“Hype” is the marketing buzzword tossed around the most in the video game industry, with seemingly every major studio promising to change the way we think of gaming with each new release. Sometimes, this buildup and excitement are warranted, but nowadays, hype is almost exclusively used in service of gaming’s pre-order culture, where publishers are desperate to wring as much money out of customers as they can at the time of a game’s release. The hype machine is probably only going to get worse as retail chains like Gamestop become increasingly obsolete (publisher’s rely on retailers a lot to pre-sell their games), but if you’re looking for some classic examples of games that promised the world and came up well-short, these 10 are some of the worst offenders.
10. Assassin’s Creed Unity (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
The yearly development cycle of the popular Assassin’s Creed series finally showed significant signs of strain last year with Assassin’s Creed Unity, the 1st title in the franchise built exclusively for next gen hardware. Expectations were pretty high for the title, considering it had a new engine, an intriguing time period (The French Revolution), and was the follow-up to the pirate-themed Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, one of the best games in the series. When it came out in November 2014, Unity had a rough launch, to say the least. Numerous bugs and glitches made the game practically unplayable, but even with numerous updates that fixed some of the problems, the game itself was still not very good. While Unity’s recreation of Paris was visually impressive, the game’s story and characters weren’t very memorable, and large chunks of it were simply not as engaging as Black Flag. To top off the list of grievances, the game’s French characters not only didn’t speak French, but spoke with English accents — an oversight that really encompasses the lack of thought put into the entire game.
9. Too Human (Xbox 360)
If there’s a big lesson to take away from the debacle of Too Human‘s release, it’s that you should never announce a trilogy for something that hasn’t even been released yet. It took almost a decade for Silicon Knights to get their action RPG Too Human onto store shelves, originally slated for release on the PlayStation in 1999 before moving to the Nintendo GameCube, and finally, the Xbox 360. An ambitious project incorporating Norse mythology and science-fiction elements, Too Human was a major component of Microsoft’s early strategy for the 360 (hence, the planned trilogy). Unfortunately, after numerous delays, the final product that shipped in August 2008 fell far short of the lofty promises that Silicon Knights had been touting for years and years. The game was interesting conceptually, but was too short and didn’t play very well, and only managed to sell about 700, 000 copies; numbers that nowhere near justified a sequel being made, let alone 2.
8. Destiny (PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360)
Over-hyping Destiny couldn’t be avoided, considering the pedigree behind the game. The result of a much-publicized partnership between mega publisher Activision (Call of Duty) and Halo creators Bungie, Destiny was touted as the next big thing in 1st person shooters, with elements from the massively-multiplayer role-playing genre, and had a reported budget of $500 million to back it up. Released in September 2014, Destiny was praised for its gameplay mechanics and graphics, but fell short in a number of key areas. Most notably, the sci-fi storyline was atrocious by any metric, which was a surprise to many considering the game’s gigantic budget. Bungie has made numerous improvements since release, including frequent updates and additional content, but being widely considered the most disappointing game of 2014 was surely not what Activision and Bungie had intended.
7. Medal of Honor 2010 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Ever since Activision’s Call of Duty series became an unstoppable juggernaut thanks to 2007’s 1st Modern Warfare game, other big companies have wanted in on the action. Electronic Arts thought they had a contender with their Medal of Honor brand, a popular World War II series that was retooled as a modern shooter that had a very similar look and feel as Call of Duty. When the game was released in 2010, going toe-to-toe with that year’s new Call of Duty game, Black Ops, EA’s ploy was revealed to be exactly the kind of copycat experience critics had been expecting. On its own terms, Medal of Honor wasn’t a bad game and was a solid enough shooter to appeal to the Call of Duty crowd. Unfortunately, in every respect, it was an inferior experience, and just couldn’t match the quality or sales numbers of Activision’s franchise. A sequel, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, was released in 2012, but was somehow an even worse experience that effectively killed the series for the foreseeable future.
6. Watch Dogs (Multiple Systems)
Widely expected to be the next big thing in open world action games, thanks in no small part to an impressive demo at E3 2012, Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs had some pretty hefty expectations placed on it, especially with its distinction of being one of the 1st big titles revealed for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One generation. Although the finished product, released in May 2014, turned out well, it was lacking in a number of key areas and was largely considered to be inferior to the game that was promised. When compared to that E3 demo, which remains impressive even 3 years later, the game’s graphics left a lot to be desired, even on the most powerful PCs. Players were also disappointed to find that, while the innovative hacking gameplay that pre-release advertising focused on was still intact and functional, Watch Dogs was just as focused (if not more so) on gun combat and driving, which by then were standard fare in open world games.
5. Killzone (PS2)
In the early 2000s, the only name worth anything in 1st person shooters on consoles was Microsoft’s Halo. Everybody knew this and of course, everyone wanted a piece of the action. Enter Sony and their development team at Guerrilla Games, who publicly labeled their upcoming PS2 title, Killzone, “The Halo Killer.” Considering Halo‘s popularity at the time, and the fact that Halo 2 was still on the horizon, tossing around labels like that put Killzone‘s hype train into high gear. When the game finally came out on November 2, 2004, only 1 week before Halo 2, critics generally thought it was a good shooter…and that’s all. As good as Killzone was in its own right, it didn’t have Halo‘s number by any stretch of the imagination. Fortunately, the Killzone series has gone on to carve out its own niche as a reliably solid, beautiful set of shooters.
4. Homefront (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Video games are a fantastic medium for speculative fiction, particularly war games, where developers can dream up all kinds of “what-if” geopolitical scenarios. The 2011 shooter Homefront, from Kaos Studios, promised a particularly thrilling scenario with its depiction of a near-future invasion of the United States by North Korea. Early buzz detailed how the game would focus on an emotional, human-centric storyline, and that the game would feel similar to Half-Life 2, one of the greatest 1st person shooters ever made. Trying to live up to that kind of pedigree would be a tough order for any game and unfortunately, Homefront failed considerably. The game was too short and was unable to stand out from the crowded military shooter market. The much-touted emotional storytelling and atmosphere also didn’t make the impact that many had expected. Despite not living up the hype, a sequel is currently being worked on by Crytek, most known for the Crysis series, and is set for a 2016 release.
3. Spore (PC, Mac)
Spore was an incredibly ambitious game developed by Maxis and Will Wright, most famously known for The Sims series. The game is best described as a God simulator, where players can create pretty much any creature and watch them evolve. This kind of open-ended structure and seemingly limitless possibilities created enormous expectations that the finished product probably could have never lived up to. When Spore was released in September 2008, it received positive reviews from most outlets, but there were some key areas where the game missed the mark. Most notably, the main criticism leveled against Spore was that most of it was a shallow experience that didn’t feel focused enough and didn’t capitalize on its admittedly incredible creation tools. Spore was meant to be the next successor to The Sims, but considering Maxis was shuttered just this year, it seems unlikely that a sequel will be in the cards anytime soon.
2. Fable (Multiple Titles)
Fable is a role-playing series made by British developers Lionhead Studios exclusively for Microsoft gaming platforms. The series began on the original Xbox back in 2004 and has had several titles since then, all well-received in their own right. The problem many have had with Fable lies with the game’s lead designer Peter Molyneux, who took it upon himself to essentially promise the world with each of the titles. It’s become an annual tradition (and source of humor) to have each new Fable release followed by a series of public apologies by Molyneux for not delivering what he promised. The games have all been good in their own right, but Molyneux has put his foot in his mouth so many times that the reputation of the series has been tarnished as a result. Things got so bad that Moloneux told The Guardian in February 2015 that he would “never speak to the press again” about future games.
1. Duke Nukem Forever (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
Duke Nukem Forever became a running joke in the video game industry due to its incredible 15 year long development hell, which made it a bit of a surreal experience when it was finally released in 2011. Unfortunately for Duke Nukem, the industry had gone through enormous changes in the 15 years it took to see the light of day. The crass, misogynistic antics of Duke the character appealed to the simpler tastes of gamers of the mid-90s, but in 2011, he looked positively dated and inappropriate. The frat boy heroics of Duke may have been given a pass if the game itself was something special, but Forever looked and played like a game from 10 years prior. The level design and shooting mechanics were passable at best and not a whole lot of fun. Worst of all though was that after 15 years, Duke Nukem Forever didn’t have 1 thing to offer the gaming medium besides outdated potty humor; fitting, considering what a turd this game turned out to be.