Before we get started, let’s be clear on something. Disappointing does not necessarily mean “bad.” In fact, some of the games in this list are quite good overall. It’s just that for one reason or another they failed to live up to their hype or let themselves get bogged down with nonsense that should have been left on the cutting room floor. What missed the mark in 2020?
Avengers was arguably the worst Triple A game of 2020 period, and it didn’t have to be. Even though Square Enix promised the game would avoid pay-to-play mechanics, the general design aesthetic of the modern dollar-munching game model so permeates the gameplay that it turns the experience into a slogging, un-fun mess. The Avengers fight waves of boring enemies in a constant grind that takes a player through the same locations over and over, and the game for some reason decided not to include more than a handful of supervillains to fight. Plus, the “twist” in the plot is so predictable that it isn’t even rewarding when it delivers a beloved character for you to control.
If the game had been a solid single-player campaign based around Kamala Khan, who is the best part of the whole experience, it might have gone down as a stand-out title. Instead, its dedication to trying to make a Marvel version of Anthem puts it in the trash bin.
Deadly Premonition: A Blessing in Disguise
The possibility of a new Deadly Premonition game was a pleasant surprise for fans of the cult classic. I am unapologetically one of those to the point I bought the Switch collector’s edition of the first game this year and have one of the pins that came with it on my jacket. Then A Blessing in Disguise actually came out and… fucking hell.
Graphically, it was a mess to the point of being damn near unplayable, with a frame rate that wasn’t even acceptable on the PS3. Maybe it was an attempt to recapture the janky charm of the original, but it just felt like we were being saddled with an unfinished product that hadn’t learned anything in a decade of game design. Add in some needlessly racist and transphobic content that had to be patched out later, pointless sidequests that didn’t have any of the heart of the first game, and all the narrative dead ends a prequel always has, and the result is something that makes me wish it had never come out in the first place.
Paper Mario: The Origami King
Look, every Paper Mario game is slightly disappointing because every one of them is not Super Mario RPG 2, which is what everyone actually wants. Even correcting for that, The Origami King is just not very good. The story is fun, and as always, the art style is a triumph, but the battle system makes playing the game into a chore with little joy. There are no true RPG elements so leveling up doesn’t happen like it should, and fights involve sliding puzzles. Note to every game maker: no one likes the sliding puzzles. They’re pointlessly hard and 90 percent of the time we’re just hitting random buttons until something happens. Perhaps if Origami King had been a straight adventure game instead of yet more proof that Mario cannot do RPGs without Square Enix’s help, it would have been something amazing. As it stands, it’s just a very pretty slog.
Of all the games on this list, I like Amnesia: Rebirth the most. It’s a perfect combination of Dark Descent and A Machine for Pigs, wedding the two styles together into a cohesive horror experience.
It’s also just… very pedestrian. Amnesia is heralded as one of the most innovative horror series of all time and Rebirth could be any knockoff or homage released on Steam. It’s beautiful and Lovecraftian, but so are a dozen other titles that have come out in the last few years including Moons of Madness. At a time when horror games are really pushing the envelope in all directions, Rebirth is coasting on the progress made in the genre it helped pioneer. It’s not a bad game by any stretch, but it’s an incredibly safe game. That’s a considerable flaw from a series well regarded as mindblowing in the past.
The Last of Us Part II
The Last of Us wasn’t just a good game; it was the defining game of its console generation. Its sequel, by contrast, was a confusing mess that both tried to hard and not hard enough.
The gameplay evolved not one single bit aside from adding a jump button. All it did was divide up the combat elements of the first game among two separate protagonists, leaving a player constantly wishing he or she was playing as Joel again. The revenge storyline was, frankly, stupid and the game tried to compensate by putting in sympathetic characters whose sole job was to humanize violent bastards. In fact, that was the primary problem with the writing and the mechanics. The game wants you to feel bad about murders that it makes you commit and which you largely cannot avoid. The whole “these are people” aspect would have a lot better if the game ever gave you a way to work with that knowledge beyond guns and knives. It’s not a brutal depiction of survival. It’s just brutality with an empty, preachy message on top.
Beyond that, the game is overly long and very unevenly paced, especially compared to the first game which ran like a Swiss watch. Making players tackle stories from two sides isn’t a bad idea, but it’s also a pretty old one and here it isn’t done well at all. The game takes forever to really find its groove, and by the time it does you’re exhausted of the experience. Bad writing, dated mechanics, and pretentious presentation doomed the most eagerly awaited game sequel on Earth to mediocrity. Like the other games on this list, you can feel what it could have been instead.
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