There are awesome, classic games that we all love to talk about. And of course, there are plenty of stinkers too.
But what about those games that had some genuinely fantastic mechanics and concepts, only to be let down by the overall execution of the experience?
Behold some of the best ideas ever dreamt up by developers, concealed in a let-down of average muck.
Here we run down nine of our favourite great things in otherwise not so great games. Whether boasting a cool gameplay quirk, an ingenious section or a great way of delivering narrative, these games shot for the stars, but only parts of them made it.
The mind hacking in MindJack
The fact that the central mechanic of this game is referred to as ‘Mind Hacking’ while the game itself is actually called MindJack should set alarm bells ring straight away. We’re sure there’s some kind of trademark based legalities at play here (perhaps there’s something else out there already called MindHack), but it just seems odd.
This Square Enix-published title from 2011 (though it looks five years older than that) is a third-person cover shooter in the vein of Gears of War, but it also comes with some interesting mind play mechanics.
Take down an enemy without killing them and you’re able to Mind Hack them, which sees them joining your side and turning against their former friends. It feels awesome to have all manner of heavily armoured, overpowered enemies rush you, only to recruit them for yourself and charge towards the lesser grunts in a confident blaze of gunfire.
Unfortunately, poor visual design and a host of infuriating bugs saw this game lost to the mists of time.
The terraforming in Fracture
This generic 2008 third-person action game had you playing a guy called Jet Brody (a stereotypical video game hero name if ever there was one), and a convoluted story involving a new, futuristic American civil war. So far, so forgettable.
But where it did stand out was in its unique terraforming mechanic, which allowed the player to manipulate the battlefield in any way he or she saw fit. Find yourself facing off against a bunch of enemies with no cover in sight? No problem. Simply raise the ground in front of you to make your own!
The mechanic also allowed players to jump to areas not normally reachable, and launch enemies into the air and into ceilings, and it’s probably worth picking up a cheap copy for this interesting mechanic alone, if not the forgettable package it all comes wrapped up in.
The multiplayer in Perfect Dark Zero
This follow up to Rare’s 2000 N64 shooter Perfect Dark (itself a spiritual successor to the grandaddy of multiplayer Goldeneye 007), had a lot of heritage when it came to pitting one player against another.
The gameplay itself wasn’t particularly impressive, but little quirks like multiplayer maps scaling up or down depending on the number of players inhabiting them, or the opposing team always appearing the same colour (no red/blue team confusion ala Halo here) were features that were adapted and expanded on years later to become fairly common in today’s gaming landscape.
The summoning in Scribblenauts
When Scribblenauts was first unveiled for the Nintendo DS back at E3 2009, everyone was excited. And who could blame them? The game’s central mechanic was to allow players to conjure anything they could imagine just by writing its name on the screen.
But what should’ve been a ground-breaking exercise turned out to be pretty disappointing, with single objects being rendered slightly differently to portray multiple things, a whole load of useless items, and some pretty shallow levels of character interaction.
Plus of course, being gamers we all rushed to note down the rudest things possible, none of which materialised in-game. Tsch!
Still, for what it could do, it was a pretty interesting concept, and the issues were fixed somewhat for 2010 sequel Super Scribblenauts. Hopefully a future release can patch things up completely.
The episodic structure in Alone in the Dark
Of course, these days episodic gaming is pretty commonplace, with a raft of story-driven digital titles being released a bit at a time over a number of months (see Life Is Strange or any of the Telltale games).
But shonky 2008 survival horror Alone in the Dark was one of the first to offer up something similar, breaking its story in to chapters and allowing players to watch a short ‘Previously on Alone in the Dark’ video before picking up their controllers again.
It was a different way of experiencing gaming narrative, something echoed by games like the brilliantly atmospheric Alan Wake, and the not so brilliant Driver: San Francisco.
The narrative and characters in Nier
Another publishing effort from Square Enix, Nier‘s central story is absolutely outstanding, with an eccentric cast of characters all coming together for some amazing dialogue, genuine humour and some truly emotionally wrenching scenes.
The main premise follows a terminally ill girl and a father who’d do anything to save her, so you know you’re in for some pretty deep stuff.
Unfortunately, the game itself is made up of terrible mission design (fetch quests ahoy!), infuriating combat mechanics, and an over reliance on mini-games. Nier could and should have been so much more.
The chase sequence and general atmosphere in Call of Cthulhu
This 2005 survival horror absolutely dripped with atmosphere. But an unwieldy amount of bugs and glitches meant much of the appeal was stripped from the game.
Also, despite the fact the game opted for immersion, stripping away many FPS tropes like ammo counters and health metres, as soon as a gun is plonked in your hand and you are free to start shooting at enemies freely, all atmosphere goes out the window; and you’re looking at a great gaming opportunity missed.
However, one truly memorable scene sees you escaping from a murderous mob of demented villagers, and has to be one of the most thrilling, intense, and terrifying video game sections ever devised. Check this video out for an idea of its impact.
Lots of things in Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
Kane & Lynch could’ve been the next great video game heroes had everything gone to plan, and looking back they at least speak to a time when console gaming was willing to try new things.
For a start, the leads weren’t super chiseled, buff good guys intent on saving the world, but morally ambiguous, rough looking and not the nicest of people. Then there were the genuinely innovative levels that haven’t really been replicated since – the prison break and bank robbery sequences standing out as particularly good examples – and co-op players even experience hallucinations that the other player can’t see when controlling Lynch.
There’s a lot of amazing gameplay quirks hidden among Kane & Lynch, as well as an interesting narrative arc, but playing the damn thing is a drag. Glitches everywhere, a difficulty that’s all over the place and a shooting mechanic that’s downright atrocious. Frustrating.
The parkour in Brink
Many shooters have incorporated parkour into their gameplay (see Dying Light, Titanfall and Mirror’s Edge), but one of the first to try it was Brink, a competitive shooter from developer Splash Damage promising something truly revolutionary for the shooter community.
What we, sadly, got was repetitive gunplay and some wonky attempts at merging single-player and multiplayer modes
But the SMART system, which allowed players to traverse the environment with a number of glitzy parkour moves, was the game’s saving grace. Another great idea let down by its average surroundings.