I think for a lot of people, 2016 will be the year that they were let down by games that didn’t attain the perfection promised by the surrounding hype. Whether that hype be generated by over-zealous advertising, or the gestation over a more than lengthy period of development, I can’t remember another year where so many games, having promised so much, have so vastly under-delivered. Now, with reviews for The Last Guardian flooding in, some cracks are beginning to show upon the spiritual successor to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Of course, reviews sitting at less that 80% are being derided by those who refuse to remove their rose-tinted glasses and actually look at the game, but the chorus of reviews speak for themselves.
The Last Guardian currently sits at 83/100 on metacritic. This is an excellent score, no question. It seems as if many are truly enjoying the game, but, as with a vast array of other games this year, the experience is being tainted. Bad controls, bad camera, bad Trico (the big cat-bird thing). This is a common theme with 2016; a game that should be scoring 90+ is being dragged down by bad game design and bad marketing choices. Dishonored 2 had it’s performance issues. Titanfall 2, despite being critically acclaimed, was dwarfed by Battlefield 1. Quantum Break, a game into which millions of dollars were poured, turned out to be decidedly average. Final Fantasy XV isn’t quite the series revival we’d been hoping for. Need I even mention No Man’s Sky?
For me, there aren’t many stellar examples of a game to define 2016; a game that I know I’ll look back on in a few years and say “Ah 2016! That was when X came out!” Overwatch and Uncharted 4 come close. Maybe it’s just because 2015 has so many of these kinds of games, what with The Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid V, Bloodborne, Life is Strange, and so on. I was dangerously low on money during 2015, mainly because I just had to own all of these titles. In 2016, every time a game I’ve been looking forward to for years is finally released, I give it more than my customary week of abstention (thanks, No Man’s Sky), and I always hear something that makes me think twice about purchasing.
So what’s with this trend then? There seems to be a combination of elements involved. One glaring problem is that a fair few of 2016’s titles have been birthed in the previous generation of gaming. Final Fantasy XV’s development was notoriously messy, initially starting life within the same universe as Final Fantasy XIII. With numerous development team reshuffles and delays, the game took 10 years to be released from initial conception. The Last Guardian took 9 years, in which time Fumito Ueda, the game’s lead developer, left Sony and formed his own studio. Even Quantum Break was brought to life in 2011, 2 years before the release of the Xbox One. Dragging these games kicking and screaming throughout the years brings with them the hangups of the previous generations of gaming.
Perhaps it’s the saturation of advertising. Adverts scream at us on a daily basis. “This game is going to be great, and then this game is going to be great, and so is that one and that one”, and it just gets to a point where expectation surpasses reality. No one can say they are completely immune from hype. Nearly every one of us was duped by No Man’s Sky. We all see the tide of stories surrounding exciting upcoming games nearly every single day right up until the day of release. It’s like a wave of great momentum that pulls you along, and compels you to be part of the culture of eager consumption. When we finally get to consume what was promised to us, the wave falls away, the momentum drops, and what was delivered is far less than what we expected.