2014 has been a great year in games, or has it? The end of the year is a time to look back and celebrate the achievements of the year, but here’s our list of things that didn’t quite hit the mark.
5. Little love for Vita at E3 and Gamescom
This comes first on the list only because it, sadly, effects so few. In August, Vita fans were left out in the cold when Sony’s handheld actually lost exclusives during the main PlayStation conference at Gamescom, as flagship title Tearaway was revealed to be making its way on to PS4. Although not as bad as initially made out due to the console’s notable presence on the show floor, the Vita’s omission had many fans proclaiming its death, with May’s sluggish port of Borderlands 2 sounding the death knell for Western AAAs on-the-go.
Personally, every conversation I have about the Vita seems to be paradoxical. People sing its praises, but just aren’t satisfied. They always start with, “I love my Vita, I play ‘x’ and ‘y’ all the time and I’m really looking forward to ‘z’. But there’s just no games coming out.” Maybe it’s a problem of potential. The Vita feels wasted as a second screen for the PS4, simply because it can produce such brilliant experiences as Persona 4: The Golden, Danganronpa and Gravity Rush.
4. Back from the grave
Thief is the epitome of the disappointing comeback. The exalted PC favourite, known for its non-linear stealth gameplay and sharp characterisation, failed to live up its name when it released in February. Published by Square-Enix, Thief 2014 stifled players by diverging from its sprawling roots in an attempt to modernise and deliver a more focussed experience, taking elements of the past and elements of the future, but ending up with something not quite as good as either.
A competent open city with solid mechanics, an interesting story and a dash of old-school pedigree were just what the fledgling consoles needed, but, unfortunately, isn’t what they got. Of all the franchises out there, you’d think Thief would had the skills to break out of the launch window, but this caper never got off the ground, feeling both clunky and convoluted in equal measure.
3. & 2. Victims of the hype machine
Next up is a mini section within the list, reserved for two landmark titles that promised to change the face of gaming forever. Releases that promised to shake-up the landscape and usher in a new era of expansive, ever-connected experiences. You guessed it, I’m talking about the most expensive game ever, Destiny, and its “iconic” AAA compatriot, Watch_Dogs. These games make it so high up the list because they’ve managed to carve out a special niche for themselves, where, despite being two of the best games I’ve played all year, are still tainted with the bitter tinge of disappointment.
Above all else, Destiny proves that gameplay is still king. The minute-to-minute is rock solid, with superbly implemented gunfights that are tactical and engrossing, it’s just a shame that everything else feels so superficial and nebulous. The environments, despite their gorgeous shine and polish, feel sterile and lifeless.
The story is throwaway and weakened by constant repetition. Keith Stuart of The Guardian summed it up perfectly when he said “Destiny, isn’t just set in space, it is an allegory of space. It is beautiful and fascinating, but oh so cold and immense, and the past engulfs everything.” Activision have been very public about their ten year plan for the franchise, that will include a trilogy of games with expansion packs. But based on its debut, Destiny hasn’t got the legs for even a tenth of that.
Watch_Dogs courted controversy from the outset, by releasing disingenuous trailers that were unrepresentative of gameplay. If you’re going to promise more than you know you can deliver, that’s only ever going to be met with disappointment and anger. Putting that to one side however, Watch_Dogs still failed to live up to the lofty standards it set for itself.
Billed as a totally new type of game, early previews of Ubisoft’s May blockbuster suggested a living, breathing game world unlike any other, with crimes happening in real time for The Vigilante to seek out and crack. When it arrived, after a lengthy delay, Watch_Dogs was brilliant. But brilliant wasn’t good enough. What we got was a great third person open world action-adventure, but one that fell short of taking next-gen a step above anything we’d ever seen before. A step we’re still waiting for.
This Autumn/Winter, nothing seemed to work. Chock full of AAA releases, the fall calendar again promised so much, but let many players down. We got a racing MMO with no online in Volition’s Driveclub. The titular “crews” in Ubisoft’s The Crew had to be patched in. The loving recreation of revolutionary Paris in Assassin’s Creed: Unity was a little more bare-faced than intended. Halo’s Master Chief collection had online matchmaking in name only. Bugs galore in Little Big Planet 3 make SackBoy do his frowny face. Day one patches have become a crutch, and nowhere is that more apparent than this year’s holiday release schedule. Nothing is more disappointing than when your excitement turns to frustration as something you’ve been looking forward to simply doesn’t work. Whether it’s due to increased pressure to stick to tight development cycles, a diminished sense of accountability from publishers, any other reason or a combination of them all, hopefully lessons have been learnt from these failures and the backlash has been sufficient to keep this from happening with such frequency in a short time again.
Happily, it’s not all doom and gloom. This year has seen some stellar releases that deserve your attention far more than the bad ones. Look out for OnlySP’s end of year round-ups for more on the best of the best.