The recent Disintegration release is one of the brightest representatives of brilliant ideas being wasted during the game development. This made me realize how often these kinds of things actually happen in the game industry. How many projects had every chance of becoming truly breakthrough hits, but squandered their potential and left a trail of disappointment. In the following, I will provide the most striking examples of interesting ideas which fell victim to its implementation. Someone shall like these games, some hate them, but both “opposite camps” agree that these projects could have been done better.
10. Agony (2018)
Agony opens my compilation of games with captivating ideas, but which fell victim to its implementation. If we go over the list of noticeable horrors of the last five years, we could notice a clear pattern: an exploration of abandoned or haunted mansions, asylums, offices, etc. Most of us would agree that it is boring and annoying after a while. In such a context, the announcement of Agony looked like a revelation – we are sent directly into the deepest pits of Hell, which is no walk in the park. You’re a regular miserable sinner who knows how to inhabit the body of someone, including demons as well. Everything is in place: blood, gore, murders, some boobs and the atmosphere of a total satanic bacchanal in the best tradition of Dante Alighieri. And it’s all from the ex-developers of The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. What could possibly go wrong?
Everything. Literally. Instead of a proper game, we obtained a walking simulator in a piece of bloody gore scenery. No proper story, without horror, practically free of gameplay, with anti-human-level design, horrendous directing and useless mechanics of inhabiting bodies. I hate to say it, but this is probably one of the most tiring games in the world.
The only frightening thing is Agony’s technical condition. Terrible “soapy” graphics, lack of optimization, ridiculous animation and hundreds of bugs. Personally, I didn’t expect a masterpiece, but this is too much.
The only bright spot in this miserable experience are visuals. Walls oozing pus, pulsating doors, statues made up of pieces of flesh, rivers of blood, fire abysses and my favorite demons with vaginas in lieu of the faces – it looked actually really good, even impressive.
However, even here the developers messed up, by placing huge bets on sexual content. Maybe it could be attractive, but considering the game was censored just before the release, hopes were dashed. And then later all the obscenities were shown in an unrated re-release, but by then, nobody ever looked up the game.
Therefore, Agony has become not only an example of a great idea being wasted, but also how the developers can show a pretty picture of a cool game, promoting it, and meanwhile doing something completely different.
For the record, Madmind Studio are currently developing Succubus – an action spinoff of Agony in the same setting and rating. I personally believe in this project, but as well forewarned is forearmed.
9. We Happy Few (2018)
Dystopia is one of the most fertile soils for interesting stories and unusual game mechanics. It is a paradox that game developers “forgot” that little fact and use it as a backdrop for action dramas (BioShock, Half-Life 2, Wolfenstein: The New Order, Mirror’s Edge). Now, with that in mind, Compulsion Games have taken the risk and released a game, where we can actually live in an anti-utopia.
We Happy Few is a story in which the United Kingdom, after suffering heavy losses in fighting with Nazy Germany, decided to control its inhabitants through drugs named Joy. These magic pills have taken away all these traumatic memories, by having them believe that they are living in the best of all worlds. People who no longer want to take the pill are treated like people with rabies and are left to die in special reservations. Obviously, they can spread rumours about the true situation. This is exactly the protagonist we are playing. Well, actually three protagonists – there are three persons with their own storylines.
To be a citizen of an anti-utopian state is to be a full member of the community, so either way, you should take Joy to blend in. Of course, you cannot take too many pills or manage without them – the local police would quickly put you in your place. Everything is the other way around in reservations, so you should tediously act like a “wild” one.
That sounds great, right? We were also promised a huge open-world, crafting, stealth, cage fights, survival elements and a serious bet on exploration and investigation. Yes, and highly unusual visuals, since the world around you would change, depending on whether you take the pill or not.
Everything sounded cool, but it proved to be just boring. After a brisk and good opening, the plot begins to slip and is filled with “bottle-washer” quests. Crafting and surviving mechanics are practically meaningless since there is no fine for sleep deprivation or starving. There’s plenty of resources, literally at every turn.
And worst of all, there is no fun in exploring the map. It’s not even because it is just boring, but because of Joy. The main mechanic which was promised to be the hallmark of We Happy Few became its damnation. Essentially, it impedes your peaceful movement through the map. In order to avoid suspicions, you either have to keep still, or constantly take your medicine which makes it impossible to run.
So, if you truly want to go all the way, you would screw this concept of Joy and jog by enemies. There is no point in taking the drug for the sake of visuals only – the world would become brighter, true, but nothing exceptional or captivating.
This is not to say that the game is hopeless. It has its own admirers (me for instance), but it’s pretty impossible to find someone who would appreciate We Happy Few for its gameplay.
8. I Am Alive (2012)
In a diversity of sins by Ubisoft (the list of which over the years only grows), there are a few people who remember the love of the French publisher to announce games long before the developers are even confident in the chosen concept. The result is the huge number of redone projects on the move. Grim Prince of Persia: Kindred Blades turned into a neutral The Two Thrones. Splinter Cell: Conviction from social stealth turned into a corridor TPS. Rainbow Six: Patriots, focused on the plot, has become a sessional Siege. And just how many times has Beyond Good & Evil 2 been redone? Even Michel Ansel couldn’t give the answer.
I Am Alive is far from the most famous victims of Ubisoft’s short-sightedness, but definitely one that hurts the most. The game was announced in 2008 and was going to become nothing other than a survival title, long before the genre became popular. And it was a survival game with a story – I Am Alive sent you right at the epicentre of the earthquake that leveled Chicago. You would have to not only become a witness of significant destruction, but also participate in the consequences.
An open-world was at the service of the developers, waiting several days for the evacuation, you have to scavenge, struggle to survive with the other victims and make regular moral choices – to share or not to share your resources, who to save and who to kill. Particular emphasis was placed on moral implications – I Am Alive must have revealed the man’s true nature and all of your choices would affect the outcome of the story. In short, a big-budget This War of Mine was waiting for us.
The game was almost as interesting as it was time-consuming – it was repeatedly delayed and at some point, it was about to be canceled. I Am Alive came to life only in 2012 and it was hard to recognise it. The setting was reworked – instead of the epicentre of the earthquake, you are sent to a dark post-apocalyptic world, in which the entire planet is destroyed by natural disasters and people have almost gone. The developers rejected the idea of the open world and the game became a generic corridor action game divided by levels. To be clear, instead of proper action, we received a third-person platformer with rare skirmishes against a bunch of savages. Finally, I Am Alive became poor technologically, has acquired a disgusting gray graphic filter and was not an AAA title anymore.
All that remained were survival elements, optional possibility to help the NPCs in need and an interesting mechanic of intimidation of enemies (even using unloaded guns). And even though this feature was indeed interesting and would perfectly fit in modern action games like The Last of Us 2 and I Am Alive wasn’t the worst game ever, it pales in comparison to what we were promised initially.
7. Get Even (2018)
This game is the first-ever attempt by Polish studio The Farm 51 (the one behind unsuccessful NecroVision, Deadfall Adventures and Painkiller reboot) to release something serious and not just another flash in the pan. Get Even proved to be a science-fiction FPS and adventure hybrid, dedicated to researching traumatic human memories in a virtual simulation. We were promised not only a storyline with a twist in a spirit of Inception, but a deep detective component.
And it’s all within the context made out of a couple of unique ideas. For instance, Cornergun, which can shoot around corners. Or deployment of technology of photogrammetry in order to create graphics as realistic as possible. The project was indeed very ambitious.
Unfortunately, enthusiasm does not always lend itself to accurate results. And during the promotion phase, the game was already looking like a featureless “horror”. The trailers were puzzling in a bad way.
Formally, all perks were in place, but they ended up being boring and uninteresting. At first, the intriguing plot instead of a spy thriller offered us a set of clichés about family values. The idea of virtual reality was solely used to change locations on cue, and not to produce interesting situations or splendid visuals. The investigation mechanic wasn’t thrilling too, as it just amounted to a tedious gathering of collectible notes, photography and endless walking with ultraviolet light.
Cornergun didn’t please as well, due to trivial shooting physics, enemy stupidity and zero dynamic in the best traditions of a low-cost indie game made on Unity. The photogrammetry turned out to be a dud since local boondocks, slums and offices are so faceless that nothing could brighten it up. Mysteries, stealth and horror didn’t improve the situation – they are just not imaginative enough.
The only emotion you can count on is boredom. Get Even is not bad, it is just faceless. I had the impression that The Farm 51 themselves didn’t realize which kind of game they were doing. With a proper approach, Get Even could have been a science-fiction Condemned successor.
6. Alone in the Dark (2008)
The original Alone in the Dark game from 1992 is actually the forefather of the survival horror genre. It’s logical when it came to a reboot, the developers set themselves a goal to do something big. They took it seriously, and during the promotion phase, it seemed like in Alone in the Dark, any gameplay element won’t be done without innovation.
But hopes were dashed. Okay, let’s count what we were promised. First of all, we were promised a combat system with a possibility to regulate the power and direction of hand-to-hand combat. Also, we were supposed to torch wooden objects or gasoline trails. Switch between first and third-person views. A move away from usual interface. Craft system and healing. Get your hands on every item and use it. New York Central Park free for exploration. Driving a car. Captivating visuals and fancy production. In total, it should have become a true revolution in the horror genre.
This is a really fascinating case, since all of these things were in the game. The individual gameplay elements worked, but there was a misalliance between the gameplay and controls. You never know what exactly this game wants from you. And when you find a solution, you are forced to engage in the unequal battle with the controls – the camera acted inappropriately, the protagonist moved like a sack of potatoes and the cars controlled like a stick of butter in a frying pan. As a consequence, it was my sincere wish to play Alone in the Dark, but it was just impossible.
Besides, the game had issues with its own face – the developers made a true vinaigrette from different genres. Alone in the Dark tried to be an action game, a platformer, an adventure, a sandbox, and an arcade racing game at the same time, but was almost never a horror. And maybe individual episodes in Alone in the Dark would have it fascinating and memorable (for instance, at the beginning of the game the escape from the earthquake), but for the most part felt like a piecemeal title.
5. The Order 1886 (2015)
A game developed by Ready at Dawn and published by Sony is the most expensive in my compilation. It is a third-person action game unfolding in alternative London of the 19th century, where steampunk meets fantasy and immortal knights of the round table, which save the country from vampires and werewolves using firearms. Just like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in some way. Besides the mind-boggling visuals, we were promised a spectacular action title within a fascinating setting and with a bold plot. How do you ruin such an interesting idea with Sony’s unlimited resources on hand?
Very simple; it is enough to make a prologue instead of a complete game. The Order 1886 was inexcusably short, like you’ve got a pilot of a show in front of you. You can complete the game in 6 hours on average and end literally with nothing – only with a huge cliffhanger. The same trick has been done in God of War (2018), Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Days Gone. But they were at least complete games.
The developers of The Order 1886 denied themselves everything and saved their best ideas for the sequel. There wasn’t simply enough of mechanics, ammo, enemies and action. Including the gameplay, and that’s why the game has acquired the status of a “movie”. In a bad sense, of course.
And actually, although few people argued about the good combat system in The Order 1886 or the interesting setting with a decent plot, at the same time, no one thought that the full price for it was justified.
From here come the average ratings, negative reviews and mediocre sales. And now, five years later, instead of a sequel announcement, all we’ve got is the information about the developers studio being bought by Facebook. There is no happy ending to this story.
4. Remember Me (2013)
You might or might not know that the well-known French studio Dontnod, before rising to fame with Life is Strange, already had big ambitions. They tried to fulfill them in their first game project, Remember Me. On paper, it looked like a full-fledged cyberpunk Uncharted. Here you can find acrobatics, puzzles, detailed world of the future, bold plot, interesting beat’em up combat (you can make your own combos) and finally the intriguing mechanic of “hacking” another man’s memories. The game intrigued so much that you didn’t pay attention to the problematic development process and developers’ inexperience.
Well, you should be, since apparently this was possibly disrupted before becoming something extraordinary. You just wanted to keep looking at Remember Me, hear it, read it – you were ravished by its story and well-elaborated setting, one of the most beautiful cyberpunk game worlds. Although playing Remember Me wasn’t really interesting. The platforming was very standard, the production was desperately in short supply and the puzzles were simply boring. Elements of exploration could save the situation, but alas, the locations in Remember Me appeared to be linear. You would like to explore them, but there was nothing to explore, and all you were left to do was to look upon the decorations.
The worst was the combat system. It consisted mainly of monotonous clicking on squads of stupid enemies. The glorified “combo constructor” was just making the situation worse, forcing you to combine 2-3 of your own attacks, which were easy to confuse with each other. Smashing faces in Remember Me was not just uninteresting, it was super boring. Almost from the first levels.
Even after taking account of all of these blunders, Dontnod had one more trick up its sleeves – rewriting memories. Unfortunately, there were only a few moments with the hacking of characters, literally 3 or 4. And though they had turned out to be interesting, such a small amount had not allowed them to consider them a full-fledged mechanic.
3. Blair Witch (2018)
This is a very strange case, but in the history of the horror genre, there were very few games within the forest setting. Although, it would seem that it is a perfect decoration to inflame a sinister atmosphere – it’s wild, inspiring the feel of the primal fear and even without mysticism can make your imagination work against you. The cult horror movie Blair Witch focused on that fear, in which there were no ordinary screamers, but only trees, crack of branches and main heroes slowly losing their minds. When Bloober Team, the studio behind the fabulous Layers of Fear and Observer announced their new project based on it, I was pretty excited about it.
Being an extension of the Blair Witch movie, the game puts you in amateur private-eye shoes, adventuring with a faithful dog, which went into the woods in search of a missing child. In fact, the dog was supposed to be our companion throughout the story. That alone was a very wise and unusual decision, giving you a partner that can lift your spirits up. The developers promised to make the dog a full-fledged gameplay instrument. It can show you the way, don’t let you get lost, bring some useful objects and even find the way ahead. With its bark or growling, the dog is warning you about danger. It is your eyes and ears in a seemingly intractable forest.
And I must admit, in the beginning, all of these things were working. Slow walking in the darkened woods, disturbing ambience, spooky idols, growing climate of fear, exploration of big locations and dimensional anomalies.
But several hours later, Bloober Team shamelessly ruined its own atmosphere, turning Blair Witch into Layers of Fear. Dismal and leisurely, horror was blown away since you get an incredible amount of hallucinations of different levels. You see imaginary monsters, get flashbacks and regularly pass out. Finally, the intrigue gets lost and right away it is clear that the hero is not right in the head and there is nothing to be afraid of. This game is not about the witch, the woods or the primal fear. This is just another psychedelic ride from Bloober Team, where only the name refers to the original movie.
I’d thought that the dog could save the situation and its related unusual mechanics. But the primary interaction with the dog ended already in the second hour of the game. This dog turns into a shadow of his master and is coming back only in cutscenes. The game just invalidates the possibilities of your pet. There are mostly corridor locations, so you don’t need any additional “sense of direction”. You can give commands to your dog, but strictly by the plot. Besides, you can simply jog by your enemies, so it’s not like you need a dog for it.
However, due to a memorable prologue and as always spectacular hallucinations, Blair Witch is worth considering and can keep you engrossed. But not like a horror game, but a colorful walking simulator. It rests with you to decide whether it is good or not.
2. Vampyr (2018)
With all the ambiguity of the projects of the French studio Dontnod, you’ve got to admire their ideas. Vampyr is an RPG unfolding in industrial London of 1918, where you, suddenly and unexpectedly, play as a vampire. But what was much more interesting was that the protagonist was a doctor back in his human life, and even as a bloodsucker decided to continue with his activities and save the town from raging diseases, and as a bonus, from an ancient evil that spread terror among the population.
The idea was captivating – you will be torn between medical duty and the grain of being a predator. However, both your successes and failures should affect the environments and the story itself. And it’s not just talking; the developers wanted to provide each character with a unique name and biography, and each of them could get killed by you or some disease, or be cured.
Faced with a severe shortage of medical drugs, Spanish flu and being forced to drink blood needed to survive, Vampyr faces you with a true moral dilemma, to choose between peace-building and destruction. And that’s not to mention nice bonuses, like an open world, deep system of character development and spectacular combat system.
Unfortunately, role-playing your character has proven to be one of the most uninteresting experiences in RPGs. Personally, I thought that the game would let you feel like a doctor, forced to treat the patients from unique diseases and diagnose them, look after the hospital condition and its staff and finally to decide which people are worth saving and which are hopeless cases. I also expected to be faced with a difficult moral dilemma – to eat or not to eat for the sake of some skill points?
In reality, however, you are mostly running around London and delivering treatment to ungrateful patients. That’s where your doctor duties end. Don’t know who to have for dinner? Never mind, as most of the characters are uninteresting and don’t play an important role in the story. Bon appétit.
So don’t worry, the key characters are untouchable and the plot is linear – it doesn’t matter whether you would choose the “good” or the “evil” path in your spare time, it doesn’t affect the main story. Which is why Vampyr doesn’t really work as an RPG, or simply put, it is not catchy.
Same with the rest. London is picturesque, no doubt, but I personally had very little interest to explore a labyrinth of identical narrow alleyways. The fighting system is dynamic, but uncomfortable and unbalanced. The story is captivating, but most of the time you clean the town from respawning enemies. Basically, Vampyr is like a second Remember Me – a game of solid “but”. At least Vampyr was lucky enough with the sales. So, in which case, the sequel will work just fine. I believe in you, Dontnod.
1. The Sinking City (2019)
The Sinking City is closing my compilation of 10 games with captivating ideas but which fell victim to its implementation. The games inspired by H. P. Lovecraft are like Stephen King’s film adaptations. There’s a lot of them, but decent ones I can count on one hand. To be such an exception had claimed The Sinking City, an open-world detective action RPG by Frogwares. You are a typical noir detective, who arrives in the city of Oakmont, suffering from regular floodings, to investigate the case of collective hallucinations. Along the way, monsters from the depth of the sea will naturally appear and you’re likely to encounter some cosmic ancient deities. The city is absolutely open for exploration, along with a bunch of quests, dialogue systems, shooting, crafting and character development. In plain words, a perfect Lovecraft game – twisted detective surviving in a sinister fishing town, very similar to Innsmouth.
Unfortunately, the open world is just for the record here. The city turned out to be monotonous, static and poor by the provided content. There is nothing to do there, except raiding similar buildings and shooting three types of enemies emerging out of the air. Instead of intense survival and cosmic horror, we got a repetitive simulator of a homeless messenger. The primitive role-playing system, a plot deprived of integrity and a horrendous combat system like in Call of Cthulhu (2018) made it even worse.
The only bright spot was the mechanic of investigation with dialogues, comparison of pieces of evidence, and the search for a specific character or location via the map or archives. But even here, the gameplay was quite repetitive and was all about running.
An excellent game could be easily obtained from this concept, in case the developers would not so eagerly chase after trends. After all, Oakmont turned out to be very special – all it needs is a bunch of interesting side and main quests and unexpected events in the spirit of Rockstar Games. There is no need to remove the action completely – suffice it to make enemies more dangerous and diminish their quantity and to force the player to save the ammo/first aid kits like in Resident Evil or The Last of Us. The investigation almost made it, but it wasn’t nonlinear enough. The possibility of breaking suspects like in L.A. Noire would’ve come really in handy.
All that remains is to wait for a proper remake. But alas, it usually happens to big projects and not to niche ones.