Wherein we discuss what should have been.
Potential is an interesting thing. It has the power to make an athlete, a company, a game or an idea seem better – and/or more valuable – than it should be, and it can create anticipation and excitement seemingly straight out of thin air. More interestingly than that, though, it’s entirely hypothetical; a sign of human beings’ ability to take information and run with it. In this month’s Multiplayer offering, the Doublejump Staff came together to discuss the releases that they, and the gaming community as a whole, thought would be a whole lot better than they actually were.
Abir: Mass Effect: Andromeda
I originally chose to write about Need for Speed: Rivals for this topic, but while that game was a mess technically, 2017’s Mass Effect: Andromeda was not only a technical disaster, but it was also a failure in gameplay and narrative to boot. The game was so poorly received that publisher EA put the series on an indefinite hiatus, with development staff members later pointing to the game’s lengthy and tumultuous development period as the primary reason for this outcome.
Regardless of how the game was developed, the game players received at the end of the process was full of bugs that affected immersion and gameplay in addition to a narrative that seemed uninspired considering the rich source material at hand. The problem was so bad this die-hard fan cancelled his preorder and sat back to watch his favourite series effectively die an embarrassing death. All I can do now is hope that BioWare can break its streak of releasing disappointing games when the next Dragon Age reaches our systems.
Cav: No X-Wing/TIE Fighter Remasters
When we look at the current landscape of the games industry, three things come through clear as day:
- Simulation games have come back in a big way;
- Remasters of past classics do extremely well;
- Star Wars games are not only still guaranteed cash-cows, but people are really, really keen to get fully-featured single player games set in the universe.
Yet somehow – some-bloody-how, despite all of the above – Disney, EA and Lucasfilm Games have still not managed to bring us modernized versions of the X-Wing and TIE Fighter games.
For many fans, including myself, no other Star Wars games (with the possible exception of the KOTOR/Old Republic line) have provided such immersion into that universe. Employing a subtle but compelling blend of arcadey thrills and deep but not intimidating simulation, the series put you in the shoes of a Rebel or Imperial fighter pilot with a sense of authenticity that had never been seen in a licensed video game until that point. Yes, we had our Rogue Squadrons and our VR X-wing dalliances, but none of them came close to the immersion we got from those original sims.
They’re still wildly popular, going gangbusters on GOG, but their limitations show in the current age. While the visuals and sound are understandably dated, configuring a modern flight stick or even a gamepad requires programs like JoyToKey, and even then don’t always feel great. It’s a small price to play some of the best games ever made, but the demand is still rabid for remastered versions with updated visuals and native pad/stick support. Even better, we now have the Prequel and Sequel trilogies there to be mined for potential further games.
Come on, House of Mouse – you really think these things wouldn’t sell like crack-glazed hotcakes? It’s anyone’s guess why this has consistently failed to happen, but there’s a lot of people praying that whatever roadblocks exist get cleared eventually. Sadly, it continues to refuse to be anything but a dream.
It’s pretty rare nowadays for me to get really, really excited about a new video game, and I blame Destiny for that. Activision and Bungie did such a phenomenal job of marketing their first-person shooter/MMORPG hybrid that I had it on pre-order (an honour typically reserved for the yearly new FIFA title and that’s all) pretty early on, and including the Immigrant Song in its launch trailer was the icing on the cake: I made sure I was at the midnight launch and among the first to jump into the marvellous open world I was led to expect. If it lived up to the marketing campaign, Destiny had all of the potential in the world to be the next 15-year MMO – the next World of Warcraft, if you will.
Given that Destiny 2 is already a year and a half old, it’s pretty obvious that it didn’t even come close, due in considerable part to the fact that you could just tell where Activision and Bungie had removed plot points and assets to put them into “expansions” that more closely resembled gap-fillers. I’d argue, however, that Destiny’s wasted potential was obvious far earlier – at around the point where you landed on the Moon and realised that it wasn’t a truly open world; in fact, the vast, vast majority of the Moon was completely off-limits, a literal world of terrain that Bungie could and should have used to create a real MMORPG experience. The same was true of Venus and then of Mars, with the Reef’s single cutscene slotted in between, and it was truly a shame.
It took a whole year and three “expansions” before Destiny realised its full potential with The Taken King, but by that time I wasn’t alone in having well and truly moved on from it. Such a shame.
John: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain wasn’t disappointing just because it wasn’t finished. There was already rot in the foundation, where everything that wasn’t the moment-to-moment gameplay had issues.
Instead of the game’s two open worlds, MGSV should have been a basic evolution of its prologue MGSV: Ground Zeroes, even if it’s just so we wouldn’t have to spend half the game travelling to or from a generic military base we’d already visited six times. MGSV as a series of self-contained, open-ended Ground Zeroes-style levels set across a greater variety of locations than just ‘desert’ and ‘jungle’ is so much more exciting than what we actually got – but hindsight is 20-20 and all that. Even if it didn’t work out, I can appreciate the ambition of an open-world Metal Gear Solid.
Then the sluggish timed unlocks and progression systems were carried over from the portable Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker for seemingly no reason other than to pad out the game and wreak havoc with the already-poor story pacing.
Story-wise, I enjoyed the idea of the cruel “vocal strain parasite” and its purposeful destruction of language (I might be in the minority there). Otherwise, MGSV was an empty revenge-fantasy dressed up with series-wide fanservice and pathetic attempts to justify leering at “you will feel ashamed of your words and deeds” Quiet at every opportunity. This was on top of keeping Snake near-silent the entire game after pushing Kiefer Sutherland so hard as his new actor in the lead-up to the game’s release.
MGSV wasn’t just disappointing as the final mainline entry in a legendary franchise. It was a massive waste of potential. MGSV remains completely phenomenal to actually play, and that’s worth every bit of praise it gets, but everything around it was, at the very least, a letdown. Whether that’s Konami’s fault or not, MGSV should have been better.
Kristian: The Sega Dreamcast
The Dreamcast is perhaps one of the most peculiar consoles ever released, and it’s obvious that it was part of a backs-against-the-wall strategy for Sega to remain relevant as a console developer. Even though the Dreamcast was the most powerful console of the time, a lack of third-party support meant that the four-year-old PlayStation was still more successful commercially. Dreamcast sales slowed down majorly when the PlayStation 2 hype started to surface – only a year after the Dreamcast’s launch – and once Microsoft announced that it was entering the console market, it was obvious that there was no room for a fourth major console. The Xbox’s success effectively squeezed the Dreamcast out of the running, effectively ending Sega’s run as a console manufacturer.
The issue with the Dreamcast is that it was rather directionless by the turn of the millennium. The PlayStation 2 was a multimedia machine, about as popular as a DVD player as it was a games console; the GameCube was where you could go for Nintendo’s excellent first-party lineup; and Microsoft marketed the Xbox as a console of action and wonder, led by games like Halo: Combat Evolved.
Meanwhile, the Dreamcast was in no man’s land. Most of its must-own games were simply ports of arcade titles, and it was a hard sell for those who felt let down by how quickly Sega abandoned its previous consoles, the Sega CD and the Saturn. There’s also the matter of the console being easy enough to modify to play pirated games via special software known as boot discs, though there have been arguments in favour of that.
Given that, it’s no surprise that Sega discontinued it in 2001, less than two years after it launched in the West. In comparison, Sony’s PlayStation 2 became the best-selling system of all time, shipping 150 million units before finally discontinuing in early 2013. Sega’s legacy continues as a third-party publisher, but as a console developer it leaves behind a long trail of failure, concluding with this terribly botched system.
Matt: Fallout 76
Where do I start? As a huge fan of the series, I was waiting for Fallout 76 with bated breath, but there’s nothing good to say about it – Bethesda missed the mark by a country mile.
On the surface, Fallout 76 simply didn’t function the way Bethesda, or anyone else, had hoped. It crashed constantly, it was fall of annoying bugs and glitches and, as a whole, its overall lack of polish led many to believe that Fallout 76 was either released far too early, or simply wasn’t developed for long enough. Frankly, I’d believe either argument.
As much as the bugs, glitches and crashes frustrated me, though, they didn’t bother me anywhere near as much as the lack of direction and ambition Bethesda put into Fallout 76, especially after the flawed – but still fantastic – Fallout 4. To put it bluntly, everything that made the Fallout series as iconic as it is today is unfortunately absent from 76, the engaging and unique characters, memorable locations and emotional storylines all but forgotten.
Given that it was a prequel, there was so much potential for Fallout 76 to fill in the gaps in our knowledge, but because it lacked so many of the characters and interactions that we came to expect, the world didn’t feel developed or lived-in, and so most of my time spent with Fallout 76 was bland, boring and repetitive.
Ty: Fallout 4
I’ve been fan of role-playing games for a long time – it’s my favourite genre of games. That feeling of building a character and watching them grow as you shape the story around them is something you just can’t get anywhere else.
Bethesda’s Fallout 3 nailed this for me, so much so that I spent over 300 hours in the Capital Wasteland before Obsidian Entertainment came along and improved on the entire formula with Fallout: New Vegas… and then came Fallout 4, which Bethesda promised would take everything it learned in the previous two titles and pushing it onto the new generation of consoles. Unfortunately, that was a lie; it seems as though Bethesda opted to ignore the improvements it made not only in New Vegas, but also in Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Instead, Fallout 4 shipped with a butchered dialogue system, a buggy and poorly-optimised game engine, weak writing (despite dealing with artificial intelligence and a player-character who knew life before the apocalypse), character building that was dumbed down so far it was unsatisfying, and combat that – despite all of its improvements – made the V.A.T.S. system entirely redundant.
Most insultingly, the game isn’t even that bad in spite of itself. It does what it sets out to do – streamlines the series formula – rather well in most respects. Unfortunately, that didn’t change the fact that Fallout 4 could have been a new standard in the open-world RPG market, but instead left me fearing for the franchise’s future, as well as Bethesda’s as a whole.
Given just how many video games we’ve seen in our lifetimes, there are sure to be other examples of wasted potential that we haven’t discussed. Hop on social media, or into the comments below, and let us know yours!
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Also published on Medium.