2021 has been a wild and disappointing year for many, with most suffering through a pandemic and even lockdowns. Thankfully, we gamers can always find a form of escapism within video games. Although sometimes the titles we are most looking forward to end up falling short of expectations. This may be due to unfulfilled mechanics and inclusions, unpolished gameplay, or an underwhelming story heaped with a promise that didn’t deliver.
This year, in addition to Checkpoint’s Top 10 games of the year, we are looking back on a few of the most disappointing releases. Keep in mind these choices are our personal selections of titles we have played that proved to be disappointing in 2021 and are not based on review scores given. Your opinions may differ, which is perfect as this creates a great scenario for further discussion and dissection!
No More Heroes 3
I love the bonkers nature of the No More Heroes series. More so, I love the weird and wonderful mind of Suda 51 who isn’t generally one to stick to normality. Unfortunately, No More Heroes 3 fell short for me in many ways and was pretty disappointing in my opinion. The story was just as crazy and over-the-top as I was expecting, being one of the few elements I truly loved. But the rest of the experience was hampered by numerous performance issues, odd pacing, and perhaps just a little too much flair with the insane amount of effects and sounds happening at any one time.
The combat gameplay itself, performance issues aside, is pretty fun, and one of the saving graces for this title together with its story. I never tired of beating down my foes with my “Beam Katana” and using the multitude of attack options at my disposal. Likewise, the dialogue, characters, and interactions are all engaging, with some interesting pop-culture references thrown into the mix and some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments.
The open-world inclusion really felt like an afterthought though, as this is where you will encounter sub-30 fps drops. Even without that issue, the world is just boring and empty, feeling like a lifeless shell you journey through to get to your next main mission. I just wish this game got a release on some beefier hardware that potentially could have resolved the performance issues.
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition is an interesting package. Despite doing a number of things fairly well such as gameplay tweaks and refreshed visuals, it’s hard not to feel let down. When you consider all of the possibilities or additional improvements that could have been made, it just feels like Rockstar could have gone further and created some truly memorable remakes or high-quality remasters.
All of the games here do look better and play better than the originals, which technically does make these versions the definitive ones. The problem is that this package feels like a missed opportunity at the end of the day. A few patches will likely take care of some of the more obvious issues, but at this point, it is hard to recommend to anyone other than the GTA faithful. For the full story check out my review here.
The lead-up to Cyberpunk 2077 seems like a fever dream now. It started with Keanu announcing that people were “breathtaking” and a release date drop at E3 2019. Later came fans sending threats to the developer CD Projekt Red whenever the game’s release date was once again pushed back. We were hungry for the world that was promised to us, a kaleidoscope of anarchy, grit, branching storylines, and choices mattering. Every time a new Night City Wire aired (a series of YouTube clips that deep-dived into more about the game before it was released) I would watch it and oooh and ahhh over the promises the game was dishing up.
On release day, I ran down during my lunch break and picked up my pre-ordered PS4 copy. I loaded it up after work and sat back ready to start my time as a street kid in Night City. As my character landed in a nightclub… I felt my heart sink. The frame rate was ghastly, NPCs were performing weird actions that made them seem like possessed robots, the world didn’t seem alive and pulsing like they had promised. Where was the uniqueness, creativity, and beauty that the studio had produced with The Witcher 3? Cyberpunk 2077 seemed like a game that was trying to do ALL the things but really couldn’t even do one thing right. The character arcs were predictable, the world eerily empty of personality, the dialogue was clunky and the gameplay was unnecessarily complicated. I felt like I’d ordered the game off of Wish! But I’m happy for the lesson that Cyberpunk 2077 has taught me and that is to never be too hyped for a video game, because instead of encountering the video game of your dreams, you could encounter something that you really didn’t even want, or need, to play.
You may be thinking – Hang on, Cyberpunk 2077 released in 2020. And you are correct. The launch of the game was a complete mess, with many feeling the game was incomplete and under-developed. Due to the sheer amount of patches and tweaks over 2021 to correct the Cyberpunk mess, we felt it to be a worthwhile inclusion here.
JETT: The Far Shore
I just consider myself fortunate that JETT: The Far Shore wasn’t a PS5 exclusive, lest I attempt to get a new console for this game. In a year where I played more than 1 disappointing game, I consider JETT: The Far Shore the most disheartening. Some may regard it as inoffensive, but I still consider it an achievement to produce a game that I found to be this unengaging. I’ll do my best to summarise my grievances, but a full rundown can be found in my review.
The narrative is bland and full of boring characters. They just fill out seats on the spaceship, bound for a planet to find space opera Jesus. Sadly, they didn’t bring a big enough ship so they have to share the one or two personality traits they had on the carry-on luggage. Gameplay functions, but, in trying to find multiple ways to engage players, fails at pretty much all of them. The ship is fast and fluid to control until the characters want to talk jargon at you. The story is a fascinating journey until the tutorial ends, and the game abandons you on an island with a nebulous, 20-minute “go explore” mission. The flora and fauna are interesting, unless you, like me, were under the impression that we were flying around, and having fun.
Truly the moment I understood JETT: The Far Shore is when I fully understood why this game was so familiar. Perhaps it should be a ray of hope that I’m reminded of No Man’s Sky, a game that has improved over time. However, I’m not holding my breath for JETT, it was a game where I spent the entire time waiting, hoping it would get better. It never did, and I have no intention of giving it another chance.
What even was Balan Wonderworld? Seriously, does anyone know?
With Yuji Naka’s name being used so much in its marketing and a character design very reminiscent of NiGHTS into Dreams, I and many other SEGA fans were cautiously hopeful about this new IP. But it was all for naught: Balan Wonderworld is without a doubt the worst high-profile 3D platforming game we’ve been subjected to in years. With sluggish controls and no clear direction or goal, it is very difficult indeed to find the fun in this game. Each new ability the characters find is more inane than the last, with many being more of a hindrance than a help. The titular character Balan is not even present for most of the game, only showing up for a laughably weak excuse of a QTE minigame. What a waste of such a great character design!
The game’s only saving grace is its memetic value, with many streams and comedic videos showcasing the weird things in Balan Wonderworld. The dance numbers, the stupid costumes, not to mention the inexplicable dancing furry NPCs that disappear as soon as you get close to them. How this concept got so much marketing power behind it is truly beyond me, and it belongs in the bargain bin.
This was a game that I was thoroughly looking forward to, being published by Annapurna Interactive and having a voice cast including James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley, and the always amazing Willem Dafoe. However, save for an interesting first hour or so, the game ends up falling flat and overstaying its welcome.
The initial mystery of what is happening in Twelve Minutes is quite intriguing, as is the first few attempts of utilizing the titular 12 minutes that you have to find clues and gather information in various ways before the cycle begins again. Each new attempt does get you closer to finding out more about the characters and their motivations and backstory, but after a while, the rinse-and-repeat clicking on everything to see what it will do does become quite tiresome.
Likewise, I felt that the final payoff and closure to the story was not as intriguing as the journey built it up to be, and more often than not I found myself becoming frustrated with multiple attempts as the controls can hinder the experience. What also hinders the experience is the lack of any explanation of what you can interact with – it all comes down to trial and error.
Luckily this year turned out to be a pretty decent year for gaming. Disappointment is all relative, and games that we enjoyed might be ones that you were not satisfied with. If you are looking for some hidden gems of this year, we have you covered here.
Thankfully, next year is also shaping up to be another fantastic year for video games, with many highly anticipated titles set to release. Here at Checkpoint, we are ready for another big year. We would also love to know what games didn’t live up to your expectations this year! comment your choices below or on our social media.