Welcome To The New Age: 2013′s Biggest Disappointments

Games That Pushed the Envelope (Not At All)

Remember how exciting 2013 seemed at the end of 2012? It looked to be a year of phenomenal promise in the triple-A space. New titles from Naughty Dog, Irrational Games, Rockstar; a new SimCity, a new Grand Theft Auto, a new BioShock, and more. It looked like triple-A was finally going to grow up a bit, like we would be inundated with thinking-player’s games from respected studios.

Oops.

Over the course of the year, the supposed gloss of AAA games merely reflected the glow of the leaner, more diverse and (frankly) more creative indie space. The year of 2013 was another huge one for indies, but triple-A was a lackluster let-down as the industry approached the end of the seventh console generation with more of the same in terms of big titles. Overall, even the most promising games wound up being dull and safe in their own ways.

First came BioShock Infinite, and though it was bright and shiny and, at first, appeared to explore deep concepts, some time spent with the game revealed that it was mainly 2008 shooting stapled to 2013 quantum mechanics nonsense posing as story. Elizabeth was an exciting take on an AI character, but it quickly became apparent that she was invulnerable, which was the secret to keeping her from someone you had to babysit. Even now that ending still doesn’t make a ton of sense, and what at first looked like informed political commentary in the form of a game just turned out to be set dressing spray painted with the words “racism is bad (but we’re not really making a statement here).”

After that was The Last of Us, which, to its credit, contains some of the best acting and character writing yet seen in a game. Full stop. Performances are uniformly phenomenal, as is the relationship between its protagonist characters. And the ending is wrenching.

But it wouldn’t be 2013 without falling back on lazy conventions, and so it is that the rest of the game is kinda … eh. Any fan of the zombie genre knew each and every step the story would take from beginning to end. Any fan of Naughty Dog instantly recognized the company’s trademark “think of an environment you’d like to see in a game before figuring out how it would even serve the story” mentality. And any fan of stories that use violence to advance a greater message was left with a sucking sensation where their enthusiasm used to be, as TLOU’s comically enormous body count turned the game from a series of tense sneak-sessions into a slog through yet another group of idiot “hunters.”

Beyond: Two Souls came next. The latest title from Heavy Rain developer Quantic Dream, this pretentious mess sports an all-star cast of Hollywood actors, but puts them to work in a story that prompts deep questions — like, you know, what the hell it was even about. (Seriously, David Cage, what the hell was it about?) It also included a shower scene of naked Ellen Page (you couldn’t see her all nakey in-game, but, as it was soon discovered, all the code made it possible to hack) for literally no reason.

The most hotly anticipated and, subsequently, the most successful game of 2013 was, of course, Grand Theft Auto V. Greeted with universal acclaim, it unfortunately felt like it was stuck about five years in the past, which might just be the case. Satirical elements often felt as out of touch as someone making a “Rap music? More like crap music amirite?” joke in 1992, and its volley of pop culture jokes1 date it before you’re even done playing. Factor in a total lack of developed female characters and it feels like every moment of brilliance is cockblocked by a moment of willful stupidity.

Oh, remember that new SimCity title? It set a particularly bad precedent for the year by being only the first of several online-focused games released to the public completely broken. Developer Maxis and publisher Electronic Arts insisted it needed to be online-only — a claim later proven to be, ahem, not entirely honest — then massacred the launch by releasing a game that didn’t work then, didn’t really work after patches, and to this day is still riddled with problems.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, EA decided to do it again nine months later with Battlefield 4, a game that at least wasn’t forced to be online-only, but was released effectively broken. (See also Total War: Rome II, in which Sega proved it could be every bit as bad about this as EA. At least Creative Assembly managed to patch up Rome II, though.)

I’d like to say that this parade of mediocrity and failure was met with an appropriately underwhelmed response, but what makes this even worse is that we were all suckers in 2013. Conditioned like Pavlov’s dog to drool whenever the bell rings — or in this case, the loading screen loads — players lapped up almost everything AAA publishers vomited out. Even SimCity, a game everyone knew nearly a year in advance would be released sans any of what are universally considered the core elements of the experience, was a hit.

Which means we have only ourselves to blame when developers start listing “will function as advertised the day it launches” as a selling point on the box.

1) Wow, iFruit! Ha, selfies! What timely. So brilliant. Wow. Oh, and that’s me making fun of hip jokes that are already played out, with special guest Doge.

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17 Comments on Welcome To The New Age: 2013′s Biggest Disappointments

kandori

On December 27, 2013 at 2:46 pm

i didn’t think that aliens cm was that bad, and was planning on playing it at some point, but after seeing that clip (and falling on the floor laughing) i want to play it just to see how hilariously bad it is. why does it walk like an old person rushing to the bathroom!

JawaEsteban

On December 28, 2013 at 2:40 am

Back in the old days, you used to be able to take a guy like Kip Katsarelis out back and beat him with a hose. Now they’ve got their d@mned unions.

Grady

On December 28, 2013 at 3:42 am

JawaEsteban:
Desperation is a stinky cologne.

MEOW!

Hope for a better 2014 then, a lot of spacesims/builds and whatnot coming, that might be a good thing.

Foehunter82

On December 28, 2013 at 4:35 am

@kandori: That’s a xenomorph fart walk.

@Ross & Phil: I think that if the AAA developers don’t want to step up, they can easily be replaced by indie developers. I believe we’re headed that direction anyway. The games industry is in a bubble that’s going to burst at some point, and the game developers that survive will likely be the indie developers. The AAA developers will either just barely exist, or they’ll go the way of THQ, selling off most, if not all, of their IPs to indie developers that can actually breath life back into the franchises. We’ve been seeing the slow death of long-running franchises on life support for a few years now. Developers using intrusive DRM schemes, day-one DLC, “games as a service” setups, singleplayer microtransactions. All these things have been attempts at alternate revenue streams for games that have had varying degrees of success. The problem is a POS game is a POS game, and the savvy gamers are not going to keep dumping money into poor-quality games. We’ve been seeing the change in the gamer landscape over these past few years. A trickle here and there at first, but it’s now starting to reach the boiling point. AAA developers are going to have to sit up and take notice if they want to keep doing business, otherwise, they’ll vanish.

I’m going to be brutally honest here. Just a few short years ago, I really did not care for indie developers at all. At the time, I would not even consider buying an indie game. The past two or three years, however, when I look at various indie projects, I get the same sense of excitement about games that I haven’t had since before the release of the first Mass Effect. When I look at AAA developers, I don’t see much to be excited about. Next year, my AAA purchase list has only one game on it: Watch Dogs. Beyond that, I’m getting more and more excited about the future of indie game development. For the foreseeable future, that’s probably where my gaming dollars are going to go.

As far as addressing the social issues in the games industry, it needs to happen sooner rather than later. However, these social issues are a reflection of greater social issues around the world. You need only look at the news of the day to see that there are ignorant people (some willfully so) that are part of the problem.

The Clue Phone

On December 28, 2013 at 5:22 am

As usual, Ross continues to beat the decomposing horse that is this mythical one-way sexism that apparently exists in the videogames industry, yet completely refuses to even entertain opposing viewpoints and instead prefers to throw mud at these people with useless comparisons to “elderly relatives” and saying “you’re completely wrong” without explaining why. The arrogance of this man, who works for an all-male website lest we forget, is overwhelming.

The reason the industry hasn’t progressed as you want it to is because the majority of us don’t abide by your delusions of male-privilege that hasn’t been either relevant or interesting for at least ten or fifteen years now. It is, in fact, YOUR failure to progress YOUR unbelievably childlike belief system that is holding YOU back.

Still, come back with another tedious, self-congratulatory comment that once again ignores all of the infinite counter-arguments and relies on emotional rhetoric and skirting the issue to try and win the argument on false terms. I won’t bother replying because you’re too entrenched but I’m sure it’ll provide you with some sort of keyboard-spamming catharsis.

By the way, Phil Hornshaw wrote all the same crap about this in last year’s ‘biggest disappointment’ article. Yet more evidence that you’re just abusing a non-story to try and make yourselves stand out and feel better about yourselves while doing absolutely nothing of substance about this issue you claim to exist.

Pathetic.

Big the Gangster Cat

On December 28, 2013 at 7:02 am

@Ross & Phil:
Every single game on here that was listed as bad I thought was good, what the hell are you looking for something to rival the Mass Effect franchise minus the crappy ending?

AxΣtwin

On December 28, 2013 at 9:39 am

@ Phone – You talk as if sexism ISN’T an issue in the industry. Let me go ahead and simply say, it IS an issue. You accuse Phil of “not listening to opposing view points”, were you living under a rock when Carolyn Petit was having some of the worst bile 2013 could summon thrown at her simply because she had the audacity to add a misogynistic footnote at the bottom of her otherwise glowing GTA 5 review?

Lets take an even bigger step back and look at it from a broader point of view. Anytime any woman brings up the fact that the gaming industry is still, to this day, a boy’s club that is all but missing a sign that says “no girls allowed” they are immediately labeled a “fem-nazi”. If its someone in journalism, then its they’re a “fem-nazi that is abusing their position and using the public forum to further along their political agenda”.

So yeah, this might be the same thing Phil brought up last year, but guess what? Every year is the same GD thing! The specifics are different, but the story remains the same.

concernedgamer

On December 28, 2013 at 9:46 am

@The Clue Phone: You come on here everytime sexism and racism in the industry are brought up and speak intelligently and eloquently about how none of those things actually exist, and that any argument to the contrary is irrelevant because we live in a completely utopian society. But here’s the truth: you cannot make that claim. Every site that Phil and Ross link to show proof that this IS a legitimate problem. You are one of those willfully ignorant people Foehunter is referring to. You refuse to acknowledge the problem because it doesn’t fit your narrow, bigoted view of reality.

Quit trolling and go back to watching Duck Dynasty.

Aedelric

On December 28, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Penny Arcade is appallingly bad and full of idiots, the company does not even deserve mentioned.

The rest of the article is very good though, 2013 was full of surprising disappointments, not that 2012 did not have it’s fair share. But 2013 just seemed to pump out flop after flop, Rome II:Total War was an especially big let down for me.

psycros

On December 28, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Thank you, The Clue Phone, for calling out the author on his latest sexually-obsessed foray into Nobodycaresville.

Aedelric

On December 28, 2013 at 8:58 pm

The Clue Phone does have a point, Game Front staff do talk about sexism in the video game industry an awful lot even when the topic perhaps should not even include it.

Gaming and game development is a predominantly male pastime, this fact alone means sexism will always be present in some backward corner, just like anywhere else in the world. The only cure is getting more females involved and unfortunately gaming is simply a gender divide as it always has been. Most women are just not as interested in games as men apparently are, I chalk this up to human nature.

That all said I do think Game Front could get off their self righteous high horse and fire Ross to hire on a female staff member, how about it Ross? How strong is your conviction? What was that? You do not agree? Sexist!

So can we get back to talking about games now? I honestly do not care what sex anyone is.

Earnest

On December 29, 2013 at 11:05 am

@aedelric You are half right. If Game Front is going to place itself on the front lines of the debate about sexism in gaming, it does seem their staffing should reflect that point of view. Your proposition, though, is more of the same fallacious zero-sum thinking that prevents us from embracing more women in more roles in all walks of life. It’s not just us or them.

Aedelric

On December 29, 2013 at 2:03 pm

I was being facetious Earnest, I have no us or them mentality, you just assumed that because you took my request seriously. I was being flippant to prove a point, Game Front talks about equality but is the epitome of inequality.

Ross complains a lot in his articles but is not really part of any group actively trying to address the situation. Personally I think people like him just bring up such subjects because of the controversy, the more controversial the more clicks and comments a topic will likely attract.

quicktooth

On December 30, 2013 at 3:18 am

@Aedelric – Actually, Ross and the Gamefront staff ARE doing something about sexism. They’re doing their *job* in fact. They’re talking about it. That’s what journalism is for. It’s an incredibly powerful tool for change. The opinions of journalists often seem to become the opinions of their readers. The issues they raise can be the only ones people think about. By both championing basic humanity and raising relevant issues, current issues, Gamefront’s journalists are both very active in making good things begin to happen and simply doing their jobs. Why ask for more from someone who’s *profession* is to help change take place? You can’t report current events without causing change too (see my points above)! Also, about the gender inequality in Gamefront’s staff- good point, but Gamefront is also hardly a dudebro self-congratulatory sexism-fest. It’s actively championing everyone’s point of view, and everyone’s quality of life (in so far as our fine hobby affects it).

Aedelric

On December 30, 2013 at 9:14 am

They are not doing anything beyond criticizing others yet not actively including women inside their “brofest” fold.

Gamefront is essentially the definition of a hypocrite, their really is no defense for that no matter how convoluted an argument you make. I am personally for equality but you can not call out others when the company you work for does not actively address the situation in its own ranks.

I admit I never really been a fan of the articles Ross and Phil create, they somehow always come off as complete tossers. That aside they are occasionally right but they are self righteous and often force their agendas into articles even if the article does not warrant it. For an example an article about gaming’s biggest disappointments, it should be about games. A separate article should have been about sexism and inequality, it is a serious issue not something to be tagged on at the end of an article for the controversy.

gasmaskangel

On December 30, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Dear gaming industry: THIS IS WHY I DRINK.

Drachehexe

On January 5, 2014 at 11:30 am

“the indie scene absolutely flourished, ably showing the triple-A guys how it should be done”

Well, when you don’t have to put 80% of your budget into a game engine and the best digital artists on the planet you can focus more fleshed out an dlonger stories to make up for your crappy retro art school droput graphics. You also don’t have publishers oing “we don’t like get rid of it and replace it with this because the 200 peopel we did a focus group with tells us the millions of ga,mers out there want it.”