#5. Aliens: Colonial Marines
Developer: Gearbox Software / Nerve Software / TimeGate Studios
Release Date: February 12, 2013
Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
The Alien movie franchise has inspired many video games over the years, but nothing to really write home about. In spite of that however, the thought of an Alien game still titillates the hopes of many simply based on the deep love for the movie franchise. Enter Aliens: Colonial Marines, announced in 2008 with Gearbox Software at the helm. Gearbox, then known as a company who primarily ported console games to the Windows platform, gained great praise in 2009 for their new original game titled Borderlands. With Gearbox’s recent success, the hype train left the station, and it ended up hitting max speed when Colonial Marines made its appearance at E3 2011. The trailer shown for the game looked fantastic: it was incredibly atmospheric, graphically stunning, and felt like a believable part of the Alien universe. Fast forward past countless delays, all the way to February of 2013, and you’d be hard pressed to believe that the game shown at E3 turned into the mess that was eventually published. Game breaking bugs crippled the experience, mind numbingly bad A.I. made the game laughable, and the graphics took a huge step backwards when compared to what was shown in 2011. The discrepancy between what was shown and the final product was so large that there were groups trying to sue Gearbox for misrepresentation of their product. After the game’s release, info was leaked saying that Gearbox took funding which was meant for Colonial Marines and used it towards the creation of Borderlands 2, thus leaving a couple of their partner studios (Nerve Software / TimeGate Studios) with minimal funds to work on Colonial Marines. Whether these rumors are true or not, the fact remains that Colonial Marines was a catastrophic disappointment.
#4. Duke Nukem Forever
Developer: 3D Realms / Triptych Games / Gearbox Software / Piranha Games
Release Date: June 14, 2011
Platform(s): PC, Mac, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Duke Nukem Forever was announced by developer 3D Realms in 1997, yet it didn’t see the light of day until 2011. For well over a decade the Duke was on the butt end of many jokes within the gaming industry, with most people agreeing after countless delays, financial fiascos, and various legal issues, that the game would never actually hit store shelves. With no official media released for 8 years, a new teaser was shown in 2007, but it only served to torture fans as the game promptly went back into hiding. In development for nearly 15 years, the game changed hands several times before eventually falling into the lap of Gearbox software, who somehow managed to do the impossible and release Duke Nukem Forever in June of 2011. Unfortunately, the game failed on nearly all fronts. Where its predecessor, Duke Nukem 3D, was seen as a game that pushed the industry forward, Forever feels like a game that’s unwilling to let go of the past. The gameplay, level design, and combat all feel extremely antiquated. It feels like a game that was created for an early 2000’s audience, because it is. It feels like a game that was passed around through a handful of development teams and then sloppily put together, because it is. As great as it is to hear Jon St. John reprise his role as Duke, his epic one-liners aren’t enough to salvage this disastrous disappointment.
#3. Halo 4
Developer: 343 Industries
Release Date: November 6, 2012
Platform(s): Xbox 360
Halo 4 marked not only the beginning of an all new Halo trilogy, but more importantly it was the first major Halo title not developed by Bungie Studios. The series wasn’t put into completely unfamiliar hands, as Microsoft handed creative control over to one of their internal development teams, 343 Industries, which was formed in 2007 to assist Bungie in the creation of Halo-based media. 343i, who have several former Bungie employees on staff, set out to create a fresh Halo experience while retaining the series’ unique appeal and flavor. Halo 4’s single player campaign featured a much more vocal Master Chief, successfully transforming John 117 from an almost completely silent killing machine into a somewhat more relatable hero. The emotional bond displayed between the Master Chief and Cortana adds some much welcome depth to the character. Unfortunately, where the Master Chief takes one step forward, the game’s plot takes two steps back. 343i seems to assume that fans are up-to-date on their reading, continuing plot points and involving characters from the Halo book series without giving them a proper introduction in game universe. There are terminals hidden throughout the game’s campaign which shed light onto these new plot points, but the videos on the terminals are not actually viewable within the game, the player must download the Halo Waypoint app on their Xbox to actually see the content. While Halo 4’s campaign is by no means bad, it fails to deliver the same highs as previous installments in the series while also having a somewhat confusing plot.
Where the single player aspect of the game took one marginal step in the wrong direction, the multiplayer took two steps in the wrong direction, got in a car, drove 50 miles and jumped off a bridge. I didn’t buy Call of Halo: Modern Combat Evolved. Where are the static weapon spawns? Why are players now able to get completely random weapon drops? Why can people see through walls? This is not the Halo multiplayer I remember. Numbers do not lie: while Halo 4 set sales records for the franchise, the number of active players online is dwindling less than a year after launch. There’s a reason that millions of people played Halo 2 and 3 for years after release: we like the balance and feel of the Halo universe. If people want games like Call of Duty or Battlefield, then they will buy those titles. 343i needs to take a step back and see what made the first 3 Halo games a cultural phenomenon.
#2. Perfect Dark Zero
Release Date: November 17, 2005
Platform(s): Xbox 360
When Rare was purchased by Microsoft in 2002, Nintendo fans around the world cried in unison. They obviously weren’t going to be developing Donkey Kong or Star Fox games for the Xbox brand, but Rare was able to retain the rights to their own intellectual property, such as Conker’s Bad Fur Day (which was remade for the Xbox) and Perfect Dark. Things went relatively slow for Rare until 2005 when the Xbox 360 made its debut and two Rare titles were released along with the console, one of them being Perfect Dark Zero, prequel to the tremendously popular N64 title. Not only did they face the pressure of living up to the original game’s very high standard, but PDZ was the very first next generation game for many gamers, including myself, thus giving Rare the opportunity to introduce us to the future of games. And what a bleak future it was. PDZ’s over-glossed textures annoyed me from the moment I loaded the first level, the character models were disgusting, and the narrative was abysmal. Everything right down to Johanna Dark’s appearance was an insult to the original game’s brilliance. Since Perfect Dark Zero’s release Rare has fallen into obscurity, releasing only a handful of mediocre games since 2005, and failing to reach the levels of success they had when under Nintendo’s wing.
#1. Final Fantasy XIII
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: March 9, 2010
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
The name Final Fantasy carries a lot of weight in the industry, and rightly so, you don’t get to the 13th+ iteration of a series without having quite a bit of success. Final Fantasy has had a huge impact on every console generation since the Nintendo Entertainment System where the original FF debuted in 1987. It was a long wait for XIII, releasing nearly 5 full years after the new generation began, but any wait would be quickly forgotten if Square Enix delivered a top notch experience. Well, they didn’t. XII somehow managed to fail in nearly every aspect of what made previous FF games so memorable. The game feels more linear than any previous title in the series, pretty much eliminating the overworld map and vehicle travel (no air ship!?); every single area feels like nothing more than a hallway. The element of world exploration is gone, as side quests are extremely limited, there are no towns to visit, and not many NPCs to interact with. The story is convoluted and the terminology within the world is confusing; if you want to keep up with what’s going on you’re almost forced to open the game’s menu system and read through a plethora of text. Combat almost plays itself, which is a shame since the paradigm system was actually interesting. XIII’s Crystarium skill system may seem like Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid in concept, but in actuality, much like the rest of the game, it’s very constricting and does not allow for creativity. With pretty much every other Final Fantasy title I’d be hard pressed to tell you which characters I flat out hated, where as with XIII it would be a challenge to name a single character I enjoyed. With quality JRPGs being a rarity this generation, it’s truly a shame that Square Enix dropped the ball on this one.