The gaming industry is filled with hits, but for every few smash successes, there’s bound to be something that doesn’t make the mark. They’re not necessarily the most fun games to talk about, especially when they seemed so promising while they were in the developmental phase. But looking back at noble failures can sometimes be a valuable reminder for video game developers as to what should be avoided during the creation process. As fans, it can also be a good motivator to further delight in the games that get it right instead.
Here are 5 times an eagerly anticipated game let us down. Minor spoiler: Duke Nukem Forever isn’t on the list. Why not, some will ask? Frankly, by the time it was almost out the door the writing was on the wall. Who was left to anticipate it, let alone eagerly?
5. Cyberpunk 2077
The heaviest-hitting and perhaps most controversial entry is also the first because for all its faults Cyberpunk 2077 is a rip-roaring financial success with at least some fans. Just last month, CD Projekt touted the game’s 13.7 million sales in 2022; as Danko Kovačić eloquently phrased it back in April, it’s a daring move to brag about sales after Cyberpunk’s launch. Cyberpunk 2077’s launch phase was an unmitigated disaster. Even with multiple patches under its belt, the game remains quite buggy even on PC; the PS4 and Xbox One versions, shipped and sold as if they’re perfectly viable choices, genuinely border on unplayable. It got bad enough that Sony eventually permitted players to refund the game, although even in this regard CD Projekt rather mucked things up. It’s tough to predict Cyberpunk 2077’s legacy right now, given that it does have its moments when everything clicks and it’s a worthy shooter-RPG. But it’s undeniable that its launch, at very least, will remain infamous.
4. Mighty No. 9
It’s probably the nicest thing that can be said about Mighty No. 9 that it’s just niche enough not to be remembered at all by the general public. When an eagerly-anticipated game is as bad as this one, it’s better to be forgotten. One of Kickstarter’s more unfortunate endeavors, the game’s broadcast pitch was that it would serve as a replacement to the ailing Mega Man franchise. Mega Man fans took instant notice of the project in large part because of the involvement of Keiji Inafune, an instrumental developer in both the classic series and especially the Mega Man X spinoffs. People wanted to believe that Mighty No. 9 would fill a void in their robot-loving hearts, but the harsh truth is that Inafune disappointed fans big-time.
Mighty No. 9 is a bog-standard video game that feels like it was shoehorned together by amateurs. The USgamer review begins with the words “Mighty No-No,” which encapsulates Mighty No. 9 rather neatly. With generic graphics, a forgettable soundtrack, and 2D gunplay that just isn’t fun, the game that was supposed to be a spiritual successor ended up failing to revitalize anything that makes the Mega Man franchise great. Incidentally, Mega Man 11 launched two years later… and it’s actually good.
Unless you somehow managed to close your eyes to avoid this article’s featured image, you must have known going into it that Anthem would be featured. We’ll lead with the positives. While it will never be known whether or not the game reached Electronic Arts’ financial forecast, it is known that Anthem was the 15th best-selling game in 2019. That can’t be dire. Flying around in a Javelin is loads of fun at first, and EA’s Frostbite Engine makes for some grand vistas to behold. What went wrong? Everything else. From uninspired and samey loot, glitched guns and upgrades that often don’t even work as intended, and a dearth of new content, Anthem’s prospects were already looking grim from the outset.
Try as they may, BioWare’s Anthem team never managed to right the ship. And perhaps that last sentence holds the key to the entire reason Anthem is a flop — BioWare. No, not in the sense that BioWare is a bad studio. Rather, it was the wrong studio to choose for Anthem from the very beginning. At their best, BioWare games tell gripping stories with lovable casts in a fairly straightforward, single-player fashion. Attempting to marry that approach with a co-op multiplayer gameplay loop, while admirably bold, was simply never going to work. A planned developmental reboot that might hypothetically have fixed the game was officially canceled this past February, leaving Anthem as little more than a painful lesson in how not to make a video game.
“Believe the hype.”
Those were the words that served as a tagline, an advertisement catchphrase plastered onto the retail boxes of many other Eidos Interactive video games in the leadup to what was supposed to be an industry-shaking phenomenon. The hopes were riding on one name: John Romero, the founder of id Software and designer of such titan titles as Doom and Quake. Suffice it to say, it didn’t happen. When it released in 2000, Daikatana sold a paltry 40,351 copies, quickly becoming one of the biggest bombs in video game history. A change in the game’s engine, botched programming efforts, the departure of most of its prominent developers midway through completion — all of these and more contributed to Daikatana’s failure. By the time it came out, Daikatana was on the receiving end of a bevy of negative publicity. A strong showing would have relegated such media reactions to a footnote in history but with a ho-hum campaign, shoddy gunplay, and a pervading sense of mediocrity incarnate, Daikatana is handily one of the most disappointing video game releases of all time.
1. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
For decades, video game historians have read the story of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial’s disastrous launch and either guffawed or felt their jaws slack in awe. Either way, the reaction’s deserved. The story goes like this: way back in 1982, video game giant Atari was riding high on the success of its Atari 2600. Battling it out with contemporary juggernauts like Coleco and Mattel, Atari hoped to remain at the top of the food chain. In a frenzy, Atari gave poor Howard Scott Warshaw fewer than six weeks to complete E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, an adaptation of the immensely popular film of the same name. Back then, video game tie-ins to successful movies were the way to go if you wanted to compete in the big leagues, so this was supposed to be the holiday system seller. The thing is, even in 1982 six weeks was an impossible projection for building a game from start to finish. Six to nine months was the average, and again, Howard Scott Warshaw was just one guy.
The game was, predictably, catastrophically bad. To make matters worse, the deal with Steven Spielberg for the video game rights to his movie was so costly that Atari needed to sell a minimum of four million copies just to break even. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial sold just shy of a quarter of that, but the bad news by no means ended there. Frustrated fans returned the game to retailers in droves, citing it as unplayable. These days, every game under the sun has at least somebody on the internet labeling it as unplayable, but in E.T.’s case, it was pretty much the gospel truth. With over three million copies left unsold and nowhere to store them all, the humiliated Atari opted to quietly bury every last copy in a New Mexico landfill — ironically, not all that far from Roswell. People wanted to love this game. Instead, it became literal trash. If that doesn’t scream the word “disappointment,” nothing ever will.
There’s Always A Risk
Video game developers don’t exist in a vacuum. Just about everybody in the industry has heard these stories or witnessed them firsthand. Creating games is a daunting task in the best of times, and it’s filled with tales of horror. In the not-so-distant future, there will without a doubt be more eagerly-anticipated games that let us down. It’s the nature of the beast, but the flip side of the coin is that any given game can be the next Breath of the Wild instead. What will happen if Halo Infinite turns out to be a dud? The world will move on, the designers will learn a lesson, and Microsoft will pay the price. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen.
- This article was updated on July 2nd, 2021