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Games: 4 Ludicrously Ambitious Games (That Didn’t Deliver Their Promises)

Posted January 28, 2013 by Rú Hickson in Games

Ambition and art are synonymous, and always will be. While the majority of products in any art form will be average (as per definition), games seem to defy that rule somewhat. Most non-indie games these days are well-made items that took two years or more to craft, fill with content and depth, polish and prep for release. As such, the summary sections of game reviews tend to equate to: ‘This is the worst game I have ever played. 8/10.’

You can play Black Ops II – a game as widely scorned as it is played – and have a great time while being unmoved. It looks beautiful, it plays smoothly and the multiplayer servers are a dream to use. The zombie mode is brilliant and the single-player, though linear as elevator shaft and twice as short, is a whole lot of fun to play, yet you’ll find most of the game-playing world unimpressed despite selling around 15 million copies of the Call of Duty series per year.

The problem is we’ve seen it all before. War shooters have been done. Easy drop-in, drop-out multiplayer has been done. Zombies? You tell me if they’ve been done. Games like Black Ops II, Halo 4, Lost Planet, FIFA 13, Crysis 3, Battlefield 4, Mario Kart Whatever. We’ve seen everything these games have to offer. Franchises have peaked, their formulae perfected, and they’re not getting any better. When perfection achieves boredom, it’s time to start anew. So we turn our heads to the pretentious games of our day. The ones that are fundamentally flawed, but intriguing and addictive all the same. The games that gave us something new before we once-again get distracted by the gloss and marketing of the next AAA releases.


4. Black & White

This list could be populated with games Peter Molyneux created. The former Lionhead and Bullfrog chief is famed for hyping his product to such an extent that for a moment, we believe it’s as essential as a vibrating toilet seat. The hype was never higher than with Black & White – a game where you play as the god Arthur C. Clarke speculated about, who sees the world as a ship in the bottle, and can only influence it with a long pin poked through the bottle’s neck.

In Black & White, your mission was to accrue belief from godless inhabitants of an unnamed world, have them pump that belief into a resource management system and build bigger villages because of it. Oh, and you directly controlled a massive animal by way of three leashes, depending on how you wanted to shape its personality, as your living representative on this planet. Your Jesus, sort of. So a god game/RTS/character-building/teaching simulator is enough cross-pollination to qualify as ambitious. Unfortunately, the game’s novel concept rapidly became quite tedious and your lack of ability to directly affect creature fights was infuriating, leaving you to mash your mouse-clicks and hope for the best. A nice idea that was improved upon in the sequel, and there was always fun to be had teaching your creature to throw his own shit at your enemies.


3. Hitman: Codename 47

We may have had a half-dozen of them by now, but the original game was such a fresh idea at the time, Eidos split the gaming community right down the middle. It was an idea so broad in scope that anxious fans were left salivating over what wasn’t covered in previews. A full seven years before the release of Assassin’s Creed, 47 was the anti-hero who was meant to infiltrate, execute and evade during each mission with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of style. Sadly, the game’s clunky physics engine and dodgy mechanics infuriated most, garnering a negative reputation over what is still an astoundingly simple concept, still left a little overreaching in the series today. That said, the games in the series can still be tremendous fun, but their lack of perfection is what stops them being true classics, while their soul and spirit makes them truly inimitable, and worthy of investigation.


2. Descent: Freespace

In a world where the most popular franchise on Earth couldn’t maintain a regular space simulator series, it was unlikely that mid-level maestros Volition, Inc. could sustain a game series like the interlinked Descent/Freespace games. The player was thrown into the cockpit of a dingy, two-bit, unshielded space superiority fighter, just one among many facing off in an epic war with an alien race. That is until another alien race enters the picture and silently declares war on both sides. Some of the concepts and idea in the Freespace games are still unmatched today in terms of execution and intensity – there is still nothing in gaming quite like the beam weapons of the capitol ships, or fighting a battle in a collapsing wormhole, or the overwhelming bleakness of being stranded in a far-away star system with 30 near-invulnerable ships closing in on you. Though remaining unmatched in terms of atmosphere, the Descent/Freespace games always lay low in terms of sales. As a result, the series has been dormant since 2004; the only thing the Freespace series never delivered was a conclusion.


1. Republic: The Revolution

It’s safe to say that, in entertainment history, there has never been anything quite like Elixir Studios’ wannabe-magnum opus Republic: The Revolution. The game starts off with a questionnaire(!) following a short cutscene about the corrupt police chief who sent your parents to a soviet gulag rising to power to become the dictator of the game’s breakaway republic, Novistrana (‘new country’ in Russian). Your character starts off with absolutely nothing and has to form a political party and rise to power through whatever means necessary, though whichever avenue is entirely open for you. You can schmoose, bully, influence, murder, rally, spy, or bribe your way to the top. Or all of them, as long as you do so effectively (the game is pretty much what a real-life Bruce Wayne probably would have done). The game launches surprise after surprise at you, including random rallies from other parties, newspaper editors with their own agendas, outcries from the church, and occasional assassination attempts coordinated by the President’s own personal hit-squad. Republic fell short of the mark by simplifying its initial concept too much and resorting to a kind of board-game mechanic in a 3D world. Perhaps we expected too much, but Republic promised more. It remains one of the most unique and ambitious projects of all time.


About the Author

Rú Hickson

Despite initial wealth, Ru bankrupted himself by acquiring every existing second-hand copy of Duke Nukem Forever and placing it in a pile he uses for the express purposes of urinating onto and crying over in an unhealthy, but surprisingly therapeutic, downward spiral.

  • Landigan

    I never did finish Black and White. It started amazingly, but just frustrating as the game progressed. I loved Hitman though, for all its flaws (and my teenage lack of patience/skill).

    • Laura

      I had the same issues with Black & White myself. It didn’t offer as much creativity as I was expecting. Great concept but poor execution.

  • Ciaran O’Brien

    Assassin’s Creed stands out for me as a recent game that could be on this list. We can all agree that it was repetitive as hell, but underneath that mud was something glorious, and I’m glad Ubisoft stuck with it (at least, until it started getting repetitive again by Brotherhood and the really unnecessary Revelations). I still play the original now and again because of the things that DID work that were taken out, like having to genuinely plan your approach instead of having the means, route and moment handed to you on a plate like every other game in the series.

    • Rú Hickson

      I do really like the Assassin’s Creed games. The first was a severely flawed diamond and Brotherhood will probably hold up best to scrutiny. Without doubt we’ll have another one by the end of the year though. Just a shame it probably won’t be Haytham we control.

      • Ciaran O’Brien

        Honestly, I’ve kinda lost interest. Stories need an ending. Ubisoft have been milking the franchise for all it’s worth and more at this stage. I have yet to play AssCreed 3, and if I ever do get around to it, I doubt I’ll bother with 4.

        This is kind of a reverse version of the article title. The AssCreed series genuinely delivered with 2, but it’s just more of the same from then on. I miss the days when it was actually about assassinating people. No need for this Farmville stuff getting in the way.

  • dirkradke

    The 2 games I remember hooking me on real-time strategy games were Command & Conquer and Populous. At some point they decided to concentrate more on the graphics than the strategy portion of it. Graphics are nice, but if the game is too easy or repetitive???