Worst is First – What went wrong in gaming in 2010

Posted on 17/12/2010


In parallel to the highlights of the year, it’s also time to go to the not so nice places in gaming. There’s been a lot going on this year, and a lot of it wasn’t very good. Or at least, not really living up to expectations or were letdowns on other parts.
This is not to say that the games appearing here are necessarily bad, or plain no fun to play. This is not supposed to be a post listing Metacritic’s lowest rating games.

Biggest disappointment of the year 2010:

Plain and simple astoundingly few things worked in Realtime World’s uber-ambitious cops’n’robbers MMO. It all sounded like incredible great fun on paper. A mix of GTA’s open world playstyle with Counterstrike’s two teamed shooter approach, infused with on the spot matchmaking of PvP opposed missions. Topped off by an amazingly powerful character customization tool, and backed by a really massive fund. All developed by the man who gave us GTA and Crackdown. A formula that just had to produce something awesome.
Only, it didn’t. APB didn’t come together. At all. People moaned about the payment model that instead of being a straight subscription let the players buy hour packages of play time.
The net code didn’t work, the balancing was off, the graphics weren’t as good as expected, it didn’t sell well enough and before long, APB just broke Realtime World’s back.
APB was really an enormous waste of everything. Time, money and manpower. Eventually it cost a whole lot of talented developers their jobs. Oh and also it wasn’t a very good game. At least not in the state it shipped in. It could’ve been so great. That’s why it’s the #1 on this one.

All That Is Wrong With Gaming in 2010:

Call of Duty: Black Ops
Is it necessary to list why this game is here? It’s the fastest selling piece of entertainment in history, the most successful game (on the first days?) ever. Also it had one of the biggest, most expensive advertising campaigns in the business. But, to tell the truth, it isn’t that great a game. It’s an average shooter at best, a single player campaign that doesn’t try do a lot of very fun things apart from punishing the player for not sticking to the script while presenting some nice looking setpieces. These are the types of games that are responsible for gaming to have such a bad image. And we buy them by the millions.
These are the types of game that further the trend in the industry to become ever more blockbuster hungry.
These are the types of game that drive developers that produce well, but not incredibly well selling titles out of business when their corporate overlords are not pleased with the turnover. See Bizzare Creations.

Worst Trend of the Year 2010:

Everything Is Better With Multiplayer
It’s a given that this is not a trend that was anyhow new to this year. Time and again it seems publishers cry out in panic about some franchises not yet having the inevitable online mode. Luckily we’re not longer seeing tacked on deathmatch modes, but this thing nowadays goes further. Halo – Reach’s single player campaign being obviously designed for co-op first, single play second. Bigwigs from the major publishers declaring the single player experience dead.
To me – I very, very rarely play anything but single player – this is a disturbing trend. Assassin’s Creed was a successful franchise without multiplayer. I understand it’s multiplayer mode is very good, unique and entertaining, well worth the development money. But the latest game would’ve sold well enough without it. Now focusing the franchise on multiplayer as Ubisoft seems to have announced hangs a bit weird with me.
So the trend is less adding multiplayer to everything, but turning every game into a multiplayer FIRST single player SECOND experience. Which is dismissing and undermining the narrative power of the medium of single player games.

The Downs in Gaming in 2010

Now on for some ranting and rambling about this year’s high profile releases.
This year in gaming was weird. Both great and greatly disappointing at the same time.
It started with a bang, the games fleeing last year’s Modern Warfare 2 release window. The first quarter was as strong as previously only holiday seasons had ever been. Bayonetta, Bioshock 2 and Mass Effect 2 launched within a month, starting the year on incredible high notes.
And it didn’t stop there. 2010 lacked the usual slump in releases.

Still, there were quite some games that – personally – disappointed. The long awaited Alan Wake, being a “psychological action thriller” as it says on the box, was too weak on the “psychological” and too strong on the “action” part. Basically a dark, one-big-gimmick shooter.
The similarly long awaited Splinter Cell: Conviction also was pretty much a letdown, not only because of the quite short single player campaign, but also because of the straightforwardness of level design, which compared to older iterations clearly was a step backwards.
Storytelling gamers’ favourite Obsidian Entertainment underperformed twice, with Alpha Protocol being a glitchy, unwieldy and weirdly unpolished experience with some very good ideas and Fallout: New Vegas bearing similar traits.
Halo – Reach presented Bungies weakest narrative feat yet while being an outstanding technical achievement.

Red Dead Redemption, for many the game of the year, featured some wonky controls, bad optimization, especially noticeable in the delay between menu screens, and an overall feeling of a lack of player impact on the world, since no matter how many random gangs the player shot down, they’d just respawn anyway, money being mostly useless, thus mechanically devaluing most of the player’s actions outside of the main story. This seems to be a problem of very very many open world games of this generation, though the later released Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood saw the player having much more of an lasting impact on the game world.

Warren Spector’s lovechild Epic Mickey fell flat with most critics and fans alike, being strong in vision but weak in execution. Which was this years problem with most “auteur” games. Ron Gilbert’s [thanks Andy] Death Spank comes to mind.
And of course the games which were basically just remakes of successful formulas. Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Star Craft, Halo…

This doesn’t mean that 2010 was a bad year in gaming, just a weird one with too much output and too little real innovation and quality in the same titles.