Gamers, it is time. Time to look back on this year and face something that many aren’t ready to. That fact is simple, but frightening. This year sucked. It was also awesome. But, let’s face it, it’s always more fun to look at the horrible disappointments than the thrilling successes of the gaming world. Unless, you know, you have to play one of them.
This year had some of the greatest and most anticipated titles coming out: Black Ops 2, Diablo 3, Mass Effect 3, Halo 4, Resident Evil 6... the list goes on and on. The fact is, coming into this year (like all the others before it), our eyes were filled with the twinkling lights of innocence, childhood come to life in the face of incredulous troves of gaming bliss.
But, as with all years, as we reached the magical dates and held up those shining boxes wrapped in plastic, we found that some were not filled with joy and magic - no, some held the stench of failure and the ever-present memories of their past lives, their boxes filled with 'what-could-have-been' and 'if-only'. Not the least of which were those we gave our highest expectations.
Now, we examine... the biggest disappointments of 2012.
Massive, breathtaking spoilers ahead. In fact, I'm going to completely ruin the endings of three of these five games for those who haven't seen them. You have been warned, feel free to skip any of them.
#5. Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3 is a fine game, don't get me wrong. However, like other games on this list, it is one moment in particular that can break a player out of their well-crafted narrative and into the dreaded moment of "wait, what?"
At the end of the game, you've rescued your friends, overcome every trial in your path, and become a real man. Congratulations. But now, you have a choice to make - the leader of the natives, who have helped Jason become the warrior you've made him into, kidnaps your newly rescued friends and asks you to make a choice. You can either kill them, live with the tribe on the island for the rest of your life, and generally be the Tarzan in your own personal Africa. Or, you can cut them down, go back to civilization, and lead a normal life.
The problem isn't in the choice - in the right context, this could be amazing, maybe even something that would cause you to really stop and think. But here's the problem. The whole choice is supposed to be a dilemma for the character Jason, because he's changed. He has killed people, he has practically become family to the tribe, and he even voices a desire to stay with them during the game.
You spend, quite simply, the entire game trying to rescue your friends. Regardless of whether he wants to see them shipped safely off without him, or if he really does want to go with them, Jason's entire purpose to hunting down the pirates and becoming this insanely badass warrior was to rescue his friends. Then, just as you rescue the last of them, you are asked to kindly slit their throats and walk away.
Maybe if Far Cry 3 had been longer, if the pirates had lived, and if you spent a significant amount of time working alongside your friends to secure passage off the island, it would have worked. Then Jason would have had time with both parties - time to see the best and worst sides of each, and still be slowly corrupted by the murders he is committing, and by Citra, who slowly tries to turn him against his friends. But choosing the option to remain on the island and become said Tarzan ends up making Jason seem bi-polar. He apparently put all that hard work into rescuing them just for the pleasure of killing them himself for not being as badass as he was.
Oh, and did I fail to mention that if you choose to stay on the island, Citra murders you anyway?
Man, karma is stone cold.
Still, Far Cry 3 had a great game leading up to the ending, which is why it takes the barely-upsetting fifth spot. As compared to...
#4. Assassin's Creed III
Assassin's Creed III is a good game, as much as some people would try to argue that point. It does pretty much what the other games have done in a new setting, adding in a few new pieces of technology and a new backstory. But it adds in a certain monotony to all of it that makes it feel listless, a poor sequel to an excellent franchise.
Assassin's Creed games typically take place in or around major cities - the first game was, essentially, three cities that you travel to via horseback (and later, fast travel), do a couple side missions, then assassinate the head honcho that you were actually sent there for. Assassin's Creed III, however, has you going all over colonial America. You still generally get sent from one place to another, but it seems to happen with much more frequency, and the journeys seem longer. Travelling to and from Boston and other early American cities can sometimes feel like you're actually making the journey yourself, which is never a good feeling. Especially if you happen to be stuck in five foot snow drifts without a horse.
Assassin's Creed III does most, if not everything, that its predecessors do well. It's just not as good at doing them, and a lot of the features that it tries to add into the game feel clunky or mishandled. And for being the first numerical Assassin's Creed title we've received in some time, that's a big disappointment. Still, it wasn't as disappointing as the third title in the list...
#3. Diablo 3
Diablo 3 was supposed to be mind-blowing. It succeeded, at some aspects. In terms of a "click this thing until it dies, then click its brother until he dies", you won't find a more game. Despite the fact that the entire game can be played through using one single button it is strangely addictive. Of course, you won't be using one button. You'll be mashing the potions hotkey, at least, especially if you plan on playing through Inferno difficulty.
But Diablo 3 blew our minds much more rudely - and much less gently - about the aspects that had nothing to do with actual gameplay. Online DRM has always existed in some form or other, but it has never been so invasive as Diablo 3's. The need for an internet connection, no matter how long you've been a faithful player and how many times the game has checked to make sure you aren't playing a pirated copy, is something that makes the user feel like a criminal. And if we wanted to feel like a criminal, we would have gone to The Pirate Bay and just downloaded your game instead of paying for the pleasure of constantly having Big Brother looking over our shoulder.
Diablo 3, if not the first, is the greatest example of how badly DRM can mess up an otherwise great experience. Nothing is scarier than hearing the words "Single-player" and "lag" used next to each other without it being followed by a picture of the developer's building being lit on fire by fans foaming at the mouth and shattering disks over their faces. But Diablo 3 was a success, despite all these features. And in a way, it deserves the success. It's a great game. It's fun, oddly addictive yet simplistic, and is one of the few games that can make you replay it four times (or more) just for the hope of "epic lewtz". But it's the wrapper around the game that leaves the sour taste in your mouth, not the delicious sweetness inside.
#2. Black Ops 2
After the colossal failure (you know, in every way that WASN'T financial) of Modern Warfare 3, especially regarding public opinion of the game, Black Ops 2 was set to sweep the CoD franchise and set a new standard for future installations. And boy, did it. Ignoring Multiplayer completely, because it's hard to mess up a system as thoroughly established as Call of Duty (even Modern Warfare 3's biggest complaint was simply that it "didn't change enough"), let's look at the campaign.
Modern Warfare has a plot, surely, but whatever it is is so poorly explained that almost everyone who plays it either completely doesn't understand at least one part of it or just thinks that it is badly written in general. Some plot points make no sense and others come out of left field, attempting to surprise you and make you reconsider everything you thought about a character. Unfortunately, most of these moments just end up making you feel confused. It has great action moments - the final levels of Modern Warfare 2 and 3 in particular can really keep you on the edge of your seat, if you let them - but in the end it isn't executed well.
Black Ops 2 does plot great. While sometimes you might be lost, it's usually because you weren't paying attention. Black Ops 2 demands your undivided attention and it will reward you with rich storytelling and development.
For the most part.
But Black Ops 2 decided at some point that it wanted to be a game with "scene compilation" endings based on your choices - AKA, every choice you make that is fairly important adds in a scene to a slideshow-esque montage at the end of the game. There are Good and Bad scenes; for instance, a genius hacker can live or die, and she determines whether or not a computer virus infects most of the nation and generally messes things up for you.
But what you have to do to get this girl to survive is ridiculous, for one reason.
You typically play as David Mason, the son of Alex Mason. He works together with a highly skilled task force alongside other characters - most notably, and ever-present throughout the story, Mike Harper.
Of course, you play as other characters from time to time, like any other agme in the series. One of the characters you play as is named Farid. He is an undercover operative, working directly with Menendez, the main villain of the game. During an attack launched to capture Menendez, you play Farid, and after being separated from Menendez, must make your way back to him. When you arrive, you find that Harper has been captured by Menendez at some point.
It is now that you are presented with the rather cliche choice of either shooting Harper to prove your loyalty to Raul Menendez, or attempting to shoot Menendez instead. A moral dilemma, of course, which is typical of games like this.
What isn't typical is the fact that there is a "correct" choice.
You see, if you attempt to shoot Menendez, he stops you with almost complete ease, instead pointing his own gun at you and blowing Farid away. Harper lives, because it's conveniently soon after that the reinforcements arrive and Menendez has no time to kill Harper.
However, if you choose this option, the character I named earlier (Karma) will die later (there is literally no way to save her life, no matter the choices you make OTHER than this one, despite it being in a completely different level and time), who is apparently the only person that can stop the computer Virus.
Essentially, the game is asking you to kill off a character you have been playing beside the entire game for the life of someone you've been playing as for approximately fifteen minutes. And you have no way of knowing, ahead of time, that your choice will potentially screw over the nation's infrastructure. Even if having the advantage of an undercover agent seems like the right choice, why would you choose to end the life of a surprisingly amusing character you've become attached to over someone with no personality development through the entire game, even after this mission?
Oh, and he dies later anyway. At least Harper has the stones to stick it out through the rest of the game.
Games with different endings, like Fable, and more comparably Fallout because it uses the same montage/scene collection style of ending, have these choices to let you feel "Good" or "Evil". The game acts as a benevolent narrator, guiding your character to his eventual destiny, whether he's an evil tyrant or as close to an angel as a human being can become.
Black Ops 2 feels more like an iron-handed dictator. What few choices it gives you aren't really choices at all - they're just ways to make you either feel like shit for saving your nation and killing your teammates, or vice-versa, making you feel like shit for screwing over your nation (even unintentionally) just to save your comrades. Black Ops 2 has "Good" and "Bad" endings, instead of "Good" and "Evil", but unlike other games that do this, the requirements aren't just being an even bigger badass than you would normally be. Black Ops 2 forces your hand and forces you to make decisions you never would have, except for the sole fact of improving your ending. I have only played through the game once, and I feel no desire to play it again. Ever. Because I'm not willing to change my decisions for the sake of an ending; quite frankly, I'd rather have millions of virtual, faceless American citizens get screwed over than the guy who I've been working beside for hours of hardcore operations. Black Ops 2's illusion of choice, however, makes it only the second most disappointing game of this year...
#1. Halo 4
Hah. You actually thought I was serious for a minute, didn't you?
The Real #1: Mass Effect 3
I almost hesitate to put this game on the list. Mostly because there has already been so much hate piled onto this game that the developers actually went back and re-wrote the ending. Okay, so they didn't change most of what people ACTUALLY complained about, but the fact that a developer felt the need to sate the moneybags it calls fans so that they didn't abandon the company forever is pretty impressive. It's tempting to just quietly shove this game under the rug, so that the #1 spot, reserved for only the most disappointing and hated game of the year, isn't dismissed as just another rage-filled rant.
But no matter how hard I try, I can't take this game off the list, nor can I bear to bump it lower, because putting anything AHEAD of Mass Effect 3 on a list with "disappointing" in the title feels like the most grave injustice I could ever do it. I could slap every member of Black Ops 2's development team in the face and I still feel like they wouldn't be as insulted as if I told them their game was more disappointing than Mass Effect 3.
But instead of complaining about plot holes, instead of complaining about lack of exposition, instead of complaining about an absolute refusal to give clarity to questions fans raised about the truth of the ending and leaving the entire plot of the game in perpetual limbo, let's break it down to one simple fact. Mass Effect 3 is a game about choices. More than any other game in the market, your choices are what keep the planets turning and the universe from imploding on itself every time someone turns their back on the galaxy for more than two seconds. And your choices don't mean a damned thing.
In a game, no, in a series dedicated to letting the player make hundreds of choices, and allowing them to decide on literally thousands of dialogue options, the very last game of the series takes a big dump on all of that by amounting your decisions to points. Called "War Assets", everything you've done until this point is broken down into a mathematical value to decide just how badly you screwed up (or, more likely, didn't screw up) the galaxy when the Reapers come calling. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - after all, I did just get done complaining about how Black Ops 2 disappointed by requiring you to make certain decisions to get a good ending. The last thing you want to find out at the end of Mass Effect 3 is that because you chose to blow up the Collector base at the very end of Mass Effect 2, now the Reapers are assured their victory. So now you have to replay TWO games to get a good ending. That's not what anyone wants. Not EVERY choice has to DRASTICALLY affect the ending of a game.
But SOME change would be nice.
No matter how many fleets you amass, no matter how much time you spend on the game, war assets are all that matter. Mass Effect 3's ending boils down to a hard choice, which - to the developer's credit - is very long and too complicated to explain without making this article even longer than it already is. So I'm just going to assume that either by playing the game or by reading the massive rage fans cried out with, you have learned at least the general concept of the game's choice at the very end.
And here's where the Black Ops 2 comparison comes in, thin as it may be.
Bioware forces you to choose, essentially, between killing Shepherd and killing off large parts of the galaxy.
To save Shepherd, you have to destroy what amounts to anything using Reaper tech. Because of the game's plot, this means virtually anything more advanced than a bolt-action rifle is going to shut down, and anything on the level of an AI is pretty much screwed completely. Did you save the Geth? I'm so sorry, but it looks like you murdered all those Quarians for absolutely nothing - that's right, the Geth are screwed. So is EDI, in case you were wondering.
Or, you could save all of them. But of course, if you choose another ending, Shepherd doesn't even have a glimmer of hope for survival. Not even a chance.
And of course, everyone is going to die anyway.
What's that you say? Why? Because the Mass Relays are down, that's why. Ignoring the fact that most of the planets in the game have already been desolated by Reaper attacks, ignoring the fact that the population of the galaxy has decreased by tens or hundreds of billions over the past few years, the Mass Relays were literally ninety-nine percent of what makes Mass Effect... Mass Effect.
You now have planets without any military force at all. Which is okay, right? After all, the Reapers are dead - they shouldn't need their military. Of course, there are tens of billions of spouses without their loved ones, be they male or female, because without Mass Relays there is no way for them to get back. The journey, even at FTL speeds, is estimated to take decades, even centuries for a ship to return. Maybe if you're an Asari, you can live long enough to enjoy your golden years back on your home planet. Everyone else is screwed.
Oh, that's right. They won't live long enough to get back, because now the combined military force of the galaxy is stuck near or on Earth. Which has had most of its infrastructure wrecked by constant Reaper attack since the beginning of the game. Remind me how they're going to feed the galaxy's surviving military forces? Oh, right, they're not. And the destruction of the Mass Relays is/was non-optional; it happened in every game!
The Extended Cut of Mass Effect 3 helped. A little. It changed some things (despite the constant claims from Bioware beforehand that nothing would be "changed", only "elaborated"), and gave more closure to fans. One interesting fact about it is that it opened up a fourth choice - the middle finger that you've always wanted to give Bioware, essentially, in which Shepard flips the bird to the star child and says "Screw it, we'll just fight." This essentially ends with the extinction of humanity, forever. Your army is wiped out, every race dies, and the cycle continues. This just brings me to my original point: try as hard as you want, your choices don't matter.
You can save the Geth, and the Quarians, putting two of the most advanced races in the galaxy at the head of your research. You can convince Mordin, one of the greatest scientific minds in the galaxy, not to kill himself, adding him to the teams working on the Crucible and through a related course of action, securing the Salarians to aid your efforts as well. You can add Rachni to your armadas, do every side quest in the game, create the single most awesome force of destruction and technological wonder that the galaxy has ever seen, and it doesn't matter. At all. Because at the end of the day, the final choices of the game (the ones that really determine your ending) have nothing to do with your previous choices. No matter how many brains work on the Crucible, you will never be able to find anyone smart enough to make the Crucible only target Reapers. No matter how many Krogan you save, Turians you recruit, or how badass you make Commander Shephard before judgment day comes, you will never be able to out-fight the Reapers. Most games actually make you feel like a winner at the end - you save the girl, maybe even get her if you're good enough; you save the kingdom; you stop what is left of post-apocalyptic civilization from being wiped off the face of the earth - but Mass Effect 3 fails at doing this in every way you can conceive. Mass Effect 3 doesn't make you feel like a winner, it just makes you feel like you failed the least amount you could. Shephard will never get his happy ending, never get to settle down quietly with a romantic partner, never get the life he deserves. Neither will the galaxy. And Bioware makes sure of it.
In a game where dozens, even hundreds of choices, carry over through game after game, not a single one of your choices carries over into the final moments of the game. The ending is pre-determined, and the only way to change it is to make it worse, if you don't bother to do enough side quests.
Mass Effect 3 promised to make us like miniature gods, to decide the fate of the galaxy based on OUR choices, based on OUR Shepherd, how WE chose to live their lives. But Bioware was holding all the cards, and in the end, we were like living humans stuck to the strings of a puppet. Sure, we can wiggle around a little bit, but no matter how hard we struggle Bioware is still making us dance to their tune.
For being the only game to put so much emphasis on choice, ever, and then to take it all away at the end, Mass Effect 3 is easily the most disappointing game of 2012.
Here's looking forward to 2013.