Every year in video games brings with it some lovely surprises, but every year also brings some sorry disappointments.
[This post originally ran on December 17, 2015]
At the end of each year, we like to take a moment to look back and complain about all the things that bummed us out. Hey, it’s part of the healing process! We let loose our bile ducts in 2012, 2013, and 2014, and we’re back to do it again for another year.
After polling all of Kotaku’s staff for input, here are our biggest disappointments of 2015.
We’ve never seen anything like it: Rocksteady and Warner Bros. released Batman: Arkham Knight on PC and the port was so totally fucked that they actually stopped selling it and took it back to the shop for improvements.
This was a loser across the board—a good game was totally hobbled by seemingly foreseeable performance problems, and the experience no doubt soured the ambitious, impressive Arkham Knight for a lot of PC users. When the PC version finally resurfaced several months later, it was improved, but far from “fixed,” and the publisher eventually offered refunds to anyone who wanted one.
2015 was yet another year where the folks at Sony and Microsoft dedicated a lot of press-conference time to boasting about the games for which they’d secured console-exclusive downloadable content. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: timed exclusive DLC is bullshit. Funding and publishing first-party exclusive games for your console? Cool. Doing some deals and (presumably) helping bankroll third-party games in exchange for timed exclusivity? Not ideal, but whatever. Inking agreements that time-lock certain characters, missions, and downloadable extras to a certain console, meaning that anyone who plays on a different platform has a lesser experience? Argh.
When it was first introduced, The Order: 1886’s high-concept premise and gorgeous aesthetic were promising. The Knights of the Round Table have lived hundreds of years, and are now using souped-up Tesla guns to battle supernatural forces in Victorian London? Hell yes, sign us up. Unfortunately, the finished game was a brief, thrown-together mess full of repeated ideas, undercooked mechanics, and dudes with guns in place of supernatural beasts. The biggest bummer of all was the pervasive sense that this game could’ve been great.
It was exciting when Nintendo launched a whole new 3DS this year, even if they did decide to name it “The New 3DS.” But it was too bad that the system still has so few games that take advantage of its increased processing power. This year, the handheld got a total of two New 3DS-Only games: a port of Xenoblade Chronicles and a port of The Binding Of Isaac. Yeesh. It’s understandable that Nintendo wouldn’t be keen to split its 3DS player base too aggressively, and it’s true that the New 3DS makes regular 3DS games look better in 3D, load faster and supports Amiibos without a dongle. It still would’ve been nice to be given a couple more reasons to feel good about shelling out for this thing.
How strange that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, a 2015 standout and one of the best stealth games ever made, could still wind up on our disappointments list. But here we are: Billed as an epic final chapter in the decades-long Metal Gear saga, The Phantom Pain started strong and then took a bizarre left-turn toward nowheresville, sputtering into its final act with a collection of recycled missions and a hodgepodge of increasingly disconnected cutscenes. What a shame that such a storied saga should reach such great heights, then collapse with the summit in view.
Whatever the reason—overpriced games, oversaturated gamers, bad marketing, a lack of persistent progression—it’s a shame to see more and more competitive multiplayer-only games launching to some fanfare before quickly losing momentum and failing to curate a lasting community. Without enough players, it’s difficult for anyone to find a full match, let alone actually enjoy the game. It happened last year with Titanfall, near the start of this year with Evolve, and we’re worried it’s going to happen again with newer games like Star Wars: Battlefront and Rainbow Six: Siege. These are fun games with plenty to offer, but if the people who make them can’t figure out how to make it easy for players to start—and want to continue—playing, they’ll peter out well before they meet their full potential.
YouTube is still somewhat uncharted territory when it comes to copyright regulations and fair use, so it makes sense that game publishers would be experimenting with the best ways to keep an eye on how people profit from their intellectual properties. Nintendo, however, got more than a little overzealous in 2015.
Their iron-fisted approach to YouTube regulation hurt the speedrunning community in particular, with some very cool Nintendo-related channels getting hit with onerous copyright claims. Nintendo’s own “Creator’s Program,” which required YouTubers to kiss the ring and register their videos or channels with Nintendo before sharing ad revenue with the company, pretty much pissed everyone off.
As the moderately well-known pizza enthusiast PewDiePie put it, in an age when there are so many games for popular Let’s Players to choose from, Nintendo’s games just went to the bottom of a lot of lists. This kind of stuff threatens to erode some of the mountain of good will Nintendo has built over the years.
On our “best surprises” list last year, we had this to say about the then-just-announced Hideo Kojima/Guillermo Del Toro Silent Hills collaboration: “The whole thing sounds like some sort of outlandish joke one of us would make up a few drinks into a Kotaku meetup.” It was too amazing, too wild, too good to be true. And then it simply… wasn’t. Konami cancelled the game. The super team-up was over. Kojima would never make a Silent Hill game. And most distressingly, the ingenious promotional horror experiment P.T. was eradicated from all servers, now only surviving on the PS4s of those who downloaded it and saved it on their hard drives. Del Toro said it best, when asked about the whole situation: “Makes no fucking sense at all.”
Actually, you know what? Here’s a disappointment for you:
Good god, Konami sure fucked it up this year. It’s not like they haven’t ever fucked it up in past years, but these guys just completely drove the bus off the cliff in 2015. Where to even begin? There’s the whole Silent Hills thing, which we just went over. There’s the report that they’ve been treating their staff like prisoners, monitoring their every move and reassigning less “useful” game developers to be janitors and security guards.
And then there’s the colossal clusterfuck that was Metal Gear Solid V, wherein the publisher struck beloved director Hideo Kojima’s name from the box, removed him entirely from any public mention of the game, reportedly had their lawyers bar him from receiving an award at The Game Awards in America while sending PR flacks to accept Japanese awards on his behalf, all before finally, finally setting him free. They did all that to the guy who helmed one of the most amazing, ambitious, wildly entertaining games in recent memory—a game for which their PR flacks will continue to accept awards for months and years to come. It’s likely that there’s more to this whole story than we know, but it’s hard not to look at it all and think, man, Konami really does suck.
Speaking of development woes, it was a bummer that Darkside Games’ Phantom Dust reboot vanished into thin air so soon after it surprised everyone at E3 2014. It was even more of a bummer to learn the messy behind-the-scenes story, and to see just how doomed Darkside’s project was almost from the start. Phantom Dust deserved better, man.
Final Fantasy has always been associated more with consoles than with PC, but that doesn’t mean PC gamers deserve garbage ports of the series’ older entries. This year, the PC got new versions of Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI, but not the lovely, pixelated creations that so many of us fell in love with. Nope, both PC versions have the gaudy high-res graphics that Square Enix added to their inexplicably fugly iOS ports.
Look, we don’t need Rockstar to announce Red Dead Redemption 2. We don’t need them to announce that the last-gen RDR is finally being ported to PC and current-gen consoles. We don’t need to replay John Marston’s adventure in HD, or even just to have Microsoft and Rockstar announce backwards compatibility so we can play the Xbox 360 version on Xbox One. We don’t need any of that, but it would make us so, so happy. Rockstar, don’t you want the whole world to be happy? It would appear that you do not.
Several people on our staff really like GTA Online, when we can find time to play. It can be good for a laugh, some of the new modes are fun, and the heists they added earlier this year are often brilliant. But that doesn’t mean we stopped wanting single-player DLC for GTA V. Rockstar’s two episodic expansions for GTA IV were terrific. We were all very excited to see what else they could do in Los Santos, but it just didn’t happen in 2015. No announcements, no news, and definitely no new San Andreas adventures.
It’s not that Fallout 4 was bad, or even mediocre—it was really cool, admirably open-ended, fun to explore and mess around with, and sometimes even unforgettable. But there was still something disappointing about it, some combination of the dated engine, the awful animations, the same old shonky performance issues, the stripped-down role-playing and dialogue systems, the well-meaning but ultimately frustrating main storyline, and the hair-tearingly wretched user interface. Fallout 4 is an exceptional game in a lot of ways, but for many of us, its sharpest qualities were often dulled by a thin gauze of discontent.
Just about every day, my colleague Jason Schreier asks me if I’ve played more Suikoden II. I’m sorry, Jason. I just haven’t had time. I know you’re disappointed; everyone is. I’m not sure what to say, other than that I’m sorry and I’ll try to do better.
I haven’t played any more Trails In The Sky, either.
Hey, remember how Halo 5’s story was hyped as this extended chase sequence where one hero—Jameson Locke—was hunting down the other hero—series star Master Chief—for a mysterious crime the Chief may or may not have committed? Remember how they made this whole surprisingly clever, Serial-inspired podcast series to promote it? Oh man, it was gonna be so cool! Two squads, eight heroes, and one hell of a firefight, amirite?
Except no, the story was actually a big wet noodle that the game expected us to somehow eat with a spoon. Did you want Locke and Chief to have an epic, playable showdown? Sorry! Did you want a villain whose motivations made sense? Too bad! Did you want to be able to follow the narrative without having to read a bunch of tie-in books? Oh, well! Were you hoping to fight the same copy/pasted boss over and over and over again? Sorr—oh, actually, cool, in that case you’re covered.
Modders deserve to sell their work, if they’d like to. No one really disputes that. But the various ways that whole notion might work are certainly up for debate, and Valve’s first go at a paid modding marketplace—aided by Skyrim developer Bethesda—was a serious misfire. The whole initiative seemed half-thought-out, and there were so many questions raised—questions that apparently had no good answers—that Valve and Bethesda shut the service down less than a week after starting it. Hopefully someone somewhere will come up with a way for modders to get paid for their work, but it was dispiriting to see the first bona fide attempt fail so thoroughly.
Those were the things that disappointed us the most this year, but we’re sure you have plenty of disappointments of your own. Feel free to list ‘em in the comments below, and as usual, if one of your biggest 2015 disappointments was “Kotaku,” we promise we’ll do better next year.
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Konami joke image via @tortoiseontour.