful art direction and an intense story were all complemented by a lavishly crafted mythology. By comparison Burning Skies was a poor imitation of its home-console counterpart; save for the license the two titles had very little in common. The miserly five-hour campaign laid claim to all the innovation of a sandwich. The game sorely lacked any of the epic boss-fights or engrossing world building that fans had come to expect from a Resistance title. Touch controls and motion gestures felt obtrusively shoehorned in – making the product feel more like a tech demo than a full-fledged game. Burning Skies had little right to be called a full retail title.
Nihilistic Software possessed the makings of an exceptional game. Yet the rush to pair the Vita with a FPS damned it from the very beginning. Criminally, the game’s developers were given a meagre six-month development cycle. Under these circumstances it’s little wonder they were even able to cobble together a playable game at all. Greed transmuted what could have been a notable step forward in portable gaming into another name to cast upon the pile of disappointment.
Fable III (2010)
Peter Molyneux is either fondly or bitterly regarded among gamers as the big daddy of empty promises. For better or for worse, Molyneux is one of the most passionate developers around. For 20 years he has been openly nursing every stray thought, wild ambition and gaming wet dream for all to see. But – if nothing else – this list has us taught us that what game developers promise concerning their games and the reality of their games are often two very separate entities.
True to form, in 2010 Molyneux garnished the announcement of Fable III with a series of grandiose promises that never came to fruition. This time, Molyneux teased musings of unrivalled player interaction and unfathomably deep world customisation. These were all mechanics which no developer could materialize in 2010 – let alone upon the scale which Molyneux envisioned. Straight from its conception, Fable III was doomed to disappoint.
So eager to innovate, the game brashly did away with anything resembling ‘traditional’ menu systems. Though commendable in theory, this function was not at all conducive to smooth, streamlined gameplay. Pressing the Start button would whisk the player away to a hub world. Actions as simple as presenting a gift to an NPC became laborious tasks, calling upon the player to traverse through rooms upon rooms of mental real estate. Unfortunately, Fable III’s only real crime was being an average game. But the hype-train derailed Fable III to the point where expectant fans could regard it as nothing other than a burning wreck.
The truly damning fact about Fable III, though, was that even Molyneux admitted it was a failure. In an interview he actually referred to the game as a ‘train wreck’. The impromptu apology matched those Molyneux had offered for both prior games in the Fable series. Apparently Molyneux, like the rest of the gaming industry, will never learn.
Agree or disagree with our selection? Have your say below!
Additional information contributed by Chris Mawson.