The Biggest Video Game Disappointments Of 2020

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The Biggest Video Game Disappointments Of 2020
Photo: Christian Petersen / Kotaku, Getty Images

God, this year sucked. Video games were supposed to be a reprieve from that, and in many ways they were. But in other ways they were just as messy, ill-fated, and broken as the year itself.

Some of 2020’s big video game disappointments were minor setbacks or run-of-the-mill annoyances — the type of thing that might loom larger in any other year that wasn’t so stacked with fuck-ups and, in the worst cases, outright harassment, abuse and exploitation. There the term “disappointment” almost feels like an understatement, except inso far as it accurately categorizes the slowburn realisation that long-festering horrors recently exposed won’t be addressed as quickly and uncompromisingly as they should be.

2020 was the year that gaming went more mainstream than ever as folks heeding social distancing and stay-at-home orders cozied up to new releases in a way they maybe wouldn’t have otherwise, but that didn’t stop it from also being full of disappointments big and small, trivial and grave.

Halo Infinite Gets Delayed

2020 was supposed to be the year Halo Infinite finally came out. Instead the first new Halo in five years slipped to 2021, and Microsoft’s only first-party exclusive for next-gen consoles along with it. Delays are better than rushing a game to release, and thus forcing developers to crunch in the process (though sometimes they can lead to more crunch), but the drag around Halo Infinite goes beyond release dates.

The game was shown in-depth at Microsoft’s July showcase, and immediately panned by fans for its seemingly lacklustre graphics and last-gen feel. The Craig meme was born, and 343 Industries quickly announced it would take the negative feedback into consideration. Then in October the game lost another one of its directors. Earlier this month, the studio announced it wouldn’t be out until “holiday 2021” at the earliest. At least by then anyone who wants to get a next-gen Xbox will probably be able to find stock.

Buying A Next-Gen Console Is A Shitshow

The rising death toll, economic devastation and daily complications arising from the ongoing covid-19 pandemic made 2020 a weird year to try to launch new hardware, but companies marshalled on and did it anyway. The excitement of a new shiny box to play games on had the potential to be a joyful diversion for some, but 2020 had other plans. PS5 pre-orders were a chaotic gauntlet to navigate, and those for the Xbox Series X/S, despite the timing being clearly communicated in advance, didn’t go much better.

Months later, the consoles are still sold out just about everywhere, with prospective buyers forced to combat bots, scalpers, and archaic ordering systems to try to secure one. Next-gen consoles can run some games in 4K at 60fps with minimal load times, but there’s still no way to simply give a company money in exchange for getting one of them shipped to you when it becomes available. Maybe someday. Until then have fun being glued to Wario64’s Twitter account and playing checkout roulette with Best Buy and Walmart.

Cyberpunk 2077

Announced back in 2012, then announced again in 2013, and set to come out earlier this year before being delayed three times, Cyberpunk 2077 is, as Kotaku editor-at-large Riley MacLeod put it in his initial 30 hour impressions, a mixed bag full of highs, lows, and lots of stuff in-between. But “Cyberpunk 2077” has also become shorthand for much more than just a blockbuster sci-fi RPG from the makers of The Witcher 3. It’s a game which requires the most demanding PC builds to run well, and even then can still be extremely buggy. It’s a game whose console versions were so bad CD Projekt Red hid them from press outlets prior to release.

It’s the game that was such a mess Sony removed it from the PlayStation Store and offered refunds, with Microsoft and even brick-and-mortar stores like Best Buy and GameStop soon doing the same. Clips of Cyberpunk 2077 glitches have gone so viral even The New York Times reported on the game’s troubled launch, calling the rollout, “one of the most visible disasters in the history of video games.” This is all before even taking into account CDPR’s broken promises on not making its employees crunch to ship the game and its marketing campaign which occasionally traded in outright transphobia, neither of which can be undone by future patches that fix the underlying game.

Nintendo’s War On Fans

The Switch continues to dominate, especially in a gruelling year where people were stuck at home. Many found an immense amount of comfort and joy in Nintendo’s chill neighbourhood sim Animal Crossing: New Horizons. But there hasn’t been anything chill about the company’s continued stance toward some of its most ardent fans.

It remains extremely strict when it comes to fan games inspired by its own, shutting down projects ranging from the Ocarina of Time-based Missing Link spin-off to the very NSFW project eight-years in the making called Peach’s Untold Tales. Even more surprising was Nintendo shutting down an entire Super Smash Bros. tournament over its use of a mod called “Slippi” to make Smash Bros. Melee viable to play competitively online. The company then followed that up by cancelling a Splatoon 2 tournament livestream after teams entered with names like #FreeMelee.

Long-time Nintendo watchers have gotten used to this sort of thing, but the company seemed to really outdo itself in 2020. Earlier this year, Nintendo’s legal department went after the sale of custom Joy-Con controllers called Etikons in honour of the late Youtuber Desmond “Etika” Amofah. Proceeds from the sales went to the JED Foundation for emotional health and suicide prevention. Nintendo brought the project to a halt with a cease and desist order, according to creator Cptn_Alex, because the Joy-Con contained the words “JoyCon Boyz” printed on it, a phrase made popular in one of Etika’s viral videos.

The Ugliness Around The Last of Us Part 2

Stephen Totilo: The Last of Us Part 2 was never meant to be a comfortable experience. Its focus on ultraviolence was an effort to explore ideas about anger or revenge. Maybe. To some, it’s just too ghoulish. Good or bad, if that was all the discourse around The Last Of Us Part 2 this year, it wouldn’t be mentioned in this list.

Instead, the PlayStation exclusive rightly came under scrutiny for a culture of game development crunch that leaves people underpaid, burned out, or worse, with few empowered to make any of this better. And then there were the attacks on the game’s creators for the audacity of presenting a diverse cast, and the weaponizing of that talk about crunch by bad actors — certain angry gamers — to justify their disdain for the game’s supposed politics. When did it get this bad? A long time ago, in general, but for this game, probably after a stunning pre-release leak of pivotal scenes that that crowd used to complain about the game’s content.

And add an overly restrictive review embargo that let Last Of Us Part 2 reviewers only talk about a small portion of the game a week before launch. That further contorted the discussion about what the game was and wasn’t. There’s plenty to like or dislike about what’s in the game, but the drama around it was mostly just an ugly exhibition of some of the worst trends in gaming culture.

The Absolute Mess At Ubisoft

Ash Parrish: Ubisoft has had a bad year. A Twitter thread touched off a seemingly endless wave of people coming forward to detail their harassment and abuse at the hands of Ubisoft employees. Allegations range from inappropriate comments to assault, all while employees expressed frustration that HR and leadership knew about everything and did nothing to stop it. CEO Yves Guillemot apologised to “everyone who was hurt” and promised to take action against bad actors. As a result, several people have been fired or resigned including chief creative officer Serge Hascoët. An internal survey conducted company-wide found that 25% of respondents witnessed or experienced misconduct first hand, while one in five reported not feeling “fully respected or safe in the work environment.” Oof.

But wait there’s more! There was that time they left out all the female assassins in an Assassin’s Creed promotion (after becoming famous for the women are too hard to animate gaffe.) Oh, and there was also that time they had to apologise for using Black Lives Matter symbols to represent an in-game terrorist group in their Tom Clancy mobile game — during a time in which Black Lives Matter was agitating for social justice and the right not to be murdered by police. That was nice.

Comments

  • That Nintendo section seems a bit biased.
    Shutting down fan games is basically IP protection. If they don’t do it, and wind up in a legal situation, the ones they don’t take down can be used against them. At least, that’s how I understand it.
    It’s not really a surprise they’d take down a NSFW fan game at that, given their history and that the game in particular is of their most popular franchise.
    The Smash Bros Tournament almost certainly involved pirated roms and although the onus would be on Nintendo to prove that, come on, you know it would be true. And although it is stated as such, it should be emphasised that only the livestream was cancelled; the splatoon tournament was not.
    And finally, while I might not have my facts straight on this one, the joycon shells were making a profit. Maybe if 100% went to charity things would have been different but ultimately I think it comes down to that IP protection I mentioned earlier.

    And no mention of WC3? How short memories do we have…

    • Its not a shock that alot of ‘ kotaku journalists’ have this take with Nintendo, as too many people think Nintendo should allow it all while advocating and celebrating piracy because Nintendo doesnt do things they want them to do.
      Everything Nintendo has done in these areas are well within their rights to do.

  • What a joke of an article, specifically the last of us 2 section. Completely misrepresenting what people had a problem with in the game. Ellie was bi/lesbian in the add on game to last of us 1. Research your article kotaku. Another member lost because of bias af joke articles

    • Shane, the people who don’t like TLOU2 have made their opinions quite clear, very loudly, for way longer than makes any real sense. Lots of people, myself included, loved the game. At some point, you have to accept that everyone is not going to agree with you no matter how much you pout. Why don’t you just relax and enjoy a merry christmas, dude. I’m cooking a Turkey it’s going to be awesome.

      • Person 1, rightly brings up why alot of people dont like the game, not for the reasons the article likes to frame it.
        Person 2. I LIKE THE GAME, PEOPLE WONT ALWAYS AGREE, BECAUSE THEY STILL DONT LIKE THE GAME AND WILL EXPRESS THAT OPINION< ITNO LONGER MAKES SENSE, WHY DONT YOU CALM DOWN. IM COOKING TURKEY!

        Person 3. Last of us 2 fans are really fucking weird.

        • We know why a bunch of people don’t like the game because they never shut up about it. Chucklehead above brings in things that were not even specifically referenced in the article, so they are running on the more meta argument from the get go. And he has an overtly aggressive and insulting tone. My response was quite calm, as is this one.

          And the turkey was excellent. I nailed it. Breast was so juicy and the skin was brown and tight. So happy with it.

          • “Chucklehead above brings in things that were not even specifically referenced in the article”

            “What a joke of an article, specifically the last of us 2 section. Completely misrepresenting what people had a problem with in the game”

            “And then there were the attacks on the game’s creators for the audacity of presenting a diverse cast”

            You TLOU2 Fanboys are once again, fucking weird.

          • What exactly are you looking for here? Is my liking of the game not valid? Does your opinion deserve it’s own special pedestal and spotlight? You seem angry and want to make it personal and insulting too. Your level of focus on an entertainment product that you apparently hate seems too much. Being a fan of something makes some sense. Being such a dedicated anti-fan is weird from my perspective.

          • TLOU2 Fanboys are weird.
            They make claims, have their claims proven to be BS, then try “you seem angry” again like it worked the first time. when it didnt, because they sTILL dont understand why others dont like the game, because THEY liked the game.
            Stick to cooking turkey, its about all you are good at.

  • Fuck Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot who gives a flying fuck about him and his fucking apology?
    Former Assassin’s Creed Creative Director Ashraf Ismail from Ubisoft Montreal is already gone and so is former Beyond Good and Evil director Michel Ancel from Ubisoft Montpellier in France which is a big blow for Beyond Good and Evil fans hoping for Beyond Good and Evil 2 now it’s all gone out the window.
    On what has been a horrible 2020 due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
    I hope 2021 will be better because I’m still waiting for word from Activision Toys For Bob and Beenox on their plans of bringing Crash Bandicoot 4 It’s About Time on to the Nintendo Switch which is definitely likely to come to Nintendo Switch next year despite not winning this year’s game awards for best family game.
    Also I am definitely excited for Persona 5 Strikers coming to Nintendo on February 23 next year along with Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury which is coming out on Nintendo Switch February 12, Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne of Shadow and Shin Megami Tensei V both coming out for Nintendo Switch next year, and finally BANDAI NAMCO’S New Pokemon Snap for Nintendo Switch.

  • “This is all before even taking into account CDPR’s broken promises on not making its employees crunch to ship the game and its marketing campaign which occasionally traded in outright transphobia, neither of which can be undone by future patches that fix the underlying game.”
    is there some contractual requirement for the american kotaku writers that if they want to include the words “Cyberpunk 2077” anywhere they also need to include the quoted? doesnt help that it isn’t even true.

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