2013 was one hell of a year for video games. So much action, so much drama! Such suspense, such anger and jubilation! It was a year of great change, in which things didn't always always go according to plan and plenty of games failed to live up to expectations.
We don't love being negative here or anything. But when we hear that something's going to be great, that it's going to change the way we think of games and indeed, the world… well, it'd better be great!
Just like we did last year, all of us on staff here at Kotaku put our heads together and came up with a list of our biggest disappointments of 2013. Of note: These aren't necessarily things we're mad about, they're things that disappointed us. Also bear in mind that some of the disappointments listed here may run slightly counter to the individual opinions we've run on the site over the year.
Last thing: It's not all darkness and negativity. As we did last year, we'll run a "Best Surprises of 2013" post next week as well.
For now though, sadness reigns. Here we go. Release the hounds!
We'd heard whispers for a while that all was not well at LucasArts, but it was still a bummer to see the company—responsible for some of the most beloved games of the late 90s and early 2000s—get shut down by Disney. Even more of a bummer: Watching the promising-looking Star Wars 1313 go down with the ship, likely never to be resurrected. Shit. We later learned a lot more about what happened before the studio went under, but that doesn't make the fond memories—and the dreams for the future—any harder to watch disappear.
Midway through the year, as we all looked to November's next-gen console launches, one game stood out. One game was the herald of the next generation: Ubisoft's Watch Dogs. Maybe it's because when it debuted at E3 2012, it felt like the first next-gen game we'd seen, despite the fact that Sony and Microsoft hadn't even announced their new consoles. But whatever the reasons, tons of gamers were psyched to get the game to play on their PS4s and Xbox Ones. And then, out of nowhere… Ubisoft delayed the game into spring of 2014. It's probably for the best—rarely has a game delay meant anything but a more polished, better final product—but it was hard not to be disappointed that our next-gen game libraries got off to an emptier start.
The Xbox One Kinect seems like a great idea. It's a dialed-up camera that can recognize faces and biometric data and is supposedly vastly improved over its Xbox 360 predecessor. Your entertainment center will be at your beck and call! Truly, the future is now. The Xbox One operating system is designed around Kinect, so it needs to work flawlessly. It does not work flawlessly. It works okay, most of the time - as long as you've got a mostly quiet room, as long as you shush your friends and speak clearly and loudly. But on the whole, Kinect just isn't where it needs to be in order to win over the mainstream, and more problematically, Microsoft still doesn't appear to have a clear idea of what the camera will do beyond signing you in and letting you navigate menus with your voice. If we're really going to spend the next several years ordering our televisions around (and really, are we?) it's going to have to work a lot better than this.
If a person owns a PC and likes strategy games, chances are they're a fan of Company of Heroes. The 2006 World War II RTS is among the finest in the genre, carrying its great gameplay over several excellent expansions in the years that followed. Every CoH fan was understandably psyched for Company of Heroes 2, which launched earlier this year to little fanfare. While there's no denying that the new game is more Company of Heroes (which really can't be all that bad), it didn't feel like an evolution for the series, and in some ways was a step back.
Nintendo has always had a tricky challenge on its hands with the Wii U. They had a one-year head-start on Sony and Microsoft, one year to come out with some amazing, must-have exclusive games that would make people choose to get a Wii U over the looming PS4 and Xbox One duo. Suffice to say, Nintendo didn't really manage to do that. While there are more good games for the system than ever, even after a year we don't really think the Wii U is a must-own. And now, with the more-powerful PS4 and Xbox One dominating the next-gen discussion, Nintendo will have an even tougher time breaking through.
Speaking of things that could really help the Wii U…
"Why the hell can't I play more classic Nintendo games on the Wii U virtual console?" It might be the most forehead-slapping question in all of gaming, and yet Nintendo seems unable to offer a substantial answer. There are so, so many amazing Nintendo games from over the years, and any or all of them could work on the Wii U. So why isn't the Wii U virtual console any better than it is, particularly given how much better the Wii's virtual console lineup is? And why on Earth isn't there some sort of cross-buy system like Sony has, where if we bought a VC game on Wii we can bring it over to Wii U and/or 3DS? It's inexcusable.
Sure, we got to play Earthbound on the Wii U this year. We also got a passel of Super Nintendo and NES games, but there are so many more great games on those platforms that remain left off the list. Where are the Gamecube games? Where's the N64? Heck, where are the Wii games? Come on Nintendo, take our money!
Battlefield 4 should've been in the running to be the best multiplayer shooter of the year. Released at launch on both next-gen consoles, it brought the series' exceptional PC graphics to home TVs, right along with its trademark 64-player online multiplayer. Ah, but. But. Here we have yet another EA game that launched with significant technical problems, with corrupted saves robbing some players of single-player progress and a bushel of multiplayer bugs leaving the game unstable and often broken. Developer DICE has suspended work on new content and issued several bug-fixes, but plenty of problems remain, and the game's shortcomings have even become the subject of a lawsuit. What could've been a next-gen bright spot has instead become a black eye.
It could've been so cool. An Aliens game by Gearbox that let you step into the boots of a colonial space marine and fight your way through LV-426, your motion detector going crazy as Xenomorphs pop out of air ducts all around you. And hell, it even looked cool, thanks to some now-unbelievably misleading preview footage of the game that the developers had been showing off. Of course, the actual game was a stinking heap, loaded with hilariously shonky AI, terrible writing, crusty graphics and bugs galore. Eventually the whole sad story came out, and it became clear that this game never really had a chance. More than the other terrible games of 2013, Colonial Marines could've been great.
Owen Good writes: I can't recall a more barren year for sports video games than this one, and yes, I'm including the early days, the 1980s and the 1990s. We said goodbye to two EA Sports series, one of them temporarily—Tiger Woods PGA Tour, which is taking 2014 off—and one pretty much for good—NCAA Football, dragged under by the inevitable lawsuits challenging college sports and their abusive business model.
Baseball on the Xbox 360 came in the form of a cynical, recycled MLB 2K13 that defined the worst slur said about sports games as a whole: It truly was the roster update, and 2K Sports shamelessly sold it for $60. Major League Baseball still has no plan to put itself on the Xbox One, much less the 360, in 2014. FIFA, NBA 2K, NHL and MLB the Show took few risks and retain their status as admirable and acclaimed products largely out of incumbency.
Even against low expectations, NBA Live 14 was a complete disaster, but at least it launched. NBA 2K14 did put out a distinctive product for the next-generation systems, but it arrived with glitches, some of them crippling, and 2K saddled it with an unbalanced virtual economy in an environment where users have to spend virtual currency just to do things like set starting rotations. For a label that once prided itself on never selling downloadable content, the choice to take the game in this direction has done significant damage to a brand almost universally admired for more than a decade.
Madden NFL 25 ploughed through another unremarkable release on the 360 and PS3 and had the gall to present itself as some kind of a milestone edition. That said, Madden also was the lone, unblemished bright spot for sports on next-gen systems, where every day I see something improved, more intuitive, or just plain more fun in its core gameplay.
But this still is a genre led by titles that, if they are not exclusive, are unchallenged by meaningful competition. PES and FIFA, the only real head-to-head matchup out there, remain content to divide the pie: PES in Japan and South America, FIFA in the rest of the world. EA Sports got rid of its soccer management series, ceding even that to a lone entity, Football Manager. And the era of arcade-style, league-licensed spinoffs is dead; none released in 2013.
Twitch streaming from PS4 is terrific, but it doesn't allow for any sort of archiving to YouTube, which makes it significantly less appealing. We want to use it all the time, but we want to save our streams for anyone who didn't happen to tune in right then. Come on Sony and Twitch, work it out! Similarly, the PS4 doesn't allow easy access to my videos or screenshots outside of automatic Twitter/Facebook uploads, requiring convoluted workarounds to get easy access to your shared stuff. It'll probably change in the future, but it should've working at launch.
Meanwhile the Xbox One delayed their Twitch functionality at the last minute and offers no screenshot function, and while they do allow users to upload editable videos to their SkyDrive accounts, those videos are significantly compressed and ugly. At least Microsoft's console has no HDCP DRM on its video signal, allowing it to work with third-party capture boxes; Sony says they're eventually going to remove HDCP from the PS4, but at the moment it's impossible to use a standalone box with PS4.
Both next-gen consoles have some good ideas about helping us share our gaming videos, but neither one is where it needs to be.
Sure, Trey Parker and Matt Stone are pretty good at making self-aware jokes about their oft-delayed game South Park: The Stick of Truth. And yeah, it's really just pretty cool that we're going to get the game at all - after THQ fell apart, the whole thing could've just vanished into the ether. All the same, it'd be nice to actually play the thing, and the repeated delays, with it now due to come out a year after its initial March 2013 release date, are a bit worrying. Hopefully the game will be great, and worth the wait. And hopefully it won't get delayed yet again.
Stephen Totilo writes: Console launches aren't easy, but it sure does help to launch with some great games. Even better if they're exclusive. The Ouya started with a couple of them: Towerfall and Knightmare Tower (no relation). But the little system with all the free games felt underpowered right from the start and has yet to host the kind of impressive follow-ups to make it a must-own gaming machine.
System backers may say it's not a machine for the Kotaku set, but the Ouya generally still feels like a console without any meaningful constituency. Cell phones keep getting great cheap (or free) games. PCs continue to thrive. What were once called current-gen consoles are falling in price. New consoles are wowing the most hardcore gamers. And portables from Nintendo and, to a lesser extent, Sony, are holding their own. Ouya was going to be the moddable, hackable paradise for the indie developer and the precocious hobbyist gamer, but, as of now, it simply feels missable and most of the action with interesting indie games remains on PC, tablet and phone.
Times had been tough for a little while, but it was still a bummer to see the long-running, beloved gaming outlet 1UP officially get the axe. Luke put it best: So long 1UP, and thanks for all the podcasts.
Sony is talking a good line with their Vita handheld, but the device itself still doesn't really seem to have its act together. The past year saw a handful of good exclusive games, including Killzone: Mercenary, Soul Sacrifice and the exceptional Tearaway, and plenty of indie games wound up shining on the platform, particularly Hotline Miami and Spelunky. But the operating system sorely needs an update and remains saddled with a ton of weird smartphone-like apps that hardly anyone uses, while proprietary memory cards are cheaper but still hilariously expensive, which makes clearing room for new games more of a chore than ever. So far, PS4 remote-play capability isn't where it needs to be—regular lag and the uncomfortable back-touch placement of the R1/L1 and R3/L3 buttons leave it feeling like something reverse-engineered into a system that wasn't quite designed for it.
It's heartening to hear that Sony has a plan to save the Vita, but it remains hard to imagine the handheld's prospects getting all that much better in the near future, particularly when it comes to exclusive games. The Vita remains a very cool system, but Sony still doesn't seem to know how to make it succeed.
On last year's list of disappointments, we mentioned our sadness that we'd had no real word on Fumito Ueda's much-anticipated (and possible vaporware) The Last Guardian. This year saw a biiiit more chatter on the Last Guardian front, but only if you count maddeningly vague non-news like Sony saying the game was on hiatus before retracting that statement and then giving an incredibly vague tease during their PS4 launch event.
Sony. Hey, Sony. Your hometown studio is back at full strength. We're psyched. Just tell us something real and solid about the game. We're going to keep putting this on our disappointments list until you do.
We were all excited for SimCity. It was the first full SimCity game in ages, and every pre-release demonstration showed a meticulously detailed, beautiful update to a series that most gamers have loved since they first asked their parents what "reticulating splines" meant. And then… the game launched. What happened after that has been written in magma across the pages of gaming history, a launch debacle on an unprecedented scale.
The always-online game was unplayable for weeks, but our SimCity Disaster Watch is still going all these months later. That's because despite the fact that the servers are now functional (and the game can be pretty fun in small doses), SimCity remains a resounding disappointment. The developers at Maxis have been constantly issuing updates, each time promising that they've finally made their game better and fixed whatever AI weirdnesses and economy issues remained. But it would appear the core framework is just too flawed for the game to ever become truly great. It's a shame all around.
Though on the flip side, it did let me run this image on our site…
…and surely that counts for something.
Those are our biggest disappointments, but surely you have your own. Feel free to weigh in in the comments below, using images and headlines as appropriate. What disappointed you most this year? Embrace the darkness! Let the bitterness and despair flow forth! We'll all feel better if we just get this off our chests.