The 2016 Gaming Disappointment of the Year
Video games may seem unimportant when compared to the many other ways 2016 was a screaming disaster of a year, but it can pack an extra sting when the games we look forward to for years and plan on using for stress relief and escapism end up falling flat.
Disappointment in the gaming landscape touched properties both new and old, with gamers lamenting the early death of the Wii U, the seemingly endless frustrations of The Division, and the sad crunch of Battleborn under the tank treads of Overwatch.
After much deliberation and sadness, here are our choices for the biggest gaming disappointments of 2016.
Runner-up: Star Fox Zero
The first real new Star Fox game in far too long landed with a sad thud on Wii U, trying and failing to capture the fun we've all been waiting for since StarFox 64. Our review called out "muddled controls, uninspired missions and poorly designed vehicles" as major shortcomings of the game, and while there was some fun to be had despite the problems it was a far cry from what most had hoped it would be (and not enough to give the Wii U a boost in what would turn out to be its final year of production).
Star Fox 64, the last real classic in the series, came out in 1997, which means we're rapidly approaching 20 years without a worthy successor to the Star Fox name. With the new Nintendo Switch console on the horizon fans will undoubtedly be hoping for another, better Star Fox title some time in the next few years, but how long can a franchise survive on pure nostalgia?
Runner-up: Mighty No. 9
A game has to be pretty dang disappointing to get fans talking about whether it qualifies as a con, but that's just how badly Mighty No. 9 let people down. The gaming community waited through delay after delay for the heir to Mega Man to finally emerge, and what they got instead was an uninspired mess that was "absolutely dreadful to look at," to quote our review (which features one of the lowest scores we've ever given a game).
If Star Fox Zero is an example of how disappointing it can be when an established franchise lets fans down, then Mighty No. 9 is a warning to all nostalgic gamers that crowdfunding "spiritual successors" to the games they loved from bygone eras is a risky proposition. For every success story like Pillars of Eternity there are games that don't make it to release or, perhaps even worse, release in such a flawed fashion that they risk tarnishing the legacy of the titles that "inspired" them.
Runner-up: The Last Guardian
While The Last Guardian is a fine game in many ways, it bore the burden of ten years of development time and hype, and the final result suffered from dated design choices and uneven visuals. Our review pointed out that it's hard to see anything about the title that required such a lengthy design process, and if it only could have been released on the PS3 it might have been regarded as a success, rather than a letdown.
We've already discussed whether it's fair to take the "hype" surrounding a game into account when reviewing it, but outside of editorial coverage, in the hands of average gamers, it will be impossible for many players to ignore the game's shortcomings. Though the lovable Trico is full of personality, his lack of responsiveness makes tasks that should be quick and simple frustrating and tedious, resulting in artificial difficulty that can often be aggravating. The game also suffers from an identity crisis at times, establishing itself as a methodical puzzle-platformer only to break its own rules in ways that feel unfair rather than refreshing.
If The Last Guardian had no anticipation built up around it, it's hard to say if it would have garnered much attention at all upon release. As it is, it's a fine game with just enough hints of what it could have been to be a big disappointment.
Winner (or whatever): No Man's Sky
Talk about a roller coaster ride! No game's reputation has had more dramatic swings in 2016 than No Man's Sky, as it moved from one of the industry's most hotly anticipated titles through a rough launch and even worse post-launch period, before finally bouncing back with a major surprise update that improved things so much it had some in our offices arguing that the title no longer belonged on our Disappointment list at all.
Like everything else on this list, No Man's Sky was a victim of the hype machine that consumes everyone involved in the game industry, from publishers to journalists to fans. During the months following the game's initial release the associated subreddit tore itself apart with arguments between those who labeled the game a failure that the developers had already abandoned and those who held out hope of brighter days to come. The developers remained strangely silent during this dark period, which only served to fan the flames of doubt.
No Man's Sky has delivered on much of its initial promise with its recent Foundation update, but that can't erase the major PR failures surrounding the game's hype, launch, and post-launch periods. The features actually present in the game should have been communicated more clearly prior to release, and afterwards fans should have been reassured through official channels that work was still being done to add content to the title. Games like Star Citizen have managed to preserve goodwill through lengthy development processes largely through fan communication, providing glimpses into upcoming features and soliciting input from the community. Signs point towards No Man's Sky following this path in the post-Foundation age, so it can still bounce back from its rough launch, but it may take a while for fans to forget the disappointment swirling around the game for much of 2016.
Here's to a better 2017, No Man's Sky.