Top Ten Tuesday 13

My Top Ten Most Disappointing Games

Disclaimer: There are many top ten lists, but this one is mine. If you think a game is missing here, I either didn't play it, didn't have any interest in it, or I just hate you.


Pre-List Notes

You don't always back a winner. Whether I fall in line with the hype train or a series' previous entry creates impossibly lofty expectations for a sequel, some games just ultimately come away as a disappointment. That's not to say that I don't enjoy some of the games on this list - in fact I love many games on this list - but for various reasons they failed to meet the level of greatness that I was expecting. This site recently put out a similar list that specifically looks at hugely anticipated games that fell flat amongst critics and gamers, but mine is a much more personal list. Obviously I can only make a list of games I've played, but also my own expectations for sequels or new anticipated titles create a unique list of failed ambitions, misdirection, or simply a bad case of Not Nearly As Good As The Last Game syndrome.


Top Ten Most Disappointing Games


10) Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock

I was a huge fan of the first two Guitar Hero games, which coincided nicely with the big boom of the rhythm game genre in the mid to late 2000s. However, after the initial success, front runner developer Harmonix was purchased by MTV Games and went on to make their next hugely successful series in Rock Band, while the Guitar Hero franchise was given over to newcomer to the genre Neversoft. You would think the plan would be to simply give people more of what they want: the same great gameplay with plastic guitar controllers and an ever expanding library of music. But Neversoft tinkered with the formula, resulting in many super difficult songs that were unfun giant walls of notes, and made the entire game much more game-y with weird boss battles and powerups. I'm not sure who was asking for these new gameplay additions but I certainly was not. Guitar Hero III's disappointment ultimately reflected the beginning of the downfall of the rhythm genre itself.


9) Spore

I hesitate to include Spore on this list, because I personally carry a huge torch for the game. When it was released the actual game was terribly overshadowed by the original launch and DRM scandal that we still see all too frequently nowadays. It was one of my most anticipated titles, and I was definitely one of those that was eating up the creature creator and salivating over the full game.

Spore is a wonderfully fun and enjoyable experience, but it needs to include a whole host of disclaimers. It is not the massive SimLife or SimEvolution game that many people (including me) were lead to believe. Only after playing through a couple times did I begin to realize that the majority of the game was actually the end game - when you acquired space travel and could build your empire. All the other phases - from the nifty cellular minigame to the vastly disappointingly simplistic creature phase and beyond - were simply a background narrative you used to build your space faring people. I actually had a ton of fun playing it like a strategy space game, and had a huge blast with the various editors which are still fantastic to this day, but the game should've been so much more.


8) Mass Effect 2

Put down the pitchforks and let me explain. I'm a huge fan of the Mass Effect series and I enjoy all three games, but for me, nothing touches the original. The unique blend of third person shooting and role playing was a combination I didn't even think was possible, let alone building my favorite science fiction universe of all time (sorry, Star Wars). To date, Mass Effect is still the only game that upon beating the first time, I immediately started again (with a different character) and played through the entire game a second time.

The sequel, however, stripped away many of the RPG elements while vastly improving the combat and shooting mechanics. Although the characters were amazing, the storyline was generally pretty bad, and the antagonists were terribly bland. They completely eliminated many aspects that I enjoyed from the first game that needed to be improved, not discarded, such as inventory management and exploring uninhabited planet surfaces with the Mako. While the third game attempted to reconcile many of the lost RPG elements, a part of me wishes that the series had gone in a different direction gameplay-wise after the first one and ended up more like the recent Deus Ex: Human Revolution rather than the very linear experience it became. I know I'm probably in a huge minority here, but for me the second game is the weakest of the trilogy. Commence pitchforks!

7) The Witcher

I had high hopes for this dark, mature and gritty fantasy world created by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. I even read The Last Wish novel (which is actually a collection of short stories starring Geralt) to immerse myself in that world before playing the game. Ultimately, however, while I enjoyed the badass monster hunting, potion drinking protagonist, the world just came off as mature for mature's sake. I'm generally a fan of cursing, being a frequent utterer myself, but the dialogue sounded like it was written by fourteen year olds who were suddenly given permission to say whatever they wanted. The political intrigue and themes were pretty awesome but the game world still used many of the same tired fantasy clichés and tropes. All of that could be forgiven had the actual gameplay been enjoyable, but I absolutely loathed the weird action and combo driven combat that was all about timing rather than strategy. I never did finish the original game and it's kept me from trying the sequel, despite getting much more universal praise. Now with a big open world third game coming to next generation consoles, maybe it's time I give the series another shot.


6) Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

A game that was so hotly anticipated in the months leading up to release that it was featured in a random South Park episode, Chinatown Wars was to be the first GTA game released on a Nintendo console, and gameplay was to hearken back to the original top down perspective. Being a fan of the series since those early days I was totally on board to combine that classic gameplay with the always fun and satirical modern world and storyline that Rockstar excels at. The game was released to near universal acclaim and still remains one of the highest rated Nintendo DS games ever released. For the life of me I don't understand why. The control scheme was absolutely abysmal, requiring the frequent use of the stylus to hotwire cars in frustrating minigames while trying to switch weapons and drive and shoot. I found it a giant mess. The drug dealing was little more than a Buy Low Sell High minigame that seemed more in place with a JRPG than a GTA title. I was vastly disappointed and to this day still shake my head at all the critical acclaim it's garnered.


5) Darksiders II

Still a fresh wound in my mind, Darksiders II was a fairly highly anticipated big sequel to the incredibly underrated Darksiders that remains one of my favorite Zelda-style Games That Isn't Zelda. The first game starred War, one of the four horseman of the apocalypse, after the end of the world happened a little too soon and War is the accused. The game has the distinction of having one of the coolest endings in video games, so anyone that played through it was salivating for What Comes Next. Unfortunately, the designers at Vigil decided to create a prologue story that essentially explained what Death was doing during War's initial incarceration, a story that nobody was asking for. Instead of taking place on the nifty post-apocalyptic wasteland of Earth filled with constant demons and angels warring against each other, Darksiders II takes place in various generic fantasy worlds, as well as an obvious Underworld location

The gameplay itself also went in a direction that I'm not sure anyone was asking for with random loot drops, skill trees, inventory and leveling. I enjoy these aspects in other games but for Darksiders it just made everything bloated and unfocused. The large areas were fun to explore and it was neat they included optional dungeons, but even the special Zelda-style items like the grappling hook/shadow arm and portal device where straight copied from the original game. At least you got your horse right from the beginning in this game. Now I admit I enjoyed the game for what it was, finally finishing it after a game crashing bug crippled my ability to play for a solid month until they patched it, but as a big fan of the original I was still disappointed by this odd direction they took with the series. Now with THQ's demise along with Vigil's will we ever see another one?

You can read my review of the game here.


4) The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

It's a tall order to make a direct sequel to one of the greatest games of all time. Nintendo really could've phoned it in and simply rehashed Ocarina of Time, but instead they went in a really weird, dark, and ultimately unsatisfying direction with Majora's Mask. This is a very divisive game as I've read an equal amount of people staunchly defending this game as well as writing it off. Count me in the latter's camp: the fact that the entire game was constantly timed was maddening enough, and the weird time travel story involved playing through the same three days before the end of the world. The mask system was kind of neat and the gameplay was essentially identical to Ocarina of Time, but frankly I'd rather just play Ocarina again than this far more niche title.


3) Heroes of Might and Magic IV

If you're a fan of turn based strategy games, nothing beat the Heroes series, and Heroes of Might and Magic III is universally considered to be the series' peak. The fourth game was a classic example of trying to fix what wasn't broken (see Darksiders II) as 3DO added the Heroes themselves as combatants (which was wildly unbalancing), having to choose your troops at most tiers (which wasn't fun) and a less cartoony, more straight awful art style. Heroes IV remains the black sheep of an otherwise pretty awesome series, and it's telling that a big part of the marketing strategy when Ubisoft first took the reins to make Heroes V was basically "It's like HoMM 3, we swear!"


2) Dragon Age 2

Many of the entries on this list reflect my personal gaming history and tastes, and I fully expect most of them to be argued about. Dragon Age 2 is not one of them, and I expect this one to be on pretty much everyone's disappointed lists. That's not to say to say that this obviously rushed sequel to Dragon Age: Origins is in itself a bad game (though you could argue that), but Bioware was in the middle of two awesome series and fans were drooling for an epic follow up to the story of The Grey Warden and the Darkspawn.

Instead, they Mass Effect-ed it. That's the best way I can describe the changes that took place: a customizable but ultimately pre-defined and fully voiced protagonist, a linear adventure, strong characters, and a cinematic story. Kudos to them for making it a much more personal story about one man and one city as opposed to the usual save the world or universe stuff, but if you were hoping to see the changes inflicted upon the world after the events of DA:O you would have to keep waiting. DA2 was really more of a spinoff story not befitting a directly numbered sequel, and on top of all that the tactical combat was changed to be much more action-friendly. While some changes were nice, like combining different character's abilities and spells to set up devastating combos, combat in general just felt like it was changed to appease a more action heavy console crowd. Enemies would laughably just swing down from the sky countless times, preventing any set up tactics, and I haven't even touched on the terribly reused tilesets and layouts that were an obvious symptom of a rushed production. I still have high hopes for the franchise, mainly because I'm a hopeless optimist, but it sounds like Bioware is taking a lot of feedback into consideration and really taking their time with the third entry. If that's the case, then I'm afraid DA2 will still be remembered as the unfortunate result of rushed production and questionable design.


1) Hellgate: London

Bill Roper used to be a big name in PC gaming, having worked on Diablo and Diablo 2 as Director for Blizzard, he eventually created his own studio and set to work creating the next big ARPG; this game would incorporate elements of shooters and third person action games while keeping the addicting loot collection and random generated dungeons of the genre. Combine that with an original apocalyptic setting and some super cool cinematics, and how could I not be super excited?


Like The Witcher, I even read the tie-in novel that was churned out before the game, and its awfulness should've given warning to the mess I was about to dive into. Everything started out decent enough, but quickly stank of overused MMORPG tropes and gameplay mechanics. Many of the social features were broken or in still in beta testing. Worse still, every dungeon in the first half or so of the game was a damn partially collapsed subway tunnel, which is about as fun to explore as you think. The enemies were boring, there were only three real classes, and the story was non-existent. You moved from hovel to hovel collecting various collection and fetch quests from NPCs and fighting your way through sewers and subways and the occasional library. The first person view ended up creating a terrible disconnect between your avatar since you never got to see the fancy armor you found if you were using the gun wielding classes, and there were so few skills that in a genre that always flirts with repetitiveness it quickly became a slog. In short: Hellgate London was a complete disaster and easily the most disappointing game I've ever played.

For a more in-depth and interesting read on Hellgate's development and release from a fansite perspective, check out this post.


Wrap Up

Games aren't cheap. Well, as a hobby it's actually fantastic for the dollars to hours ratio, but I still try to minimize my purchases when I can, or push games off till I can pick them up on sale. Reading reviews and interviews help immensely when making purchasing decisions, and I'd like to think that most games meet or exceed my expectations. Still, there are always some games that leave a bad taste in my mouth, even if others enjoy them. Whether the game was rushed to release, or the designers decided to go in a different direction, or the game simply didn't live up to the hype that surrounded it, there will always be disappointment.