The most disappointing games of 2016

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Calling a game disappointing arguably has more to do with me than the game itself. Disappointment isn’t an inherent quality. It can’t exist without some sort of expectation in the first place. In many cases, these games are sequels, or the creations of developers with proven track records, or entries in established genres, or games with promising beginnings. But for various reasons, a central fact about these games is that I had personally hoped they would be better.

After the jump, the ten most disappointing games of 2016.


10. Zombasite

I love Soldak’s action RPGs for how they wrap the action RPGing in a meaningful context. This is still the case with Zombasite, which imagines a fantasy themed zombie apocalypse navigated by competing factions, with your character shepherding one of the factions. That part of Zombasite is great. But the actual action RPGing is awfully long in the tooth. As much as I love Zombasite’s wrapper, the candy inside is past its sell-by date.


9. Watch Dogs 2

I think it was sometime during a go-kart race that Watch Dogs 2 started to fall apart for me. It was definitely after murdering a dozen security guards to expose the injustice of a — gasp! — kidnapping. It was also after setting off explosions throughout the streets of San Francisco during a car chase, which involved the deaths of scores of cops and pedestrians. How is my character not a villain as reviled as ISIS? I accidentally back over someone’s dog. It’s lying there dead on the side of the road. The woman who was walking the dog is just standing there. Saints Row IV, Grand Theft Auto V, and Arkham Knight navigated the inherent problem of open-world games set in moderately realistic modern settings: where is the internal consistency among collecting baubles, running races, spending skill points, doing heroic missions, and wreaking havoc as a murderous psychopath? For all its technical competence and course correction after the previous game, Watch Dogs 2 can’t be bothered to answer that question.


8. Abzu

An ocean is probably the worst place to make an exploration game in which you just work your way down a corridor. That’s how Abzu plays. It’s literally how Abzu ends. It’s pretty, and it understands a lot of the magic of being underwater, but an ocean without exploration is little more than a pretty picture.

From the review:

There is nothing aimless about Abzu. It’s not an exploration game. Abzu isn’t open. It’s a series of lagoons, connected by tunnels and loading screens. Some of the lagoons are supposed to be open ocean, so they’re bounded by invisible walls instead of land. But what Abzu sacrifices in openness it makes up in detail. It’s crammed with colorful fish, distinct palettes, gratuitous kelp. A lovely set of aquariums are arranged in sequence as a guided tour, with some sort of message at the end about how sharks are misunderstood. At least I think that’s the message. When it tries to be something beyond an aquarium, Abzu is as inscrutably intricate as a black light poster from your neighborhood head shop. That’s not necessarily a criticism. Besides, sharks really are misunderstood.


7. Battlefleet: Gothic Armada


As much as I appreciate spaceships shooting space guns at each other, and as much as Battlefleet: Gothic Armada tries to mix up the action with special powers, I can’t find much tactical variety in here, which is a glaring problem in a game about tactical combat. Bigger ships win, littler ships lose, and that’s pretty much it.


6. Clockwork Empires


A textbook example of a bad interface utterly undermining what should have been a decent game.

From the review:

If I was to make a game that I didn’t want anyone to actually play, it would look a lot like Clockwork Empires. A torturous interface with lots of busy little buttons and information spilled across various mutually exclusive screens. Basic tasks that require about two too many steps. Lots of waiting among the various stages of any process, so when you went off to do something else, you might forget the first thing you were doing. One way doors into unrecoverable economic death spirals that you don’t know you’re in until it’s far too late.
Also, it would crash a lot.


5. Dead by Daylight


Four players have to run away and hide. The fifth gets to play a game about a monster hunting down four characters who have run away and hidden. At least in 2k Games’ ill-fated Evolve, the four players who weren’t monsters got to do the hunting.


4. Mighty No. 9

On June 21, when Mighty No. 9 was released, 67,226 people went from enthusiastic Kickstarter supporter to owner of a bog-standard platformer. Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune secures $4 million of crowdsourcing for a game no different from a thousand other indie 2D platformers cluttering up the Steam store.


3. Killing Floor 2

Pretty much the same game as Killing Floor 1, but with micropayments and loot boxes.


2. Rise of the Tomb Raider


I liked Tomb Raider because of the story. I liked Rise of the Tomb Raider in spite of the story.

From the review:

Even though she’s all but swallowed up by the penny-ante narrative of helping this ridiculous band of resistance fighters, even though her gruel thin motivation is now based on yet another all-powerful doodad, even though Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn’t have any of the first game’s character development or interesting cast, this is still the Lara Croft that Crystal Dynamics reinvented and rescued from irrelevance three years ago.

1. Stellaris


Paradox is one of my favorite developers. Over the course of four Europa Universalis’, four Hearts of Iron, two Crusader Kings, and two utterly brilliant Victorias, they’ve made strategy games like no one else. I guess you can’t sustain that forever. They were bound to release a clunker sooner or later.

From the review:

Imagine that your favorite history professor has written a sci-fi novel. You’re intrigued. You read it. It’s dry, bereft of imagination, and misses the point of sci-fi by light years. It’s even full of typos and some of the pages are blank. But you still read all 912 pages. It’s flat. It’s lifeless. It’s terrible. You’re crestfallen. That’s Stellaris.

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