GOTY 2014 - Worst Letdown

This year, we're rolling out a new set of awards that recognize achievements (and some dubious honors) in specific areas of game development. There are ten awards in all, with two new ones being awarded every day this week. Keep checking back for more winners! Don't miss out on any of our Game of the Year coverage. Check out our full schedule here, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for instant updates.

Worst Letdown - Ubisoft

Here at Silicon Sasquatch, we want to love every game when it comes out. We take little joy in sipping on Haterade (well, except for Tyler sometimes). But it’s inevitable that games will fail to live up to expectations, so we’re here to call it straight when they do. But what happens when a major publishing company struggles with all of its biggest titles of the year?

Ubisoft had a very bad 2014. Sure, there have been some smaller games that did well for it this year: Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a thoughtful piece on a forgotten time period, South Park: The Stick of Truth is easily the best game about the foul-mouthed elementary school students and the best gaming satire of the year, and Child of Light brought old-school Active Time Battles to 2014. But those are Ubisoft’s smaller games, the “indie” games expected to find small audiences and be modest hits. And don’t forget the case of South Park, which was the equivalent of finding a nice old lamp at the THQ garage sale.

What about Ubisoft’s big hitters? In my estimation, Ubisoft had four major franchises it deemed as essential to its 2014 lineup: Watch Dogs, Far Cry 4, The Crew, and Assassin’s Creed, which saw two games, Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Assassin’s Creed: Rogue. These were the showcase games. They were the games that sparkled under the bright E3 lights, pushed into the fall “major game releases” window, and hyped up both in marketing and by the games press. And all of them had problems.

How did those games fare? Pretty disastrously. Watch Dogs was delayed, had its premise and scale changed, and shipped as yet another tale of a white male protagonist seeking vengeance while hunted by the government. It went from Spencer’s _Hackers_-inspired wet dream to a poor modern-day Assassin’s Creed knock-off. And how about the Assassin’s Creed titles themselves? Assassin’s Creed Rogue was quietly launched on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and sounds like a decent follow-up to last year’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. However, Assassin’s Creed Unity couldn’t match the promise of this year’s stunning E3 debut, and it notably shipped with a menagerie of bugs and incomplete features. Calling it “broken” would be an insult to items that fall over and shatter properly. The Crew was also delayed and had the ignominy of not being sent to reviewers before release, a bad sign that’s verified by the game sitting at 62 overall on Metacritic. Far Cry 4? It’s the lone guaranteed smash of the lot, but it suffered from claims of Orientalism around E3 (specifically the cover art, which was altered quickly after the controversy fluttered up).

So let’s check the score-card. By my tally, Ubisoft’s AAA output is not meeting the standards any of us want to see. Watch Dogs missed the mark, Assassin’s Creed Unity missed the mark, The Crew missed the mark, and only Far Cry 4 was up to par. Yes, Ubisoft served up some good smaller titles this year, but when you whiff with three of your major tentpole titles—and when you miss just as badly as happened with Unity—it’s hard to make excuses. These are the games people see on TV, that people buy consoles for (one of us bought an Xbox One Unity pack), and that make us drool at E3 and PAX. These are the games that must live up to expectations. That they didn’t leaves us with an extremely bad taste.

Runners-up: DestinySid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth

Following up from Ubisoft, we have two more games that provided big letdowns this year. First up is Destiny, and while it may be an obvious choice, it’s also an incredibly painful one. We all wanted to believe the hype with this one, and given developer Bungie’s pedigree, we thought it would turn out well. But when it turns out the mission design and campaign progression is rote at best, it’s hard to get turned on, even if it’s evident that Bungie can still make a great shooter.

Our other runner-up might as well be just for Spencer: Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth. When this was announced, it was done so with a very specific wink and nod – as if to say, “This is the follow up to Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri you’ve been waiting for.” While Spencer is a dedicated Alpha Centauri lover, the rest of us got excited, too – a Civilization game set in space? A spiritual successor using the Civ V engine to make a game in space? Oh man. But it’s unfortunate to report that it’s light on content and feels more like a mod for Civilization V than a proper stand-alone game.  – Doug Bonham