GameFront 2010: The Year’s Biggest Letdowns
There are bad games, and then there are the games that turn us into disapproving mothers about to emotionally devastate our children by uttering that powerful word: disappointed. This list is full of those games.
Kane and Lynch 2
Phil Owen’s take:
The biggest problem with Kane and Lynch: Dead Mean was how awkwardly it controlled, but you assume that kind of thing shows up due to the game being rushed out the door. And as is usually the case with problems that are the result of a rushed game, you expect the sequel to be on par with the good aspects of the previous game and much better in the s–tty aspects. Turns out they improved some things, like the cover mechanic and, like, shooting, but then they decided to leave out the interesting plot and cool set-pieces and fun. It’s a short, boring game, and the only good part is when Kane and Lynch are running around naked and all cut up, because that was funny.
Ron Whitaker’s take:
Kane & Lynch 2 is easily the most disappointing for me. After the first game, which had a strange sort of charm to it, I was hoping that IO Interactive would come through with an awesome sequel. I’ve always loved their Hitman games, and I had faith they could pull off a winner again.
Boy, was I wrong. K&L 2 left a lot of the problems from the first game in, and spiced things up by adding some new ones. The video filter was more of an annoying headache inducer than anything, and the game just overall didn’t do anything well. Here’s hoping that IO will bring us another Hitman game instead of this nonsense.
Disney Epic Mickey
Phil Hornshaw’s take:
I must confess, I drank deep of Warren Spector’s kool-aid when it came to Epic Mickey. I was enthralled by the trailers in which members of the development team spoke excitedly about the research they’d done, the care they’d taken, and the access they’d been given to do the game that was supposed to bring back Mickey Mouse — among other things.
I also attended a preview/review event in Disneyland last month, at which Spector spoke at length about the ambitions of Epic Mickey. He even led us on a tour through Disneyland to point out all the different aspects of the park that had inspired or even appeared in the game. The level of passion the guy displayed was intense, let me tell you. It was also contagious.
So as I quite literally slog through Epic Mickey to get GameFront’s walkthrough done, every painful step leaves me with a heavy heart. I’m not even a Disney fan, but Epic Mickey had me convinced I could be. It also made me think that Junction Point was creating the next big “look, this is what games could be like” sort of title. Instead, Epic Mickey suffers ludicrously from many, many stupid problems, like a terribly brain-dead camera; weak, nonsensical jumping controls; aiming issues; and being generally a little bit boring. For some reason, for all that passion, nobody bothered to play Super Mario Galaxy to learn how to make a decent Wii platformer.
Possibly the biggest bummer is that the audience the game is aimed at — the young, the Disney uberfans, and the more casual of gamers — aren’t going to see the game for the letdown it really is. Epic Mickey will do fine, even though it’s tragically underdeveloped. For a AAA title, it’s kind of sad that Junction Point is going to get away with making a game that isn’t as solid as it should be at the most basic levels. A studio like Junction Point should know better, and we should expect more from a game like this, especially after Spector and pals have been telling us all along that it’s about time we asked more from the industry. For all that tough talk about developers doing a better job, Epic Mickey is part of the problem, not the solution.
Final Fantasies XIII and XIV
Shawn Sines’ take:
I’m so tempted to call out Iron Man 2 and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, but since I got enough fair warning on those two titles I avoided them completely. If I had to look at one of the games I played this year that let me down I’d probably choose Final Fantasy XIII or XIV.
Both entries this year in the long running franchise missed the mark for me. Both are gorgeous to watch but FF XIII is a bit shallow to play while the initial release of FF XIV was basically unplayable. Final Fantasy can rest on its laurels but two back-to-back entries is a bit much to maintain fans of the title.
Final Fantasy XIII is the game I really spent more time with and unfortunately while I initially liked the combat system and most of the characters the completely linear approach to telling the story left me deflated. Now Final Fantasy games are not the best at building in replayability, but XIII really left me with no interest in going back through the adventure to make different choices because, frankly there were no choices to make.
But Final Fantasy XIV at least can be fixed. The MMO concept allows designers to update the gameplay and redesign or enhance the weaknesses of the game over time. The company has taken good steps to admit there are problems, but it’s likely too late to matter to people like myself who can pop in Word of Warcraft or go back to Middle-earth guilt free. I was looking for something new and different and Square-Enix delivered that in spades.. too bad it just didn’t help me learn to appreciate it.
Ross Lincoln’s take:
I like to imagine that in order for Civ V to go gold, Firaxis had to complete research on the “Naval-Gazing Superfluousness” technology, at which point a bell dinged and Leonard Nimoy’s voice dutifully read the attached quote:
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. – Unknown
I admit this is going to be a tad esoteric because a lot of my problems with Civilization V are emotional. Sure, I can identify specific game features I hate, but mostly, I found myself disinterested, frustrated and kind of bored. If you like scotch, then you know that blends are scotch for people who don’t actually enjoy drinking scotch, and after putting in some serious time playing, I kind feel like that about Civ V.
Don’t get me wrong – I liked it. A lot in fact. But I didn’t love it, and didn’t gets bigger every day. Yes, the graphics are excellent, and I LOVE the culture accurate languages. Also great are the soundtrack, and changes to the tech tree and civilization civics features. But for the most part, the new things in Civ V detract significantly from what makes previous entries so essential, and the more you play, the more annoyed you get.
I know, I know, the hexagonal tiles are supposed to be some kind of brilliant advance, but it’s just f*cking geometry guys. We’ve seen it before. Yes, they allow for more variable movement, but that’s kind of expected, since this is a new game and all. but it does bring me to the new single-unit-per-tile rule. I get that that restriction is supposed to force you to make strategic decisions with your units, specifically taking advantage of the new magical geometry. I don’t care. The single-unit-per-tile rule is a terrible idea. That strategic use of your units requires that you move Every Single Unit individually. Say what you will about Stacks of Doom, they don’t add an additional 16 hours of pointless, repetitive pointing and clicking to artificially extend the length of a game.
I don’t care about gimmicky nonsense, especially when I’ve spent so many hours enjoying the plodding, unbalanced game play, the severely restrained combat and tech development, or the annoying takes-forfracking-ever buildings construction. Frankly, the game loads slow, plays slow and discourages experimenting. Oh and did I mention having to wait for the damned opening cinematic to advance far enough so that I can skip it and just start playing already? God I love that. I also love how you’ll spend so much time being frustrated you won’t be able to simply zone out and lose 5 hours like with previous games. Yes, they somehow even managed to ruin the single best thing about the series. It’s the equivalent of Rock*Star releasing a linear, 2D platforming GTA game.
And for all the vaunted “improvements”, you know what? A f*cking Spearman still defeated a tank. F–K YOU, Firaxis, for real.
Here’s the thing: I’ve been playing Civ games since the 90s. I even loved the lesser Call To Power series. I still have my copies of Civ II and Civ III simply for old times’ sake. I have spent a lot of money and a HELL of a lot more time building empires, attempting to complete all victory conditions, experimenting with every possible selectable variable, and generally losing track of hours and even days at a time. Suffice to say I love these games; hell, I’ve even kind of enjoyed this one, so it’s probable that I’ll tough this out and force myself to try to enjoy it more until they release some updates that fix some of these problems. Even so, it’s best if they just quietly pretend this one never happened at all by the time Windows 7 Civilization 6 comes out.
And that’s why it’s 2010’s biggest letdown.
Ben Richardson’s take:
The original Bioshock wasn’t a perfect game, but it was perfect in all the ways that mattered: fun combat, creepy atmosphere, effective world-building and writing. The game was so good, and such a big hit, that it fell prey to a classic entertainment industry malaise: the obligatory sequel.
You mostly see this happen with TV shows (cf. Lost) — some creative visionary will have one really good idea, enough for a pilot and the next six episodes, maybe even a full season. If the show’s a hit, the studio wants more. Right away. And there’s the rub. There really isn’t any more.
Bioshock 2 had this problem in barnacle-encrusted underwater spades. Compared to Andrew Ryan, Sofia Lamb was about as compelling an adversary as Elmer Fudd. The game’s big innovations smacked of stagnation and laziness — a Big Daddy with tits? Is that really the best they could come up with? And whose idea was it to flesh out the single, mercifully-short escort quest in the first game? Defending Little Sisters as they harvested ADAM was so aggravating that I eventually just stopped doing it.
You can tell you’re playing a bad game by how desperately you want to end, and as Bioshock 2 wore on, I was praying for the credits to roll. Each obstacle placed in my way was a nuisance, an aggravation, a speed bump on my road to freedom. Beating it was satisfying not because of a sense of accomplishment, but because I never wanted to put the game in my Xbox’s disc drive ever again.
Lastly, for the love of Allah, can developers stop adding multiplayer modes that no one, repeat no one wants anything to do with? It would save a lot of time and money that could be invested in, y’know, making games not suck.
Ron Whitaker’s take:
Does anyone besides me (and obviously Ben) just want to forget that Bioshock 2 existed? Could we write it off as poor DLC, and just move on? Bioshock 2 should really have been Bioshock 1.5. It took place in the same locations, with many of the same environments. Ben is spot on when he says you couldn’t wait for the ending, but not because it was that good. You were just happy it was over.
Mark Burnham’s take:
Look, I love Platinum Games. Most recently they made Vanquish (which I gave a nod for my best action game of 2010) and Bayonetta, but before that key members of the studio composed Clover Studios (Okami, Viewtiful Joe). Their games are beautiful, flashy, over the top, unique.
So when I first heard of Bayonetta, a Hideki Kamiya-directed action game about a witch with guns on her feet, I was pretty excited. Kamiya created the Devil May Cry series, which is a blast, and so I thought cool, more of that but hopefully better. And featuring a witch with guns of her feet and deadly hair whip attacks. I’m in.
The trailers started rolling in, and the gaming press kind of wet themselves. Everyone was into it. It looked like a “Ninja Gaiden killer” to me, a complicated, challenging, beautiful action game with a serious combat system. Basically, it looked right up my ally. And then it came out.
Bayonetta is, in my opinion, one of the biggest gaming press disasters of 2010. It’s a game that virtually everyone got REALLY, really wrong, and I hate to say that about Platinum Games, my homies. It currently has a 90/100 on metacritic, which is bizaro-world high.
The story is a complete unmitigated disaster, and don’t you dare defend it. It’s an incoherent mess about witches, angels (called Umbra Sages), how they maintained balance together a long time ago, but then Bayonetta was at the bottom of a lake for 500 years, and she wakes up with amnesia. She’s trying to find out stuff about her past, or something. Nothing is properly explained, and it gets worse and worse.
Also, you wouldn’t think that the character Bayonetta is missing anything, what with her devil may care (see what I did there?) attitude. She’s comfortable, sexy, powerful, smiley even. She has everything she needs, and rooting for her was almost impossible from the beginning.
And the story takes itself too seriously, which you wouldn’t expect in a wacky game like this. The game drags you through these long, painful moments of exposition, where the already silly mythology gets sillier and sillier, and more complicated and full of holes. This is not a satire of video games, as people who liked the game seemed to think. This is just a bad game that’s bad.
If it was supposed to be a satire, it failed because it took itself too seriously. It was supposed to be a serious, layered kaleidoscope of a story with a complicated plot, then it failed because the story doesn’t make any sense. Bayonetta tried to nail a weird tone, and it didn’t strike the right balance.
And the music is excruciating throughout. I turned the music off after a couple hours into the game. It’s bad, loud techno metal crap that grates against the beautiful visuals.
What you’re left with in Bayonetta is merely a kick-ass combat system, surrounded by a sea of crap, which just isn’t what I thought I was getting into.