Games That Broke Our Hearts - Part 1
Every gamer has one or more--the game they anticipated with the highest expectations, only to have their hopes and dreams dashed at launch. In fact, wed bet that, before you finish reading this introduction, a title or two will have popped into your head. Were going to share the games that broke our little staff writers gamer hearts. Read on to see if any of our picks made your list.
Star Trek Online
Heart broken: ricoxg
Around 2005, I heard that Perpetual Entertainment was working on a new Star Trek MMO, and started reading up on it. There were some pretty cool ideas kicked around, like player-owned ships, with multiple manned stations in some of the larger ships with terminals that other players could take over to increase performance. It was also suggested that players would be able to choose classes (...or ratings as they call them in the Navy) and skills to enhance their capabilities on either the bridge, engineering, away missions, or whatever. A new space MMO excited me, especially one from the Star Trek IP.
Then Perpetual Entertainment went bankrupt in 2008. It looked as though STO was doomed, until Cryptic Studios picked it up. When the beta released, I was actually pretty happy with the ship combat. There were some cool systems for tying bridge officers to ship capabilities, and the flight mechanics were fairly well done. Cryptic had changed the game significantly, and while some of the great shared-ship mechanics were gone, we'd been told there'd be explorable space, diplomacy missions, and crafting. Even cooler was the concept of planets and solar systems that could be discovered and shared amongst a player's fleets when those systems yielded quality resources or had something of interest.
At release, none of the promised systems were realized. The systems that could be "explored" ended up being random nodes in an empty and barely three-dimensional environment that could be scanned, and certainly couldn't be shared. Diplomacy consisted basically of providing random goods to a system that asked for it, goods that served no purpose other than that. Most egregious was the "crafting" system, which couldn't have even come close to touching something like Minecraft. (Seriously? An entire dev team couldn't beat one guy who made a game in his basement? How ridiculous is that?)
In the end, STO was little more than a really cool space-combat arcade game that barely rated the term MMO. All I ended up getting out of it was a collectors edition box-set that was cooler than the game itself...and a broken heart.
Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
Heart broken: Shayalyn
The first MMO I fell in love with was the first MMO many old school gamers fell for--EverQuest. I had fond memories of the way that games harsh mechanics--from the inability of most classes to solo to raid corpse recoveries in the Plane of Fear--brought players together as a community. But, by mid-2006, my time in EQ had passed, EQ2 had left me a little bored, and I was itching for the next game that would steal away hours of my free time (not to mention sleep.) Then, along came a game called Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, in development by EQ co-creator Brad McQuaid and a crew of the faithful known as Sigil Games Online. It promised to be EverQuests spiritual successor, and to address the needs of the core gamer--someone who appreciated the challenge of older MMOs like EverQuest but, due to having a busy work and family life, might have a limited time to play. The core gamer would enjoy old school mechanics, with a few more modern conveniences thrown into the mix.
I was certain that Vanguard was the game for me. I hung on every word that Brad McQuaid uttered about The Vision. I couldnt wait to get into beta, and...eventually I did. And thats when Vanguard broke my heart.
You see, it wasnt anything like Id expected. For starters, at least to me, it felt a bit dated from the moment I accepted my first quest to kill 10 something-or-others and bring back their droppings. I expected it to at least have some of the bells and whistles that EverQuest II had adopted, but it didnt. Not only that, it was so bug-infested and poorly optimized that it was nearly unplayable, even on the PC I upgraded specifically to exceed recommended specs.
Theres no doubt that Vanguard went through more drama during its development than any game has a right to. When Sigils Director of Operations asked a bunch of employees to gather in the office parking lot, where he told them they were all fired, bitter rumors of an inter-office affairs, drug addiction, nepotism, and a cobbled-together game engine that made development a nightmare ran rampant. Vanguard became a saga of fallen heroes, and its servers became ghost towns.
In August of 2012, long after it had become recognized as their redheaded stepchild, Sony Online Entertainment made Vanguard free to play. Just recently, the team released the long-awaited City of Brass game update. Vanguard still has its enormous open world and a variety of interesting races going for it, and your PC will likely run it now, but...its still Vanguard, and SOEs attempts to rescue it are likely too little, too late. Heartbreaking indeed.
Grand Theft Auto IV
Heart broken: Gunky
Harken back to the days of yesteryear when savage, mindless violence, brutally abusive language and prostitutes-as-heal-packs were still shocking to most people. Grand Theft Auto III raised the bar on what developers could get away with putting into their games. Surely it wasn't the only game with all of these elements--not even in the halcyon days of yore when people were still decent and children respected their elders--but it was one of the first to be so blatantly in-your-face about its controversial content. And it ate up a lot of my gaming hours in 2001-2002.
GTA: Vice City ramped things up even further, adding a veneer of retro 80s cool to the mindless brutality, plus a smattering of different outfits and drivable motorcycles. And the soundtrack... the glorious soundtrack. Vice City had some raging 80s metal and big-time pop music. Songs you recognized instantly and that fit the story and setting so perfectly.
GTA: San Andreas combined the elements that had worked so well in the previous two games with RPG-like elements and even bigger voice-actor names. The soundtrack was even better than Vice City's. More than either of the previous games, with San Andreas you truly felt like you could play the game you wanted to play. You could dress CJ up in ridiculous outfits, eat a lot of burgers and pizza to make him super-fat, starve him and make him run everywhere to make him skinny. You could become a property mogul, stuffing your garages with extensively-modded custom cars and monster trucks and motorbikes and bicycles. Go on crazy shooting sprees. Fight fires. Start fires. Arrest people. Go on drive-by dates with your crazy girlfriend. Whatever. For me, San Andreas was nearly a perfect game, and a clear evolutionary point in the series. Surely, then, the next game in the series would follow that same trend of building upon the base of the previous games and adding more.
Not the case. The RPG-like character elements had been stripped away. Car customization: gone. Limited ammo capacity-- no more hours-long epic standoffs against the army after accidentally nudging a cop car in an intersection somewhere and having things seriously escalate beyond reason. Sure, things still escalate beyond reason, but the ammo cap on RPG rounds meant they didnt stay escalated for nearly as long without using cheats. Even the mini-games (Bowling? Darts? Seriously?) got boring.
Nearly every car in GTA IV seemed to have an ultra-squishy suspension geared towards drift-style drivers--you had to master that technique early on if you didnt want to go smashing into walls, cars and pedestrians every time you tried to take a corner at speeds faster than a walk. A lot of cars spun out of control if you even glance at the handbrake, never mind using it to hit tight corners.
Some parts of the story made no sense. How could Niko, a Russian immigrant who has difficulty understanding some regular American English, possibly understand anything Little Jacob ever said with his ultra-thick Jamaican patois (but not Badman, who is speaking the same exact language)? Why would Mikhail Faustin bother to question Niko's loyalty to him only a mission or two after shooting Niko's cousin in the guts, and why would Niko even have any loyalty to question at that point, and be so insulted by the fact that it's being questioned?
And what happened to the incredible voice talent? They got Iggy Pop, Juliette Lewis, and Jason Sudekis as radio personalities, and that appears to have broken the bank. Everyone else is a relative unknown doing fake Russian accents.
GTA IV's updated graphics surely look prettier than the earlier titles--the cars look nicer, everything looks more realistic. You can still buy some boring outfits for your Russian goon. You can still hook up with chicks and freak them out with your wanton careening around the streets of Liberty City at breakneck speeds. The innuendo-laden business names are still everywhere, and the socio-political satire is still sharp and cynical. But in almost every other respect, this is a game that feels like it has gone backwards. So far backwards, in fact, that it makes me wonder if GTA V, looming somewhere just over the horizon, might not return to a top-down 2D scroller format. Or maybe a text parser adventure game.
Check out Part 2 in our series for more games that broke our hearts.
Falling for a game in development is risky business--you never know whether you're going to find lasting love or end up with your heart stomped. The first cut is the deepest, baby. Which game ripped your heart in two? Share a comment and let us know, then watch for part two of our feature next week for more tales of love and loss.