5 Games That Failed To Reach Their True Potential - ejronin Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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5 Games That Failed To Reach Their True Potential

Disappointment is a part of life. In fact, most things in reality are fairly disappointing which is why many people turn to video games. They're a kind of trap door that leads to a different world. In this world players get to experience a sense of value and worth not found to the same degree in the real world. They also get to participate in some rather fantastic events and surreal actions. As time goes by, the depravity and disappointments of the real world have begun to appear in the virtual game world that many of us find refuge.

This is a list of games that had a world of potential but the developers failed us in making a truly remarkable title worthy of the praise they've been given. *** them.


Enough time has passed since this game has hit shelves that the mere thought of frowning in its direction shouldn't make anyone have a nervous breakdown and act like a  mentally deficient chimpanzee, so MW2 starts the list of games that could have been a terrific game, but wasn't on almost all fronts. One should wonder whether or not MW2 is even a game at all or more of a conglomerate of concepts forming little more than a playable tech demo that can be summed up with "blow *** up with other people just because you can" or a piece of technical shovelware (which by definition MW2 fits into rather well). 

Despite being a relatively generic shooter with an innocuous story, MW2 had massive amounts of potential. It took the multiplayer aspects that made Halo hyper popular and integrated realistic weapons and settings that players could better relate to global events and captivate a global audience very quickly. It enjoyed being part of the shooter genre that moved away from the tired WWII setting and personal taste aside (I abhor the game), there were many merits to the title that were worthy of praise. It did capture a fast paced and sometimes disorganized mess that occurs in a combat situation. It did a great job of making the player 'feel' the betrayal at the climax of the game, and a few other points such as good lighting and textures helped draw players into the surroundings. All of the finer points were well done, but the parts that fell apart contributed to the game being a technical implosion that most fans seem to survive, adapt and cope with rather than completely avoid.

Sure, it entertained millions of people as noted by its record setting sales numbers. It also received a very high number of complaints and was the source of one of the most controversial debates since the late 80s playground battles between Sega and Nintendo loyalists.  To start, the game had some of the worst balance mechanics and contained numerous exploits and bugs of an FPS. For a game allegedly costing $40-50 million to produce and a claimed $200 million to market, it defies logic as to how or why the caliber of bugs present weaseled into the final retail copy and why they were present for as long; even the patches needed patches. Many bugs and exploits completely sapped the fun out of the multiplayer mode of the game for most.

When it came to the single player campaign was like losing ones virginity to another virgin; it's alarmingly shorter than anticipated, wastes a lot of time talking about it rather than actually doing it, and the post coital realization that 98% of what other people tell you about it is total bullsh*t - all for what really amounts to 15 minutes of furious fondling followed by 5 minutes of wet tapping sounds. The characters were largely irrelevant and undeveloped to have any intrinsic value and while there were some clear points attempting to come to the surface, they were too deeply embedded in the visual hyperbole to have credible impact on the player and the story.

Should the game have the accolades it did? Maybe to some but I don't believe it was above a 6 out of 10 because in retrospect the game was largely unpolished, not enough thought was given to conveying an idea and too many problems arose from the glitches to be looked upon as something a team of intelligent individuals sat and honestly gave a good hard look at, but lots of people found themselves herded into the magnificence maleficence and led to believe that they'd be uncool if they didn't spend the money on a 6 hour tour.

Next time, a few extra months spread between conceptualizing the story and testing the multilayer aspects of the game before releasing it to public may do a world of good to a franchise I've grown to unabashedly snub. 

The metric by which almost all other RPG titles are compared, the Final Fantasy franchise manages to reinvent itself while simultaneously borrowing bits and pieces of itself in various arrangements. The latest in the series however, left a lot of fans disappointed. Where Square went wrong with FF13 was not in the fact that they changed the mechanics, but that they changed too many mechanics too abruptly for too many people with little warning.

Square isn't a company with the cleanest record though. The Last Remnant, Neir, Bouncer, Bahamaut Lagoon, and a large handful of other games developed, produced or published by Square Enix haven't done much more than become a joke, but their one trump card is Final Fantasy. So what if Square is a one trick pony when its one helluva trick?

Normally, I don't find myself on the side of the popular ideas, especially when it comes to what boils down to 'perception is context', but in the case of Final Fantasy 13 if the idea is to get a majority of people involved and interested then what a majority of people want to play and their notion of what to expect has to be taken into deep consideration. When Square set out to make the game they voiced the idea that they'd be bringing in some new ideas to make the game unlike any other Final Fantasy and of course there was also the huge flap over the graphics between the PS3 and XB360 versions (which for some odd reason still rages on in certain circles). And, Square kept good on their word; Final Fantasy was unlike most any other Final Fantasy before it.  The changes were that some staple elements usually found in the Final Fantasy series turned up missing in action and despite the justifications for their absence, the game ultimately suffered in context to appeal and playability making for a largely dissatisfying experience by many. Personally, I enjoyed the game and I understood the changes, the reason for changes and have previously made an appeal as to why people shouldn't be so disappointed however, I also understand where and why people are left feeling as though the game didn't live up to the expectations of the Square Enix RPG battle standard and I shudder to think how this would have played out had Sonic Team not completely ruined and diluted the Phantasy Star, franchise more than a decade ago.

Final Fantasy disappointed not in any other way than they went off the beaten path in an attempt to reignite interest in a franchise that has run strong for over 20 years. Conventional wisdom dictates that if it isn't broken, then one doesn't make an attempt to fix it. Square had the opportunity of a lifetime; to bring a massive RPG of epic proportions to a next generation console, the likes anyone had yet to do on unprecedented scales. Instead they effectively removed the core elements that attracted people to the game to begin and in one fell risky swoop succeeded in alienating large portions of a would-be fresh new audience on flagship consoles and created both a small PR mess and credibility issues and ruined their track record of having landmark first entries on new consoles. In hindsight using core elements as the sacrificial lamb was a stupid move on their part and while people may have bemoaned more of the same when it comes to Final Fantasy, the audience playing the game wouldn't have decreased.

Rockstar set out to recapture audiences with what was more or less GTA in the west. Players could choose to turn the main characters life around or to continue being a bad guy - but that's Rockstar's M.O. 90% of the time. The game truly offers nothing new to any aspect of their game line up save for a really big environment. It seems that Rockstar thinks that over time what gamers really want is a bigger sandbox, not more sand.

The main character John feels like a bonafide badass, and normally games overplay the abilities of the main character making them feel too powerful or putting them in a world with enemies that are equally powerful as a balance that ultimately makes everything not part of the story feel weak and frail, or illogically indestructible. RDR overcomes this with a simple timeline. The game spans over a period of years, and like TV's 24 the impact of events isn't diminished by the observation that overall they're sporadic. Rockstar has always done a pretty good job at telling an entertaining story and RDR is no exception, but the disappointment of RDR comes in the form of horrible animation and voice acting. Great attention was placed on the environment and models, but not enough was really placed on the clunky control mechanics and the unfit voices.

John sounds like Norm MacDonald formerly of SNL while his visual representation begs for something more gruff and deep... like Christian Bale (not that Bale sounded like he looked in 3:10 to Yuma either...), or Gerrard Butler. Provided no one says anything, the game pretty much pulls players in, most of the other character voices don't fit too well either and in the end it serves to remove players from the moment.

The other disappointing aspect of the game really has little to do with the game itself but the expectations and the critical acclaim. The expectations were set so low for this game that its average quality was received as well above average. Many of the elements in the game are common place among other games of today; the lighting, the cut-scenes, the story telling method, the interaction... nothing outside of a few detailed models were anything that a fair number of other games have been living up to for a few years.

 

Chris Kohler of wired.com put it best when he wrote:

Some major plot revelations later in the game introduce a whole universe of possible explanations. And why not, when we know the main character is just making it all up as he goes along? When presented with an infinite number of possible resolutions, any answer is going to feel arbitrary.

Alan Wake, the name of both the game and main character is more or less a poorly done survival horror / 3rd person shooter wrapped in a handful of a few Stephen King novels and David Lynch movies; one might argue that the plot-line is entirely a homage to them both. Unfortunately to write out this homage someone picked an author to the low technical caliber of Stephanie Meyer when the high technical caliber of JK Rowling was called for and talked about. It's like being promised a new car for your birthday and then getting a used bicycle instead.

The game opens with what ends up being more of an excuse than a reason:

Stephen King once wrote that nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations. They’re antithetical to the poetry of fear. In a horror story, the victim keeps asking why. But there can be no explanation, and there shouldn’t be one. The unanswered mystery is what stays with us the longest, and it’s what we’ll remember in the end.

In the literary world where the reader must imagine the surroundings and suppose the purpose behind actions the above statement is fairly true, particularly in the case of surreal situations commonly written about by HP Lovecraft or Clive Barker (though they both had a tendency to eventually explain things), but in a video game where the player must engage and interact in a predetermined fashion and format a lack of explanation turns 'fun' into 'arbitrary' and 'moot'.  Take for example the game's risk/reward mechanic. It's a weak systematic hoarding set up with a coating of 'engage or retreat' questions as players go from place to place in a linear fashion fighting off enemies no creepier than a thug with a pipe wrench in the woods. The actual fear factor of the game relies on a players' constitution and imagination. Again, this is why the above Stephen King statement really only works within the literary world; if you present the audience with an image that directs, there is little room for imagination without being contradictory or confusing overall.

For Alan Wake to have gone from 'okay' to 'must buy' serious work needed to be put into the way the story unfolded and the meshing of the characters into their environment. The end of the game answered questions most players never asked and made players ask questions that the answers contradicted the actions. A good book and a good story will encourage players to ask questions that pertain to the story rather than question the integrity of it.

ModNation Racers is a grab bag of both good and bad things in terms of execution. On the good side the game is colorful, engaging and highly approachable no matter the reason for buying the title. As a kart racing game, MNR isn't bad. It's not great, but it's not bad; it squarely rests somewhere between 'alright' and 'good' being as entertaining as Mario Kart without being too sophomoric.  The 'rubber band' method of keeping pressure on players when facing the AI is and has always been irksome for many and tends to

make players feel as though they're at a distinct disadvantage (technically, they are), but it retains the challenge in the races irrespective how how 'good' one is at the game. On the bad side the tools given while not complicated, fail to meet let alone set a standard and the AI is a autonomous collective that will ignore itself rather than separate individuals trying to win independently, in other words if players are set to come in place 1-3, they can expect a perfectly timed 3rd tier attack 5-10 seconds before crossing the finish line with the AI 'rubber banding' ahead of them but if the AI is set to be at the podium the game doesn't react in a similar fashion - there are some serious balance issues.

Like Little Big Planet before it, MNR promotes user generated content with a small degree of rights control over said content (players can bar others from 'remixing' an uploaded creation). The tools to create content are intuitive, practical, and robust. On the other hand they're also buggy, especially in terms of track creation. Three major bugs I've personally run into more than once:

  • The AI is permitted to deviate from a breadcrumb path without being penalized. Players who attempt to deviate from the track receive the 'off track' notification and the red MRC screen. In the rare event that the AI is barred from deviating, instead of respawning at their point of deviation, they respawn at the point they would have returned to the track had they not been penalized.
  • Placing a jump on a track high above perpendicular, lower section of  track will at times result in an "illegal shortcut" penalty, the red MRC screen and placement before illegal shortcut once so as to penalize the player a second time before eventually being reset after the penalty area . It is understood that there could be a flaw in the track design that causes the error and it can be written off as a user created error, but to return players to a point to recreate the penalty is plain stupid.
  • When paving, the game asks if the player would like to "auto populate" their created track. The tool is sort of an 'all or nothing' feature and if the player opts to place props manually, using the auto-populate feature will undo the design in place by players. There's no option to auto populate on the track or by the track - it just does both and in the course of that action will undo pave styles, bridges, fences, tunnels, traps, boosts, weapon pods, etc. The tool meant to make creation the absolute easiest is also the tool that makes things the most frustrating and devolved.

That said, the tools needed some serious play testing and it is obvious that they didn't get some much needed attention. In the case of MNR, United Front Games did well in giving players a toolbox full of tools to make a huge assortment of things. The problem is that the toolbox is full of tools with a single purpose, most of which have a limited scope and fragile mechanics despite their potential. This is especially disappointing given that the driving point behind the game's production value and core philosophy is summed up and shared verbatim with LBP - "Play, Create, Share",  a game that is heralded as 'the' example of what a UGC game can be. Don't take it wrong, user generated content tools have made tremendous strides over the past few years (anyone remember the contravention that was "RPG maker" on the PS2? or how about the PC toolset for Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2?), but it seems that putting focus on debugging core aspects of a game that are integral to extended playability and user interactivity would be paramount. Had these frustrating and cumbersome bugs and balance issues been addressed prior to retail release, MNR would be a groundbreaking title worth of sharing the spotlight with LBP rather than feel like an expensive proof of concept . United Front Games will be remembered for implementing a handful of ideas in one place like never before on a console (until LBP2), but another studio will possibly be remembered for getting it right since UFG didn't.

I'm reminded of an event in my childhood that I remember vividly because it was an integral part to growing up with boxing gloves instead of kid gloves. At the time it was a bit disenchanting, but at the end of the day I'm glad I can rely on that small dose of brutal reality:

As a child my parents used positive reinforcement and rewarded me when I received good grades in school. That is until I got into 6th grade at which point a shift to reality began taking place. I was walking back from the mailbox one summer afternoon with my final 5th grade report card in hand, excited at the idea that I be getting some new Nintendo game as a reward if I could maintain a B+ average. I handed it to my mother and after looking it over she placed it on the kitchen table for what I assumed was to the point of letting my father look it over when he got home from work. When he got home he looked it over, signed it and put it in his room. I was confused as to why we didn't go get a game that night, but it wasn't Friday so maybe we were going to go when dad got paid.

Friday came and went so finally Saturday I asked my mother about it. From across the kitchen table between sips of hot coffee she explained, "You did what was expected, nothing more," she continued after a pause to sip coffee, "The teacher won't give you points for spelling words correctly on a paper but will take them from you for spelling them incorrectly because you're at a point that you're expected to know how to spell. There's no extra bonuses in life for doing what is expected or promised, only penalties when you don't."

In hindsight she's absolutely right; who rewards the mailperson for delivering the mail? No one, because that's what they're supposed to do; they are part of a delivery service that we pay for and having paid for it we have a set expectation and standard. We expect that the mailperson will take the mail from the box at the end of the driveway and take it to where it goes. If it gets to the right place in an acceptable time frame nobody jumps from behind a bush and pats them on the back. The game industry is very similar to the service industry in that they're coming to the consumer with a product and a service making promises to a group of people with a set of expectations based upon those promises and history of interaction. When they fail to keep those promises I am not compelled to reward them with anything but try to withhold from them and if they perform only on average then I'm disinclined to reward them with anything above and beyond. At times though some things are bound to fall through the cracks and things will be overlooked, which is understandable - nobody is perfect but at the very least a promise should be kept or never made. There's also times when companies intentionally cut corners to save money or reach a deadline, or follow up failed items with excuses and the pointing of fingers. While it can't be proven that all of above games fall into the latter, the facets that disappoint lend themselves to the idea that perhaps they do and I'm left wondering if we've come to have such low expectations in terms of quality that we feel compelled, at times, to reward the average on the premise that it was at least not below average?

Every one of these games has done well, received a fair amount of praise and seen commercial success but none of that indicates the developers 'succeeded' in more than turning a profit. In the industry of games turning a profit is the main objective and in that sense, yes, they accomplished the mission and these games did in fact, meet or exceed their potential. On the culture and activities end however whether or not a developer turns a profit isn't a logical major concern to such a degree that we'd run out and pay $60 for a sh*tty game to enact a private bailout. We're concerned with being entertained and getting the absolute most out of a game for the money and time we spend. Going back and looking at each of the games in this list, there are stark examples of things horribly wrong that should make people rather upset; how dare they waste our time with anything less than the best they can offer. We didn't pay for a game that requires multiple patches, buggy tools, sh*t controls and diluted stories and we don't care how much money was spent in production or the cost of marketing. What we care about it solid games and smart investment of time and resources - that's what we're buying. Keep it that way. 

 

AUTHORS NOTE: I realize some would take this piece as an indication that I don't like these games. The fact is that many of them are great games that could have been so much better if the dev teams had taken just one or two extra steps and sat down as a team and really thought about some very common superficial problems that would have been cheaper to fix before they went to press the media discs. I loved Final Fantasy, Red Dead Redemption was entertaining, and while I'm a staunch MW2 'hater' I see the reasons behind why it's popular and appealing. Just because aspects of a game are disappointing and I feel they could be better doesn't mean I dislike it as a whole or that the games in my opinion are crap, and even if I did think the games were crap it doesn't change the fact that the listed games have flaws that shouldn't be there. Things can be better than what they are and there's nothing wrong with pointing out things that need to change, that is of course unless you're someone who thrives on mediocrity in which case you should enter politics.

 

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