With 2016 in the rearview mirror, it's time to look back at the games that came out last year and talk through which ones stuck with us. Over the next two weeks we'll discuss the games that really stood out in 2016—for good and bad reasons.
Today we are looking at the most disappointing game of 2016. We eliminated No Man's Sky because that was the low hanging fruit of 2016 when it comes to gamer disappointment. Instead of piling on, we wanted to look at the other things that let gamers down last year. Keep in mind that these are the opinions of the individual writers and what one writer may find disappointing may be a game of the year for another.
The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift both had major issues with their pricing and delivery. Delays hit both HMDs with the Oculus Rift getting the brunt of the criticism. The pricing for the Oculus Rift, among other things, caused me to switch from buying it to picking up the HTC Vive instead. Even though it was a few hundred dollars more, HTC Vive didn’t set my expectations of a price (see Luckey Palmer’s "in the ballpark" comment), and it provided a more complete VR experience for me with room-scale capability. And for those that did order both, getting it in your hands was another challenge. The Oculus Rift had many major issues with distribution and the HTC Vive had some minor ones as well. In the end, both are great pieces of tech, but getting one in the first place was a disappointing scenario.
Firewatch - Oh man, what a let-down. I’m already skeptical of walking simulators—I don’t consider them to be real games in the technical sense—but I was hoping that Firewatch’s artistic and storytelling pedigree would save it from being another pretense party. Walking simulators live and die on their story, and Firewatch lives fast and dies awkwardly. The beautiful environments, heartbreaking early game buildup, clever exposition, and creepy mystery really got me invested. But then Firewatch painfully squanders all of that in the last hour or so. That’s a real problem when your “game” is only four hours long and has the temerity to cost $20.
From the lame late-game twist to the anemic way both major characters never really learn anything, the end-game is flatter, staler, and more pretentious than week-old microbrew. There isn’t even a denouement. This might be satisfying to a nihilism-minded gamer, but Firewatch was written by the creative leads on Telltale’s The Walking Dead. I fully expected Firewatch’s conclusion to stick the knife in, twist it, and leave me sobbing uncontrollably. Instead I was groaning and rolling my eyes. I understand if Campo Santo wanted to go with a more realistic approach, where characters are flawed and refuse to grow—I could deal with something more nuanced. But the laughably implausible twist spoils the mystery and the abrupt ending feels like the writers gave up before even getting started. The result feels distinctly like a term paper that was hammered out six hours before it was due. It’s been a while since I’ve felt so thoroughly ripped off.
Dark Souls III - My most disappointing game is one that I have only recently admitted was a disappointment: Dark Souls III. Dark Souls is my favorite game of all time, and I had a lot riding on this most recent addition, which I believe fell sightly flat in nearly every aspect. That's not to say it's a bad game—it's not—but it only came in just over par. No aspect of the game was as good as I wanted it to be, particularly the narrative. That sounds ridiculous when talking about Dark Souls, but I'm one of those that got super into the lore of everything in the previous two entries, and Dark Souls III failed on a lot of promised to complete the narrative. That, combined with weird covenants, gameplay issues (where's the poise?), and a host of other minor issues left it falling short of what I expected. It's a solid game, but it wasn't the ending the series deserved.
Mirrors Edge: Catalyst - The original Mirror's Edge is fantastic. Everything from the music, the gameplay, the parkour platforming, and the atmosphere was such a unique experience that myself, along with all of the other fans, couldn't wait for a sequel. Years ago, EA announced that a new Mirror's Edge game was on the way and I couldn't have been happier. Skip to 2016 and Mirror's Edge: Catalyst couldn't leave me more disappointed. The reason the original game works so well is because it's essentially a first-person platforming game. This means that each level is carefully crafted, making you think about how you need to get through each level. This all goes out the window with Catalyst. The first problem with Catalyst is that they decided to go open world. The world of Mirror's Edge: Catalyst is so incredibly boring that it actually makes the running and parkour a chore. Having to run to one end of the map to the other gets old incredibly fast. Add in the fact that this game is a reboot, which is not necessary whatsoever. They added a weak backstory for Faith, added a bunch of side characters that are incredibly obnoxious and unlikable, and gave us a predictable, paint by numbers story. Not only is Mirror's Edge: Catalyst be my biggest disappointment of 2016, it's one of my biggest disappointments in a long time.
Metroid Prime: Federation Force - I haven't really played any games this year that I didn't like. Most of the games I reviewed I gave at least an 8 (yeah, I'm the optimistic kind of reviewer that tries to see the best in everything). But out of the ones I looked at I'd have to put Metroid Prime: Federation Force here. That's not to say the game is bad. I enjoyed my outing, but the disappointment I had would be that it just didn't feel like a Metroid game. The game is good, but it feels like they just took some other game and slapped the Metroid title on it. On top of that it feels like it was designed to be multiplayer, as some missions can be rather difficult to take on solo—even the earlier missions. As a Metroid fan, I'm not disappointed in the game itself, but rather that it's marketed as a Metroid game while not quite feeling like one.
The Division - It has to be The Division. I hear it's doing well since the most recent major patches were dropped but—too little too late. Released a year after Destiny showed up, the development team behind The Division had no excuse not to produce a polished and enjoyable game. Instead, us faithful were given bullet sponges and terrible loot mechanics. Yawn. I really don't want to waste anymore time on this game. Next.
Doom - This is one of those games that, I am going to preface, is excellent. I think it's an incredibly well-made game. But...Doom. I bought into everyone's hype, and I'm about halfway through the game right now, and I could not be more bored. The gameplay is super simplistic, although pretty satisfying, but I've ran through the gameplay loop a few too many times already. Enter room, mow down enemies, do glory kills if my health is low, move on to next set piece. I've done all the challenges I've encountered, and done a fair amount of exploring and found a good number of collectibles, and I fully intend to finish the game, but I think I bought into the hype a little too much on this one.
Street Fighter V was just one disappointment after another. Ultimately the game is better now that we're in Season 2, but Street Fighter V has gone through nothing but endless growing pains since its launch. From the anemic gameplay options at launch, to all the competitive muck-ups that this game has (Kanzuki Estate being a banned stage, input-delay shenanigans), it has been a tough year for Capcom's venerable fighting franchise. I'm hoping Season 2 is able to repair some of the damage that this launch has caused, but I fear it may be too little too late. Ultimately Capcom is going to be fine, though, thanks to the competitive community that this game has fostered, and I can only hope that this game can last as long as Street Fighter IV did.
Honorable Mention: This isn't dedicated to any particular game, but how about that PSVR launch line-up? Outside of Rez, Thumper, and a few other titles, there hasn't really been a killer app for the PSVR that makes it a must-have add-on for the PS4.
Pokemon GO - To be honest, I didn't come across a bunch of disappointments this year, and there's definitely not anything that I would label only as a disappointment. That being said, if I had to pick one that wasn't No Man's Sky, I guess it would be Pokemon GO. I actually really liked this game for multiple reasons, many of them nostalgic, and the door was opened for a huge success. However, the many issues with development marred the experience, paired with the fact that Niantic was pretty slow in addressing them—at times even making them worse. (Let's talk about those footsteps they had at launch, for instance.) Again, good game, but it ended up being more of a fad than a long-term game. When it becomes a bit easier to play without having to travel to a big city, I'll probably pick it up again.
FIFA 2017 - For me, it's FIFA, again. Last year FIFA 16 was my most disappointing game and this year I'll give it to FIFA 17. I even tried to wait until the price dipped to $30 on Black Friday to stave off any over-exuberance but still the game failed to deliver on three key points: lack of depth, shameless milking of microtransactions, and removing features from previous iterations. The game is still seeking to slowly add new leagues but only looks to add shallowly across nations rather than provide any real depth within. This year we get the J-League from Japan, but outside of England have very little in the way of lower division clubs. FIFA is a game where you can only start at the top, never live the fantasy of rising from the bottom. Even the Journey, the ham-fisted story mode tacked on as the big new feature only lets you start as a Premiere League player. All you need to do is play the demo of the Journey and watch your nobody get plucked off the bench in a crucial match over the Zlatan to know that setting is ridiculous. If you want to go from rags to riches you have to include rags in the game. Then you've got the repeat of the worst trophy/achievement in gaming history, Trial of Power. A trophy only 8% of the playing population can get that not only requires elite skill but has a giant financial barrier to entry that conveniently can be overcome by spending real money. Add that to the fact that the pre-order free pack bonuses for FUT were the worst ever, even removing free packs from the Standard edition entirely and you can get an idea how hard EA is milking FUT for every greedy cent. Overlooking all this because of a good group of friends that wanted to play Pro Clubs, I caved and bought the game anyway. Started creating my pro only to find Game Face had been quietly removed. Argh!
Abzu- Probably Abzu. Not because it isn’t beautiful, because the artist from Journey made sure Abzu is beautiful. And not because it isn’t lovely to listen to, because the composer from Journey made sure Abzu's music is beautiful, too. It's because, as a whole, Abzu too obviously won't break out of Journey’s mould. The surreal line between water and light, the ancient murals, the scarf-like streaks flowing behind you, and the enormity of sea life (simply less abstracted) turned this all-too-spiritual sequel into too much of a knockoff instead of an original journey.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.