It’s finally September and that means just one thing to many gamers out there; Destiny has finally been released. Developed by the creators of Halo, I easily see Destiny as the single most hyped video game there has ever been. Well at least until Grand Theft Auto 6 gets announced…
It will have been impossible for anyone with even a passing interest in games media to avoid the the sheer inundation of advertisements, previews, promotional videos, interviews and more that Activision has produced to promote Destiny. From all accounts the numbers speak for themselves too, as the game has become history’s bestselling new video game IP in the space of a single day.
Because of all this though, it’s obvious that Destiny’s overall quality will be subject to heavy scrutiny and I for one am very interested to see what effect the “hype train” will have had on Bungie’s new baby once the review embargoes are relinquished.
It’s true; the hype that certain high-profile video games generate is uniquely infectious, but time and time again I’ve seen what should have been the “next big thing” fall flat on its face as a result of people’s expectations being raised too high. By all accounts, Watch Dogs was a recent such victim, with hype building this revolutionary game a whole two years in advance. Although I didn’t personally play it, from what I’ve heard the level of hype was disproportionate to an end product that many considered to be a disappointment.
Hype isn’t always the sole culprit of course as brand names and developers carry certain expectations too. But make no mistake; whether it’s a direct result of hype or just a very shoddy product from a team that should have known better, a video game disappointment cuts like steel.
My dissatisfaction with gaming over the past several years has been the result of several such disappointments, sometimes the culprits were high-profile releases and sometimes it was just a bad personal experience I felt could have been avoided. The list you’re about to see then, collects the “top” (if you want to call them that) twenty of the most disappointing games that I have played.
For any experts reading, this means that I have purposefully omitted certain examples that you lot might consider for a list like this, either because I have not actually played them for myself (Strider Returns, Aliens: Colonial Marines) or perhaps I was not subject to the original damning hype that raised player expectations so high in the first place (Rise of the Robots, Daikatana). Other times I feel that a game didn’t so much disappoint me as just plain didn’t do anything for me (Skyrim, Borderlands) and there have been a few rare instances where “disappointing” just didn’t seem like a strong enough term to sum up the level of sheer dissatisfaction I experienced (Double Dragon 3, Resident Evil 6).
On that note, it’s important to remember that not all the entries on this list are necessarily bad games. A lot of them are of course, that’s where disappointment is most easily felt after all, but some are also games that represent a missed opportunity, a failure to do proper justice to its genre or perhaps just a game that should have been so much more than what it is.
Regardless of how they got here though, these dubious titles of are my top 20 video game disappointments.
This is a detailed list so it will be split into two posts, this first section details games #20-#11 with part 2 to follow shortly after with the remaining ten.
So sit back, relax and try to enjoy in between any disturbing flashbacks you may experience.
#20 – Alan Wake
When I first started thinking of this list I knew that the two games fighting for the ‘twenty’ position would be Alan Wake and Fahrenheit. Both games had a similar vibe when I played them; some excellent ideas hamstrung by outmoded or sloppy execution and lacking in lasting appeal.
In the end I decided on Alan Wake as I expected a more fun game coming from Remedy; makers of the esteemed Max Payne series.
Alan Wake features a great setup; a struggling writer begins a descent into madness when he starts experiencing a twisted version of his own horror novel and must work against the haunting creations of his own mind in order to save his wife Alice.
The game spent so long in development however that by the time of its release, Alan Wake looked and often played decidedly last-generation. Furthermore the game’s open world design was scrapped leading to a more linear and largely unsatisfying narrative dogged by constant pauses to read discovered pages of Alan’s scattered book.
For all of the game’s aural and stylistic quality, and even the unique light vs. dark mechanic, the biggest disappointment in Wake is that it just isn’t that fun to play.
The end boss was a tornado too.
Never a good thing.
#19 – WWE Raw
A friend of mine first introduced me to Microsoft’s Xbox console by hyping two of its games in particular: Halo and WWE Raw. Wrestling games were a big deal at the time, with AKI’s N64 efforts such as WWF No Mercy accomplishing massive highs in terms of core features and playability.
WWE Raw looked to have absolutely amazing graphics with incredible character models, moves and authentic entrances. When the Xbox system was released in 2002 though (going by the EU launch), Raw was suspiciously absent from the lineup. Six months later the game finally saw release and the results were very poor indeed.
Magazine previews had outed that the game’s North American reception was negative and boy did it show. Raw truly played like a game made by people who had never watched a wrestling match in their life. None of the drama, none of the personality and none of the excitement of the brand name is retained in this botched attempt at a digital grappler.
The abysmal gameplay system features a dreaded stamina bar that leaves your wrestler dry heaving on the floor after taking even a single dodgy looking punch. The whole package is severely lacking in game modes too with a handful of exhibition matches being all you got for your hard-earned £40.
The create-a-wrestler feature suffers as well with too few options that result in ugly, mutated looking wrestlers with no personality. Fancy making a stupid tin robot with giant hands? Wrestling may have a reputation for being camp and silly but this was 2002 for goodness sake. Hmm, maybe that explains it actually…
With the exception of the awesome looking entrances and full Titantron videos for each wrestler, WWE Raw is a dud that looks great for its time but plays atrociously and lacks any lasting appeal.
Oh well, at least there’s always Fire Pro Wrestling D to turn to.
#18 – Virtua Fighter
(Sega Saturn version)
Let’s be very clear about something here; Sega’s arcade version of Virtua Fighter is an excellent, groundbreaking title especially notable for being the first game ever to make use of fully 3D polygonal graphics.
The impact of Virtua Fighter simply cannot be overstated, with Yu Suzuki’s AM2 division producing a sure-fire hit that would set Japanese arcades on fire with its awesome gameplay and huge, meticulously crafted cast of characters.
Sega’s then upcoming console, the Sega Saturn was all but guaranteed an exclusive version with the prospective label of ‘killer app’ being applied even before the port could be officially announced. Japanese gamers went absolutely crazy when the Saturn was released and virtually every console sold in the territory was purchased alongside a copy of this game.
By the time it had finally made its way to the West however you could see this port for what it truly was compared to its arcade counterpart; garbage.
Virtua Fighter for the Sega Saturn is a rushed mess of a game featuring heavily reduced character models, graphical glitches and absolutely no exclusive gameplay modes whatsoever. The whole package was clearly coded under the duress of the Saturn’s overly complex architecture, stringent deadlines and Sega’s overall incompetence during the period.
Playing this game as a young man got me wondering how anyone could be touting this franchise as one of the biggest ever conceived. That is possibly the most disappointing thing about it for me; that it would taint my view of the series for years before subsequent versions taught me what the purists had been saying all along.
Virtua Fighter was still massively successful and single-handedly sold many Sega Saturn consoles in Sega’s home country of Japan; a fact the company was no doubt thankful for during the time of their greatest hardship (and bumbling).
Sega would later release a fine-tuned edition of the game called Virtua Fighter: Remix and later a superior sequel in Virtua Fighter 2; a title which finally looked as good as it played.
#17 – Dragon Age II
Dragon Age: Origins is your standard BioWare fare; a violent, fantasy adventure with a wealth of characters, spell-slinging and stock moral choices. Whilst not overly great (the graphics are really poor), the combat is tactical and the game as a whole, with its variety of different opening stories is engaging enough to be a worthwhile play at least once.
Dragon Age II however is not worthwhile. I don’t think I’ve ever played a BioWare title that was so unenjoyable and lacking in soul, with gameplay almost feeling like an afterthought to its derelict, flashback laden jumble of a plot.
Therein arguably lies the biggest problem with Dragon Age II; its story is told as one giant flashback making everything you see and accomplish feel like it’s plodding along this routine course where nothing you do actually matters in the end.
The game’s three chapters feel very disjointed and don’t lend themselves well to this kind of threadbare yarn. It doesn’t help either that the game clearly peaks somewhere in the middle; leaving you to play through a rather tepid final act.
In fact the whole game feels tepid. The majority of companion characters that join you on your quest are too often selfish, unlikeable arseholes that you wouldn’t consider pissing on if they were on fire.
The game is infamous for its ‘revamped’ (read: heavily dumbed-down) combat system that saw you mashing buttons in order to perform attacks. I played a mage based solely on this ridiculous design change.
There are a list of other grievances of course, like how the overly repetitive combat encounters just occur with no rhyme or reason for what the conflict is actually about, or how all the action takes place in the same tired locations with heavy use of asset recycling throughout.
Despite its graphical overhaul and voice-acted player character, Dragon Age II is a forgettable entry in BioWare’s vast collection of RPGs and that’s a genuine shame.
#16 – Sparkster
(Sega Mega Drive version)
The disappointing follow up to the classic Rocket Knight Adventures, Sparkster is another one of those sequels that feels like it was run through the mud a few times before making its way to print.
Sparkster was made in a time where two games with the exact same name and cover art could be completely different to one another. As it stands, Super Nintendo owners got the better deal with their Sparkster, as this list’s entirely different version for the Mega Drive is notably worse off.
The controls are sticky, the enemies and stages feel uninspired and the charm that the original had in spades just doesn’t seem to be there any more.
Everything looks to be in the right place; it’s challenging enough, the music is fine and the graphics are detailed, but it’s the gameplay… it’s just not the same and can actually be a bit dull at times.
The original game’s influences were incredibly obvious but it had enough merit to stand on its own as a fine piece of software.
Sparkster by comparison feels like even more of a Sonic clone than before which makes for a rather derivative and unfortunate return for the rocket powered mouse.
#15= – DOOM
(Sega Saturn version)
What can be said of DOOM that hasn’t already been said by people a lot more passionate than me?
A landmark title that practically kick-started online multiplayer gaming as we know it today, DOOM is the ultra-violent shoot ’em up blockbuster that created a genre and redefined pop culture at the same time. But you wouldn’t know that from playing this maligned version of the classic for Sega Saturn.
The thing is that the company known as Lobotomy Software would gain much well-deserved recognition for their absolutely incredible 32-bit ports of popular first person shooters Quake and Duke Nukem 3D; both titles running at their best on the Sega Saturn hardware.
I can only assume that Lobotomy had actual wizards on its payroll though because Rage Software’s effort to port the Sony Playstation version of DOOM to the Saturn is a mess beyond comprehension.
Where to start? The sub-par frame rate perhaps? In fact, the whole game runs so slowly that it effects the controls as button commands register far too late to be consistent with what’s happening on screen. This overall sluggish pace doesn’t blend well at all with DOOM’s usual fast and in-your-face action.
The lighting has also been reduced, the sound effects scaled back and lots of the game’s ambient music tracks have been removed from the game despite still being present on the disc in the Redbook audio. (Gah!!)
The back of the box incorrectly advertises the number of levels in the game and even has the damnable cheek to actually display screenshots from the PC version! Not content with just one lie, the box then goes on to tout the game’s link up feature that provides the Deathmatch and cooperative game modes. All well and good except for American owners, as this feature is absent from the NTSC-U release with seemingly no explanation given…
Read this sentence to yourself slowly: they released a CD-ROM version of DOOM with no Deathmatch!!
Need I say anything else?
#15= – DOOM
(Sega Mega Drive 32X version)
Apparently I do.
Yes, these two ports of DOOM are so badly put together that I’ve decided to cheat and have them both occupy the ‘fifteen’ slot on the list.
The Megadrive 32X version of DOOM accomplishes the dubious feat of being even worse than its CD-ROM based “successor”. Clearly rushed to market on a tight deadline, it looks more like a beta release than a finished video game.
DOOM 32X struggles with the limitations of Sega’s hardware; it doesn’t play in a full screen, it’s missing a ton of levels and the monsters only possess their front facing sprite which aside from just looking terrible, means they can’t fight amongst each other anymore either.
The soundtrack is poor quality with many sounds just outright missing. The levels have been trimmed down, you can’t save game progress and worst of all; THERE’S NO CYBERDEMON!!
The screen-clearing favourite, BFG9000 ultimate weapon is also absent from this version’s paltry 15 levels and can only be accessed by cheating. Unbelievable.
Oh yeah, and there’s no multiplayer either.
Now due to Sega’s piss-poor marketing and ‘couldn’t give two shits about our own product’ attitude at the time, I did not get a 32X when it initially went on sale. When I did finally purchase one as a collector’s item many years later, DOOM was the first game I eagerly fired up.
I would learn that day that some travesties should just stay buried.
This game, much like the ill-fated console it was made for, really was doomed in every sense of the word.
#14 – Mortal Kombat
(Sega Mega CD version)
Mortal Kombat is one of the most iconic video games of my generation. This violent beat ’em up may look tame by today’s standards but it was a huge deal back in 1992.
Street Fighter II is the better game, no question, but Mortal Kombat was more accessible and so much fun with its many secrets and special moves. And did I mention it was violent?
Following the onslaught led by Sonic the Hedgehog, I consider Mortal Kombat the game that catapulted Sega into the big time against its rival Nintendo. Whilst the SNES version of the game was heavily censored (“are you sure this is what you want?” reputedly quipped Acclaim), the Mega Drive version was not and subsequently made Sega a fortune.
An enhanced version of the game was inevitable once Sega announced their Mega CD add-on for the Mega Drive. Sadly some developer must have read this memo and missed out the “enhanced” part.
What a fuck-up this port is, there’s no other way to put it. As is almost customary with Mega CD games, Mortal Kombat CD is pretty much the exact same as the Mega Drive version but with a few minor additions that completely fail to justify the wad of cash you’ll have spent on the add-on unit to play it.
So far, so par for the course, but Mortal Kombat CD goes on to commit more sins that damage its reputation further.
The intro video that has been added is actually an advert with kids running through the street to the popular theme tune from the movie. Yeah, they actually put an advert into a video game; it boggles the mind. And this is to say nothing about the horrendous quality of the video footage which looks absolutely revolting due to the tiny resolution and limited colour palette of the Mega Drive hardware.
Apparently the game comes with “extra animations” and a few little touches here and there to make it closer to the arcade original but to be honest, I can’t see where. The “CD quality soundtrack” (another favourite Mega CD bullet point) is decent although many of tracks accompany the wrong sodding level. Nyah!!
Then of course you have to put up with the Mega CD’s disk access times. Loading for each round, loading for music and even loading that triggers a pause MID GAME!! That is quite simply unacceptable for a game where exact frames tend to matter! This is especially unforgivable seeing as the cartridge versions have no loading times whatsoever. Shameful.
How they managed to screw this one up is anyone’s guess.
Strictly worse with Mega CD.
#13 – Hellgate London
I’ve always been a fan of Diablo II; a game which I think was doing the whole “30 seconds of fun” thing well before Halo arrived on the scene.
So when a few ex Diablo creators got together to produce a similar hack n’ slash action RPG set in a post apocalyptic London, many gamers including myself sat up and took notice.
The early pre-rendered game cinematics looked nothing short of stunning as they showcased a game world that looked very different from other titles on the market.
Some of this would survive through to the final product as wandering around a dilapidated London street or Underground tunnel felt rather unique for the time.
But even at an early stage it began to look like Hellgate was biting off more than it could chew. The decision to add premium online subscriptions looked like an awkward move for a game like this. Worse, it came at the expense of LAN play functionality which was axed to make room for its increasingly lofty online ambitions.
Once released the game garnered lukewarm reviews and the developers went bankrupt within the space of a year trying to support it.
Hellgate wasn’t terrible; there was still a charm to its characters, its setting and basic run and gun gameplay. However the wealth of bugs, repetitive combat and awkward skill system dragged it down.
The graphics were a particularly sore point for me; how could a game have shown such beautiful cinemas only to look so poor in game? The character models in particular looked shockingly bad.
A lot of obvious negativity was drawn by the approach towards its online components. A free user basically had a much shittier lot in playing the game online than an “Elite” paying subscriber. Quite a nice bit of foreshadowing of how the industry would develop I think and it sure made for a hilarious Penny Arcade strip too!
I always think it ironic that the game could quite easily have lived on if only the developers had chosen to keep in the LAN play they seemed so desperate to cut out. It wouldn’t have mattered if the servers went offline (which they did) as keen players could still have played together over local networks. As it stands the only way to play the original game remains the unexciting single player mode; hardly the way you’d want to experience a game like this.
Hellgate would make a startling return after its IP rights were purchased by another company. A number of changes would be inserted to make the game more like an MMORPG (it always wanted to be one anyway) but sadly one of these would be a wealth of anime inspired hairstyles and character models in order to make the game more visually appealing to its new Asian market.
The problem is that all of the sound files and locations in the game are exactly the same, which means it’s a common sight to see a doughy-eyed, purple haired warrior trot down a London street to talk to an equally stupid looking quest giver who talks Cockney. It’s so outrageously bad and stupid the original game deserves a spot on this list just for allowing that to happen in the first place.
To think all of the original work and effort that went in to creating this huge multiplayer game ended in an unfulfilling and desperate gasp that was forgotten in the space of a year.
#12 – Turok Evolution
I remember my purchase of this game very well. My family had gone into town one day and my brother (who was a fan of the Turok games at the time) had said “Hey, Turok Evolution is out today, are we buying it then?”
I was a big fence-sitter with regards to the series as a whole. Turok 2: The Seeds of Evil is one of the hardest games I’ve ever had to draw opinion on; it was damn impressive in many ways for its time but then damn crap in many ways for its time too.
For whatever mystifying reason I said “Yes” to my brother and we bought a copy of the game. Little did I know, Evolution would be my final play of a Turok game to date.
The magazine previews had built Turok Evolution up as this massive prequel that took the series “back to roots” (sigh) by placing you deep into the original jungle setting with nothing but your trusty bow with which to hunt the deadly dinos.
Of course the game would introduce your usual array of heavy firepower and ridiculous dino-humanoid enemies eventually, but the core concept of exploring a lush open jungle with a bow in hand was a tantalizing prospect to begin with.
Sadly this portion of the game is practically confined to the first level and how desperately shallow and small it is even then; hardly what I was expecting. It won’t be long before you come across your first invisible wall whereupon you’ll realize how downhill the game is about to go.
The main problem for Turok Evolution, like many other first person shooters from the period, was that it was released after Halo. The bar for this kind of game had been raised clean out of sight and other games were struggling to match the supreme level of quality found in Bungie’s opus.
The graphics in Evolution are hardly that impressive all things considered despite a few nice touches here and there for the Xbox version. But what really lets the game down is its wealth of crappy enemies and poor A.I.
Apparently Acclaim had been working on some sort of squad based intelligence system that provided a more cunning enemy… I decided to test this out on one level after getting hold of the sniper bow; I found a dino-man thingy walking across a bridge in the distance so I zoomed in, fired an arrow and blew the sucker’s arm clean off his body.
He paused for a second and then carried on walking on his way as if nothing had happened. Good job, Acclaim.
The list goes on. I could mention the boring offline-only split-screen multiplayer or the lack of a cooperative campaign. Also the overly long loading times, the ropey sections where you fly a Pterodactyl and the reliance on aging design choices (kill all the enemies in this room to unlock the door to the next).
The difficulty is way out of whack too. In fact, I remember clearly the point where I stopped playing and returned the game to the shop.
There’s a point where you fight a gruesome gauntlet atop an elevator or something similar; where a huge hulking cyborg homunculus appears that takes ages to whittle down. Upon narrowly defeating him on my third try I was taken aback as a side door opened to reveal two more of the buggers starring me down with their huge hand cannons.
Granted, I like a game to be challenging, but there’s a point where a game running on its normal difficulty setting has to meet you half way, you agree? At least give me some damn ammo!
Not being a huge fan of Turok, this unnecessary prequel was everything I subconsciously feared it would be prior to that fateful purchase; a melting pot of old design ideas, sloppy execution and missed opportunities.
I’m certain this game must have held a hidden record somewhere for ‘most returned game.’
But then again maybe Driv3r holds that unfortunate title?
#11 – Vigilante 8: 2nd Offense
It certainly is.
Similar to Twisted Metal, the original Vigilante 8 was a vehicular combat game with charm and plenty of laughs to be had. Granted it was often a glitchy and imprecise experience, but the colourful cast of characters, special weapons and cool 1970s vibe was infectious as it was entertaining.
Vigilante 8: 2nd Offense by comparison attempts to go beyond this by adding more of everything; more levels, more vehicles, more weapons and more carnage. Whilst It succeeds at doing this at a basic level, the execution this time around is just downright appalling.
It doesn’t help that this runs (in my opinion) on one of the worst game engines known to man. If glitches and gameplay imperfections were considered cool, 2nd Offense would be right up there with Rainbow Six and Fallout New Vegas as the coolest kids in Shit Town.
Even more so than the first game, there’s never a point when your vehicle feels substantial- you can glitch through practically anything and the graphics have barely moved on at all with everything looking very blocky and rough around the edges.
Whilst the music is still good, it’s all too often drowned out in a sea of noisy missile launches and the constant tinny whine of the vehicles’ awful default machine gun. In fact, the first thing you need to do before playing is go straight to the options menu and turn the SFX slider way down below default.
But the problems are more than just skin-deep with the major “offense” this time around being the complication of the game’s main story mode. The original saw you play a handful of fun, simple levels with a little bonus objective thrown in. This time around the story for each character is a slog through multiple levels that features not one but several bonus objectives that must be completed in order to unlock the extra characters.
So not only do you have to destroy all of your opponents each level but now you also have to do things like collect X of this object or destroy X of these structures or deliver X of this item to this location. It’s awkward, distracting and extremely fiddly considering the game’s poor handling.
One mission sees you raising and lowering a water level to get at fuel cans across a deadly swamp that’s all-too-easy to accidentally sink into; whoever designed this deserves to be shot in the face with a shitty default machine gun.
Another hellish mission sees you trying to stop a truck on a bridge. The problem is that when you shoot it, the damn thing glitch-teleports out of sight for no discernible reason! Ramming the truck causes the same effect too which (eventually) leads to the only solution of letting it ram you over an over again (dealing you damage with each strike) until the thing mysteriously stops. How in the blue hell were you supposed to work that out!?
The mountain of other glitches and general unpleasantness about 2nd Offense robs any potential this sequel may have had and just ends up spoiling what was once such a good thing.
Continue to Part 2 »