It’s only expected that amongst one of the best years for gaming this decade, any stinkers were going to float to the top more than ever. After all, the shinier the surface, the more obvious the blemish.
That said, as we’re all looking forward to closing the book on this godawful year, it pays to take a look back at which games not only missed the mark, but that serve as a template on What Not To Do.
From broken promises and outright lies to developers removing functionality and crippling their products post-launch, 2016 might have been this generation’s strongest so far, but that only makes the following misfires all the more obvious.
The biggest stinker of 2016, Mighty No. 9 was supposed to be auteur Keiji Inafune’s return to the beloved Mega Man formula – albeit without the official license.
As such, the project was Kickstarted into being by fans to the tune of almost four million dollars, despite developers Comcept only asking for $900k. As such, development went from being an easily-achievable side-scroller, to a multi-platform, multiplayer scoreboard-supported mess.
In a notably cringeworthy moment, Comcept released a spectacularly tone deaf trailer aimed at… I dunno, 90s stereotypes of jocks?
Berating its core demographic as the drastically outdated ‘mom’s basement’-style of nerd, it only served to add insult to injury, being the game had been delayed repeatedly, eventually releasing to overwhelmingly negative reviews, with graphics that looked like they belonged on the PS1.
Take a look at the trailer above. That cost four.million.dollars.
At this stage, the amount of times you check the monthly offerings for PS Plus, sneer and close the Store again drastically outnumber those where you’re given something genuinely amazing.
The issue is, no top tier publisher wants to give their games away for free, especially on PlayStation where the console is still raking in the dough. It’s why we keep getting mostly forgettable platformers or kid-centric indie titles – hell, it’s why we got Letter Quest in November; a game that plays exactly the same on your PS4 Pro as it does on a two year-old smartphone.
The issue isn’t that these games aren’t very good (Letter Quest itself is fantastically addictive), it’s that none of them are remotely satisfying showcases of what a PlayStation Plus membership should bring. It’s very clear that Sony are still way too far out in front to care as far as the console race goes, happy to pepper the masses with arbitrary freebies for the sake of upholding that part of the PS Plus membership deal.
Look to Microsoft’s output and you’ll find triple-A games like Sunset Overdrive and WWE 2K16 right next to a continually-impressive catalogue of backwards compatible 360 titles released alongside, every single month. By comparison, Sony expect fans to fork out additional subscription fees to play their favourite games on the forever-stuttering PlayStation Now service.
Hopefully 2017 can give PlayStation owners a reason to stay with Sony, otherwise the solid momentum Microsoft continue to accrue may just win the war after all.
More than any particular genre or game mechanic, the thing we’ve seen the rise of this generation are microtransactions, plaguing everything from Overwatch to Assassin’s Creed.
In a far more egregious and ultimately damaging way, Square Enix – according to an inside source who came clean with Jim Sterling – forced developers Eidos to implement a payment system that totally broke the progression of their game only weeks before launch.
No longer did you need to play to unlock Adam Jensen’s full roster of abilities, instead you could just pay for them, and the money-first, passion later approach didn’t stop there.
Integral DLC was gutted and held back as paid content, resulting in a story that felt incredibly haphazard and badly paced, ending abruptly right when it felt like things were ramping up. Only a month had passed before the first piece of content dropped too, making it very clear that the game was intentionally segmented to suck up as much money as possible.
It’s a real shame, as despite the Deus Ex name being one of the all-time greats and 2011’s Human Revolution being an outstanding RPG, you’d struggle to find someone who even knew Mankind Divided released this year, let alone recommend it.
An exercise in how to balls up one of the coolest sci-fi narratives we’ve seen in quite some time, The Technomancer’s ‘Mad Max in space’ setup tasked you with policing a turbulent Mars as a titular Technomancer, semi-religious authority figures that doubles as a magic-wielding, bow-staff flinging badasses.
So far, so good – then you got to the voice acting and animation, only to find it was drastically, cripplingly outdated.
See, Technomancer’s devs are French, and sadly, the game suffered the same faux-American accents and off-kilter line deliveries as the likes of Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain. Main man Zacharia Mancer (said in the game as “Zacharia M’ayn‘cer) flits between devoting himself to the blind faith of the Technomancers and heading up a rebellion, yet the necessary strands to convince the player of his allegiance swap are incredibly rushed and badly acted.
In the end, the game is determined to charge ahead with its fetch quests and “unite the factions” storyline, those foundations that were so shaky in the first place end up seeing the whole thing cave in on itself.
Sometimes, a game comes along that you really, really want to like. Aragami was such a game; an old-school stealth-based sneak-a-thon with a killer aesthetic. One where you’d play as a summoned entity wrenched from the abyss to deliver swift, steely justice to all manner of “Huh? What was that noise?”-spewing enemies.
Then you played it, and sadly, being this was developers Lince Works’ first ever full game, there was a lack of polish when it came to standard third-person camera controls and animation that got in the way at every turn.
Whilst the titular Aragami is painted as a shadow-clinging bringer of death, in reality you spend more time fleeing from guards who spot you from around corners or across the level than taking them out with any degree of proficiency or satisfaction.
I have every faith that some day these guys will make a truly phenomenal game, but Aragami is sadly not it.
Oh, Niantic, how you had and lost it all – within the course of a few months.
… and then got it back again, but nobody cared anymore.
Yes, if you download Pokémon GO right now, you’ll get an up to date version with daily bonuses, better spawn rates, a working tracking feature that gives you a good indication of where to go – there are even a handful of baby Pokémon from Generation 2 tucked away inside the various eggs you’ll pick up.
It’s the version that reminded me why I included it on the ‘Best Of 2016’ list in the first place – alongside acknowledging its cultural impact, of course – but back just after launch… that was a heartbreaking time.
‘PoGo’ as it became known, released with many a server hiccup, but then – as a response to various websites helping players locate the Pokémon themselves – developers Niantic straight-up removed the unreliable ‘Tracker’ functionality altogether, rendering the game useless.
It would remain this way for months, slowly seeing the multi million-strong playerbase dwindle and die off, before finally restoring said features in November, to what felt like a few bedraggled fans slow-clapping in the distance.
Quantum Break should’ve been f*cking awesome. Another project from Max Payne and Alan Wake developers Remedy, combining their love for slow-motion action sequences with characters and stories that are more pulpy than three-week old orange squash?
Sadly the final product was a bit of a mess.
A crowbarred-in TV component initially scheduled to launch Microsoft’s now-defunct Xbox One TV integration serves only to interrupt play for a good 40 minutes. On the gameplay side, you attempt to make sense of an upcoming apocalyptic scenario where time simply stops, rendering everyone and everything helpless – unless you can harness the power of the ‘chrono field’ and move within it.
Cue a ton of awesome-looking suspended animation set-pieces that certainly have a unique aesthetic, but that get bogged down by terrible exposition, horrendous acting, said TV component that features better characters than those you play as and boring, basic powers that simply have the word ‘time’ thrown in front of them.
How the hell do you force-push someone with time, anyway?
It doesn’t matter how incredible or medium-defining your game is – if it controls like hell, we won’t stick with it.
Such was the life lesson (hopefully) learned by Nintendo, as they attempted to give fans the first home console version of Star Fox in over a decade, yet insisted on building its controls around the Wii U hardware.
‘Would could that possibly mean?’, you ask?
Aiming using the GamePad, that’s what.
But doesn’t a shooter need to put focus on pixel-perfect aiming, and not holding the pad awkwardly in front of yourself for the duration?
Naaa, this is Nintendo we’re talking about. You’re lucky they didn’t insist we suspend ourselves from the ceiling to imitate barrel rolls.
Needless to say, forcing players to aim ‘through’ the GamePad was just annoying, unnecessary and – after a few hours – tiring. Couple that with unremarkable graphics and extremely repetitive gameplay, and it’s going to be an even longer wait before another truly great Star Fox game hits our shelves again. How about next time, Nintendo, you ‘do’ a worthwhile sequel?
As confusing as it is, I’ve included No Man’s Sky over on the ‘Best of 2016‘ list too, simply because from exploration to survival, the scope and scale of the world and its incredible art design, Hello Games got a lot of things right.
… now, that is.
Back at launch and for over three months, this space-faring planet-hopper was a complete mess. Dogged by unfulfilled promises and features discussed at length on forums as public as late night talk shows, consumers wasted no time tearing the game asunder for not delivering – which is more than understandable.
Finally – again, it took three solid months of additional work – No Man’s Sky at least has some structure, but that doesn’t get away from the fact that there’s a spectacular lack of purpose to be found, other than exploring for exploration’s sake. And as an objective criticism in the face of everything the game should have been, that creates quite the polarising end product.