Posted on December 20, 2010, Ross Lincoln GameFront 2010: The Year’s Most Overhyped Games
As we wind down the year, we’ll be making a lot of resolutions we’ll likely not keep. Here’s one we intend to: We resolve not to spend every last cent we have trying convince people that a turd tastes like steak.
2010 had a lot of hit games, but it also saw a lot of money spent on marketing them. That paid off, frequently in staggering amounts, but just as often, we saw companies blow everything to sell a game nobody wanted or at least, nobody loved as much as they’d hoped. Maybe the game tanked, maybe it just sucked, or maybe it was just too overblown to justify the press. Whatever the cause, some games simply failed utterly to live up to their promises. The Jerks.
One can’t truly move on and embrace the future without examining, and skewering, the past. So here you go: GameFront’s staff picks for 2010′s most overhyped games.
Call of Duty: Black Ops
The advertising onslaught that accompanies any new Call of Duty game has always been impressive, but Black Ops took it to a whole new level. From the “Activisionpalooza” event at E3, to the controversial Kobe Bryant commercial at launch, Activision spared no expense in promoting this game. Because of this, there was almost no way the game could live up to the hype it generated, even if it was the best game of the year.
Black Ops was far from the best game of the year. It had a frustratingly predictable storyline that didn’t even require the player to participate much in its resolution. The multiplayer was forgettable, combining elements of previous games in the series with a very few new ideas.
It’s not that Black Ops is bad, so much as it is that it’s forgettable. It’s an average game that couldn’t possibly justify the hype attached to it. Of course, it’s sold like hotcakes, so all that hype accomplished something, at least.
Rock Band 3
The Rock Band series is pretty amazing, in that they somehow managed to take the solo-addictiveness of Guitar Hero and translate it to a full-band format. A collection of mixed-bag songs (that everyone loves), alcohol, and not having to spend a fortune at a bar made an instant party for you and four friends. We love the games, of course — they’re fun and cool — but one they they are not is “musical” — at least in the sense that you’re actually making music. They are, after all, just karaoke games with amazing props.
That’s not a problem for someone like me — I don’t actually want to be a musician. I don’t want to be a race car driver either, but Mario Kart rules. I suspect it’s pretty much the same for most people, yet for some reason, pro musicians really hate music games with fiery-hot passion normally reserved for soccer rivalries. They act like music games are a threat the very existence of professional music (despite the fact that these fake music-playing games have delivered millions of real dollars via licensed music).
The pilots union doesn’t seem that angry about PC flight simulator games, which don’t strap you into a realistic cockpit that kills you if you crash. You know why? Because they aren’t threatened by the prospect that people who have no interest in being a pilot might want to simulate it for fun. But for pro musicians it’s constant bitching about “These Kids Today” and “If They Spent As Much Time Playing A Real Instrument As They Did This Damned Game They’d Be Real Musicians” and all that nonsense. You’d think the makers of the Rock Band series would realize that, and be all “Give it a rest, gramps. It’s a game, not a career path”. But for some reason, this silliness actually affected someone at the top. Which brings us to Rock Band 3.
Rock Band 3 was announced like the coronation of a new monarch. They dominated E3 audio from across the convention center, released a ton of ads, announced prestige expansion packs, really did everything under the sun to turn the third installment of the series into a event. They also made significant changes to the series, most famously, the silly “awesome” new controllers for Rock Band 3’s “Pro Mode.” These controllers are scary accurate approximations of real instruments. The guitar controller now looks like a real guitar, complete with almost-functional strings. And the 25-key keyboard works just like a real one. They’re really cool, shockingly realistic, and actually reinvent the music game in tangible ways. Critics agree, and Rock Band 3 is one of the most acclaimed games of 2010.
The obvious problem here is that controllers in these games aren’t supposed to be learning aids, they’re supposed to be tactile air guitars. After all, it’s still just a Karaoke game. The point of Karaoke isn’t to become a real singer, it’s to enjoy the hell out of yourself singing songs you love. And contra the idiots who like to complain about These Damn Games, people don’t buy games like Rock Band 3 in order to learn how to play an instrument. They buy them in order to mock-rock the hell out to songs they love.
Look, it’s an impressive game, but the misguided attempt to move it somewhat closer to an authentic experience has detracted from the experience of pretending, with props, which is probably an essential part of why these games were once so popular. Hell, after a few hours even I started to think “if I’m going to spend so much time pretending to play a game, I might as well actually play a game.” Zing. All the marketing in the world can’t fix that problem. Just ask Tron Legacy.
Millions were invested in the development of Rock Band 3. Millions more were spent on the massive ad campaign. So how’d it pay off for them? It didn’t. Rock Band 3 flopped big.
It’s true that music games have experienced sluggish and declining sales over the last year. Maybe it’s oversaturation, maybe tastes have just changed, but whatever it is, it’s bad. The makers of Rock Band 3 aimed BIG, but the irony here is that they tried to split the difference between being taken seriously and being awesome and fun and they ended up with something most people just don’t want to play. Oops.
Disney Epic Mickey
Not to keep harping on Warren Spector’s love letter to Disney and its theme parks, but goddamn if that game didn’t have a lot of epic talk swirling around it for the months before its release.
The hype was even more pronounced if you were a games journalist in Los Angeles. A month before the game came out, we were all invited out to Disneyland to wander the attractions with Spector himself, riding the rides, talking about inspiration, and even touring Walt Disney’s secret apartment located over the fire station on Main Street U.S.A. (which is replicated as an underwhelming secret in the game — another case of over-hype).
Disney went far out of its way to convince us that if there was ever a game that was true to its license, it was Epic Mickey. All kinds of research and vault-searching was done for the game, and supposedly every pixel is inspired by a real thing or a Disney cartoon, and some extreme pains were taken during the course of development to make sure every mouse hair and paint stroke was in place.
As has been said repeatedly to this point (by me and others), so much time was spent on the hype portions of the game, Junction Point seems to have overlooked the game portions of it. There are quite a few technical problems with the game, and for a title where so much care was taken to get the little things right, it’s almost weird so little was spent on the big things.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II
Maybe it’s just me, but I had been looking forward to the follow-up to The Force Unleashed basically since I finished with the original. That game had its flaws, but I loved the story and the production values — and being an uber-jedi was a really good time.
So I figured when the inevitable sequel dropped, even though the clone storyline sounded potentially stupid, LucasArts would have at least amped up the formula and created the game we had all hoped for. I was also looking forward to another great story, a come-from-behind winner that defied its premise and impressed us all, the same way its predecessor did.
But instead of an awesome, problem-fixing follow-up to a flawed but great game, what we got was a super-short cash-in follow to a great game. Sure, LucasArts fixed a few of the problems — targeting works better and Starkiller is a much more capable, unstoppable killing machine in this go-round — but the game is merciless in its brevity and the story is absolutely terrible.
Any sales of The Force Unleashed II are 100-percent hype-driven — it even garnered a decent overall score from critics, for some reason. Apparently not everyone agrees with me, but when it comes to this Star Wars installment, the game is all talk and very little substance.
Heavy Rain was gonna be a totally new kind of game. It was gonna be a really great mystery and tell an emotionally affecting story and wooo hoooo whatever. And it was gonna be a technical marvel, taking full advantage of the power of the Playstation 3. It wasn’t gonna be f–king crazy and weird like Quantic Dream’s previous effort, Indigo Prophecy.
All right. So it was a totally new kind of game, in that it melds a branching storyline with 3D adventure game mechanics and YAY quick-time events. I guess that’s new. And there are things QD nailed, like delivering an absolutely oppressive mood. But that’s mostly undercut by having a bunch of French people try to voice Americans, which destroys everything the game tries to build pretty much whenever somebody other than Madison or Scott Shelby speaks.
The terrible accents are utterly hilarious, and you can try to sorta let that go for a while, but eventually some really egregious and obvious plot holes pop up out of nowhere, and a few of the games’ characterizations are so outrageous and weird that you can’t help but laugh at them. (For example, why is that detective guy so damn angry the whole time?) Heavy Rain is basically the type of dumb melodrama you’d expect to find in a JRPG, except it comes from the mind of a really arrogant French guy named David Cage. Huh.