Over the long course of gaming history, there have been a lot of bad games; titles like Too Human and E.T. for the Atari 2600 have had notoriously negative receptions and connotations over the years. But bad games are easy to find, especially in today’s age. With platforms like Steam and programs like Kickstarter, ambitious games that would otherwise never have seen the light of day are being released on a regular basis. And for every great indie project like Limbo and Braid, there are literally hundreds of indie games that many of us have never played because they just don’t measure up. However, this list isn’t just going to be covering bad games, because plenty of games fail. Games that fail miserably are games that had nothing but potential going into their development, either because of the companies behind them or the names associated with them, games that would seemingly have to literally try to fail. Here are five games that failed miserably despite themselves.
Game of Thrones
This may seem like a surprising way to start off the list, but you have to consider the context of this game’s release date and development cycle. First of all, there’s the television show. Shortly after its premiere episode, Game of Thrones swept the nation, and even the world. The continent of Westeros and the many houses and characters therein captured the hearts of viewers, and then almost immediately ripped them out with the whole Ned Stark incident. Additionally, the gaming world was primed and receptive to fantasy games, with Capcom’s upcoming Dragon’s Dogma and BioWare’s incredibly successful Dragon Age: Origins. Cyanide, the developer behind Game of Thrones literally just had to make Dragon Age: Origins and set it in Westeros. Gamers didn’t need any fantastic, innovative mechanics. All fans wanted was the chance to inhabit Westeros in a fun fantasy game. What they got was a shoddy game loaded with bugs, abysmal audio mixing, and graphics that looked like they hadn’t evolved since development of the game had started nearly seven years prior. Cyanide just had to deliver an otherwise average game and let George R.R. Martin’s fantastic world and stories carry the weight. Instead, players got a game that was barely playable, and whose otherwise fantastic story could not be experienced through the chore of playing it.
Perfect Dark Zero
The original Perfect Dark released at a time when first person shooters were experiencing a tidal wave of momentum thanks to the N64 release of GoldenEye. The momentum continued into the next generation with games like TimeSplitters and Halo: Combat Evolved. Fans of the genre and the Perfect Dark franchise were thrilled when Rare announced the sequel for the GameCube. Perfect Dark Zero had even more potential when Rare was acquired by Microsoft, shifting the game to the more powerful Xbox console. After an even longer delay, gamers learned that they would be seeing the highly-anticipated title as a launch title for the Xbox 360, Microsoft’s flagship into the next generation. This is primarily why the game deserves a spot on this list. Certainly Perfect Dark Zero wasn’t a terrible game and garnered more than one positive review, but it had so much more going for it than just being a “good game.” With the success of Perfect Dark back when it first released and the unique position of ushering in the next generation of gaming, people were expecting to be positively blown away. After all, the last time Microsoft shipped an FPS as a release title, it was of course nothing other than Halo: Combat Evolved.
Star Wars Galaxies
Developed by Sony Online Entertainment and published by LucasArts, Star Wars Galaxies certainly had some strong names behind it in the gaming world. As if that weren’t enough, it had the added bonus of featuring the words “Star” and “Wars” in its title. There are literally less than a dozen things in the world that gamers have perennially wanted to do than play as a Jedi. It is entirely because of this fact that many Star Wars games have been predisposed to success even before releasing. While there are certainly bad Star Wars games hanging around (Seriously: There. Are. Plenty.), I can’t think of a single one that has had such a remarkable amount of failure relative to the amount of projected success. Keep in mind that this was the first Star Wars MMO, released in a time where it was supposed to compete with the king of the genre, World of Warcraft. Not only was the game riddled with bugs and graphical errors, but the game pretty much featured any kind of programming failure imaginable. Moreover, Star Wars Galaxies also had the bizarre distinction of rewarding players with the ability to become Jedi at seemingly completely random times. It was later revealed that players needed to earn Master level in four professions, but precisely which professions were completely unknown to the player. So think about this: you have to put any form of questing or progression on hold so that you can randomly level up professions that may or may not allow you to become a Jedi. Fantastic.
Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)
It was around the time of this game’s release that longtime Sonic fans began to lose hope that a good Sonic game would ever be released. There are some that simply believe Sonic has no place in a 3D world, and perhaps they’re right, but that’s no reason for a game to be completely unplayable. The amount of times that I flew through walls that I assumed were solid and died is enough to make steam come out of my ears even seven years later. Combined with the fact that Shadow the Hedgehog, my favorite character of the series, turned into a shoddy excuse for Crazy Taxi and I had to play as some weird psychic albino hedgehog from the future… Well, the only way I would’ve been more skeptical is if you had told me Sonic was going to turn into a werehog one day. Not only was the game basically unplayable even during the stages that should’ve been about fast-paced Sonic Speed action, the city portion of the game would have the average gamer breaking his controller after the fifth loading screen. If you never played it, take my word: this game had loading screens for its loading screens. I pity anyone who actually tried to play this game. It’s just… it’s no use.
Duke Nukem Forever
Holy crap. There was a time I used to joke about this game ever being released. I used it in the same way people say “when pigs fly.” I would say something like “yeah, Blizzard will balance Death Knights on the same day that Duke Nukem Forever is released. Unfortunately, that day came. I remember playing WoW one day after the game was released, and I got into a beef with someone in general chat about how bad it would be. This clown maintained that I could keep playing my mage on that stupid dying MMO while he would be enjoying “the greatest game ever created.” I gain no happiness from being as right as I was about how disappointing this game would be. Gearbox did more than just release a bad game: it destroyed an entire franchise. One of the most iconic and beloved characters in all of video gaming’s history, whose recognizable voice has ripped off plenty of sayings and turns of phrase, is now a laughing stock throughout the entire industry. And this was after the tug-of-war that the game’s development cycle played with gamers’ heartstrings. The development of Duke Nukem Forever was so horrendous, so involved, that it has its own Wikipedia page, which covers 14 years of tribulations of the game. After all that time, the game finally released to dated graphics, clunky controls, and sophomoric humor that simply doesn’t have a place in the modern world.
There’s not enough time in the day to list all the games in the world that have flopped, but it takes a very special group of people to fail with icons like Duke Nukem and Sonic the Hedgehog. Sure, Superman 64 holds a special place in the ire of gamers, but it’s not as though anybody expected much from that game to begin with. I came up with the five games I thought were the biggest disappointments relative to their perceived success. These games were the video game industry equivalent of “too big to fail.” Yet, fail they did. Be sure to let me know in the comments if there was something I missed.