The hype train can be a wonderful thing... when it actually delivers. But there have been far too many times when it has turned into a flaming trainwreck. Hype is something that is probably never going to leave the gaming scene, as developers entice us with shiny trailers and cool sounding ideas that set our collective imaginations alight. Some of the time, they actually live up to this promise and we all get to enjoy a great game together.
There are also many games that might be slightly below expectations, but are still not as great as we hoped. However, there have also been far too many times when the hype train has crashed spectacularly. Whether this is because of misleading marketing, opportunities poorly missed, or just game breaking bugs bringing a game down, it makes the resulting inferno no less interesting to watch.
Over recent years, when things like vertical slices of gameplay, cinematic trailers that tell us precisely nothing and sometimes misleading marketing, gamers have become more and more wary of the flashy trailers and PR buzz words from companies. But, despite this we do sometimes get swept up into the hype machine of the triple A industry.
To list all of the games that didn't live up to their hype would take far too long, but let's look at fifteen games that promised the world, and failed.
11 The Order 1886
For lovers of everything steampunk, this entry is a particularly bitter pill. The Order 1886 sounded so promising on the run up to release. The premise of a third person shooter set in a steampunk industrial revolution London just oozed promise and cool. As one of the early exclusives for the PS4, it promised to be a must buy for early adopters.
We got the cool world and we got the pretty graphics, but somewhere along the way the developers forgot that a game has to have actual interesting gameplay. Bloated with constant cutscenes and interruptions, as well as gameplay that managed to be both boring and repetitive even with the awesome weapons, The Order 1886 was sadly nothing but an expensive tech demo.
10 Final Fantasy XIII
The hype surrounding this one was almost inherited. Just because it was a new Final Fantasy game, FF13 had a lot of hope and expectations pinned on it, especially as the first FF title on the (then) new generation consoles. Final Fantasy XIII is now probably one of the most derided entries in the series because it's barely a game.
The gameplay was not the traditional turn based combat, which isn't bad in itself, but what we got was the new “Paradigm” system which took almost all the control away from the player. Once you had a few different Paradigms of heal-tank-attack, or heal-debuff-buff or what have you, you could put the controller down and occasionally press RB to switch between the setups. Combine that with a game that was stuck in boring, linear corridors for about 20 hours and you were left with a boring disappointment. Interesting characters might have been enough to save it, but Lightning and her crew were just as flat as uninteresting as the rest of the game.
9 Star Wars Battlefront
Like our previous entry, Star Wars Battlefront carried on its shoulders the legacy of expectations due to the cult classic that came before it in the franchise. Both newcomers and old fans alike felt excitement at the thought of climbing into an AT-AT or wielding a lightsaber once again, but in shiny next-gen graphics.
What we got, unfortunately, was a game that was all style and no substance. In the run up to release, the rather large tally of missing features become known and their absence was definitely felt. For the full $60 price we got a game with only one interesting mode, with the rest being serviceable but ultimately pedestrian. There was a good game hiding somewhere within Battlefront, but despite the excellent graphics and wonderful sound design, it failed to appear. The game failed to make use of the Star Wars universe and gave us what felt like a Battlefield game in a Star Wars skin.
Resident Evil 6
As a long time fan of the Resident Evil series, this one in particular pains me. While Resident Evil 5 was a pale shadow compared to the brilliant RE 4, it was still a decent game at its core. Resident Evil 6, however, was not only a terribly generic game that was a run of the mill third person shooter with zombies, it also destroyed beloved characters and then stamped all over them.
It took Leon, who was a wise cracking cheese ball who did suplexes for fun in RE4 and turned him into Generico McBoringman. Fortunately, the rest of the game fit him perfectly as the supposed “zombie survival horror” was actually some sort of budget buddy cop action game with bullet spongy enemies and none of the puzzle solving, inventory managing legacy of the series. Couple that with numerous characters being retconned into having personality transplants (instead of, you know, just having new characters) and this game was quite frankly insulting to fans of the franchise.
8 Assassin's Creed 3
Ubisoft have seemingly mastered the craft of generating a huge hype machine, only to have it crash and burn horribly when the game actually comes out. Assassin's Creed 3 is a particularly unfortunate example. While this game is not broken unlike some of the later entries we'll see, there were still a ton of bugs and glitches on release, not to mention a general feeling of being unfinished.
Also, following on from what was regarded at the time as the best character in the series, the main character Connor was quite frankly about as interesting as a plank of wood with a face drawn on it and the story was about as engaging as he was. The game also took far too long to actually let you become an assassin. Yes, in a game called “Assassin's Creed,” the first six missions were a slog to you actually becoming an assassin. The “normal person turned assassin” is a common theme in the series, but normally it doesn't take six whole missions to get to what the game is supposed to be about.
In combination with bungled pacing, unfun mission design and a ton of other fairly major design problems, it's no reason AC3 is one of the most disliked in the franchise.
Batman: Arkham Knight
A lot of my complaints surrounding this game are unfortunately surrounding the complete mishandling of the disastrous PC version. I think this is one of the very few big budget triple A games that was literally pulled from sale for months on end because of how bad its performance problems were on the PC platform. Despite these rather horrendous issues, the completely bungled PC version is not the game's only problem.
One of the main problems that the game has is that, due to the large map, we spend most of our time not being Batman, but the Batmobile. That doesn't sound so bad at first, but the Batmobile controlled like no vehicle on planet Earth and seemingly obeyed laws of physics different to our own. It slid and skid all over the road, flipped at the lightest nudge and just generally controlled really really poorly. When it's used not only for travel, but as a mandatory part of most missions, this is a pretty egregious mistake on the part of Rocksteady.
It's a shame, because outside of that the game does have some brilliant moments and also packs a Gotham City that feels more alive than ever. However, the overall arching story is not that engaging and the game also manages to turn supervillians like Penguin and Two Face into repetitive mission slogs. It's not a bad game per se, but it did little to revive a well worn series.
7 Assassin's Creed Unity
Unlike the previous AC entry, this one had a huge amount of performance issues, as well as horrible issues of pop in and the infamous “missing face” images that did the rounds at the time of release. Unlike Arkham Knight, these were not confined to the PC version. During my personal testing, I had the game drop to sub-10 FPS in combat and had NPCs warp into existence right in front of me. One of the selling points of the game was the huge crowds, but when the crowd pops into existence and changes detail right in front of your eyes, it ceases to be impressive.
The problems went beyond that, though. Not only was the game basically unplayable at release, it also committed the same sin as The Order 1886, by taking an interesting premise and making it boring and pedestrian. The French Revolution is the dream setting for the AC series and is ripe for interesting characters and stories. Yet... it just wasn't. Even ignoring the badly missed opportunity to have the first mainline playable female character, the constant intrusions of pop ups asking you if you wanted to buy microtransactions, or play the online co-op, coupled with a dull story and uninteresting cast, meant that AC Unity is both a bad game and the worst AC game to date.
6 Star Fox Zero
In essence, Star Fox Zero is the epitome of everything wrong with Wii U game design and Nintendo's game design philosophies. The biggest albatross hanging around this game's neck is the absolutely dreadful controls. Instead of letting you use a GamePad Pro or even a Wii Remote, you absolutely have to use motion controls by using the tablet-style default GamePad for aiming. Couple that with the arbitrary, mandatory “cockpit view” sections and the game controls are about as horrible as you might expect. It wouldn't be so bad if it could be turned off and kept off, but no, Nintendo, in their infinite wisdom, decided that forcing you to use this control method most of the time was the best design choice.
While you can use other options sometimes, all too often you are lumbered with the GamePad motion controls. Pair that with simplistic levels, which are too short and lack any real pizazz, unsatisfying combat and difficulty spikes that resemble the mad scribblings of a toddler, and you have a game that is just not fun to play at all. In fact, many gamers and reviewers couldn't even finish the game, making it the perfect punch line to the end of the Wii U's life cycle.
5 Watch Dogs
When talking about the biggest disappointments in gaming, until quite recently, this game probably would have been at the top of a lot of lists. Once again the Ubisoft hype train crashed and burned, as after we all marvelled at the awesome graphics in the E3 2012 trailers, what was actually delivered wasn't even close to that. Adding insult to injury, people soon discovered that there were better graphics available on the PC version, but you had to go into the ini files of the game to unlock them. Even then, it was a huge downgrade from what we were shown in the marketing.
Not only that, the game promised to be all about being a master hacker and using those skills to outsmart your enemies and progress through the story. What we got was a run of the mill open world game with hacking elements that were quite frankly an after thought, in comparison to the usual fare of gun combat and bad driving. Watch Dogs failed to make use of its interesting mechanics and instead became a standard issue open world sandbox.
Not only that, but the main character, and his “iconic” baseball cap, was one of the most unlikeable protagonists I have ever come across.
A big chunk of our entries have earned their place through the hubris of their multi billion dollar publisher. This one, however, comes to down mostly to the hubris of John Romero. Riding the wave of success following the classics Quake, Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, John Romero was the golden boy of the moment. As such, we had a case of opposites where Romero was given too much development time rather than too little and we were left with a broken, mismanaged mess.
Even the basic mechanics are an utter failure, as the guns in this FPS are just as likely to kill you as they are your enemy and are also really awkward to use. The game also lumps you with two “sidekicks” with the AI of a mouldy sponge whom the game demands you wait for in every room, leading to a lot of frustrating down time. Romero's vision for the game and suitably large ego led to a seven month development actually lasting three years, over which stories of mass resignations and mismanagement of funds made their way into the headlines. The final punchline to all this was that when Daikatana did finally release – it was undeniably awful.
Similar to Daikatana, Spore was a victim of the ambition of its creators. For the time it was very ambitious indeed and was basically a “God simulator” that let you create any creature you want and watch them evolve and change. The promise of the seemingly unlimited possibilities set imaginations alight and created some rather titanic expectations among the gaming community.
For the most part, it failed to meet those expectations. While it was not a huge disaster, the game which had promised unlimited possibilities was ultimately a very shallow experience. The phrase “wide as an ocean and as a deep as a puddle” comes to mind. While the creation tools were indeed impressive, they weren't really capitalised on all that well and it also lacked any real focus and drive.
Spore was not a bad game at its core, but it was very mediocre, which after all the expectations and promise, is still a pretty bitter disappointment.
3 Duke Nukem Forever
Duke Nukem Forever is undoubtedly the poster boy, or at least a strong contender, for development hell resulting in a garbled mess. The hype actively worked against the game here, as what game could possibly deliver after fifteen years in development? It wasn't just that, though. The game was passed like a smelly baton from 3D Realms and Triptych Games to Gearbox Software and Piranha Games over those years and it showed in the final game.
You can see the eras of the game development pass by as you play through sections of game that were developed when those game mechanics were a “thing,” but sadly there is absolutely none of the spirit of Duke Nukem 3D, with its well designed levels and interesting combat. The combat is dull and also takes far too long to actually get started. Combined with with an aging Duke Nukem, whose humour was painfully outdated in a modern game, and his frankly embarrassing misogyny, it showed that perhaps it was time to put this franchise to rest.
Mighty No 9
Kickstarter has helped bring some wonderful things to life – Wasteland 2, Pillars of Eternity and Undertale are but a few gems gifted to us by crowdfunding. Sadly, we've also had high profile failures and Mighty No. 9 is definitely one of those. At first, it was seen as a chance to stick it to Capcom and show that people wanted a Mega Man game and get the next best thing – a spiritual successor made by one of the original developers.
What happened was an extremely troubled development which suffered from one of the worst cases of feature creep that I have ever seen. As the campaign did well, more and more stretch goals were added, to the point where the game was promised for nine platforms and didn't even come close to releasing for that many.
It was also delayed multiple times and when the game came out to justifiably negative reviews, Keiji Inafune told us it was “better than nothing.” This attitude went perfectly with the bizarre and insulting marketing campaign (like an anime fan on prom night) and also with the game itself. The game was both ugly and uninteresting, as well as not being even close to the Mega Man successor people wanted.
2 Aliens: Colonial Marines
This game didn't deliver on multiple different levels, all of them building together to make a bitter layer cake of disappointment and, honestly, a feeling of having been deceived. In the run up to the game's release, we all saw the awesome looking gameplay trailers at E3 that promised a game that would be a worthy owner of the beloved Alien license.
It looked intense, atmospheric, and also graphically rather nice (for the time). Of course, we all know now that what we saw was a so-called vertical slice that was by no means a representation of the actual game. I'm not just talking a graphics downgrade here, I'm talking the actual gameplay and completeness of the game. Instead of smart Aliens that use the terrain to hunt you, we got dumb AI that turned the Xenomorphs into something completely non-threatening. The missions are generic, the gunplay is completely unsatisfying and the game lacks any real character at all.
Of course, then there's the matter of the myriad of horrible glitches and bugs, with some more humourous ones causing soldiers to clip into walls and then wobble around as the ragdoll physics go haywire. This is a game that was so unlike the marketing there was actually a lawsuit over false advertising, yet the fact that it isn't number one will lead into how bad the rather predictable final entry is.
1 No Man's Sky
When looking up “crashed hype train” in the proverbial gaming dictionary, you will simply find a picture of the No Man's Sky logo. The case of No Man's Sky is an interesting one, as it's another case of people's imaginations running wild with expectations. However, developer Hello Games are to blame for that. In the run up to release, Hello Games were obsessed with keeping an air of “mystery” about the game and wouldn't give simple answers about what features to expect in the game, so of course people were going to speculate.
Not only that, but managing director Sean Murray promised several features that just never made it to the full game. The trailers also blew a similar horn to Spore, with promises like “18 quintillion planets” and an entire galaxy created by procedural generation. Our minds pictured the epic space battles we would get into, the alien species we would meet, and the wondrous journey to discover what was at the centre of the universe.
What we didn't picture was pointing a laser at rocks for several hours, gathering materials to survive, and moving from planet to planet, with none of them having any real character or anything of note at all. Combine that with the complete mess of an inventory system, boring gameplay and the joke found at the centre of the universe, it's safe to say that No Man's Sky literally promised the universe and delivered... pointing lasers at rocks.