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11/19/2019

21 Most Disappointing Games of the Decade (2010 - 2019)

As usual for these lists, keep in mind that I have played every single game released over the last decade on every platform imaginable, from the OUYA to the PS4 to obscure Atari Jaguar demoscene productions, to spare you the trouble of telling me I forgot something. Please, hold your applause.

HM. Death Stranding (Kojima Productions, 2019)

It's becoming all too common that a game builds up hype just based on some vague trailer elements and the prestige of its head developer, but then when it comes time to deliver, what we get is underproduced, overlong for the sake of appeasing its publisher and generally just not very fun to experience.  Death Stranding is all that with a healthy dose of pretense on top, putting a story rife with Kojima's trademark unpleasant-strangeness-for-the-sake-of-it into a game world that, simply put, is little more than an empty landscape for you to traverse.  Sure, you need to plant ropes and ladders to cross over some spots of terrain and deal with the occasional hazard in the form of MULES (raiders) and BTs (creepy ghosts), but for the most part you're just walking from one point to the next, tediously having to re-arrange your inventory every time you pick up something or acquire new supplies to complete your next mission.  The fact that the game is seemingly more interested in spouting flat exposition and showing off all of Sam's various bodily functions in detail than providing anything actually interesting to do, as well as the fact that you're completing missions and laying down waypoints for other players to earn validation in the form of empty "likes" feels more than a bit cynical, not to mention spiteful, toward its audience.  Oh, and the whole forced symbolism of the baby and having Guillermo del Toro in the game isn't lost on me either; it's just a big middle finger toward Kojima's old employers for cancelling their Silent Hills reboot, which seems just a touch unprofessional no matter how much your old bosses sucked.  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Hideo Kojima is free of Konami's horrible working environment and able to create his own passion projects again after years of being forced to milk every last dime out of Metal Gear when he wanted to be done with it ages ago, but if they're just going to amount to the same empty busywork on a backdrop of bitterness and cynicism as the later Metal Gear games, I'm fine with not purchasing any more of them.  Moreso when he can't come up with an idea for an premise beyond "Edgy Version of Kevin Costner's Postman with the directing sensibility of Andy Warhol".  Christ, at least when he was plagiarizing from Deus Ex, he was cribbing ideas from something with some actual prestige behind it...

21: God of War (SIE Santa Monica Studio, 2018)

I've made no secret of the fact that I've never been a fan of God of War's tiresome melee combat or its "edgy murder man roar" protagonist, so I wasn't really interested when I heard a new one was coming out.  But when I later learned that it would be more plot-driven and have Kratos in a more centered, human role, it caught my eye.  And indeed, the game does show this well early on, with father and son untertaking a tragic personal journey to lay a family member's ashes to rest.  Shame, then, that it quickly takes a backseat to tedious combat and repeated puzzles that drag on about forty-five hours too long.  You see a ton of the same half-dozen enemies and they never get any more fun to fight, side-quests feel pointless as they almost never have any tangible reward (even Kratos comments that they're a waste of time, which doesn't speak well to the dev team's enthusiasm for them either), combat has virtually no variety until roughly halfway through the game (and even then it's still very samey), and I generally just got completely sick of it well before I ever saw the end.  This is what happens when you combine an inspired visual experience with a complete lack of imagination on the gameplay or writing side of things and a publisher-mandated length quota.

20. The Last Story (Mistwalker, 2012)

Final Fantasy and Square Enix were definitely on a downward slope throughout most of the 2000s, but surely the guy who originally wrote and produced the Final Fantasy series could make a worthy successor to its format, right? ...Well, no.  If Lost Odyssey was a poor man's Final Fantasy X (which was already an awful game, by the way), this one is a poor man's Final Fantasy XIII, highlighting just how much of a one-trick pony Sakaguchi really is.  With clunky, poorly explained and confusing mechanics, bad party AI, a messy narrative, a thoroughly obnoxious and unlikable cast compounded with terrible acting every step of the way, and tons of lag and framerate issues due to being shoehorned onto Wii hardware, it's just a bad experience all around. There is little surprise that Mistwalker has mostly moved into making low-stakes mobile games after this one.

19. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (Platinum Games, 2013)

Metal Gear Solid 4 was definitely a low point of the series for me, taking what was a grim yet ultimately compelling and optimistic tale and turning it into a showcase of human misery and senseless cruelty stuffed with more scenery chewing and glaring plot holes than Battlefield Earth.  It was clear Kojima's mind was on finally sending off the series so he could work on his own pet projects again, even if it meant burying it under a mean-spirited mockery of the franchise and its fans. But if 4 took the Metal Gear series into farce, Rising travels even further on that downward spiral and turns it into a full-blown parody of itself.  The whole thing just feels like a ten-year old's bad fan fiction with a budget, turning the relatable reluctant soldier character of Raiden into an OTT anime antihero who thoughtlessly racks up a bigger, messier body count than your average Rambo film in every level while the villains ham it up so much you half-expect them to announce how they're going to set their sights on Eternia once they're done here.  The physics and collision detection are awkwardly weird and floaty, action is too one-note and tedious to be fun for more than a few minutes, and while it is impressive that you can chop up almost anything in the environment into tiny pieces, that novelty wears thin when you realize it's not actually used for anything interesting gameplay-wise - just as a gruesome fight finisher which, again, gets tiring after the millionth time you've seen it.  MGS4 may have let me down as a book-end to the series, but Revengeance made me question whether Metal Gear was ever really any good to begin with.

18. Divinity Original Sin (Larian Studios, 2014)

This one caught my eye for being a PC-exclusive RPG at first (likely freeing it from the trappings of dumbed-down dreck like Mass Effect and Dragon Age) and for featuring some clever mechanics -  using fire on pools of water to create scalding steam, teleporting enemies into traps, curing zombies of poison to stop their regeneration, et cetera.  Somehow, though, they had a lot of ideas, but no clue how to actually make any of them fun.  The game's UI feels sluggish and poorly optimized (I tried to single-click an icon and ended up getting it caught on my mouse cursor as if I'd clicked and held too many times to count), having your characters constantly argue with one another and choosing every line of dialog between the both of them to build stats and skills is inane and silly, the script is trite, badly written and punctuated with numerous typos and grating acting from everyone involved, and stuff like breaking down/burning down doors to bypass quest requirements is often just a waste of time ("Hm, do I waste 4 swords and 15 minutes breaking down this level 25 door, or just go find the key?").  Item crafting, as in most games where it appears, is a bloated and tedious chore just made to pad out the game with endless boring scavenger hunts. Combat is also far too frequent and overly monotonous, meaning its clever gimmicks just get to be tiresome before long.  Just a lousy experience overall.  The main difference between this and the rest of this mediocre franchise, far as I can tell, is that they had some crowdfunding money laying around to buy positive press from gaming rags.

17. Metroid: Other M (Team Ninja/Nintendo, 2010) 

Who asked for Metroid to go from being an action-platformer that basked in its eerie atmosphere and secret-hunting to a bad character action game?  I don't know, but Team Ninja gladly volunteered to tarnish the franchise's legacy and now we all have to live with it.  Moreso because they decided to force you to use the Wii Remote in a horizontal setup for this - you know, the one that has a D-pad and two buttons in easy reach? - to do moves like grabs, hits, throws, dodges and aiming shots.  It's a miserable, clunky experience, and the badly-written plot scenes in between it all don't make it any more fun.  Not to mention the fact that they skimped on bugtesting, making it impossible to get past a certain door without having Nintendo manually patch your savefile.  Metroid is dead and this game killed it.  And then Mercurysteam dug it up again years later just to piss on its corpse.

16. Star Fox Zero (PlatinumGames, 2016)

A one-two punch of disappointment, mostly because it came from Yusuke Hashimoto and PlatinumGames (both behind the excellent Bayonetta series) and because the Star Fox series was finally getting a console release in the HD era.  So what went wrong, exactly?  Well, how about shoehorned-in motion control aiming that you can't ever disable and the fact that this is a remake of Star Fox 64 only a few years after it already had a remake on the 3DS?  Or that its new mechanics are either woefully underutilized or drag on and on, feeling much more like busywork than fun?  Star Fox is a great science fiction universe with a lot of potential for stories to tell, but it just gets squandered to rehash the same twenty-year-old story again and again.  Nintendo, if you want to retire a beloved series, just do it and let the franchise die with its dignity intact; don't subject us to half-assed shlock with a $60 price tag just to ensure we don't even want it to come back.

15. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Monolith Soft, 2017)

The original Xenoblade Chronicles was no masterpiece, but it at least provided a good RPG experience with a lot of content and a scale scarcely seen before in a second-party Nintendo game, as well as a really creative world set on the bodies of two mechanical giants.  Xenoblade Chronicles 2 attempts to be more of the same, albeit with a fraction of the fun and competent design.  There are no waypoints when following your compass to a destination, making it very easy to get lost and killed by enemies well above your level.  Missed quests from previous chapters bafflingly remain stuck in your journal forever even though you can no longer complete them, which is both confusing and frustrating.  Combat mechanics and characters are nowhere near as in-depth or customizable without tons of grinding, making the gameplay a lot more annoying than fun.  Basically, the game feels like it was rushed out with tons of unpatched bugs and missing features just to have an RPG on the Switch during its first year, and given the pedigree of the company behind it, that's pretty much unforgivable.

14. Dishonored (Arkane Studios, 2012)

This one caught my eye just for looking to emulate the gameplay of Thief - one of my favorite PC game franchises that was neglected for a decade.  Well, it certainly gave that vibe at first, albeit with some bad decisions made - randomized enemy movement/look patterns and the fact that one of your very first power-ups literally lets you look through walls and reveal all the secrets in the level quickly quashes any feeling of challenge or replay value.  The writing is laughably bad too, with forced in "moral choices" that have little to no effect on the story and just feel like some hack writer's attempt at being "edgy" and some of the worst cognitive dissonance I've ever seen in a game ("Don't kill too many people, corpses attracts the rats!  Oh by the way, here's a powerup you can buy that dissolves bodies instantly on death").  Basically, there's no penalty for just being a murderous psychopath and foregoing the stealth element entirely, which completely undermines the feel of being a covert agent.  If Bioshock was a dumbed-down, arcadey take on System Shock, then Dishonored is a dumbed-down, arcadey take on Thief.

Speaking of...

13. Thief (Eidos Montreal, 2014)

Dishonored being a bad take on the Thief format is one thing, but a lousy sequel/reboot from the company that owned the actual IP was nothing short of a slap in the face.  Sure, you get to break into buildings and steal stuff and that's a bit of fun, but the weird physics and controls, bad platforming segments and shoehorned-in action elements feel completely out of step with the methodical stealth element that defined the rest of the series.  As does the completely linear design and just a general lack of feeling, well, stealthy - enemies are far too easy to outwit and there are actual boss battles in a franchise that built itself on having no such thing, instead having you outwit your foes to win.  The only thief involved with this game was whoever looked at the design pitch and approved it for development.

12. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Retro Studios, 2014)

There are those that consider this to be the best platformer ever made, and all I can say in response to that is "what drugs did Nintendo have to bribe you with to get you to say that?".  Because when I played it, all I found was an insultingly simple experience with few redeeming qualities.  Every single time I took a hit, I got a heart and healed back to full two seconds after.  Every time I found a banana I was awarded with at least thirty more, and I ended up swimming in over 50 extra lives before the end of the first world.  Dying more than 3-4 times on a stage has the game take the controls away from you to complete it in your place, effectively meaning there's no penalty for failure or incentive to improve your skills.  Boss battles are tedious, overlong and boring, the jumping physics and motion controls are shoehorned and weird, and the game just feels like a cynical cashin on a beloved 90s franchise, which is exactly what it is.  Stick to the classic DKCs by Rare and skip this slimy turd, because they're worlds apart in terms of quality and design.

11. Underworld Ascendant (Otherside Entertainment, 2018)

Another example of a game with a promising setup that trips, falls face-first down the stairs and knocks out several teeth on the landing.  A company with a lot of Looking Glass alumni (including the legendary Warren Spector) making a sequel to the cult-classic Ultima Underworld franchise and purportedly featuring the same open-ended character development and puzzle solving; how could it go wrong?  Well, how about "being released two years too early as a buggy, badly optimized, nearly-unplayable disaster".  Clunky physics, characters stretching into masses of polygons for no reason, uneven framerates, the fact that dying puts you back at the start of the level rather than having a checkpoint system or quicksaves... it all just feels sloppy and amateur; far below the level of anything associated with any of the names behind its creation.  There have since been a few patches released to attempt to make it more worthwhile, but it's too little, too late for even the most patient of gamers.  Just play the classic Ultima Underworld games instead or any of the other, far-better games inspired by it (Elder Scrolls, Half-Life 2, Deus Ex to name a few) and let this one be forgotten.

10. The 3rd Birthday (Square Enix 1st Production Department/Hexadrive, 2011)

What do you get when you take a great action-horror franchise and combine it with all the worst elements of Final Fantasy XIII?  Something frighteningly similar to the Third Birthday.  Ostensibly a sequel to Parasite Eve, it carries on none of its themes or gameplay elements or cool monster designs or well-written characters, instead making way for a bad third-person shooter with a convoluted, nonsensical plot involving alternate timelines and villains with motives and personalities more confused than an extra in a Uwe Boll movie.  Some of its ideas are at least interesting (swapping bodies with your squadmates and hopping back into the past to change the future), but without fun gameplay or a competent writer at the helm, it just becomes an unsalvageable mess.  And the fact that they did this to send off one of my favorite PS1 RPGs just adds insult to injury.  Shame on you, Square Enix.

9. Shin Megami Tensei IV (Atlus, 2013)

Nocturne and Persona got me into the franchise, so naturally, when the Shin Megami Tensei series' main line had a fourth entry announced, I was eager to check it out.  Then I got to play it and, while it does make a good first impression with its dark mood and strange setting, it quickly gives way to some infuriating design.  Your main character dies in 2-3 hits and his death immediately ends the game, which means that failing a demon negotiation at any point is pretty much an instant game over, as is missing an attack or getting hit by anything you're weak to in combat (which not only gives the enemy free turns but puts them into "Smirk" status, boosting their evasion and damage and giving them even more of an advantage).  You can pay to revive yourself, yes, but it gets more expensive each time you do and you have to sit through a long, unskippable cutscene to do it, making it generally more efficient just to reset and load your save.  You have to manually unlock things that came standard in previous games (like skill slots and demon analysis) one-by-one, which just adds more tedious grinding.  But hey, if that's too much, you can always just buy DLC that gives you easy quests that award ridiculous amounts of money and experience and make the whole game a cakewalk instead!  Frustrating and insulting at the same time, this was truly where Atlus began to take a downturn in my eyes.

8. Resident Evil 6 (Capcom, 2012)

Resident Evil 4 changed the franchise into a more action-oriented format, and while I still maintain that it's a fantastic game, it's easy to see why so many long-time series fans were frustrated with it as things quickly went downhill from there.  RE6 is the archetypal example of this with its overblown action, an eye-rollingly dumb plot and boss designs even by horror standards, and gameplay that is far more frustrating than fun - I died too many times to enemies and projectiles I couldn't even see, whether due to cheap attacks or the obnoxiously dark aesthetic that kept 60% of my screen pitch black at all times.  Trying to mash in cover shooter segments and a slower, stealthier mission a la RE3 felt like last-ditch attempts to appeal to a wider audience, and both just end up leading to a lot more frustration and drudgery.  Overdone and unsatisfying in every respect, the sixth Resident Evil is a perfect example of a game that tried really, really hard to impress everybody and as a result ended up impressing nobody.

7. Final Fantasy XIII (Square Enix 1st Production Department, 2010)

After Final Fantasy XII redeemed the series in my eyes following a very lousy tenth entry and a slew of mediocre spinoffs, I was eager to see what would come next.  Maybe another Ivalice Alliance game.  Maybe that long-teased Final Fantasy VII remake.  Shit, I'd even take a good Final Fantasy IX style throwback game if they did it right.  But in lieu of all that, we got what is probably one of the very worst insults to a popular franchise ever to be released.  I thought the series couldn't possibly get worse after X or more insulting after X-2; I was severely mistaken on both counts.  The game is dumbed-down to the point of being braindead, with combat that mostly just consists of pushing a button to watch lengthy displays of glitz play out for minutes at a time.  A good 3/4 of the game is just one linear path to follow with no opportunity to explore whatsoever.  Character growth is horribly restricted and has none of the imaginative classes or customization of its predecessors.  The writing is downright painful, with more trite dialog, bad acting, continuity errors and plot holes than a Michael Bay movie.  Basically, Square Enix thought they could get away with pretty graphics and nothing else despite that being disastrous for them before on numerous occasions (remember that awful CG movie that bankrupted them?), and as a result this is easily the worst game to bear the Final Fantasy name.  At least until Lightning Returns and All the Bravest came along.

6. Diablo III (Blizzard Entertainment, 2012)

To this day, Diablo III still holds the dubious honor of being the only game I've ever shipped back to the publisher and demanded a refund for; that's how much I hated it.  The whole thing just feels drab and uninspired - the recycled class archetypes, the moronic plot, the fact that you can respec your character at any time, removing any long-term strategy or character building element, the dumb cartoony aesthetic in comparison to the first two games... it all just reeks of a cynical cashin.  Not to mention that when it was launched it had a shop where one could trade in-game gold (and real money!) for other player-scavenged items, so Activision wasn't even hiding the fact that that's exactly what it was to them.  Maybe it's gotten better since, but I don't care enough to find out, because what I played in 2012 was one of the worst sequels to a great franchise I've ever experienced.

Another one was...

5. Simcity (Maxis Emeryville, 2013)

I wasn't expecting a Simcity revival long after the golden years of Maxis to be good, per se, but I had some hope that EA would at least have taken pains to make it a competent city builder that doesn't ruin the legacy of a classic franchise.  Alas, they even failed at that.  Simcity 5 plays like a lame hybrid of 4 and the Network Edition of 2000, giving you a tiny fraction of a greater map to build on, numerous dumbed-down features from its predecessors (no more manual terraforming! Roads now provide power, electricity, sewage control AND zone density!) and always-on DRM and online play that add little to the experience other than annoyance and frustration (particularly at launch, when nobody could even play the damn game because of EA's constant screwups).  But even after years of patches and fixes and adding offline play, it's still a lousy, mediocre experience that pales in comparison to the classic Simcity games from the 80's and 90's.  Just play the old greats instead and leave this one to rot.

4. Duke Nukem Forever (Gearbox Software/3D Realms, 2011)

DNF was a legendary piece of vaporware, only finally being released thirteen years after its initial announcement, numerous stops and restarts to change game engines, and even 3D Realms nearly going bankrupt and firing the entire dev team for not releasing anything of note for so damn long. And frankly, maybe it should have just stayed unreleased, because what we got was not worth the wait in the slightest.  The gameplay is uninspired shooter fare interspersed with lame, drawn-out puzzles and platforming segments that go on about fifteen minutes too long (each!), the humor is lame at best and tasteless at worst, and the whole thing just feels shoddily made, with countless instances of graphical pop-in, weird physics that never feel right and ridiculously long load times throughout.  Duke deserved so much better than this turkey, and so did gamers who held out for a worthy sequel to Duke Nukem 3D for over a decade.

3. Mighty No. 9 (Comcept, 2016)

You know this one would be high on the list, especially as I'm a huge fan of the classic Mega Man franchise.  But even if you have no particular attachment to Mega Man, it isn't hard to make the case that four million dollars and years of delays should amount to a hell of a lot more than this.  Mighty No. 9 looks like a cheaply-produced Unity fangame and honestly plays like one too - a choppy framerate, lousy collision detection, freezes and softlocks a-plenty and weird, sloppy mechanics that are much more frustrating than "innovative". Not to mention low production values (characters don't even lip-sync during cutscenes) and a complete lack of the personality and charm of classic Mega Man - the franchise it built its entire crowdfunding campaign on being compared to.  Mighty No. 9 was a disastrous blow to Keiji Inafune's credibility and the viability of crowdfunding, and while he may yet redeem himself somewhat with Red Ash, I'm not going to hold out hope.

2. Fallout 76 (Bethesda Softworks, 2018)

I really wanted to have Fallout 4 here instead, as I could rant for hours about how uninspired and bland every element of that game is, especially when it came out on the heels of two great previous games.  But in my heart of hearts I knew it had to be Fallout 76 representing the franchise's dubious place of honor on this list.  At first I had some faith in it, as I thought they could take a lot of 4's underdeveloped elements - its pointless town-building, the bland factions, the fact that it's just geared toward endless randomly-generated quests and powergaming - and convert that to a format where it would actually work, IE online multiplayer.  Well, they did that, but the way it was executed was about the worst way it could have possibly been done.  The game is extremely buggy and hacker-prone, it crashes constantly, and there's literally no live bodies in the game that aren't either generic AI-controlled monsters or other players, so what little story there is just dispensed by faceless robots and then cast aside so you can go back to building towns or looting or nuking places to make monsters stronger for more loot.  Nothing is any more interesting or substantial than it was in 4, just more buggy and less pleasant, and the fact that they had the gall to not only charge full price for it (more if you bought a deluxe edition and the shoddy merchandise sold alongside it) and have a cash shop, but demand a $100-per-year premium subscription service from the few fans it has remaining after its horrible initial reception, is downright appalling.  It's been said many times before, usually tinted with hyperbole, but it appears that Fallout - and Bethesda's reputation - are now definitively dead.

1. Persona 5 (Atlus, 2017)

Persona 3 and 4 are two of my favorite RPGs of all time, so when I had to wait nearly a decade for the next entry in the series and it turned out to be what it was, you can only imagine how sorely disappointed I was.  I guess I should have seen the signs - once Sega came in and bought Atlus, it just became another cash cow franchise to them, with hordes of mediocre sequels and spinoffs being pumped out on a whim for a buck.  But I was still willing to give 5 a chance, hoping for some chance at redemption for Atlus.  Well, guess what: I didn't get that.  Sure, it made a good first impression with its striking visual design reminiscent of a Gainax/Trigger anime and a premise that looked to be much darker in tone than what had come before, but once the first major mission ended, it showed just how shallow the thought process behind its design really was.  The combat is tiresome and repetitive, the dungeons are overlong with shoehorned stealth mechanics that are more tedious than entertaining and puzzles that are explained out in such detail that they just feel more like time-filling chores than a legitimate element of challenge.  The protagonists are uninteresting archetypes and the villains are one-dimensional cardboard cutouts with no genuine personality besides being evil just because, and the whole draw of the premise quickly went south, turning from a dark anti-heroic tale into a juvenile revenge fantasy with some very uncomfortable overtones.   A bunch of cool-guy anonymous badasses who act as thugs for hire antagonizing villains who are just evil for the sake of being evil, and they never face any negative consequences for their vigilantism because everyone who ever speaks out against them is just as one-dimensional and wrong and evil as the cardboard cutout rapists and gang leaders and scammers they're going after!  That strikes me as downright irresponsible in this political climate, and it's all the more cutting when Atlus - a company I used to have a ton of respect for as a niche publisher and a great developer in their own right - would go down this route.  I don't even know if I can support the company in good conscience anymore; that's how much this game let me down (and as of January 2020, I haven't bought another of their games since).  That's why it's my biggest disappointment of the decade.