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The Hype Train

 11 June 2007

the hype train

I’m pretty sure most of you know the feeling. A new game has been recently announced, maybe with some additional gameplay footage or early concept art. You knew from that point on, the game had to be great, no mistake made. A couple of logical reasons could possibly be:

  • The title is a sequel to your favourite game all time
  • The title comes from a well known and loved development studio
  • Both title and studio are completely new or unknown, but the genre is to your liking
  • None of the above apply. Instead the game has been aggressively hyped by the publisher and media

Years pass. Every single released or leaked screenshot freaks you (and mostly the media too) out, wanting to play the damned thing more and more. You forward all released media to your friends, and help them aboard the hype train. Everyone is happy, because everyone simply knows the game has to be great. Right? Right!

Until the game, demo or beta has been released. Wow what happened? Turns out all promised features proved to be false, your favourite mechanics from previous games have been left behind, the game doesn’t nearly look as good as on the tasty press screenshots, some core features are in need of repair, the game is unplayable due to bugs, … (I could go on for a few hours, you know.) BAM! No more fuel/electricity for the train, everybody out! Game critics still give the released product positive points because they don’t see what a hard-core fan sees or because the publisher has simply too much money. Promoted by ‘accessibility’, the game gets high scores and sells really well (hello Oblivion). Or the company goes bankrupt. And you’re doomed forever. Below a short list of games which couldn’t live up to their hype. More will be added soon!

Elder Scrolls IV

Mixed Feelings

Typical examples of those games are Bethesda’s Oblivion and Lionhead’s Fable. Both games are said to be deep, complex Roleplaying games, but none of those statements turned out to be true. Both games sold enormously well because the core principles of the gameplay had been turned down to attract a new potential market, instead of a subset of gamers (the Roleplaying fans themselves). In Oblivion, a simple compass marker points to your next quest destination. You can instant-teleport to set locations and NPC interaction has been kept extremely basic. While this significantly improves accessibililty, it completely destroys all great Roleplaying ideas behind the Elder Scrolls 2 and in lesser degree 3. The result? angry fans who love to spam on Bethesda’s forums. Watch out, Fallout 3!

Lionhead loves to hype games. The whole company success rates are based on publishing enough hype to sell games. While most games incorporate great ideas, the implementation and end results are mostly lacking. Black & White and in lesser degree The Movies were both hyped like no other game. The result? Mixed feelings, but overall well received feedback by professional game critics. Many promised features and ideas have been cut from the game, same story for Fable. Fable 2’s hyping has already started (wow you can interact with the system via your dog! Check this out neighbour!), let’s hope they manage to actually pull things off right this time.

Honorable mentions to the latest Need for Speed games and even FIFA. I have no idea why EA Sports games are still the #1 selling games (for consoles mostly) in America. Every year a new revision gets released, and every year features come and go. Sometimes fans enjoy a breathe of fresh air, but most expert football players are used to some mechanics EA can’t simply drop. Most used-to-play-FIFA gamers I know are now playing Pro Evolution Soccer. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right. Icewind Dale also sold relatively OK (not that good, but still) and the game was for some of us a letdown after the amazing Baldur’s Gate II. Of course because both games use the same engine and D&D ruleset, we automatically get excited way too much for our own good.

Black and White

Games who crash & Burn

Simply too many games to list… But a few ones worth mentioning, starting with Lionheart. A Roleplaying game overly hyped because it was said to have mixes of Diablo, Fallout and Baldur’s Gate. Even listing these kind of games generates enough hype to chew on for years. Besides, a roleplaying game which took place during the Spanish inquisition, that’s original, right? It burned, really really fast. A lot of things went wrong here: lacking music (what, only one background tune?), too static and low contrast scenes, ridiculously difficult gameplay and 3 irritating spirits, overly powered or underly powered spell/skill set, … Lionheart is another reason why we don’t see Black Isle making any games anymore.

Perhaps a bigger and better example: Might & Magic IX. After being disappointed with VIII: Day of the Destroyer (after all, it used the same engine and basically recycled everything from VII and VI), IX did bring a whole arsenary of new features and stuff to do. Too much radical changes, yes! The Lichtech engine suits FPS games, but not First person RPG games. The controls were horribly broken, the awesome paperdoll system from previous games diappeared and it “featured” nothing but bugs. Honestly, this isn’t New World Computings’ fault as they merely had time to finish the game. The publisher wanted it released and quick (guess what? Money troubles). The result: a big failure.

Other games, based on their predecessor but going into a different direction quickly vanished after the release. Some games didn’t even get reviews! Or were just put into the fridge. Rollercoaster Tycoon 3D failed thanks to it’s switch from 2D to 3D. The camera angle was a beast, and the charming interface radically changed. Commandos: Strike Force wasn’t even hyped after the lackluster Commandos 3 game. Oh come on Pyro Studios, making an FPS out of that genre? Like there aren’t already enough below-average WWII shooters…

Might and Magic IX

Overly Hyped, now dead games

MMO (Roleplaying) games usually suffer from a quick and painful death after a few years of investment from the players’ and developers’ side. Asheron’s Call 2 isn’t even supported anymore by Turbine. There are so many MMO games hitting the market today, and so many below average. Publishers think it’s a good way of extra income, those monthly fees. Until they realise most features and concepts are broken, patches aren’t coming fast enough and server capacity is rising. Star Wars: Galaxies knew extra hype thanks to it’s George Lucas license. Who doesn’t want to wander around in a big world built by a SW community? Sony’s Everquest 2 has more luck, but still doesn’t live up to it’s predecessor.

What Massively Multiplayer game does not fail nowadays, except Blizzard’s World of Warcraft? The recently released Lord of the Rings Online (guess what, by Turbine) receives overall good response, but far from amazing. My guess is the game will drown into the ever growing barrel of MMO’s in the near future. Shadowbane is freely playable now, and some games didn’t even see any daylight at all. How about that.

Even the sequel to one of the best FPS/RPG blends of all time turned out to be a waste of time. Deus Ex 2 featured… well, nothing the original game has. The creative skill development system, the bio mod system, the wide variety of gameplay possibilities - were all gone. Oh and say hello to a super buggy graphics engine: it features dynamic lightning! You won’t need anything more, right? Technically speaking, critical response by professionals was still more good than bad. Only fans were more than disappointed. I guess this makes Deus Ex 2 a candidate to put into the first few alinea’s of this article too.

Star Wars Galaxies


Me!

I'm Wouter, a level 35 Retro Gamer, and I love the sight of experience points on old and forgotten hardware. I sometimes convince others join in on the nostalgic grind. Read more about me here.

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