There’s nothing quite like that feeling of finally getting your hands on a brand new video game title that you’ve been waiting to play for years, only to get home, install it, play through it from start to finish, and realize that you actually weren’t impressed.
Instead, you feel like somewhere along the line, something about that game you had patiently waited to binge through just didn’t hit the right note. But then you notice the game’s rave reviews or hear your friends all talking about how much they loved it, leaving you scratching your head and wondering how they could have enjoyed it that much.
Whether it’s a newly-introduced character, a new twist in the series’s plot, or simply an element of the title’s gameplay that fell flat on its face (I’m looking at you, Assassin’s Creed III), there are always going to be video games that set players apart on either side of the “love-it-or-hate-it” fence.
These are my top 10 picks for games that gamers, for one reason or another, just can’t seem to agree on.
10. Five Nights At Freddy’s (franchise)
Breaking its way onto the scene in 2014, the Five Nights At Freddy’s (FNaF) video game franchise helped spark a fresh flame into the then-dwindling embers that was the horror game market. It brought gamers an enjoyable, albeit simple, gaming experience overflowing with nonstop tension. To date, the original game has gone on to spawn 9 sequels, 3 spin-off games, 15 books, and now also has a film adaptation in the works.
The only problem with nonstop, filled-to-the-brim tension is…well, nonstop filled-to-the-brim tension. At the time, even veterans of horror games were largely used to a blend of exploration, action, and something in the game that would let them fight back against enemy characters. FNaF took one look at this formula and threw it out the window, along with many gamers’ patience.
Instead of exploration, the main character remains rooted in place. Rather than offer items or weapons to fight back, players are forced to use cameras and switches to prevent the onslaught of terror heading their way. And the most action-packed parts of the game were the inevitable jump scares accompanied by a shrill, mechanical screech anytime one of the animated animatronics found its way into the main character’s room.
Despite the franchise’s success, the original FNaF put many gamers off the series entirely, and players to this day are torn between their love or disdain for the most nightmarish bipedal bear we’ve ever seen.
9. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
If you Google “best video game of all time,” 9 times out of 10, you’re going to be met with the words, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. So, when Nintendo finally released Skyward Sword – the canonical prequel in the entire Legend of Zelda series – it was beyond surprising to hear so many die-hard fans of the series drag it through the dirt.
While Skyward Sword was a trend-setter for the Zelda franchise overall in how it seamlessly introduced new characters and settings, forcing even long-time fans to rethink their perception of the series’s own metaverse, much of the gameplay came up short. Especially in the game’s second act.
Though the game introduced players to the world of Skyloft and the Shoebill Stork-like Loftwings which carried them to the stratospheric haven, much of the game’s latter half becomes a back-and-forth chore run involving multiple flights from Skyloft to the surface world and back again. Tack on top of that a needlessly repetitive (and honestly, predictably underwhelming) boss fight and you have the perfect ingredients for an online flame war.
The worst thing is, Skyward Sword isn’t a bad game. It’s just a game that started as a great game that became a boring game before it finally picked up again at the story’s final confrontation.
8. Shadow Of The Colossus
In 2001, Sony struck gold when they opted to publish Shadow Of The Colossus (SotC), a title developed by a small Japanese studio called Team Ico. While the entertainment giant waited 4 more years to publish the title for its western audiences due to fears that it wouldn’t perform as well with many mainstream gamers at the time, SotC has since gone on to receive a plethora of awards, even earning a remastered edition in 2018.
What all players immediately notice upon picking up the title (particularly those who picked up the original edition in the mid-2000s) is SotC’s…cough…colossal sense of scale. The entire game takes place in a forbidden land, where the protagonist known as Wander must traverse plains, mountains, swamps, lakes, and deserts to seek and slay 16 separate colossi with nothing more than a bow, a sword, and his horse.
What set SotC aside from other titles of its time was, instead of being bombarded with bright colors, flashing lights, and more numbers flashing on the screen than a bad day on Wall Street, gamers were met with a vast, diverse landscape of a stunning and natural-looking world; one that the video game industry would take note of when marketing more “open-world” titles in the future.
Despite Shadow’s trailblazing gameplay, however, many gamers at the time – and even now with its remastered edition – feel that the game was less “action-adventure” and more “horse riding simulator/treasure hunt”. While SotC still consistently rates between an 8 or 9 out of 10 with the bulk of video gamers, there have always been a handful who griped about the game only having 16 enemies – all of which were separate boss fights against different colossi.
One thing all gamers can thankfully agree on with Shadow is that the soundtrack slaps.
7. Cyberpunk 2077
What do you get when you mix an all-star cast, top-of-the-line production tools, and a marketing budget worth the GDP of a small country? In almost any circumstance you’d have a title worthy of a “Game of the Year” award. The keyword here is “almost”.
In the circumstance of Cyberpunk, you also have to add in a 10-year production timeline, two next-generation console releases, and management changing hands more frequently than a dollar bill at a back alley biker bar. All of these factors made the job of the game’s developers all the more difficult, forcing them to constantly revisit portions of the game that had once been assumed finished and tweak them for performance.
While players who experienced the game on the latest gaming software were able to run it at a full 60 frames-per-second (as opposed to 30 on PS4 and Xbox One consoles), Sony and Microsoft both quickly began issuing fans refunds when they realized that the finished title was so buggy that some fans deemed it “unplayable”. The former even pulled the game from their virtual stores only a few days after its initial, long-awaited release.
Like Skyward Sword, Cyberpunk wasn’t a bad game, but though it possessed all the elements of a platinum award-winning title, it’s going to be a prime example of a case study against over-hyping video games that have yet to announce a formal release date.
Admittedly, this is the only title on this list that I have yet to play. Also admittedly, it’s the only title on this list that I personally have no interest in playing because if I wanted to hear a group of raging children screaming racial slurs or other obscenities to me through a headset and hurling threats about the wildly age-inappropriate acts they wish to perform on my mother and/or sister, I’d go back to playing Call of Duty online. Although, in hindsight, this wouldn’t be much of a better alternative.
It’s true that the bulk of Fortnite’s fan base by and large consist of younger demographics than most other world-renown game titles, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to play for tons of older gamers who love the game’s seamless ability to combine team-based Battle Royale-style multiplayer matches with addictive gameplay and a well-designed world. Heck, it even routinely brings in crossover characters, new weapons, and fresh skins for players to pick up for their in-game avatars.
What Fortnite’s success to date does mean is that the game’s developers have to work nearly around the clock to continually improve the game’s experience for a diverse audience across PC, consoles, and its mobile app versions. This issue and others, such as Fortnite’s war with Apple late last year, has caused its own series of problems bringing Fortnite and its parent company Epic Games under fire from both its developers and player community.
5. World of Warcraft
Perhaps more often than I should openly admit, I still fondly think back to the period of time between 2008 and 2010 that I spent lounging around in pajamas, chugging back can after can of Mountain Dew (side note: not recommended), and staring at the fantastical, digital World of Warcraft (WoW) on my computer screen nearly 24/7.
Since it first hit shelves way back in 2004, WoW has gone on to become the single-most played and awarded MMORPG of all time, becoming so popular that it prompted South Park to parody the game in one all-too-accurate episode. But the problem with having a massive online game played by millions of people every day is that every one of those players experiences the game a different way, and because WoW has been around for the better part of two decades, its developers are constantly forced to think of ways to keep WoW’s in-game content fresh and exciting for players: an endeavor that, as some more veteran players of the game will tell you, often comes up short.
Between a wild combination of eight separate expansion packs, bugs and unpredictable server crashes that come with each new patch of in-game content added, and other issues with gameplay both against other players and the game environment itself that require near-constant developer attention to fix, WoW’s player base seems to constantly go back and forth between wanting to continue experiencing the game’s content and being frustrated with the same issues that inevitably arise with it time and again.
In spite of millions of players never straying from the online world of Azeroth since its initial 2004 launch, the underlying issue with any massively multiplayer game is that, when you try to appease even just a portion of those millions, many more are going to loathe any changes that could potentially affect their in-game characters and the hundreds – if not thousands – of hours they put into them.
4. Fallout 4
Bethesda Game Studios is one of those publishers in the video game development industry that has put out such a stunning amount of 5-star titles that, when fans hear news of Bethesda releasing a sequel to one of those titles, it’s almost unilaterally expected to shatter records.
So when Bethesda announced and subsequently released the fourth main game in their post-apocalyptic Fallout role-playing game (RPG) series, longtime fans of the franchise were expecting a game that copied the best elements of its two predecessor titles, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. While what they received in Fallout 4 came close to achieving this, a large portion of Fallout fans felt Bethesda had artificially limited (if not thrown out altogether) certain aspects of the game that made parts of its “role-playing” aspect needlessly constricted.
For instance, gathering and breaking down “junk” in the Fallout series had routinely offered players ways to construct new items or weapons. In previous games in the franchise, players could dismantle the heaps of junk they found en masse, whereas Fallout 4 forces players to do this one at a time. Fallout 4 still possessed a dialogue system similar to past games in the series, but instead of clearly writing out each dialogue option (and their corresponding moral implications), players were simply given generic response options like “Sarcastic” or “Persuasion.”
The kicker for many seasoned players of the post-apocalyptic RPG franchise was, instead of being able to witness the fruits of laboring through hours of playtime to reach one of the game’s two endings, the game just…ends. No resolution. No view into the moral implications of the dialogue choices made by the player’s in-game character. So, when the credits started rolling on their screen, some Fallout fans opted to just uninstall or delete the game entirely.
3. Death Stranding
For nearly 30 years, Japanese video game development titan Konami rode on a title wave of success, partly due to the overwhelmingly positive reception to some of its earliest titles like the Metal Gear series of video games which was fueled by its long-lasting partnership with gaming writer, director, and auteur Hideo Kajima.
So when news broke in 2015 that Kojima was not only being removed from his position as co-director of the highly-anticipated Silent Hills title (alongside cinematic thriller mastermind Guillermo Del Toro and lead actor Norman Reedus), but also removing Kojima from he and his studio’s partnership with Konami, gamers the world over scratched their head in an equal mix of confusion and anticipation in what would come next.
Sadly, what came next was almost just as messy a product as Konami’s breakup with Kojima had been. With Kojima, Del Toro, and Reedus all out of a job due to the cancellation of Silent Hills, the three joined forces to create and release Kojima’s first video game title post-split with Konami: Death Stranding, an experimental “social strand” game that had players controlling the main character (portrayed by Reedus) as what can only be described as the world’s fittest delivery man in a dismal world.
The problems with Death Stranding seemed to start even before production did. With each new screenshot, trailer, or a clip of gameplay footage released on the title, players and critics alike only became more confused as to what the story or plot of the game was supposed to be. Even upon its release in 2019, many gamers who played through the title – many of them lifelong fans of Kojima’s artistic game direction and storytelling – still weren’t sure just what they had experienced, leading to a smorgasbord of mixed reviews and emotions that still hover over the game like a stormcloud today.
2. The Last of Us Part II
“But Sam,” I can hear you saying now, “didn’t you already cover the major disagreements gamers had with this game in your last post?” Why yes, anonymous reader, I sure did! And I’m going to do it again, albeit with slightly more context and detail.
Here’s the tricky thing about creating sequels: whether it’s a book, a movie, or a video game, unless a particular story was originally written in a way that left its plot open-ended, creating a sequel for it will force scriptwriters to reopen a story that was otherwise meant to stay closed. So, when the game’s development studio Naughty Dog announced a sequel to their smash hit The Last Of Us, and spent the next 7 years working on creating a sequel worthy of its name, fans of the original were left speculating as to how the studio could make lightning strike twice. That is, at least, until leaks pertaining to the game’s characters and plot started pouring out online.
When some early footage of the sequel’s gameplay (which included some critical components of the game’s plot and primary characters) was leaked in April of 2020, Naughty Dog responded the following day with an official release date for the title. The damage, however, had been done.
After 7 long years of waiting, fans of the original game became uproarious over the death of a beloved character from the sequel’s predecessor that the leak had spoiled, along with a new character introduced in the sequel responsible for their death. This was made an even larger problem by the new character’s portrayal as a diverse, muscular woman: a virtual symbol of the empowered feminine that many straight male fans saw as “needless” or “intentionally heavy-handed” inclusion. Because many fans of the original Last Of Us title could now only view the new character as the murderer of their old favorite, the game has been plagued with a barrage of hateful reviews and comments since before its official release last summer. All because of a simple online leak that the game’s creative director described as “the worst day” of his life.
1. The “Soulsborne” series (franchise)
Oh, Dark Souls (and Demon’s Souls…and Bloodborne…and Dark Souls II and III), how I love to loathe thee. Ever since Japanese video game studio From Software partnered with Sony to release its dark, gritty, action-adventure RPG Demon’s Souls in 2009 for the Playstation 3 console, the studio has gone on to become synonymous with releasing game after game after game that is brutally, mercilessly, and unapologetically difficult.
I don’t mean “has too many mechanics to keep track of” difficult, or even “beat this boss fight within a ridiculously short amount of time” difficult. I mean “rage-inducing, foaming at the mouth, shouting at your screen at 3:00am until you’re red in the face while your roommates wonder just what in all of Creation could cause you to make those kinds of sounds only to keep going in a twisted stupor of Stockholm-syndrome induced masochism,” DIFFICULT.
We’re talking so difficult that the most famous game in From’s arsenal, Dark Souls, has gone on to have an entire genre of similarly styled games named after it. So difficult that, when Dark Souls was released with its bundle of downloadable content (DLC), From decided to name it the “Prepare To Die Edition”.
Am I making my point here yet?
If you’re wondering just what could possibly possess a game developer to create not one, but an entire line of games, that throw players into a virtual world so dark and bleak and devoid of any obvious sign of hope save for another chance to try again only to have the words “YOU DIED” appear on-screen anytime their in-game character makes a single wrong move, look no further than the series’s lead writer and creative director, Hidetaka Miyazaki, who wanted to include strong elements of eastern philosophy into the game.
When Miyazaki first approached his partner-producer at Sony, Takeshi Kajii, about utilizing the concept of “death as education” in the game, he knew Sony wouldn’t have it. It hadn’t been done before, and what production company wants to market a product they know their customers won’t all equally enjoy?
But what the majority of players who decide to embark on playing any of From’s games in their fan-dubbed “Soulsborne” series don’t get a chance to realize is this: there is this point in time (often somewhere around the 10-hour mark of playtime), that something about the game’s mechanics, traps, and/or crucible of obscenely overwhelming boss fights just…clicks.
These games aren’t meant to be easy, but victory is still always achievable. The Soulsborne series isn’t meant to be another beat-em-up, hack-and-slash RPG. Everything about them from their settings to their plot, to the characters and their limited dialogue, down to every individual item found in the games is cohesive to the story they tell: stories rooted in the philosophy of trial-and-error, relentless perseverance, and how overcoming even the most daunting challenges just to get back up and do it all over again is its own reward.
If you read that last line and thought, “that sounds like my experience with these games,” then I’m sorry because you, like me and many others, have likely had future gaming experiences completely ruined for us as a result.
On the other hand, if you read that last line and thought, “well, that sounds like a pretty crappy reward,” then I hope you can understand why the Soulsborne series made it to the number 1 spot on this list!