Games are constantly misrepresented.
It is easy to see why gamers have issues believing publishers about their upcoming releases. Games are a big business. As much love and artistry as developers bring to their projects, huge AAA games are backed by mega corporations with a bottom line. With prices going up and teams ballooning to massive sizes, these companies need to make sure everything they release is a success on day one. Failing that, publishers rely on recouping every dollar with microtransactions or downloadable content. Rest assured, the people making your games are devastated that any bugs or glitches made it into their final product, but the business behind them forces them out the door.
Things are made worse by console makers who want to ensure they have a jaw-dropping stage presence at E3 or Gamescom. Everyone wants to capture our imagination. Sometimes studios go a bit too far — delivering nothing at all. Console launches, in particular, tend to be susceptible to this conceit of over promising. A lot of games are simply the casualties of rushing them out the door for a system’s release.
Our list of games focuses on visual downgrades, but we’ve touched on a little of everything, from massively hyped titles to glitch-riddled messes. These are all iconic screengrabs that failed to realize their potential. There are a lot of memories caught up in these games. Even if they shook our trust in a lot of companies to its core.
15 Watch Dogs
All signs pointed to Watch Dogs being the first breakout “next-gen” game of the current era of consoles. Even the game’s reveal at the end of Ubisoft’s E3 2012 press conference was confident. From a purely technical perspective, we had never seen anything like it. Watch Dogs was a brand new IP with unparalleled visuals and clockwork gameplay mechanics.
As it turned out, not only was Watch Dogs a by the numbers open-world Grand Theft Auto knock-off, but it was a mess of performance issues on consoles with subpar visual fidelity. Barely any of the impressive design or creativity from its reveal could be found in the final product. The first Watch Dogs game was an absolute disappointment. Thankfully, Watch Dogs 2 turned the series around and delivered on at least some of the game’s initial promise.
14 Forza Motorsport 5
The Forza Motorsport games have always been among the best looking video games on modern game consoles. Every polygon of the game’s many vehicles is detailed with love and care. Clearly, the long running racing game series is built by obsessive gearheads who love everything about the sport. Needless to say, fans were anxiously awaiting the franchise’s Xbox One debut with baited breath.
And it looked great! … Except for one painfully obvious detail: the in-game crowds and stands look like cardboard cutouts without any depth or detail. Longtime sports fans are used to audiences being a little repetitive, but cutouts was a bridge too far. To be fair, it’s hardly noticeable while you’re driving past them at over 100 MPH, but when you stop to take a screenshot, it's a glaring issue.
13 Dark Souls II
In the lead-up to Dark Souls II’s release for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, fans poured over each and every screenshot that From Software put out. From the looks of things, the series was about to take a big step up from the original game. One area where things looked like they were going to improve dramatically was the game’s lighting. However, as it turns out, the dynamic lighting from the game’s promotional material never made it into the full game — a big slight to say the least.
In the end, Dark Souls II has a lot of flaws that keep it from matching its predecessor, but it’s pretty damning to have the game’s pre-release screenshots completely misrepresent the game’s visual prowess. Dark Souls games get a lot of mileage out of their art design, there’s no need to lie about its technical aspects.
12 Too Human
An ode to disappointment.
Too Human was developed by Silicon Knights for the Xbox 360, but it was originally slated for the PS1, and then the GameCube. The game moved from company to company and seemed to get more ambitious with every jump. Too Human was originally billed as a multi-disk narrative RPG in the vein of Final Fantasy VII and then an innovative action-adventure game, not unlike Eternal Darkness. By the end, Too Human was supposed to be an epic role-playing game inspired by Norse Mythology, with Diablo-style loot, and co-op gameplay. Ultimately, it hit most of those bullet points but didn’t match up in terms of quality. Too Human was a mess top-to-bottom earning a 65% on Metacritic after years and years of hype. It’s a reminder to temper expectations and wait for reviews before fawning over marketing material.
11 The Legend of Zelda (GameCube Tech Demo)
It’s never a good idea to buy a console for one game. When the GameCube was first revealed, it was accompanied by a tech-demo with Link and Ganondorf (from Ocarina of Time) fighting each other. A lot of prospective buyers took this to mean that Nintendo would be developing a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time for the GameCube. During an era when “mature” games were all the rage, a lot of Zelda fans were devastated to find the series would be returning to its cartoony roots for its first proper outing on the GameCube. Of course, eventually Nintendo would release a more adult Zelda game on the system, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but it also debuted on the original Wii which left some GameCube owners a little disgruntled.
10 Assassin’s Creed Unity
Glitches in games are a dime a dozen, but sometimes they go far enough to ruin the experience. A few bugs here and there are to be expected. After all, video games are a massive —complex— undertaking to develop.
The first Assassin’s Creed game developed exclusively for next-generation consoles was a disaster. Plagued with issues, Assassin’s Creed: Unity struggled with an inconsistent framerate and a barrage of aggressive microtrasactions. Still, nothing was quite as jarring as the game’s character model issues. When it first released, characters in the game would regularly load without any skin, so their models would appear as floating eyes with a mouth and hair. It was basically the most terrifying thing ever imagined. Needless to say, the game’s poor and neglected QA process is a shining example of why gamers don’t always trust big studios with their money.
9 Madden NFL 06
Sports games are a beacon of bullshots. There is so much marketing material that unfairly characterizes what the actual game looks like. EA has been getting away with it for one good reason. Let’s face it, when you’re playing a sports game, you spend so much time staring at the ball that subpar graphics don’t necessarily break a game. All things said and done, we’re still game for a match of NHL ’94 and that was released on the 16-bit Super Nintendo.
Still, going to a sporting event has a certain magic to it that we want to see captured in our games. When EA first showed off their Xbox 360 Madden, they used screenshots that captured some of that spirit — it was exciting to see. But when the game finally released, it didn’t look too different from its PlayStation 2 counterpart. EA completely misrepresented the final product.
8 Fallout: New Vegas
Invisible walls are an unacceptable trope we still see today. They are antiquated through and through. There are so many games whose marketing would have you believe you can go anywhere or do anything, but that’s almost never true, is it?
Fallout: New Vegas is an egregious example of a game billed as being about its massive open world, but is still riddled with invisible walls. This applies to most of Bethesda’s repertoire of games, but New Vegas doesn’t even go as far as trying to camouflage the gaff with mountains or subway stations.
With so many open worlds games being released right now. It’s worth keeping in mind how few of them actually deliver on their promise of scope. Not every developer can even afford to build the endless landmasses of a Grand Theft Auto V or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Not every developer knocks it out of the park with every single release. Lair was developed by Factor 5 who were revered for their work on the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron games on Nintendo 64 and GameCube. Before the studio’s closing in the States in 2009, Factor 5 was known for their quality arcade piloting games. Hearing the studio was developing a new IP involving dragons was incredibly tantalizing. Not just that, but Lair looked like a visual tour-de-force that would show off the power of the PlayStation 3’s cell processor. Unfortunately, Lair couldn’t stack-up to the studio’s previous games. Not only that, but the game itself took a colossal step down in terms of visual design from its initial unveiling.
6 Battlefield 3
When EA got ready to release Battlefield 3, the company was obsessed with outdoing Call of Duty. Tensions between the two series were at an all-time high, and Battlefield 3 was the first numeric installment in the franchise that would launch day-and-date for consoles and Windows PC.
Unfortunately for console gamers, who were not industry obsessives, EA never made it clear that virtually every piece of footage they showed off of Battlefield 3 was from the PC version of the game. Needless to say, when the game turned up on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it looked almost nothing like its marketing material, and in fact, it looked visually worse than that year’s Call of Duty. Oops.
5 Final Fantasy N64
Nothing lasts forever. Before the Nintendo 64 and original PlayStation released, it was understood that series like Final Fantasy and Metal Gear were both Nintendo games. However, third-party developers don’t have brand-loyalty in quite the same way consumers do. When SquareSoft got their hands on a PlayStation 1 development kit, they realized that disk-based media was the future. This put a halt to development on the Nintendo 64 Final Fantasy and work moved over to PlayStation. Unfortunately for Nintendo fans, the best years of the series were still ahead and it would be over ten years before a home console Final Fantasy appeared on a Nintendo platform.
So remember! Developers aren’t beholden to any one platform. It is important to keep in mind that plans change.
4 Red Steel
There was nothing quite like the promise of the original Wii. When the system was still codenamed “Revolution,” it felt like the machine could be capable of anything. So when Ubisoft unveiled Red Steel —a first-person shooter that let you wield a sword— it seemed like the perfect launch title for the new motion controller-based console.
Red Steel, however, turned out to be a weak game with novel controls at best. Not just that, but the game’s initial screen shots look remarkable (technically speaking) - better than just about any game that ever released on the platform. Eventually, the Wii proved itself home to a handful of fantastic ‘core’ gamer releases, but for the most part, third-party studios stayed away. Red Steel is the perfect reminder that some systems can’t attract new mainstream games.
3 Killzone 2
The initial reveal of Killzone 2 is still a feat for the eyes. Like so many other ambitiously cinematic games —like Bioshock: Infinite— Killzone 2 didn’t quite meet the mark.
Let’s be clear: Killzone 2 is a fantastic looking game. They did remarkably well matching the visual fidelity they promised years earlier. But there’s something to be said for the pure CG filmmaking that went into the original trailer. The game never captured that fluidity or style. There’s nothing wrong with cutscenes or cinematics to queue off a new game, but when marketing conflates reality and fantasy, everyone is left disappointed. You have to wonder what the reception to Killzone 2 would have been if we hadn’t been floored by unmanageable expectations.
2 Aliens: Colonial Marines
This is where the rubber meets the road. Aliens: Colonial Marines found itself at the center of a lawsuit for false marketing after blatantly misrepresenting the game in the lead up to its release. Obviously, this was a significant moment for developers, publishers, and journalists alike. Everyone would be more cautious with their pre-release coverage going forward. We’re all a little bit better for Gearbox and SEGA’s massive blunder.
It is still hard not to feel bad for all the unsuspecting buyers who found themselves with a copy of the abhorrent game. The “Alien” IP is so popular, so widespread, that a lot of players picked it up on name recognition alone. Alien fans were finally given the game they deserve a year later when the suburb Alien: Isolation released on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PC.
Crysis earned itself a cultish reputation as ‘the’ game that proved the power of PC gaming. It’s no surprise — when Crysis released it was unquestionably the most technically advance video game on the market. An achievement that took almost five years to top.
However, and this is important, the infamous screenshots of Crysis running on Ultra settings are a complete fabrication. They get circulated over and over again, but the game doesn't look quite as good as its promotional material. The physics and lighting effects in those doctored images would have you believe that Crysis’ engine is *still* unrivaled — and that simply is not true. There are a handful of details that instantly give it away, for example: when you toss a soldier through a building, the wood doesn’t bend under their weight. Crysis itself is a fine shooter that was ahead of its time visually, but ten years later, most new releases blow it out of the water.