Hype is as much a part of the videogame industry as joypads, monitors and unpleasant people shouting at you in multiplayer matches. It’s no surprise then that sometimes hype machines spin magnificently out of control, writing cheques the games have no hope of cashing. Here are ten prime examples. Got your own? Add it in the comments below.
10. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
Finally, we thought, finally LucasArts have realised that at heart we are all childishly cruel; we don’t want to use The Force to flip switches, we want to use it to throw people in the air, crush them with boxes, side swipe them with Tie Fighters and whatever else our slightly deranged minds can think of. For the first few hours of The Force Unleashed everything was all right, but then the limitations set in, the poor design choices, the bit with the Star Destroyer. It was worse than the game being rubbish from the get go; the first few levels hyped the game further than any marketing campaign or cringeworthy slogan ever could. Next time, try making a whole game that lives up to the hype, not just half.
9. Night Trap
FMV was supposed to change the way we played games, offering the sort of spills and thrills that only movies had been able to up until then. What it actually offered, sadly, was stick straight linearity and bad acting. Just like a film, really. Night Trap caused controversy due to its girls in a house stalked by shadowy guys dressed in black who are actually vampires story line. What it should have caused controversy for is being abject rubbish. I could have included any of Digital Pictures’ offering in this list, but Night Trap gets the nod for having you play as a member of the Sega Control Attack Team. Or SCAT for short. Make of that what you will.
Oh, how I wish it could have lived up to the hype, then the world would be a better place and I’d be playing on a Dreamcast 2, not weeping in a corner, whispering about the good old days. Rose tinted spectacles cast aside, Shenmue was very few of the things that it claimed to be. In fact, on some levels, it wasn’t even very good. Hailed as a revolution in storytelling and immersion, what it delivered was an ambling, unfocused narrative that never quite gripped, interspersed with scenes of real life drudgery and kitten petting. Shenmue managed to do two things: kill Sega’s hardware division and popularise Quick Time Events. Thanks, Shenmue. Thanks a bunch.
7. Virtual Boy
The first real Nintendo flop, a system that was supposed to bring virtual reality 3D style headset gaming to the masses, but in actuality was discontinued after less than a year on shop shelves and never even made it to Europe. You could argue that it was before its time, but that sounds like a coverall for ‘it was a bit rubbish’. Prohibitively expensive, lacking any decent games, the Virtual Boy didn’t offer anything revolutionary enough to justify pulling on a painful TV hat and playing monochrome, 3D versions of games you could play without straining your eyes. It did introduce the now standard dual control interface to allow players to navigate 3D environments, but it did it so half heartedly it’s not worth mentioning.
Dragons! Flying! The developers of the Rogue Squadron series! What could possibly go wrong? Six Axis! Oh. Lair was one of Sony’s flock of killer apps that didn’t kill, promising gallons of awesome but coming up with little more than a dribble of meh. The main problem: motion control. Nintendo’s Wii may be called a gimmick by some, but at least the big N saw it through. Six Axis felt tacked on and unwieldy, never more so than in Lair. The worst thing, as with all of these games, is how good it could have been. There are analogue sticks staring at you as you wave your arms around, shouting at the screen, their plastic-y eyes mocking you: “You wish you were using me, don’t you? Well, you can’t. So there.” Controller exit stage left, Lair enters the list.
Acorns. It always comes back to the acorns, and I suspect it always will. Fable was a good game, but if Peter Molyneux was to be believed, it was the single greatest game anyone had ever made ever; it would revolutionise the way we interacted with our digital entertainment, allowing us to tell the story of our hero character from little ‘un to aged and battle scarred legend. The boast was you could plant an acorn and watch it grow into a mighty oak as the game went on. You couldn’t; indeed, you couldn’t do much of what was promised. There was still a lot of fun to be had, but it was more of a polished version of what had come before and not a brand new beginning. Our worlds were not rocked, our trees did not grow, but we did not mind that much.
I don’t want you to think I’m just PS3 bashing here, but this is another prime example of the Sony hype machine spinning furiously, only for the end product to be a lacklustre muddle. Everything was in Haze‘s favour: an excellent developer, a healthily long development process and a console lacking any real competition. What came out was a dull, but pretty, waste of time so generic that even its mother couldn’t have picked it out of a line-up of space marine shooters. The tragedy of Haze‘s story is that, in its commercial failure, it killed off Free Radical. Haze was dull, but it was the studio’s first less than excellent game. It’s a cutthroat world out there, kids, and don’t you forget it.
3. Enter The Matrix
A movie game that wasn’t just a shoddy riff on the film’s main story, but rather an extension, exploring hitherto unseen plot points, Enter The Matrix offered an unparalleled level of crossover, and was whispered to be the first game of a movie to be worth buying. Of course, it wasn’t. It was a rushed mess with abysmal controls and dead eyed character models that looked like the painted death masks of their big screen counterparts. The story did go further into the Matrix mythology, but all it dug up was boredom and a level of incomprehensibility that even the gibbering sequels would have been proud of. When the main selling point of a game is a passionless ‘lesbian’ kiss between two lesser characters from a terrible film, you know it’s time to give up developing and move into fan-fiction.
2. Too Human
Hyped since the dawn of time, Too Human seemed destined to rest in development hell, battered by lawsuits, engine changes and platform leaps. It was billed as a revolution in RPGs, with a choice system to rival even Bioware, endless customisation options and a story that would fill not one, but three epic games. Then it came out, and it was a loot-em-up with somewhere between little and nothing to add to a genre that was pretty much perfected with Diablo. The game basically flopped, despite the ongoing protestations of designer Denis Dyack, despite the sort of hype machine you’d expect from a game that reportedly cost 80 million dollars to make. That’s a lot of money for a game that doesn’t do what it said it was going to do. In fact, that’s a lot of money for a game that does.
Hype as we know it really began with Daikatana. Time magazine covered the game’s development, obscure posters proclaiming how the lead designer would make you “his bitch”, featuring no reference to the game itself, were released and by the time it actually came out, most gamers were already sick of it. The game treated release dates like guesstimates, and when it did finally arrive, three years late, running on technology that was already out of date and featuring shoddy AI and frustratingly poor design, it went down in history as one of the biggest flops ever. Quite rightly too. It was a terrible game, a vanity project for John Romero and a classic example of reach exceeding talent.
The moral of the story? Never believe the hype.
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