It’s easy to avoid a game when you know it’s going to be bad. It’s a little more difficult to stay away when you have high expectations. These aren’t the worst games we played all year, but they are the ones that left a sour aftertaste because we expected better.
Here are Dork Shelf’s Most Disappointing Games of 2014:
Why is shooting a poor schmuck in the head the first thing I’m asked to do?
Why can’t I customize Aiden’s wardrobe? Do I have to look like a knock-off John Constantine? What kind of phone is Aiden Pearce using to hack security cameras and city infrastructure? Even if I believe he can make one, why don’t we ever see him use his technical skills? Why are we supposed to feel upset about Aiden’s sister and nephew not wanting to have anything to do with this psychopath?
Why on God’s green earth would a city centralize its entire digital infrastructure, leaving it vulnerable to attack? What kind of middling Rush Hour script did Jordi Chin come from? Why is the non-hacking content the same overdone gunplay and driving as Grand Theft Auto, except less precise and even less satisfying?
Why isn’t there a single good song on the radio?
How did Ubisoft manage to create such a gorgeous recreation of Chicago and waste it on Watch_Dogs?
Child of Light
Between the gorgeous hand-drawn art and the cute little fairy-tale story, Child of Light should have been right up my alley. But the rhyming! Oh my god, the rhyming. As part of the storybook style the entire game is written in verse, and it is bad, bad verse. This is a game that – in front of God and everybody – rhymes “eyes” with “advice”, “charity” with “tragedy”, “surprise” with “alive”, and “came” with “again”. The metre is all over the place and the script is full of bizarrely tortured lines like “The way up can you tell me?” It’s just excruciating.
I have to give Ubisoft some credit for going outside of its comfort zone and I wish more big studios would experiment with different styles. But if you’re going to release a twelve hour poem you had better make damn sure you’ve got your poetry game down.
Disney Infinity 2.0
Disney Infinity was a series I had wanted to try since it’s introduction the year before. I’d been drawn to Skylanders, but the idea of using beloved Disney characters made the toys-come-to-life genre that much more exciting.
When I started playing Infinity 2.0 I was immediately disappointed. The story-based missions were incredibly repetitive and the controls were abysmal. While I understand that it is a game meant for children, I can’t imagine why there was only one button used for attacking. The environments felt bare, the enemies were uninspired and there was too much emphasis on buying new figures to expand the game. I was really looking forward to playing this game, but instead it was a huge letdown.
As a fan of Alien, all I have ever wanted to do is play hide and seek with a Xenomorph on an abandoned spacecraft. With Alien: Isolation it seemed like Sega was finally about to make my scary dream a reality. Me versus alien, mono a Xeno.
Sadly, Sega missed the point entirely (classic Sega) with an Alien game it promised would capture the spirit of the original Ridley Scott film. To me, the Alien movies (even the bad ones) are about humanity, which is why the worst crime that can be committed in the franchise universe is to betray your own species to satiate greed. That being the case, when the first enemy encounter in an Alien game is with another human that I have no choice but to kill, I lose all investment.
With its human bloodlust, Alien: Isolation produced a disappointment that ate away at my insides and threatened to burst through my chest. It was so close to being perfect survival horror, but it succumbed to the pressures of a conventional gaming narrative that puts more importance on killing humans and destroying androids than outwitting a spaceborne menace. Throw in a few atmosphere-killing glitches and about six-too-many hours of gameplay and it adds up to one big game over.
Graphics aside, Watch_Dogs showed so much promise thanks to its hacking mechanic. Instead it delivered an open world experience full of unlikeable characters (literally every person you meet is annoying or useless), boring side quests, a frustrating final mission, and a protagonist whose motivation to avenge his niece’s death becomes more questionable very time he hacks into a bystander’s phone to steal their bank account. Aiden Pierce is no modern-day Robin Hood.
Watch_Dogs robbed me of my time and money in exchange for an uninspired, by-the-numbers experience. If you’re in the market for a sandbox game with the word “Dogs” in the title, skip this one and grab Sleeping Dogs instead.
Civilization: Beyond Earth
I’ve been with the series since Civilization II and I sank hundreds of hours into Alpha Centauri, so I pre-ordered Civilization: Beyond Earth as soon as it became available. Developer Firaxis repeatedly insisted that it would not be just a sci-fi reskin of Civilization V and I believed them.
There are some new mechanics in Beyond Earth, but the gameplay is way too familiar. When my rival leaders started using the exact same diplomacy phrases as they did in Civ V, I was finally forced to call bullshit. Beyond Earth still has the same “one more turn” appeal as any other Civ game, but it’s really just some glorified DLC.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity
Assassin’s Creed: Unity is not the worst game I played this year. Gods Will Be Watching was condescending, pretentious drivel and Bridge Constructor Medieval was mostly just dull. But neither of those outcomes was surprising. Assassin’s Creed is the one annual franchise that I actually look forward to, and Unity just did not live up to those lofty expectations.
For me, what was particularly disappointing was how empty the game felt despite the absurd amount of clutter scattered across Paris. Even though the main story was decent, the side quests are an itemized list of time sinks that are blatantly designed to maximize profit rather than engagement. I don’t mind wasting time – that’s how I spend most of my days in Assassin’s Creed – but I usually expect to get something in return, whether it’s a cool historical nugget or an expansive vista.
Paris has lots of stuff to do, but there isn’t any sense of mystery or wonder. It’s busywork, none of which makes me think the lovingly crafted city is worth exploring. I can forgive glitches and ambitious design decisions that don’t work out. But I can’t forgive such utter cynicism that assumes players will do anything simply because it’s there. Unity is disappointing because it lacks the joy that drew me to the franchise, and I can only hope that next year’s installment will be able to recover.