2012 was a hell of a year for video games. We got a ton of fantastic games to play, surprises of all shapes, sizes, and colors. It was also a year of upheaval, when things often didn't go according to plan, and when many a game failed to live up to expectations.
It's not that we're difficult to please. Well, it's not just that we're difficult to please. But when a publisher or a developer tells us something's going to be awesome, it'd better be awesome.
And so it was with an odd combination of sadness and relish that we assembled this, our list of the biggest disappointments of 2012.
Keep in mind that this list was discussed by everyone on staff, so some of the opinions may stand in contrast to other articles, reviews, and criticism we've run throughout the year. And we didn't hate everything: We'll have an equally lengthy list of the best surprises of 2012 next week. (Update: here it is.)
The Vita is on life-support
Oh, PlayStation Vita. How we wanted to like you. You are a lovely piece of hardware, and we gave you a good review. But since then, you've been a pretty huge disappointment. Jason recently summed up the Vita's biggest problems—the system has had some good bundles and sales, but memory cards are still heinously overpriced. But the problem isn't so much with the Vita as it is with its future. The system hasn't caught on in North America, and as far as we know, there are almost no good games coming out next year. I'll be using my Vita for a long time, mostly to play PSP games and Persona 4 Golden, but it's difficult to look at the 2013 release calendar and not feel let down.
The Game of Thrones RPG
Game of Thrones. The pop-culture phenomenon that made fantasy cool again. (Okay, I guess that was Lord of the Rings. It made fantasy sexy again.) For a long time, we'd been hoping for an awesome, BioWare-style GoT RPG. And then, we found out we were getting one. But what we got was a dull, ugly, boring role-playing game that lacked an ounce of the charm and drama of its source material. As it turned out, this mod for Crusader Kings II was the closest thing we'd get to a proper Game of Thrones RPG. It's good and all, but it would've been cool if the actual licensed game had measured up.
No Real Word on The Last Guardian
There was a time, not so long ago, when we still had hope that we'd hear news of The Last Guardian, Team ICO's long-awaited follow-up to Shadow of the Colossus. And so we waited, and we waited, and we waited. You can check out all the news related to the game at our Kotaku Timeline, and if you do, you'll notice a conspicuous lack of news in 2012. The game still seems to exist, somewhere, in some form, but after a notable absence at E3, everyone's worried. And disappointed.
NBA Live 13
Owen Good writes: NBA Elite was a ruined brand following its embarrassing, last-minute cancellation in 2010. So when EA Sports revealed plans to return to simulation basketball this spring, it dusted off the venerable NBA Live brand. Now that one's ruined, too.
The game's 2012 played out eerily like the disaster of 2010: EA Sports announced its intentions, declared a focus on giving fans controls that were easier to manage than NBA 2K's, and made promises regarding broadcast-quality presentation. Early builds showed some flaws, but they were mostly the flaws of an incomplete pre-alpha stage.
The game they brought to E3 could at least show on-court gameplay, unlike Elite, but a disastrous closed-doors presentation resulted in scathing previews. A hands-on, private event with Live's advisory council of gamers went terribly; by July, many were recommending EA Sports not even release NBA Live 13. Incredibly, that's what happened.
If the NBA Live brand isn't permanently stained in the eyes of hardcore sports gamers, it seems unfathomable that it will return next year, expected to be the last one of this console generation. The cancellation of NBA Live 13 isn't so much the disappointment. It's the total breach of trust it represents between sports fans and the largest maker of sports video games.
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor
It was hard not to be a bit won over by Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor at Microsoft's press event last spring. It was the hardest-core Kinect game imaginable, a hilarious mess of weird controls, insanely difficult combat, and ridiculous writing. I was horrible at it when playing, but was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I just sucked. But no, no… the game is what sucked. It was perhaps the most truly unplayable game of 2012. Its over-reliance on the Kinect motion sensor meant that the game was nigh unusable, frustrating, and entirely unfun. Worse, it made us all even more gunshy about using motion controls in the future. Microsoft is planning a new Kinect for their next console, one that's likely more powerful than the current one. It makes sense that some of what they were trying with Steel Battalion could finally come off. But we'll be all the more skeptical next time.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
Easily one of the most spectacular failures of 2012, Star Wars: The Old Republic was nothing short of a Herculean feat of game development, a game so ambitious that it was difficult not to get excited about it. And then it came out, and we played it. Response was… mixed, I guess. And the months passed, and the users dwindled, and then EA announced that the game would be going free-to-play, just like that. As Gamasutra put it in their oh-so-perfect headline: "The most expensive game in history is now free."
Worse, the free-to-play version of the game is crippled, a wholly inferior version of the paid version of the game. Not only did it fail as a subscription-based game, poor decisions will likely sink it as a free-to-play MMO, too. EA and BioWare put hundreds of millions of dollars and countless man-hours into The Old Republic, but instead of bringing the beloved Star Wars universe to life in a new way, they hurt the already fatigued brand. They should've saved us all some heartache and just made another Knights of the Old Republic.
It was hard to come out of this year's E3 feeling too excited, too bowled over. The majority of the games there had already been shown, and there were just so few surprises. Granted, there were exceptions: Watch Dogs managed to generate a ton of buzz simply by being a surprise. With a new name and a slick new Wii U getup, ZombiU was immediately impressive. We saw new engine demos from Square Enix and Epic, both of which hinted at the kind of visuals we're gonna get in the next generation.
But the rest of the convention was off its game. Nintendo's coming-out party for the Wii U felt oddly stilted, like there'd been a last-minute change. The NintendoLand reveal was confusing. Microsoft spent most of their time playing up non-game hardware and software, and Sony ignored the Vita almost entirely, despite having a good collection of games on the show floor. But more than any of that specific stuff, there was an overarching feeling of anticlimax in the wake of E3. Granted, we're on the cusp of a shift in console cycles, meaning that a lot companies' best stuff has to remain under wraps. All the same, E3 felt scattered this year, lots of noise but too little substance.
As Mike noted in his review, the game is plenty fun, at its core a largely unchanged iteration on past Twisted Metal games. And yet… it's largely unchanged, a decade after the most recent full Twisted Metal game came out. Considering how far vehicular combat has come in those 10 years, it wasn't too much to have hoped for something truly awe-inspiring, rather than an enjoyable but decidedly retro game. Checkpoint races, a reduced cast, and visuals that didn't measure up… the whole thing felt less like a massive explosion of insane fun and more like a middle-of-the-road PS3 launch-title.
On the one hand, Diablo III was a perfectly serviceable action-RPG that's a lot of fun to play with friends. But taking a broader look, it's hard not to feel like the game missed a few crucial things. For starters, its launch was buggy, plagued by the now-infamous Error 37 message that kept people from playing the game, neatly identifying the biggest problem with Blizzard's always-online DRM.
But that was just the start of the problems—the end of the story was a letdown and hardcore players found that Diablo III's end-game offered little incentive to keep them playing, a problem compounded by the dispiriting effect of the real-money auction house. At one point, a designer at Blizzard even offered a strange apology for the game.
As time's gone on, the bloom's come further off the rose—this game is okay, but doesn't feel quite like a suitable successor for Diablo II, particularly given that Runic's Torchlight II is a lot of fun on its own and actually is better than Diablo III in a lot of ways. Taking all of that into consideration, it's hard not to be disappointed in Diablo III.
It just sounded like such a cool idea. Take classic moments from all of the best Bond films, and let us play through them. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, as it turns out. As Patricia said in her review, "007 Legends is not only terrible a homage to James Bond, but it's a mediocre shooter too." Bond deserves better.
Continuing lack of universal games on the App Store
We started playing more and more iOS games in 2012, but developers and publishers continued a maddening trend of releasing two different versions of their games, one for iPad and one for iPhones. Square Enix were the biggest offenders in this regard, but the practice went much farther than that. It's one thing to have to buy games twice on competing consoles like the Xbox 360 and PS3, but Apple is selling these games under the same roof. Many iOS game-makers do sell their games as universal apps, and we love them for it; those who don't seem all the more greedy. One app store purchase per game, please, developers.
Limp Fall Lineups From Sony and EA
The fall is supposed to be the time to bring out the big guns, to really wow us with at least one monster game. It is the time of Skyrims, of Halos and Calls of Duty. And yet both Sony and EA basically punted on the fall, leaving us wondering if we missed something. EA gave us the fun racing game Need For Speed: Most Wanted, but it seemed like the bulk of their fall hinged on Medal of Honor: Warfighter, which wound up being one of the worst, most cynical and pointless games of the year. Sony, on the other hand, brought almost nothing new to the PS Vita or the PS3, touting Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale as if it was something we should care about. As least Sony has some stuff saved up for next year with a new God of War and The Last of Us, but the fall was a desolate disappointment.
Assassin's Creed III
Another one we're a bit split on: Stephen liked the game, but in the end, I felt it was a thorough disappointment. For all the interesting things crammed into the game, it all felt so overstuffed and scattered, a game with no core mechanic and far too many bugs. Tack on the single most infuriating mission of the entire year, and you've got a recipe for disappointment. Considering how hugely this game had been hyped, the final product should have been better.
Jason Schreier writes: Oh, Square Enix. How you've changed over the years.
It wasn't even a decade ago that you were the world's premiere RPG maker, a company that cranked out console role-playing games with fearlessness and tenacity. You weren't afraid to take risks. You weren't afraid to fail.
Something's changed, and 2012 has been emblematic of that evolution more than any year before it. You've focused much more of your energy on mobile and browser games, the type of products that are cheap to make and profitable. You've stopped caring about American JRPG fans. Maybe because you don't think there are enough of us. Maybe because you just have other priorities. I don't know. But it's depressing.
I don't mind the social/mobile stuff. I really don't. I love playing games like The World Ends With You on my iPad, and I don't blame you for trying to make a profit on browser games, which Japan eats up. But where are the console RPGs? What used to be your bread and butter? In 2012, the one RPG you released in America was a sequel to Final Fantasy XIII. You've completely ignored us when it comes to your big, console-style portable RPGs like Bravely Default and Final Fantasy Type-0. And you refuse to say a word about them.
So next year—and in the years to come—I hope you look back and remember what made you so great in the first place. Remember your great old franchises—SaGa, Chrono, Mana. Remember the console RPG. Your fans are waiting.
Resident Evil 6
What on earth has become of the Resident Evil franchise? On the one hand, Capcom released the fantastic 3DS game Resident Evil: Revelations. On the other, there's the flat-out bad Operation Racoon City and Resident Evil 6, a bloated mess that Evan described as "a misshapen hunchback filled with bad DNA." Somewhere, there's a team capable of making a good, modern Resident Evil game for consoles. Hopefully they'll get it right next time.
Skyrim: Dawnguard and Hearthfire DLC
I love Skyrim. I love playing it, modding it, talking about it, and reading about it. And I've been really excited for Bethesda to release more downloadable content for it, particularly given that Bethesda's Todd Howard had been describing the coming DLC as expansion packs, rather than bite-sized additions. But the first two pieces of DLC, the story-based Dawnguard and home-improvement Hearthfire, were a letdown. Oddly, Hearthfire wound up being the more appealing of the two, giving players an opportunity to build a home and raise a family. If it had come on the heels of a terrific expansion pack, it would've been welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately, it came after Dawnguard, a sizable but ultimately disappointing addition. Fortunately, the most recent DLC, Dragonborn, is much cooler.
So there you have them; our biggest disappointments of 2012. There were plenty of pleasant surprises this year as well, and we'll round those all up for another post. (Update: That post is here.)
But for now: Bitterness! Dismay! Crushed dreams!
Let us know your biggest disappointments in the comments. Let it all out. It's the only way to move on.