Multiplayer: Games that have fallen short of the mark
It doesn’t matter how young or old they are, what they do or where they’re from, gamers love to get excited for what’s on the horizon, and in this day and age where advertising is so much more extensive and developers and publishers just love to release trailers, screenshots, sneak peeks and whatever else they can think of, it’s easier than ever for us to get absolutely sucked into the hype. Sometimes, that excitement is absolutely justified, and we’re oh-so happy to have spent our hard-earned money on a Game of the Year contender; other times, the game fails — occasionally miserably — to live up to the billing. That’s when the pitchforks come out, the angry mobs start to form, and community managers all over the world really earn their paychecks, and that’s when the critics have the most fun.
This month, the Doublejump Staff sat down to talk about the latter, those games that simply didn’t live up to our expectations, or those of the community as a whole. Grab a coffee and some of those Easter treats (if you have some left over), sit back, relax, and enjoy reliving some of the most frustrating video games in recent memory!
When it comes to role-playing games, you tend to notice most players gravitating towards one of three playstyle categories: combat-oriented, stealthy, or magical. No matter how hard I try, I always fall back into my old rogue habits; stick to the shadows, keep all combat quick and quiet, and never get caught in a bad spot. From the outset, Thief looked to deliver the kind of experience that played right into my hands, but what I ended up with ultimately made me question why I’d even bothered finishing it at all.
Thief was founded on some great ideas: construct a city that is dark in nature, yet bright in riches and rewards as the player dives right in to seek them out, then allow them to set their own pace in completing the story that’s set before them. Regrettably, the final product fell far short of delivering such an experience. While The City is worth every moment to explore for its sights and sounds, moving around is far less than convenient, with the game imposing more loading screens than you could ever possibly want — or need, for that matter. Ironically, there never felt like there was a ton of unrestricted space to explore, so perhaps developer Eidos-Montréal dodged a bullet (or, rather, it didn’t) by congesting the game’s map size more than it should have.
A good stealth game obviously needs good stealth mechanics, and this was an area that Thief thankfully didn’t fall short in. On the other hand, these mechanics brought some concerning AI bugs firmly into the spotlight; unless, of course, a “Three Stooges mentality” was intentionally programmed in to influence enemy behaviours. Though somewhat comical, seeing city watchmen get stuck running in place or in each other’s way took almost all of the challenge out the game, which is crushing for a game that aims to hammer home the idea of outwitting your enemies every step of the way to succeed and survive.
Beyond all else, it’s almost impossible to get past Thief’s story; or even properly understand it, for that matter. Though the narrative shows promising characteristics early on, it strays further from thievery with each passing chapter, culminating in something far more mystical and complex. I remember being totally dissatisfied with the ending, and not having a damn clue why I’d bothered trying to enjoy any of the central characters in the first place — it was just totally devoid of any emotional payoff. It was a bit like trying to watch Kingdom of the Crystal Skull after seeing the previous three Indiana Jones films, totally forgettable and a downright shame. Here’s hoping that any potential sequel gets a brand new writing team, and perhaps just an entirely new developer for good measure.
Up until its release, Ubisoft’s marketing material for WATCH_DOGS told us all to expect some amazing combination of Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed and the mysterious world of hacking. We all believed it — or at least I did. I was so ready to hack a city as a guy that kinda shared my name. How could I have been so wrong…
So, where did this promised gem go wrong? Well, in many ways it was all wrong. It was just bland, and so not worth treasuring — like a cardboard cut-out of something far, far greater, much like my Ryan Reynolds voodoo doll that will just never feel real. The gameplay had so much potential to be so much more complex and interesting than “just point at something and press Square to hack it”; the story — your typical action movie revenge story — could have made far better use of the very unique characters and gameplay mechanics, and the characters themselves… The only truly memorable character in this bore of a game was Aiden’s friend, Jordi Chin, and he was a peripheral character at best. Even the mini-games, which promised to be oh-so exciting, got boring and utterly tedious just a few minutes in.
As far as ways that WATCH_DOGS managed to disappoint me, though, the worst was when I decided to have a look at this innovative multiplayer mode we were promised. The idea of jumping into your friend’s game and messing with them — or helping them out, if you felt like being nice — while they were trying to complete a mission sounded fun as anything, and what we got was so rudimentary, so boring, and so utterly and completely pointless that WATCH_DOGS may as well have been released without it. Hell, it probably would have been better off that way.
This game was really like a bad run with a puppy at an adoption centre. From across the room the puppy seemed gorgeous, intelligent, familiar yet different, and most importantly it seemed fun and memorable. However, as you make your way around the room, the closer you grow towards it you begin to watch it transform into a scaled-puppy-spider thing. It loses all of the initial wonder almost instantly, and sure for the first few hours it’s fun to hang out with this bizarre scaled-puppy-spider. But after you run out of Scooby snacks, you realise what a mistake it was to sink money into what ended being just another lonely night sobbing in your bath rub.
Cav: No Man’s Sky
At this point, after the better part of a year of outrage, controversy and accusations, including No Man’s Sky on a list like this might seem like the critical equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. However, just as it exploded into the public eye as representing more than your average game, it’s become something more than your average disappointment and an interesting cultural object.
No Man’s Sky is an odd game, its design fundamentally at odds with itself. It’s a game built around exploration and scope, yet builds its virtually infinite universe from a painfully limited set of assets making it homogeneous and repetitive. It constantly hints at a bigger universe, with space stations accompanied by large, anonymous freighters, yet none of these things really do anything. It encourages you to personalize the things you see by naming them, but it’s too busy pushing you constantly forward to give you much capacity — or reason — to revisit the planets you’ve claimed. It’s a game that teases you with unprecedented freedom, then incessantly bugs the tits off you with obnoxious, floating stalker-bots that love to punish you as soon as you do something you’re apparently not supposed to. A game in love with the illusion of infinite possibility, yet beholden to such a limited set of mechanics that you’ll practically see everything the game has to offer in the first couple of hours. Past that, it’s just an infinitely possible remix of the same things you’ve already seen.
It’s not a bad game by any means: as a framework for a deeper experience it has tons of potential, and its most impressive technical feat — the seamless through-atmosphere planet landings — never fails to be fun. The problem is, it never feels like much more than a framework, and while Hello Games has added things like player bases through patches after the fact, it’s hard to see post-release support lasting long enough for the kind of extensive reinvention needed to bring the reality of No Man’s Sky even close to its myth.
Unfortunately, all the drama over Hello Games’ misinformation about the game has somewhat overshadowed the more interesting question of why it had to lie. How did something that was being sold as so huge and revolutionary, with Sony Interactive Entertainment’s titanic bankroll behind it, come out so thin and superficial? It may have been an indie game promoted to AAA status, but Hello Games and Sony seemed to have very specific ideas of what this game was and how it would play, and put a lot of work and marketing dollars into making this a major release that formed a crucial part both of PS4’s 2016 lineup, and of PlayStation’s image as an indie-friendly platform. In other words, it’s absolutely not the kind of product you toss out on the cheap.
It makes you wonder what happened behind the scenes to make the released game fall so far below such a keenly-anticipated vision. While its creator Sean Murray, as the mouthpiece for the project, bore the full brunt of fans’ displeasure (and not entirely unfairly: Murray’s claims about the game, particularly closer to release, sound like either the mother of all snake oil sales pitches, or someone simply making stuff up as they go along), the full, unexpurgated story of No Man’s Sky is likely far more complex, and will probably make a fascinating piece of investigative journalism one day. The real shame is that the least memorable part of the game’s legacy, will be the game itself.
Cesar: The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest
Yeah, okay… it probably wasn’t that bad to your average consumer but us Lord of the Rings junkies expected much more from a game that promised a certain Dúnedain Ranger’s storyline. We’ve been fortunate enough to have been given some pretty cool Lord of the Rings games so far. The Battle for Middle Earth is critically acclaimed and the second-best RTS game I’ve ever played (next to the Age of Empires series, of course). The film-inspired games are fairly decent too, as they allow you to play several different characters and wander the incredible landscapes that Sir Peter Jackson so famously brought to life. The Third Age gives us a turn-based combat system reminiscent of the Pokemon series and old-school Final Fantasy. We were recently blessed with Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor which, while not based on the films entirely, had the previously aforementioned Lord of the Rings junkies salivating. Aragorn’s Quest, however… Meh.
You guessed it, The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest does not live up to the hype that accompanies similar releases. The combat is dull and boring, the art and character style is awkward and the general vibe of the game is… childish. This is rather surprising when you consider that Aragorn’s narrative in The Lord of the Rings carries a mostly dark, almost morbid tone, something not portrayed throughout the game as it is ‘bright’ in its delivery. The more you play the game, the more you will notice that perhaps it was never intended for true Lord of the Rings enthusiasts but rather for families and younger players to dip their feet into J.R.R. Tolkien’s world. All in all: Clunky and pretty average all-round.
One of the things this game does right is show off the spectacular atmosphere of Middle-Earth. You get to take part in some epic battles — albeit with the lacklustre combat system — and you get to stroll around multiple locations and interact with the environment in several different ways. You have multiple weapons at your disposal and the storyline stays pretty true to the films despite being achingly cheerful in its delivery — Middle-Earth is a battleground, dammit!
I concede, it is not horrendous. However, when you call a game Aragorn’s Quest, us die-hards envision a start-to-finish campaign following Aragorn’s complete journey, fleshed out and in-depth. What we get instead is a hip-hip-hooray bobble-head walk-and-slash with little substance and depth but a decent soundtrack and scenery; not bad for younger audiences but falling well short of the mark for us Lord of the Rings junkies. Shadow of War had better deliver, I’m itching.
Damon: Star Wars Battlefront
Disappointing is the name of the game, or you can call it Star Wars Battlefront. Whichever you may prefer. Only a few games in recent memory really had as much hype behind them as they headed towards release; even then, it’s hard to say that Star Wars Battlefront didn’t lead the pack. After all, its predecessors, the original Star Wars Battlefront (2004) and Star Wars Battlefront 2 (2005) on Playstation 2 and Xbox were absolute masterpieces — particularly the latter.
That’s why 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront annoyed so very, very many people when it completely failed to live up to admittedly very lofty expectations. Gamers and Star Wars fans were heard around the world as they let out a collective cry of wanting more. The gameplay itself was quite solid, and the nostalgia was incredible for a short while; the game excelled in every facet of immersion, from smooth gameplay to stunning visuals, to the classic Star Wars music that spurred the player on as they waged war on various planets… It was quite apparent that DICE and Criterion Software really took their time developing and recreating the Star Wars universe, which was awesome, but it was also painfully obvious that they’d forgotten about one major key to making a good video game: content.
Content — or the severe lack thereof — is where Star Wars Battlefront was a monstrous let-down.. I didn’t spoil a single thing for myself in the lead up to its release; I left myself with no idea what to expect because I wanted to be entirely surprised, and that I certainly was. I remember being away for the weekend when it was released and being anxious to get home to install it and never leave my room again. The joy and the nostalgia lasted about a week before the game became crusty and stale, with a major lack of variety. For starters, it only had content from the original trilogy; no Clone Wars era characters, weapons or maps. Let that sink in for a moment: no clone troopers, no Darth Maul, none of it! It was almost a joke that the ten-year-old Battlefront II had twice as much content as this, a title released two generations later! As if it wasn’t putrid enough that EA and DICE decided to put such little content into the multiplayer experience, the game had no single-player campaign, and that’s where it really lost me (and a plethora of other pissed off Star Wars lovers). In its stead, there was a Survival mode that was more-or-less a Star Wars skinned carbon copy of Call of Duty’s zombie mode, and that lost any semblance of fun after a couple of rounds.
After all of that, EA went and did the absolute unforgivable by adding a season pass. That season pass cost players a further $69, and was set to add content that should have been in the game in the first place… And it wasn’t even quick to arrive! For a game that had a fan base clamouring for more content, one would think that EA of all companies, with its reputation as a money-grabber, would have forced the expansions into the open as quickly as possible, but no — the season pass was spread out over an entire year, obviously because the company didn’t expect the game to be as shocking as it was. What’s more is that, for the most part, the expansions weren’t all that good; by the time the last one rolled out, the game’s fanbase had well and truly died out — save for the few poor Star Wars enthusiasts who somehow made it work.
At the end of the day, Star Wars Battlefront was fun for a couple of weeks. It was nice to be back in the Star Wars universe and it was awesome to play with some of the series’ most iconic characters, but it was basically a half-finished game, released with no regard for the fans who so desperately wanted it to be perfect, and that’s the biggest disappointment of it all. One can only hope, now, that EA and DICE tread a little more carefully with Star Wars Battlefront 2, and produce the kind of incredible video game the iconic series deserves.
Emily: Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness
The Tomb Raider series is an absolute gem, one that ignited my passion for exploration, history, and archaeology. Core Design’s first five entries into the series were an absolute joy, allowing players to travel the world and gun down a plethora of enemies — human and otherwise — while they searched for all manner of shiny artefacts. Then, in 2004, Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness changed the formula with some supposedly exciting new changes to the game’s design, gameplay, and storytelling. Moving away from ancient ruins, the the game is set primarily in the decidedly-not-ancient city of Paris, and it tells more of a murder-mystery story in which Lara Croft’s mentor, Werner Von Croy, is murdered and she, of all people, is the prime suspect. Players must work not only to clear Lara’s good name, but to track down a mysterious cult that has some disturbing plans involving ancient monsters and world domination.
The Angel of Darkness boasts the prime example of a story so damn good that players want to read every note, find every clue, and track down every little hidden thing they can find to learn more about what’s going on around them. With a story that good, you’re probably wondering why it’s on this list… That would be because of its gameplay, which was frustrating to the point of giving up, leaving the game alone for a couple of days and then coming back to it and probably failing the same mission again. On top of that, Lara’s character design is blatantly awful, leaving her looking more hardened than her cardboard-box-with-features look in the previous titles, combat is an absolute nightmare to control and the amount of bugs and glitches is just ridiculous; I’ve lost count of just how many times I’ve told Lara to jump across a ledge only to see the whole level disappear… And of course, I’d have forgotten to save the game before that jump, so I’d have to start the whole level again.
One of the most hotly-anticipated new additions to the series in The Angel of Darkness was the stealth mechanic, and while that sounded like a fantastic idea, it simply didn’t work. At one point, Lara could run up to a guard, take a key from a table right behind him, and run — yes, run — back out of the room without being noticed, totally defeating the purpose of even having a stealth mechanic available. Amazing idea in theory; in practice, not so much, and that was immensely disappointing. Come to think of it, considering everything I had to put up with while playing this game, I still can’t believe I actually completed it… The feeling of achievement was incredible, and for a moment there, all those issues were forgotten.
The Angel of Darkness was supposed to be the first title in a new trilogy, which was a really exciting prospect because for all of its problems, the game left me with so many questions that needed answers. Unfortunately, it was obvious that Core Design rushed The Angel of Darkness in order to release it alongside the second Tomb Raider feature film, Cradle of Life, and the result of that rushing cost the studio its job on the series as a whole, which Crystal Dynamics took over with Tomb Raider: Legend in 2006. Although I would have loved to see more of the Angel of Darkness trilogy (albeit with some massive, massive improvements), we do have its failure to thank for the incredible work Crystal Dynamics has done with the series ever since.
For everything it could have been, Destiny is this decade’s poster-child for things that just didn’t live up to their potential. If its absurdly expensive, incredible extensive marketing campaign was to be believed, Bungie’s newest project had it all: multiple massive, open worlds to explore; a combination of first-person shooter mechanics with RPG-level customisation; the kind of incredible story the world has come to expect from Bungie, enormous multiplayer missions and events; plenty of things to keep players hooked well after they finished the story; and major replayability, with multiple weapon and character classes for players to explore. With every piece of promotional material Bungie released, there came more and more reason to believe that Destiny would not only be Game of the Year, but Game of the Next Few Years — if not Game of the Generation. It kept me absolutely hooked for a few months, but serious issues began to present themselves very early on and the disillusionment set in well before I eventually got fed up and traded it in.
Don’t get me wrong, Destiny was a great game (hell, it’s one of the best games I’ve ever seen from a mechanical standpoint); its biggest problem, and the reason why I take so much pleasure in verbally destroying it with every chance I get, is that Activision, Bungie, or someone else along the line got greedy. Before it was released, it was reported that large portions of the story had been cut out of the game to be used in expansions later on; it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know exactly where they’d been removed from. As a general rule (and, you know, the meaning of the fucking word), expansions are supposed to expand upon the game that was released, but Destiny’s merely patched up holes in the story — holes created when content was removed from it for later use. That’s an insult to the paying customer, if you ask me; sure, Destiny’s expansions added a fair of content into the game for their price, but players were forced to pay AU$60 for three expansions to plug gaps in the story. Hell, does anyone remember going to the Reef for the first time, expecting a whole new story arc with the Awoken and coming away with nothing until they bought some DLC? Fucking please.
Although Bungie never explicitly said it, Destiny’s big sell was this idea that it was a richly-featured RPG with first-person gameplay. That’s what hooked so many players in, and that’s what we hoped to get. Instead, once you’d finished the main story, the game turned into a glorified grinding simulator. Anyone who knows what a role-playing game is knows that grinding is important, but Destiny’s major difference was that players were literally always grinding for the chance to earn something good. Players weren’t given the chance to earn the best weapons in the game through their in-game achievements; I earned the infamous Gjallarhorn at random for coming third in my team of five in a multiplayer match, while others had to do the same mission for hours on end and pray that one of the Engrams they earned would become the Gjallarhorn when they finally went to the Tower and cashed in. If I could have gotten past the game being cut to create DLC, I might have kept on playing if loot was just a little less random.
Although Destiny was fantastic as a video game, it suffered tremendously as an experience until all three of its expansions had been released, and that’s simply not good enough. Not good enough, and absolutely not fair. I truly, truly do hope that Destiny 2 doesn’t suffer the same fate.
Rhys: Final Fantasy XIII
Remember when the Final Fantasy series was considered the JRPG genre’s coup de grace? Whenever anyone would ask about role-playing games, they’d always be told to check out the likes of Final Fantasy VI and VII to get a feel for the genre. When Final Fantasy XIII was released, however, it suddenly became a bit embarrassing to call myself a fan of the series. Everything that made the franchise special, at least in my eyes, was lost in development. Fantastically written characters and stories were replaced with cardboard cut-outs (with the exception of one or two characters) and an overly dramatic soap-opera plot.
Even though I enjoyed the first five hours of Final Fantasy XIII, namely because I believed the game would “open up” and get increasingly better as the game continued, my excitement quickly fell to disappointment when I realised how poorly the game itself was developed. It should have been an adventure of epic proportions, but my time with Final Fantasy XIII was marred by linear corridors, a lacklustre story and terrible character development; its only redeeming factor was its combat system, but even that became repetitive and boring pretty quickly with its “press X to win” initiative. Auto-battle is the stake to the heart of most RPGs, and for Square Enix to be so ill-advised as to implement it into the FInal Fantasy series totally destroyed the fun factor that an RPG’s combat is supposed to have.
Although I started to enjoy the story after the halfway point, where the setting opened up slightly onto the world of Gran Pulse, the time I had to spend trudging through those linear corridors, suffering through boring characters, melodramatic attempts at character development, repetitive combat and really fucking tedious Eidolon “fights” really spoiled the whole experience. To this day, Final Fantasy XIII is the only Final Fantasy game that I have traded in almost immediately after completing it.
Fortunately, despite everything that made Final Fantasy XIII so absolutely frustrating to play, Final Fantasy XIII-2 was quite an improvement and the amazing experience that was Final Fantasy XV has made me realise that there is still a whole lot of life in the series. The Final Fantasy XIII era is well and truly over now, and although it sucked, I’m damn happy that it happened because it forced Square Enix to understand that although Final Fantasy is a well-respected and well-loved series, it’s not invincible; hopefully the series’ future is bright… With no more fucking Final Fantasy XIII’s to blemish it!
Okay, time to put the torches out… We hope that you enjoyed that little trip down Annoying, Frustrating Memory Lane as much as we enjoyed taking it (and the opportunity to vent some of our deepest-held frustrations), but we would love to hear what you think, and so we’re running another little competition with that in mind; you can find all the details by clicking right here. Good luck!