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When you look back over the past ten years, what will you remember? The sparkly new consoles? The fantastic new franchises? The exciting, unforgettable moments that made you proud to be a gamer?
Yeah, we’ll certainly reminisce about those over the coming week of decade-themed features. We’ll pick the best characters, the sexiest stars, the most memorable moments and the important-est games. Our choices will be celebratory, our tone triumphant and our eyes misty with nostalgia.
As cynical and bitter journalists, however, we can’t just let the bad stuff slide. We can’t leave the 2000s behind without publicly shaming the games that nearly ruined them. These are the seven biggest disappointments of the decade. Let’s bitch one last time, then agree to never speak of them again. Deal?
Developer: Ubisoft Paris
What we expected: The evolution of the first person shooter. The evolution of interactive controllers. Perhaps even the evolution of consoles, period. Thanks to savvy timing and marketing, Red Steel came to symbolize hardcore gamers’ hope for the Wii, Nintendo’s new motion-sensitive toy. You could swing, thrust and parry your sword in real-time with the remote! You could aim and shoot your gun with the Nunchuk! The graphics looked great in screens, and the gratuitous content seemed Mature! So long as Red Steel delivered, we could ignore all the casual crap. The Wii wasn’t just for families… it was our system, too.
What we got: Everything we secretly feared. The game was rated Teen, of course, with truly adult fare like MadWorld and Dead Space: Extraction over two years away. Far more damning, however, were the clumsy controls. Yes, the remote reacted to your swinging, but not in any kind of intuitive or realistic way. Yes, the Nunchuk aimed a gun, but usually at the ceiling or floor, not the obvious bad guy standing in the dead center of the screen. Within minutes, most of us had grabbed the instruction manual, desperately thumbing through its pages to see if a GameCube pad would work instead.
Almost as bad were the blurry, boring visuals. While we realized the Wii only did 480p, Red Steel’s incredibly deceptive publicity shots had fooled us into believing that developers could perform miracles with this limited resolution. Now we knew the truth… a truth that continues to sting us to this day. Third-party Wii games will almost always look – and usually play, too – like dated, forgotten bargain bin garbage. Meanwhile, Nintendo’s busy with Wii Music and Wii Sports Resort. Have fun!
Developer: Factor 5
What we expected: A fantastic combat-flight sim from the minds behind the Rogue Squadron series, with beautifully savage, PS3-rendered dragons to ride instead of X-Wings and TIE Fighters. Lair was going to be an epic adventure unlike anything to come before, in which we’d be able to strafe or stomp entire armies made up of hundreds of medieval soldiers, melting them in their armor with fiery breath as our dragon’s enormous talons effortlessly tore the heads off their huge war-beasts. It would be a chance to live out our long-cherished dragon-riding dreams in the most brutal fashion imaginable, and it would cement the PS3’s position as an unmatched powerhouse, capable of delivering experiences that its competition could only dream of.
What we got: A beautiful-looking, broken mess that was not only grossly inferior to the last-gen Rogue Squadron games, but was emblematic of everything wrong with the PS3 around its launch: it was clunky, buggy and embarrassingly overconfident, and it put such a premium on visual fidelity that gameplay and mission design seemed secondary concerns. Stomping armies was still possible, but those armies had been trimmed down considerably in order to avoid slowdown. Meanwhile, ripping heads off beasts or fighting with dragons boiled down to tiresome button-mashing, controller-shaking quicktime events.
But we might have been able to overlook all that if Lair hadn’t forced players to use the Sixaxis motion controls, which quickly proved to be an annoying novelty. And nowhere was it more annoying than in Lair, where a false twitch could quickly send you careening toward the ground. Worse, the controller had a tendency to misread your twitching in the heat of combat, and would frequently send you veering away from an enemy when you meant to lunge, or vice versa.
Above: Oh, and trying to keep these stupid things from blowing up was all kinds of fun, too
That part of the game was eventually fixed, of course – but it was too little, too late, and only served to make the game’s shallow design that much more obvious. Certainly, the PS3 has come a long way since then, but if Lair had any value, it was in convincing PS3 developers to never again attempt what it did.