Much of the gaming community has been in heated discussions about the state in which the long-awaited Cyberpunk 2077 launched. Some call it a masterpiece, others an unplayable mess, but both sides seem to converge on the fact that launch was quite certainly botched, with last-gen consoles receiving an unplayable port and even the best version on PC having some troubling issues. News of lawsuits, heated controversies and the likes even made mainstream media, as you could find discussion about this odd launch even on news segments on TV. But as our review also states, Cyberpunk 2077 is not a bad game, it’s a great one in fact, it just came out in a baffling fashion. And in a year as absurd as 2020, odd launches of otherwise good games were plenty. Beyond Cyberpunk 2077, what were some of the most bizarre game launches of 2020?
10 – Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit – Remastered
What’s everyone’s favourite installment of this legendary gaming franchise? The good old Porsche Unleashed? The classic Hot Pursuit games? The Fast and Furious-inspired Underground games? The iconic Most Wanted from 2005? Electronic Arts must have been looking at the polls and seeing the mass appeal of the classics, so they decided to remaster… the Hot Pursuit reboot from 2010 by Criterion Games. It was a very solid entry for the franchise, one that definitely fares better to this day compared to most of the newer installments, but at the end of the day it did nothing new or spectacular that truly made it deserve to be remastered, what with the PC version in particular still offering a great spectacle to this day. So EA bringing this episode back, out of all the possibilities, is somewhat baffling, and doing so at a 40 USD/EUR launch price during the holidays certainly felt out of touch with reality, no wonder that even pre-orders saw as high as 66% discounts across the globe. Don’t get us wrong: 2010’s Hot Pursuit is one of the best modern day Need For Speed games, a game that arcade racing fans should enjoy thanks to a great driving model, high octane chases, gorgeous cars and a blasting soundtrack. But this remaster adds nothing to it aside from a higher resolution and HDR at a pretty hefty price no less, and to this day it’s unclear why this Need For Speed in particular warranted a comeback.
9 – Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMix and Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue
Square Enix, along with Atlus, are champions of making baffling decisions related to platforms of choice, ports and pricing. This year’s late release of these two collections of classic Kingdom Hearts experiences is an excellent example of the former publisher’s disregard of continuity. This legendary series has never ever graced Xbox consoles until 2019’s Kingdom Hearts 3 hit Xbox One. As fans know, it’s the new installment in a franchise known for an incredibly confusing and multi-layered storyline, and skipping over the several prior games made it impossible for new fans to enjoy its quirks fully. PlayStation 4 owners got two different collections of all prior games before the new game’s launch, but the same did not happen on Microsoft’s ecosystem. So a whole year later, Square Enix corrects the mistakes and releases the two games that recap the storyline, at a price that is far higher than these games would cost on Sony’s console. And indeed, the game was heavily discounted shortly after and added to Game Pass in pretty much record time. At some board meeting, a Square Enix executive will wonder why Kingdom Hearts sells less on Xbox consoles. Not treating said userbase as an afterthought would certainly help!
8 – Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War
After Modern Warfare’s enormous success last year, the massive numbers generated by the free-to-play battle royale Warzone and the ridiculous popularity of the smartphone/tablet sensation Call of Duty Mobile, everything was set for Activision to make a clean sweep with the next Call of Duty. Yet, a troubled development forced this year’s developer Sledgehammer Games to sit on the bench, with Treyarch having to trash their 2021 Black Ops project and repurpose a different studio’s game into a Black Ops reboot, with the added difficulty of COVID-19 and new consoles launching. Call of Duty is generating incredible money with the aforementioned titles, and more than ever, Activision could have afforded skipping a year, while continuing to push their behemoths, Warzone and COD Mobile in particular. Instead, Treyarch was forced to come out with a Call of Duty that is good. Great, even. But it also had several technical hiccups, missing features and baffling design choices at launch, making it an enjoyable but ultimately rather unremarkable installment that really didn’t need to happen in 2020. Treyarch had enough issues delivering a complete Black Ops 4 in 3 years, this time they had 18 months or so to repurpose someone else’s project, hampered by a global pandemic and the start of a new generation of consoles no less. A fine result was always, realistically speaking, the most optimistic outcome, a few months delay would have made a huge difference.
7 – Bleeding Edge
We have no intention to join the dogpiling of this game, because we honestly believe that with more depth and variety it could have made a bigger splash at launch, as the core gameplay was there, and such multiplayer games definitely have their market. I’ll just share my personal anecdote: as a player who managed to join one of the first technical tests a year or so before launch, I echoed much of the criticism of the community; the maps were a little sparse, the gameplay felt a little slow, only one game mode out of two felt balanced and fun, and so on. We were, however, pretty hyped: the actual combat and traversal felt good, and there was potential in its team-based encounters. A year or so later, the game launched, and none of these points have been addressed by the developers. The full game’s launch had the same exciting promises of the first alphas, but also all of its problems. Was it fun? Yes. Is it still fun? Indeed it is. It also could have, should have been so much more. And a Game Pass day one launch does not make up for an almost complete lack of marketing and hype. It was a small project that didn’t aim to compete with Fortnite or Call of Duty, but it failed to make any sort of impact whatsoever.
6 – Gears 5: Hivebusters
There have been long-running rumors about The Coalition working on an ambitious single player DLC for Gears 5. Roll on December 2020, and it finally hits, a brilliant Gears 5 spin-off of sorts that features some of the most incredible locales, setpieces and technical marvels this franchise has ever produced, not to mention the absolutely stunning graphical upgrades that were released just in time for the Series X to drop. Only one little issue: a month or so ago, nobody knew it existed. When it finally released, people weren’t sure if it was a free update, a paid DLC, a stand-alone expansion pack, or even if it’s just single player or more content for the already packed multiplayer. One of the best moments in the history of this iconic franchise, and the release just happend with zero hype, marketing or interest whatsoever. Seems like a running theme with Microsoft this year, unfortunately.
5 – Immortals: Fenyx Rising
Let’s do a little roleplay. You’re an executive at Ubisoft. You have this exciting new IP by the makers of widely appreciated Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, mixing that franchise’s strengths with the style and design choices of Nintendo’s fantastic The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Early impressions are good, in hindsight so were reviews, so what do you do with such a surefire hit? If your answer was releasing it shortly after Breath of the Wild’s musou prequel spin-off Hyrule Warriors and a few weeks after the latest Assassin’s Creed, almost day and date with the biggest game of the year, Cyberpunk 2077, all this with barely any marketing… congratulations! You’re reasoning like the big shots at Ubisoft. If you opted for a delay, a price reduction, lucrative Game Pass/PlayStation Plus deals and the likes, you may have had a shot at saving the franchise, but alas it may be too late. The game had great critical reception and it seems to hit a lot of right notes for people. I’d personally argue that, in some ways, it’s better than Breathe of the Wild and Odyssey alike. But most people will only realize that when the game inevitably hits the bargain bins in a few months. Such a shame, because it’s one of the finest open world games of the past couple years, and various members of XboxEra staff are having a blast playing during the holidays!
4 – Hyper Scape
Ubisoft again! With the battle royale craze taking over the gaming industry in the past years, it felt baffling that they’re one of last big third party publishers to miss out on this genre completely. The Ghost Recon games, the formula of The Division, or even the expansive worlds of Asssassin’s Creed: these games already have much of the groundwork necessary to build a competitive loot-based experience over massive online battlegrounds. And yet, they didn’t use these behemoth IPs and their tested and refined gameplay loops to build a new battle royale sensation. They instead chose to make what feels like an arena shooter from the early 2000’s on PC, slapping a shrinking battle royale style map onto it. But the game is too fast and acrobatic for the kind of formula it goes for, and there’s a reason classic arena shooters barely even exist: they don’t resonate with the mainstream public anymore. And indeed, neither did Hyper Scape. And as someone who’s put dozens of hours into it, I can attest to the fact that it’s not down to quality, albeit the console versions certainly suffer from a game design more suited for keyboard and mouse. But this game, in this shape and form, is completely unrelated to what the public wants. A quick glance at the top 50 on Xbox or Twitch seems to confirm this, as the game was non-existent in said charts shortly after release already.
3 – Rocket Arena
Electronic Arts picked up the pieces of a relatively promising first person arena shooter that tried to appeal to the good old fanbase of the legendary Quake mod, Rocket Arena. A hardcore arena FPS in this day and age is not a guaranteed success though, so it was repurposed into a third person game, heavily borrowing from the class-based element of games like Overwatch. Such a game has a mountain to climb to find an audience, as we saw with Hyper Scape too, but EA had the brilliant idea of not making this niche multiplayer-only game a free-to-play with microtransactions, as is the norm, but to got for a 30 USD/EUR launch price and still include Fortnite-esque cosmetic elements t obuy. Let’s just say that it was a terrible idea, to the point that 10 days after launch the game was available digitally and physically alike for as low as 5 bucks, with an early inclusion into EA Play (thus Game Pass Ultimate too) and PlayStation Plus, with free copies being given away at every other PC storefront too. The game did manage to find a small niche, and deservedly so: it’s a really fun class-based shooter with excellent traversal, and game modes that allow the short matches to be turned around even in seemingly impossible situations. But the narrative was never about the quality of the product, with gamers instead making memes about the ridiculous launch history instead. Shame.
2 – Disintegration
A high-profile shooter with an ambitious campaign and a meaty multiplayer, made by a team led by veterans who, among other things, created a fairly well-known game named Halo. Destiny sold ridiculous amounts of copies on a similar premise, so what happened with Disintegration? It would be easy to make puns about the name, but that’s pretty much it: this game may as well not have existed. It launched at a pretty high launch price to absolutely zero hype or recognition. The impressions from the alphas and betas were lukewarm, with people lamenting the old school Descent-like 360 degrees movement not gelling well with the RTS-esque ground unit management, as players had to keep it slow and keep staring at the ground to manage to handle everything. And then the full game just came and went with passable reviews, a high price point and no word of mouth whatsoever. There were attempts to gain interest with free weekends and giveaways, but the servers were shut down last month, just 5 months after the game’s launch. There was potential in this game’s core ideas and universe, but it likely will never materialize. Not with this name, anyway.
1 – Sports games in 2020
Whether you side with EA Sports, 2K’s bombastic experiences or Konami’s yearlies, this year was not a good one for sports games at all. The reason is pretty simple: these games are already iterative yearly upgrades over well-tested formulas, with only slight graphical and gameplay updates from one episode to another. Thanks to COVID-19 hampering development and needing to launch on a set of new consoles as well, there were several issues delivering new content. It has indeed been a long-running joke that sports games effectively only sell a roster update every year, but in 2020 that is literally what happened. Konami decided to be the most honest of them all, selling a low-price upgrade to Pro Evolution Soccer with, admittedly, only the rosters and jerseys upgraded to the 2020/2021 football (soccer) season. But if you bought other titles like EA Sports’ FIFA 2021 or the latest NBA 2K, you were greeted by minor graphical upgrades on new consoles, and quite literally not a single new feature or improvement in sight. With some games and versions even going up to 80 Euros, installing your copy of your sports game of choice to find only a roster update (for real this time) was a probably a pretty bad experience for many gamers this Christmas.
While 2020 delivered all kinds of success stories in gaming, it also featured a lot of troubled launches, as developers across the globe had to overcome the never seen before challenge of working during a global pandemic, often forcing entire studios to operate from their homes, with execs not conceding any more delays either. These are only ten of the most bizarre launches this year, and the worst part is that they’re all tied to games ranging from decent to absolutely amazing, wasting the potential of games that, had they been polished, marketed and timed properly, could have also been modern classics. And now, it’s your turn: what do you think were the most baffling game launches of 2020?