Welcome to part 2 of CelJaded’s top 20 video game disappointments. Be sure to read part 1 first if you haven’t done so already as part 2 only collects entries #10-#1.
Enough time wasted, let’s get straight back to it!
#10 – Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation
(Sega Dreamcast version)
Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (called Tomb Raider IV everywhere else in Europe) is actually the second game in the franchise I would get to play. The series got its start on Sega hardware and so the new Dreamcast version was seen by some as Lara finally “coming home”. Quite frankly, if this is the way that Core Design wanted to bring Lara back, they shouldn’t have bothered.
If there was ever a poster child for how bad controls can ruin a video game, then The Last Revelation would be the undisputed king of that malformed mountain. Lara’s ability to run is mapped to the directional pad and her ability to walk is mapped to the analogue stick above it. To say that this just doesn’t work and feels wrong is an understatement.
To control Lara you will find yourself constantly switching back and forth between the two inputs; a painful process which will lead to numerous accidental deaths. Being forced to reload your save data over and over again due to these repeated deaths quickly saps the fun out of a game where puzzle solving and exploration are supposed to be the primary motivations for your involvement.
There are many other complaints you can make of the glitchy game engine, the awkward vehicle sections, the overabundance of samey areas, but with the game controlling as poorly as it does, there really isn’t any point dwelling on it.
Making comparisons to similar games of the time is equally troubling as Lara’s fourth outing cannot at all compare to the likes of Rayman 2: The Great Escape or even Eidos’ own, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver.
#9 – Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords
The first Knights of the Old Republic game, released in the summer of 2003 was rightly hailed as one of the best console RPGs ever made. Featuring a rich role-playing experience that spanned the entire Stars Wars galaxy, KOTOR went on to win Game of the Year awards from just about every major publication going at the time.
The pressure for a sequel was high and in little over a year and a half, KOTOR II: The Sith Lords would find its way onto store shelves courtesy of new developer Obsidian. But this sequel just isn’t very good.
First of all are the graphics, which to me, don’t look as attractive as they did in the previous installment. The environments look more sterile and bland with the frame rate failing to perform adequately over the course of the game’s bloated adventure.
Calling the game bloated is somewhat ironic though considering the reams of content that were cut from the final release due to time constraints. In fact, many aspects of the game have that rushed feeling that’s been so prevalent on this list up to now. Many high profile Obsidian games suffer from bugs on launch (Fallout: New Vegas, Alpha Protocol) and it’s more than evident here.
The storyline doesn’t draw me in either. There’s not a single “twist” that excites and there are few characters that you’ll really care to learn too much about. A big deal was made about how players can align followers to their side of the force (light or dark), but the whole thing is a waste of time in my opinion because the game feels so imbalanced. You’ll have a character with astonishingly huge stats by the end meaning that the revered “Sith Lords” from the box cover will be rather hilariously beaten in a matter of minutes when you finally get to fight them.
Knights of the Old Republic II is such a disappointing follow up to a stellar game and I will always wonder how it got the many high review scores that it did.
#8 – Headhunter: Redemption
Back in the days of the Dreamcast, the original Headhunter was billed as Sega’s answer to Metal Gear Solid. Combining stealth elements with light puzzling, solid gunplay and the odd driving section, it was a well written and well paced tale of one man’s struggle against a future rapidly spiralling out of his control. I loved it.
Headhunter: Redemption attempts to change up the formula a tad by introducing the new female lead character Leeza X with series regular Jack Wade taking on a supporting role for a couple of the game’s later stages. Redemption drops the hub based areas from the original game and focuses its action into one large linear story that struggles to ever get off the ground.
It’s not just the overall story that feels weak this time though because despite the newly acquired processing power of the Xbox platform, this game looks astonishingly poor. The graphics are so washed out and blurry that you’d be forgiven for thinking someone had just smeared Vaseline all over your television screen. It doesn’t make any sense to me how the character models can look smaller and less impressive than their Dreamcast forerunners, I just can’t comprehend it!
The actual gunplay this time around has a unique targeting system that works surprisingly well but the problem is that it gets so repetitive. Pointing your gun at any enemy also displays their health meter and their name with nearly every enemy in the game having the name “Colony Inmate”. The future has some rather unimaginative parents, clearly.
A larger focus is placed on puzzles this time around with many Tetris-style spacial challenges on door locks that will really stump anyone who normally struggles with that kind of thing. It would normally be considered a rather alarming barrier, but to be honest most players will have given up on the wonky gameplay and tedious levels long before then.
The setting of the game feels drab and lifeless with most of the action taking place in below-ground manufacturing plants or recycling centres. You’ll walk through what seems to be the same steel corridor so many times that it will drive you stir crazy after a while. For the whole playthrough you’ll be begging to see an outdoor area just so you can finally breathe!
The only department in which Headhunter 2 achieves any sort of Redemption is in the audio department. Machine guns and pistols sound meaty and satisfying to use and the full pseudo orchestral soundtrack by composer Richard Jacques is simply fantastic.
Reviewer Steve Townsley described it best I think:
“For those more closely acquainted with the video game genre, saying “James Bond meets Spy Hunter meets Metal Gear” with a touch of Basil Poledouris might be a little bit more accurate.
Elements of action, intrigue, atmosphere all fused together in a succession of action-adventure oriented cues which should please most followers of the genre.”
Sadly a good soundtrack alone does not make a good game and Headhunter: Redemption is no exception to that rule. It’s a crying shame but the poor graphics, samey combat and an overall lack of polish drag this ‘should have been great’ sequel down into the depths of gaming obscurity.
#7 – Blue Stinger
I remember it was in one of the last few issues of Sega Saturn Magazine where I began to read about Sega’s newest console the Dreamcast for the first time. The graphics for these new games looked nothing short of incredible with two previewed games standing out in particular; Sonic Adventure and Blue Stinger.
I had experienced Resident Evil during its initial release on my friend’s PlayStation and it scared the living hell out of me with its unnervingly realistic depiction of zombies and related terrors (this was back in the time where zombies were actually frightening).
Blue Stinger’s 3D environments, detailed locales, and colourful characters looked to be something a bit different for the survival horror genre and each showcase of the game got me looking forward to it all the more.
When the console finally came out and the reviews were in, the results were a little less than spectacular but undeterred I would aim to get myself a copy.
You can probably see where this is going… Whilst Blue Stinger isn’t quite your typical Resident Evil clone, it does absolutely nothing to elevate itself above Capcom’s lauded series and only ends up looking rather shoddy as a result.
First off, the horror aspect in this game doesn’t work, at least not for me. Curiously the game underwent some major revisions during the transition from the original NSTC-J release and apparently one of these changes was the switch from fixed camera angles to a free camera.
Ask any of the Resident Evil cognoscenti and they’ll tell you that fixed camera angles do a marvellous job of adding to a player’s sense of fear and tension; it’s a lot more scary when you can’t see what’s coming for you until it’s too late. Blue Stinger’s free camera allows you to see all of the, quite frankly, ridiculous-looking monsters in advance which is probably better from a gameplay perspective, but nevertheless it’s a point of debate as to whether it’s truly better or not.
In fact it’s better to go into Blue Stinger (if you really must) knowing that it really doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s a definite Japanese vibe about this title; from the incredibly poor voice acting that sees characters’ lip movements not even come close to syncing up, to the bizarre Christmas themed areas with happy jingles attacking your ears.
The story is your typical brand of Japanese craziness too. An island rises up out of the ocean, a corporation has constructed a dome over it whereupon a meteor hits it and the hero who just happens to be on vacation on his boat there at the time sees this and goes to investigate and he’s followed by a fairy because, I don’t know, why not?
Did I mention that the enemies all look kind of silly?
“Woah, is that a giant mutant crab wearing a jeep!?”
Enemies eject huge spews of blood when struck and adding to that is how they all drop coins when killed. Straight up. You’ll then use these coins at the game’s various vending machines to purchase everything from flesh-mending cans of soda and hotdogs to shotgun shells and laser rifles. Yes, as ridiculous as it sounds you buy your weapons from a vending machine; years before BioShock had the same idea!
The mapping tools are rather ineffective and you’ll be doing a lot of backtracking and whilst the swimming sections attempt to break up this tedium, the controls are awkward and lead to frustrating deaths. It would take a braver man than I to tackle Blue Stinger without the aid of an FAQ and remember this was back in a time where such things were not easily accessible- you kind of had to hope your favourite magazine covered it.
As a Dreamcast launch title, ‘Stinger no doubt had its place, but I for one just couldn’t find anything to really like about this once hotly anticipated game. Well except maybe for the giant mutant crab wearing a jeep.
Just… do yourself a favour and watch this.
#6 – Halo 2
Disappointments don’t get any bigger than this. Well, except for the five bigger disappointments to come but… eh, whatever it sounded cool.
I said back in part 1 that Destiny is the most hyped video game ever, maybe that’s still true but then I can’t help but think back to 2004 and it hits me all over again.
The magazine showcases, that E3 cinematic, the preorder records, I Love Bees, the 9.8 and 10/10 review scores, the special edition tin with nothing but ‘2‘ emblazoned on the front and just the whole spectacle of this one awe-inspiring event in video game history.
Like I said with Destiny, when hype reaches this fever-pitch level there are bound to be more than a few expectations dashed, and crushingly, that included me too. I had grand plans for playing through Halo 2’s campaign multiple times but as it stands I would only manage this twice since the game’s release and with good reason; it just isn’t very good.
Make no mistake, Halo 2 is still a Halo game; all the ingredients are still there that make the game so easy to control and enjoy at a basic level. The new weapons are cool, the new vehicles are cool, the new enemies are smart, the dual wielding mechanic is a bit clunky, but it mostly works. There are just too many complaints that bring the campaign experience down.
The first thing you’ll notice is the added commitment to the story this time around. The cinemas in this game are long and quite plentiful and it’s clear from the opening scene where the Arbiter is introduced that Bungie are shooting for a more grand space opera feel than before. These cinemas largely fall flat with me as the story threads become tangled in the game’s dual presentation of Master Chief’s levels and the Arbiter’s levels.
The game is no doubt at its best during the opening couple of stages that take place during the Covenant’s invasion of Earth. Desperately assembling your ragtag group of marines in the Warthog jeeps and Scorpion tanks will be just as fun as you remember it, but once the impressive looking new Scarab siege unit goes down, for me the campaign’s fun level takes a drastic nosedive along with it.
It’s a common complaint but the Arbiter’s levels aren’t fun. They are not very well constructed and the abundance of plasma weaponry in these stages dilutes the wholesome experience that the Halo series is known for. I don’t recall you ever getting to fight other humans during your play as the Arbiter; most likely as it would have cast him as a more villainous figure than is clearly intended. And so the story cooks up excuses for you to fight other Covenant; rebels or heretics that must silenced by the council. But it all feels like a side quest and it only ends up detracting because of the overly repetitive environments and weapon selections.
You finally discover another Halo thus trivializing everything you accomplished in the first game. Then things play out exactly like last time – you explore the new Halo for a bit with the newly introduced ODSTs or Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (who look cool but don’t do much in this game), then you’re tasked with finding a new Index. Then you have to stop the Index from being activated and you have to destroy the new Halo and you do this by blowing up a ship and causing a chain reaction explosion. All exactly like the plot of Halo.
Relying on this formula is one thing but somehow they’ve made it harder to follow with new characters popping up and multiple sub plots working to confuse the narrative. And what do I really need to say about that awful cliffhanger ending that isn’t already obvious?
The superb graphics and sound go some way to keeping things together as Halo 2 was easily the best looking console game of its time. The overall score is great with the exception of some questionable nu metal tracks and some overly pretentious tunes composed by Incubus. And yet the game still manages to take you to so many boring environments featuring an abundance of texture pop-in; a foible that would become noticeable in many games released hereafter.
Luckily the multiplayer features are excellent and it’s this dependable franchise quality that keeps Halo 2 afloat. But if the campaign and cooperative modes are your jam, as is the case with myself, then it’s hard to shake that feeling of disappointment.
I don’t think that a bad Halo game has been made yet, but this is certainly one of the weakest entries the series has ever seen.
#5 – Streets of Rage 3
Streets of Rage 3 is a sharp drop in quality from the second game in the series.
Somehow the charm just isn’t there any more. Where once the gleeful punch-ups occurred at the beach or at baseball stadiums, now they take place in dingy warehouses and boring stretches of subway. The audio by the always-excellent Yuzo Koshiro is paradoxically far from excellent this time around, as it features an onslaught of unpleasant and noisy tracks that hurt your ears they’re so abrasive. Also present on that front is a maddening bug that causes many sound effects to not play when the in-game action gets too heated.
What’s also notable in this western release is the amount of altered content from the Japanese version known as Bare Knuckle III. The plot involving the discovery a new weapons-grade substance called Rakushin is modified to be about Mr. X using robotic clones to replace political figures or something stupid like that, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Streets of Rage 3 includes a lot of “gender sensitive” alterations to make the female characters look less like sluts (fair enough) and removes a playable, blatant homosexual stereotype character (also understandable) as well as making the game obscenely difficult for no reason (wait, what?)
Yes, apparently someone at Sega thought the game was too easy and added several more health bars to the enemies and unnecessarily increased their aggression and damage. Seeing as you only get the proper endings on Normal difficulty (which has to be equivalent of Very Hard in the Japanese version) this will be especially galling for fans.
Depending on where you stand with its more controversial presentation, Bare Knuckle III is much closer to the sequel that Streets of Rage II deserved, but it’s still not much of an improvement. Despite a few positive additions to the gameplay here and there, ‘Rage 3 is a step backwards for the series as a whole and represents the final official release that this unique beat ’em up would ever see again.
#4 – Duke Nukem Forever
I’m not going to waste much time discussing this one as it technically belongs in the “disappointing just didn’t seem like a strong enough term” category that I defined in part 1.
But then like everyone else, I expected so much more for a game that spent 14 years languishing in development. It seems the majority of those 14 years was spent doing very little as Duke Nukem Forever is a tragedy of a game that has now surely condemned the franchise to the history books.
Duke Nukem 3D was a game of its time; it was fast, loud, sexist, and proud of it. But the one thing that mattered most was that is was a damn good game that was pushing boundaries that arguably even DOOM couldn’t keep up with. The fact that Duke was a completely overblown parody of testosterone-fuelled male fantasies only added to the game’s silly appeal.
But ‘Forever turned out a miserable concoction of ugly visuals, tired humour, and pilfered ideas that haven’t been considered in the larger context of the game. The two weapon limit leaves you unprepared for the waves of enemies you’ll be up against, the regenerating health interrupts what is supposed to be a frantic-paced shooter, and the constant putting down of games much better than this one is just laughable.
I can’t say much more about this game other than it’s simply dreadful. After all the time the franchise spent in stasis I never actually expected Duke Nukem Forever to be a good game either; all I wanted was a bit of old-school fun and a decent weekend’s entertainment. The game so was so overwhelmingly bad however it actually smothered my nostalgic feelings for good and caused me a strict revaluation of my purchasing tendencies.
And perhaps for that added objectivity in my life I should thank it; only before I put the cursed thing back in the bin where it belongs.
#3 – Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015
And in at number 3 is the newest game on this entire list.
But I’ve already talked about Duels 2015 at an absurd length in my review a few months ago, so I recommend reading that for the full scoop on why this game fell so short of adequate.
Here’s the short version though:
Magic: the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 is half of a game and not a particularly good half at that. The clunky menus, buggy presentation and threadbare content make for a huge disappointment that is impossible to overcome.
The deckbuilding may be good to a degree, but once you’ve grinded out all of the game’s content just to get to those precious cards that make the game work in the first place, what are you really left with? Once you’ve got that perfect deck what do you actually do with it?
A lacklustre, badly implemented multiplayer with no 2v2 or special game modes simply won’t last you more than a weekend at the most and compared to previous games in this series that is simply nowhere near good enough.
Magic 2015 fails on every level to every kind of player with obstructive microtransactions and bad design further sullying what should have been a grand sequel.
#2 – Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)
“Only number 2?”
Yes, but the final two on this list are so close that they’re somewhat interchangeable in terms of position anyway.
This game was meant to be the one. After a mediocre run with Sonic Heroes and a disastrous showing with Shadow the Hedgehog, this remake was supposed to get right back to the heart of what made Sonic so fun in the first place. But what a disastrous turn things had made by the time this game got released.
By all reports the game’s troubles began when famed designer Yuji Naka departed Sonic Team mid-way through development. Demoralized and fearful that they couldn’t deliver the true experience without him, the remaining members of Sonic Team, as well as Sega for that matter, seemingly gave up and released Sonic the Hedgehog in a barely finished state.
The inevitable critical mauling that followed has damaged Sonic’s reputation ever since, with every new release having to fight to remove itself from the corrosive shadow that ’06 casts over the franchise.
But is Sonic 2006 as bad as everyone claims it is? The answer is an emphatic yes. This game is a near endless cavalcade of bugs, bad levels, bottomless pits, terrible voice acting, wooden characters, and general poor quality gameplay.
The targeting systems for each character are shoddy and the camera system works against you every step of the way. Each of the three main campaigns featuring Sonic, Shadow, and Silver are interspersed with pointless “amigo” levels featuring a supporting cast of characters that just feel forced into the game. Playing as Tails is especially painful as the camera totally freaks out the moment you attempt to make use of his flying ability.
And then you have the mach-speed sections. Exclusive to Sonic’s campaign, these stages are extremely fast headlong dashes through specifically tailored set pieces. This feature looked so great on paper, but it doesn’t come close to working as intended. Sonic is near impossible to control during them and he frequently glitches through obstacles and will fly off unseen platforms to his death.
Because the game yet again insists on dragging out the antiquated ‘lives’ system, these sections can bring your progress in a level to an abrupt halt as they force you right back to the beginning when Sonic runs out of lives. In order to achieve “S” ranks on each level you basically need to score well and without dying once and let me tell you, accomplishing this mammoth feat nearly cost me my sanity.
Without a doubt, the most common complaint is that of the game’s loading times. Such criticisms are well founded as Sonic 2006 has possibly the longest loading times of any game from its release period. Starting a mere side quest in the game’s crappy hub world involves two separate drawn out loading screens triggered by talking to one of the many cardboard cut-out NPCs. It’s painful.
Sonic’s levels are pure glitch-laden sprints, Shadow’s are punctuated with poor handling vehicle sections, and Silver’s are simply slow and glitch-laden platforming fare. The boss battles also mark amongst the series’ worst, with awkward cameras, unintuitive attack patterns, and unforgiving difficulty.
The truly upsetting thing about this fiasco is that the game actually has a few good points which are all tarnished by a complete absence of polish.
The story kicks off with an absolutely fantastic FMV sequence. In fact, all of the pre-rendered FMV in this game is nothing short of incredible. Three interconnected campaigns follow and build up to a simple but largely unsatisfying plot where Sonic finds a bizarre love interest in a human princess. It’s odd that Sonic comes off as perhaps the most underdeveloped character in the whole game. The game is called Sonic the Hedgehog and yet he’s absent for quite a lot of it.
Shadow the Hedgehog finally finds his niche here and I believe this game does great justice in portraying him as a credible bad ass for once. I found his final cutscene, where he calmly removes his wrist-mounted power limiters and storms through a horde of enemies, as a particularly explosive moment. Silver the Hedgehog is yet another character introduced to a universe already buckling under the weight of too many characters as it is. Silver’s story is okay enough but lacks any real pay-off for him as an individual. Remodelling Dr. Robotnik as a realistic villain was a superb idea and is the sort of thing usually reserved for Hollywood adaptions (fittingly he’s also rather underused as the game goes on).
The soundtrack is also a high point with many pulse-pounding level tunes that sometimes feature an aura of sadness about them that makes this sound unlike any other Sonic game ever made. Stay away from the hub music though; it’s annoying as can be.
And if you were to watch a skilled player run through a level of this game you would see some remarkable set pieces (a tornado through Crisis City for example) and the odd moment of genius usually reserved for aerial acrobatics on the part of the hedgehogs.
But these moments will only come from intense trial and error; from you learning the game’s many bugs and finding out where the camera suddenly jerks to one side and so on. The two player mode is just window dressing, the DLC is a complete waste of money, and the instruction manual makes numerous references to items and concepts that aren’t even in the game, further leading you to the conclusion that Sega just let Sonic 06 out early to die without adequate quality control.
Sonic the Hedgehog may have just missed the #1 spot on this list, but in terms of video game disappointments that feel an inch more personal than most; no one example ranks higher for me.
#1 – Fable
Developer Peter Molyneux is often accused of lying about the features that this RPG mega opus would eventually contain. Whether the man’s dangerously unleashed enthusiasm can be translated as outright hogwash is debatable, I guess, but equally you can’t simply expect to go mouthing off about all these great features that would be great for your game when you need to think about what your paying audience is to expect. If we all inhabited a fantasy world where half of the stuff promised for Fable existed then we’d all be much happier people!
This game was envisioned as a fantasy RPG like no other. Growing up as a boy you’re thrust out into the world to undertake a grand quest filled with adventure and possibility. It was proposed by the developers at Lionhead Studios that no two games of Fable would ever be the same with so many moral choices that could change the course of your character’s development. Albion was billed as a place with near limitless possibility.
In actuality, there are two ways of playing Fable; as a good character or an evil character and yet aside from a few unique quests and the overall cosmetic qualities of your character, none of it really makes a big difference to anything. Over the course of an incredibly short story, your custom avatar will experience repetitive combat, an abundance of basic quests, and a fantasy world that feels too small to truly get lost in.
“This is a role-playing game”; I say as I paraphrase an old interview with Molyneux for Official Xbox Magazine; “We shouldn’t be telling you that you must look like this, you must go there, fall in love with that person, we want the player to make their own unique choices.”
It’s an impressive line of thinking until you realize that Fable only supports male player characters; such is how narrow its vision truly is. And I can’t help think how closer The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (released before Fable) is to providing the sort of free-form gameplay that was promised here.
The thing is though, I really don’t care about the little things that didn’t make it in to Fable, I really don’t. A man has to dream big to accomplish big things and that’s fine, I get that.
The missing functionality of having a baby or planting an acorn and being able to watch it grow, poisoning a town’s water supply, burning people’s houses down, or carving your initials into a tree and having it stay there; all these things are fairly superfluous in the grand scheme of things. But the constantly evolving world, multiplayer over Xbox Live, decisions as a child affecting adulthood as well as an overall varied and exciting game were never realized in Fable and these are big omissions to be talking about.
I eagerly followed the stories of this game’s development through magazine interviews and features where the game was originally (and perhaps fittingly) titled Project Ego. Every month a new showcase would be extolling the virtues of this new RPG that would redefine the genre as we knew it. However, the Fable we got is a million miles away from that vision and after all the talk, all the showcasing, and all the hype, is a painfully mediocre game that simply won’t last you like games from this genre are supposed to.