Good intentions, poor execution
Capcom's latest installment in its Resident Evil series is making headlines this week as one of the rare AAA releases to receive middling reviews from professional critics. Which other major games have similarly failed to earn generally positive reviews upon their release? We have picked out 40 examples, including the new RE6.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list; rather, we looked for notable releases (roughly defined as games from major existing franchises or new titles that had some degree of anticipation from the industry prior to their launch) with at least 50 critic reviews on at least one platform and a Metascore below 75 (i.e., scores in the yellow and red ranges, indicating mixed/mediocre reviews and negative reviews, respectively). We only looked at console and PC titles, so there are no handheld games listed below.
This belated sequel to the hit 2000 horror computer game American McGee's Alice 85 failed to match the original's commercial or critical success. While Madness Returns generally earned praise for its visual design, critics found the game boring, dated, and even confusing.
"Through questionable level design, graphical inconsistency, and repetitive gameplay, I was pulled out of the experience more than I would have liked."
One of several videogames based on the movie franchise(s) (including a far superior 1999 game with the same title), AvP was punished by some critics for seeming rushed out the door, with unpolished and dated FPS gameplay that offered little to recommend it above other similar games. Fortunately, a different developer is handling the next game, Aliens: Colonial Marines, which should finally arrive in February after a lengthy delay.
"As it stands now, you'd probably have more fun being on To Catch a Predator than playing Aliens Vs. Predator."
-- Game Revolution
This 2008 reboot of the classic survival horror series—the fifth installment overall—was plagued by frustrating controls, technical flaws, and poor design. The PS3 version (subtitled Inferno) fixed some of those mistakes but still failed to make a positive impression on reviewers. A Wii version, which shared a title and some plot elements but nothing else, was simply terrible (think 39).
"Alone in the Dark seems to hold open contempt for its players... You've seen survival horror done scarier and better elsewhere. Don't get burned by this one."
Obsidian Entertainment's first attempt at an original title was a third-person stealth action/RPG game that had few fans in the critic community, thanks to bugs, lackluster shooting mechanics, and a complete inability to execute what could have been an interesting concept.
"To release a game that's just plain not finished and to expect people -- to expect your fans -- to pay the full $60 for it? That's where you lose me."
This third-person shooter spawned a sequel (with another to follow next year) despite lackluster reviews that disliked the basic two-man army concept, cited numerous flaws, and panned the single-player campaign.
"It's got some fun moments of cooperativity, some clever mechanics, and an unusually badass multiplayer mode, but its horrible controls and vanilla campaign mode prevent Army of Two from being even an above-average game."
A first-person shooter with parkour-style action, Brink moved a lot of units but left many reviewers thinking that the game was rushed out the door before it was ready, resulting in a missed opportunity at a classic.
"The structure of the game is decent, but it's brought down by issues both large and small. The largest one is a simple lack of content. With eight maps, a lackluster arsenal, and a campaign mode that is, by default, populated with terrible AI-controlled bots, Brink just doesn't have enough going for it to justify a full-price purchase."
-- Giant Bomb
The third title in the Call of Juarez series was easily the worst of the bunch, marred by poor design and technical flaws and even, according to some writers, racism.
"The Cartel is a calamity; an unfinished, unpleasant piece of dreck that even developer Techland got bored of before hoisting it out of the door. The Cartel's list of misdemeanours is lengthy and depressing, but the worst is how either Techland or Ubisoft can have the nerve to put this on the shelves and ask people to pay money --real money-- to play it."
Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight PC 64
Electronic Arts, 2010
The 17-year-old Command & Conquer franchise has produced many well-reviewed games, but this concluding chapter in the Tiberian series was not one of them. Many critics (and gamers) felt that it was a C&C game in name only, and that single-player gameplay was a disaster.
"It's a terrible system and it's sure to alienate all but the hardcore C&C nerds. But those of you who stick around, those of you who are willing to put up with the ugly graphics, the pointless online-only requirement, and the mandatory grinding are liable to end up as the small dedicated player base for yet another one of Electronic Arts' disastrous attempts at online gaming."
The Conduit Wii 69
While The Conduit had early buzz as a potentially groundbreaking FPS for the Wii—a console with few solid titles in the genre—but the finished product was dragged down by a poor story and dull visuals, despite the innovative controls. A 2011 sequel failed to correct the original's flaws, and earned even worse reviews.
"The excellent control scheme is able to save this otherwise average adventure for a little while, but the many missteps of the campaign become suffocating before too long. The multiplayer, too, is entertaining for a few hours, but the seven maps are too simple and predictable to provide a consistently thrilling experience."
Crackdown 2 360 70
The original Crackdown earned an 83 in 2007, with critics pleasantly surprised by how fun the open-world shooter turned out to be. This sequel, however, turned out to be far too similar to the original to justify its existence, and the few changes that were made didn't go over well with some reviewers.
"An interesting experiment? Sure. But the changes to the game design have all but removed the most-fun parts while emphasizing the game's weaknesses. Whoops."
Darkspore PC 65
Electronic Arts, 2011
Many gamers consider Will Wright's 2008 title Spore to be a major disappointment, though critics actually reviewed the game quite positively at the time (to the tune of an 84 Metascore). However, this subsequent attempt to take Spore's creature-editor technology and marry it to more conventional action-RPG gameplay was treated much less kindly by reviewers.
"While never terrible, Darkspore feels like it's had its heart surgically removed. All the components for a giddily stupid, aesthetically imaginative action RPG are here. Somehow, however, they combine into a shambling golem that knows its basic purpose, but not a whole lot else."
What's not to like about battling your way through a zombie-infested island? Well, it turns out that such a scenario is much less fun than it sounds, at least when it is presented in such a straightforward and unsophisticated manner as it is in Dead Island. However, some critics found enough to like in the multiplayer to recommend the game despite its flaws.
"Narratively, Dead Island is unambitious. There's no attempt at satire, commentary, or quirk. The plot, mostly communicated through quest-givers, is straight-faced as a straight-to-cable horror flick, but like the rest of the game, it's serviceable."
-- A.V. Club
Devil May Cry 2 PS2 68
While the original Devil May Cry 94 was a critical hit, this sequel undid a lot of that goodwill by significantly dumbing down the gameplay and failing to match the depth and style of the first game.
"Kept from greatness by the terrible camera, pacing issues, short quests, and general lack of continuity, making it a sequel that actually tacks more criticisms on to the series, instead of fixing them."
-- Yahoo! Games
Disney Epic Mickey Wii 73
Expectations were high for this darker, kid-unfriendly adventure for Mickey Mouse and other characters from the Disney universe, and while there were plenty of positive reviews—especially for the underlying concept—there were also numerous criticisms of its gameplay and execution. Perhaps those flaws will be fixed in the multi-platform sequel (Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two), which arrives on November 18.
"For all its big ideas, Disney Epic Mickey never quite weaves its disparate strands into a convincing whole. Its conceptual ambition is let down by merely adequate mechanics, and Mickey himself remains a rather abstract figure at the centre of it all."
The first installment in the Driver series to land on the PlayStation 2, DRIV3R was heavily criticized for buggy and frustrating gameplay, with some reviewers also dismissing the game as a pale imitation of the Grand Theft Auto series.
"The cities are huge and beautiful, with country-appropriate cars, and while the gameplay is muddy, it's easy to see how it could have been better. But as it is, DRIV3R is all flash and little substance."
Perhaps it should have remained vaporware. When it finally emerged after a legendary 15-year development hell, this sequel to 1996's Duke Nukem 3D earned reviews that ranged from average to scathing and appeared on several worst-of-2011 lists. The most negative reviews found the game not just dated in its design but also technically flawed and moronic to boot.
"While much of Duke Nukem Forever is embarrassingly bad--the kind of game you point and laugh at--its biggest problem is that it's so tedious...This game takes an icon and turns him into a laughingstock. Except, no one's laughing."
The first two installments in the Dungeon Siege saga earned an 86 and an 80 from critics. But this third game—the first to appear on consoles in addition to PCs, and the first to be developed by Obsidian Entertainment—saw a further decline in quality, with many critics finding the game unambitious and merely average.
"Dungeon Siege III is a dungeon crawler with a boring loot table, poorly implemented multiplayer, and little lasting incentive to continue running around the world once the tedious story ends."
Haze PS3 55
This futuristic FPS was once thought to be the PlayStation 3's answer to Microsoft's Halo series. Instead, it was a glitchy, underwhelming mess. Don't expect a Haze 2.
"The combat's weak, the storyline's excruciating, it's technically deficient - Haze really is this year's most significant gaming disappointment."
Homefront had a lot going for it, most notably an interesting premise and script from screenwriter John Milius that found a future United States occupied by a nuclear-armed Korea. But it turned out to be a run-of-the-mill FPS in a market crowded with such games, and it wasn't especially fun to play as a single-player game.
"With its interesting premise, evocative opening sequence, and clever variation on multiplayer, Homefront has a strong foundation. It's a shame that technical limitations and a derivative single-player campaign keep the game from realizing its potential."
-- Game Informer
This heavily promoted third-person shooter turned out to be buggy and unpolished in its execution, earning mediocre-to-poor reviews despite an above-average story and premise. A 2010 sequel also failed to impress critics.
"Sure, the gritty atmosphere and balls out gunplay offers up some thrills, and yes the multiplayer options hold some potential but the hard-boiled noir tone and interesting amalgam of varied ideas never truly comes together to form the cohesive action thriller that the game aspires to be."
Killzone PS2 70
Repetitive and tedious gameplay and problematic controls plagued this otherwise great-looking PlayStation-exclusive FPS released to heavy anticipation in the fall of 2004 (yes, it was to be yet another Halo-killer). Fortunately, the developers learned from their mistakes, and the 2009 sequel was a home run, earning a 91 from critics. (Last year's Killzone 3 84 was also more than solid.)
"An ambitious, interesting game, but it's badly undercut by terrible AI and annoying and very distracting graphical glitches. They're bad enough to make the game feel like a chore."
Kinect Star Wars 360 55
It turns out that if you want to stand in front of a camera and pretend to engage in a light-saber duel, you'd probably have more fun (and save a lot of money) by imitating this guy rather than playing Kinect Star Wars. And the "Galactic Dance-off" (one of several mostly-mini-games in the collection) could be the most embarrassing Star Wars moment since the infamous holiday special.
"It says a lot that a dancing game is the best thing on offer in this muddled, cynical package. For the most part, Kinect Star Wars feels ill-conceived: kids will be bored, and adults will be embarrassed."
-- Edge Magazine
Lair PS3 53
Despite Sony's unusual efforts to change reviewers' minds, critics had few nice things to say about this dragon-riding action title aside from highlighting its gorgeous visual design. The chief complaint was that Lair's unusual motion controls made the game "impossible" to play.
"Great visuals and sound mean absolutely nothing in Lair. Factor 5 should have made a movie--not a game. This is the ultimate example of how gameplay suffers when all the work goes into making everything look pretty. There is nothing fun about it."
What could have been over-the-top fun—a chainsaw-wielding high school cheerleader must hack up her former classmates, who have become zombies—turned out to lack depth, and came across as sophomoric, cheesy, and distasteful rather than edgy and funny, at least to some critics.
"What's heart-breaking about it all is that Grasshopper can do better. With a few tweaks to the combat – weaker zombies, and perhaps more of them – the experience could be much more entertaining. As is, Lollipop Chainsaw is a serviceable confection, though something of a bitter one."
Pandemic's action title based on the LOTR film trilogy turned out to be little more than a reskinning of its Star Wars: Battlefront games. Actually, that's not entirely true; the Battlefront series produced some winners, while Conquest was heavily criticized for its mediocrity, especially its dated graphics and reliance on repetitive button-mashing rather than actual gaming skill.
"We were hoping for more from The Lord of the Rings: Conquest, and we're disappointed that the game didn't do more with such a powerful license. Star Wars: Battlefront hasn't aged very well, and to get essentially the same game with a different theme left us wanting more."
There have been over 20 titles in the Need for Speed racing series—with many receiving positive reviews—but this 2008 installment represents perhaps the low point in the franchise to date. Pointless live-action cut scenes, shoddy graphics, and too-easy gameplay rendered Undercover inferior to competing street-racing games.
"Need for Speed Undercover is a poor game with a ton of problems, both technically and in terms of design."
It's not a bad game—in fact, the PC and PS3 versions, which had fewer reviews than the Xbox 360 version, received generally positive critiques—but any game that allows you to shapeshift and karate kick a helicopter out of the sky should be a bit less mundane and uninvolving than Prototype 2. Don't expect a third installment in the series; sales for this sequel were well below expectations.
"Its cooler moments are offset by a long list of missions that aren't engaging at all. You're a man with an ever-increasing list of insane powers, but the tasks you accomplish with those powers are usually pretty ho-hum. Add to all that a script that makes you want to turn the sound down and a dose of awkward control quirks and you've got a run-of-the-mill open-world game."
-- Giant Bomb
Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One PS3 70
What happens when one of the PlayStation's most enduring single-player series goes multiplayer? Atypically lackluster reviews. Critics found All 4 One too slight, with many suggesting it would have been better suited as a PSP or downloadable title rather than a full-price major installment in the series.
"At the most fundamental level there's nothing tragically wrong with the game, it just displays a lack of imagination that chafes against the legacy of a series that has never been short of ideas. For a game with that sort of pedigree, average simply isn't good enough."
On paper, it sounds like a can't-miss idea: a Spaghetti Western-themed adventure/shooter from the publisher of the mega-hit Grand Theft Auto series and the developers behind the well received Midnight Club II. Indeed, it was a massive critical and commercial hit... when it was changed to an open-world setting and released in 2010 under the name Red Dead Redemption. This first attempt, however, failed to captivate, coming across as too linear and unoriginal, while also delivering slightly sub-par graphics.
"The game misses its mark: Instead of the gritty, scrub-brush humor of a Sergio Leone pic, Revolver feels like a rootin'-tootin' Disneyland ride."
-- Entertainment Weekly
Red Steel Wii 63
Seemingly one of the more promising launch titles available for the Wii, this first-person shooter (you have a sword too, when you want the killing to take longer) proved to be unready for prime time and had little to offer other than the then-novelty of the Wii's motion controls.
"Once you strip away the nifty new controls, you're left with a flawed shooter that does nothing I haven't seen a million times."
-- Electronic Gaming Monthly
Fewer than half of the reviews for the 360 edition are positive (the PS3 version, though scoring higher at the moment, was reviewed by fewer than half the number of critics), making this one of the lowest-scoring installments to date in the Resident Evil game series. (The films, of course, manage to score far, far lower.) The most negative reviews suggest that the action-oriented RE6 is trying too hard to be too many different games at once, and none of those games is Resident Evil.
"Resident Evil 6 is a Michael Bay movie. There's really no more polite a way to put it. Stuffed to the gills with bombastic action segments, car chases, and relentless chaos, Capcom has abandoned any pretense of the survival horror genre and embraced a world of skin-deep Hollywood audacity. Listlessly wallowing in the depthless waters of homogeneity, Resident Evil 6 is a coward of a game, afraid to make its own individual mark in the industry and cravenly subscribing itself to every overplayed trope in the book."
The Secret World PC 73
Electronic Arts, 2012
After five years of development, Funcom's highly anticipated MMORPG went online in July of this year after a beta that attracted over a million gamers. While critics have admired the game's willingness to bring something new to the MMO format—with additional praise going to the game's modern-day fantasy setting—even the more recent reviews suggest that there are still bugs to be worked out, and several reviewers find the PvP gameplay poor and the game lacking compelling reasons to return.
"The Secret World has too many problems to function... After playing the game for over a month I haven't seen any serious signs of improvement. Quests remain buggy, graphics suffer and the core of the game is still as obnoxious as ever."
-- G4 TV
Inspired by the classic role-playing game of the same name, this Shadowrun, unlike previous videogame adaptations, is more first-person shooter than RPG. Critics thought the game lacked enough content to justify its high price (especially since it didn't include a single-player campaign), and gamers seemed to agree; sales were poor, and developer FASA Studio folded shortly thereafter.
"Shadowrun's impressive array of skills and magic gives standard first-person shooters a run for their money, but its lack of game modes or rewards or even a rewarding feeling slows this game to a walk."
-- Game Revolution
SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs PS3 67
While previous numbered SOCOM games (all for the PlayStation 2) scored in the 80's, this PS3 tactical shooter—designed in part to take advantage of the Move controller—was rejected by some critics as dated and unremarkable. The forgettable single-player mode was especially singled out for criticism.
"What could have been a return to form for the series ends up suffering an almost total loss of form. If this game didn't carry the SOCOM name it would be just another functional third-person military shooter that you might recognize when you saw it in the markdown bin after a few months."
The world just wasn't ready for Sonic the Werehog. While the long-running Sonic series has produced the occasional dud (enough that Sega took the unusual step of culling Sonic games with lower Metascores from its catalog), and the previous installment was the franchise's worst yet, fans were expecting Unleashed to be a return to form, which made the reality all that much more disappointing. While half the game—the "day" stages—did hearken back to Sonic's platforming roots in a not-disagreeable way, the remaining half, which found Sonic turning into a "werehog," offered tedious button-mashing gameplay that left at least one reviewer wanting to hurl his controller at the television.
"Terrible level design, unresponsive controls, and a poor camera are just the beginning of the problems in this awful adventure."
This story-driven action game (set in between movies 3 and 4) was a big hit in spite of a divided critical reaction that left many critics massively disappointed by the gameplay. Those flaws became even more apparent in the 2010 sequel, which managed to be inferior in nearly every way (except, maybe, graphically). By the way, it seems a bad idea to "unleash" anything on gamers; just 11 of the 46 scored games in our database containing the word "Unleashed" have received positive reviews.
"It's all the more disappointing because you can see, mired in the boring levels and bad cameras, glimpses of fun ideas."
The Test Drive racing series hasn't generated a lot of positive critical press over the past decade, but 2006's open-world Test Drive Unlimited managed to earn plenty of praise. This sequel, however, was a disappointment, plagued by unspectacular graphics and unusually buggy gameplay.
"It is definitely not the worst racing game I have played, but it is marred with technical problems that really do affect the gameplay. I would be willing to overlook these issues if the storyline was either better or nonexistent, but as it stands the story is not even enjoyable in an ironic sort of corny way – it is just frustrating to not give a damn about the characters, especially your own."
-- Game Chronicles
Too Human 360 65
Another title that spent nearly a decade in development (it was first targeted for the original PlayStation console), this sci-fi take on Norse mythology wound up being too short, too repetitive, too uncompelling, and too flawed in its control scheme.
"A disappointingly substandard role-playing game buried under the debris of a thousand forgettable robots slain in a hundred vacant hallways by one man in a silly outfit. After an initial burst of curiosity, this repetitive, derivative and ultimately ridiculous game will be remembered primarily for how little resulted from so much work."
Two Worlds II is actually an improvement over the original, though that still doesn't make it a good game. Far from it; many critics felt it was a bargain-basement knockoff of better titles like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Dragon Age (though the PC version was better than the console releases). But you have to admire TopWare's—we'll say "moxie," though feel free to suggest your own adjective—in subsequently releasing a "Game of the Year" edition despite the fact that the game appeared on approximately zero "Best of 2011" lists.
"The game's dull, repetitive missions drive home the harsh truth: it's an aggressively average action-RPG that's here far too late for anyone to care."
-- Official Xbox Magazine
This reboot of the Castle Wolfenstein franchise (the first console game in the series in eight years) proved to be a lackluster return, with little innovation and an especially poor multiplayer component. It was also a commercial disappointment.
"Wolfenstein is a game that swings wildly in quality on an almost minute-by-minute basis, and a rather vanilla multiplayer offering doesn't do much to quicken the pulse."
What do you think?
What games have you been most disappointed by in recent years? Did critics err in underrating any of the games listed above? And which disappointing games have critics scored too highly? Let us know in the comments section below.