10 Video Games That Were Sold On Lies –
Forget Banshees, armoured tanks and Metal Gears; the hype train is one of the most unstoppable vehicles in gaming history. No matter how hard we try to tame our excitement for the next big releases, most of us wind up buying a ticket on the railroad of disappointment.
Fans get burned time after time, drawn in by dazzling CGI cinematics or supposed ‘in-engine teasers’ that don’t truly represent a given studio’s finished product. Though the end fault might lie with us as petulant and undiscerning consumers, it begins with the publishers and marketers who sell their wares based on pure fabrication.
While there’s no excuse for raving tantrums about how a dishonest video game trailer ‘ruined your life’, there’s also no defence for a company that brazenly lies to your face whilst pocketing your cash.
E3 alone has a sordid history when it comes to misleading trailers and soundbites, and while such practices might succeed in securing initially high sales, the resulting backlash is often far more trouble than it’s worth.
10. Fable: The Journey
Peter Molyneux deserves his own section on this list, but for the sake of brevity, it’s best to focus on his most easily digestible untruths. The Fable creator has a long and depressing history when it comes to telling porkies.
Godus – Molyneux’s recent return to the god-game genre – spectacularly failed to deliver on its most infamous promise, that the winner of Curiosity: What’s Inside the Cube? would appear in the game as an all-powerful deity. Even the original Fable, a game that was otherwise very well received, shall forever be synonymous with broken promises.
While hyping his new fantasy franchise, Peter went a little off book, and proclaimed that if players knocked an acorn from a tree, a new tree would grow there in its place. The feature never materialised in the game, but it did serve as the seed for all of Molyneux’s future fibs.
His most blatant lie came while promoting Fable: The Journey, a Kinect exclusive game about riding a horse and cart. Molyneux claimed on several occasions that the game wouldn’t be ‘on rails’, but players were unsurprised to find that The Journey was indeed, completely linear.
9. Project Milo & The Kinect
Speaking of Kinect, very rarely has an entire console or peripheral been sold on such a shaky foundation of ‘truth’. Such was the case with Project Milo, the Kinect’s prospective killer app, which was demonstrated by Peter Molyneux at E3 in 2009.
Molyneux announced that the tech would be used in a game called ‘Milo and Kate’, a story-driven adventure wherein players could interact with a young child and a dog called Kate. The child was shown responding to words and phrases in real time, as well as the emotional tone with which they were expressed. The game never actually saw the light of day, however, and the legitimacy of Milo’s AI technology still remains somewhat doubtful.
This was only the first in a long line of tricks and fibs that were used to sell the Kinect. Other examples include claims that Kinect would scan household objects for use in-game, the Kinect Star Wars E3 demo not corresponding with the movements of the person playing the game on stage, and the utterly false claims that Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor would function on even the most fundamental level.
Watching the Milo demonstration back, you almost feel sorry for Molyneux. “What this industry does with Natal (Kinect’s codename) will change the landscape of games that we play,” he says. In actual fact, we got a lot of voice command gimmicks, dancing Han Solo, and more plastic tat to store next to our Guitar Hero controllers.
8. Dead Island
Perhaps it’s unfair to say that Dead Island was sold on an outright lie, but it was certainly marketed as something it wasn’t.
Dead Island’s cinematic trailer is still one of the greatest of its kind, a slow-motion heartbreaker that depicts a vacationing family’s fatal encounter with a zombie horde. A masterclass in marketing, it planted expectations for a touching game about family survival.
But that’s not what Dead Island was. Dead Island was a janky, co-op shooter with surprisingly moreish melee combat and some fairly terrible matchmaking capabilities. That’s not to say it wasn’t fun, but it certainly wasn’t the tear-jerker we had been led to believe. The game lacked the one thing its trailer was built upon: a story.
Expectations were high going into Spore, not least because it was the latest game from The Sims designer Will Wright.
EA made plenty of lofty claims about Spore’s procedural generation too, and in Wright’s GDC 2005 demonstration of the game, he revealed several gameplay features that were eventually cut. While this tends to happen a lot throughout the course of game development, it’s staggering just how many parts of the demo only got as far as the cutting room floor.
Spore’s creatures looked a lot more realistic back in 2005, when compared with their more comical 2008 counterparts. There were also features like underwater life and editing tools that were completely removed.
This isn’t as knowingly dishonest as showing off false gameplay footage that you know doesn’t represent your final product, but it is careless. Teasing your game at such an early stage in its life cycle is bound to leave people feeling disappointed when it ultimately undergoes changes.
Perhaps in this instance, a non-gameplay CGI trailer would have been preferable.
No matter how many times it happens, it will always be perplexing to discover that a developer has embellished gameplay footage for the purpose of hype. Ubisoft is no stranger to the concept; Far Cry 3 and Rainbow Six Siege are prime examples of games that wound up aesthetically inferior to their E3 reveals, but Watch_Dogs still stands out as the company’s most heinous offender.
Although the retail version of Watch_Dogs remained mechanically intact, its visuals had been severely hamstrung since the game’s 2012 reveal. After several development delays, fans were shocked to find the finished product looking vastly inferior to videos that had sold them on the concept.
Gone was the wind, dust, and smoke seen in the reveal, and the game’s glossy, neon-tipped blacks and blues had been replaced by a murky layer of brownish-grey, as though Aiden Pierce had draped his coat over your TV.
People felt betrayed, because they had worked themselves into a furore over what appeared to be the most ground-breaking open world game since Grand Theft Auto III. But if Watch_Dogs had been revealed via more accurate trailers, it would probably still have generated significant hype.
The game did look impressive in 2014, just not E3 2012 impressive. Because nothing could. Because that game didn’t exist.
5. Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3 is a dramatically rich, cinematic action-RPG, and one of the best games of 2012 – that is, if you skip the last fifteen minutes and do something else instead.
Everyone knows the tale of Mass Effect 3’s ‘crucial story relegated to DLC’ setup by now, and regardless of how maddeningly stupid the ‘Star Child’ ending was, fans were most angry about having a 100+ hour epic reduced to a game of ‘pick a card, any card.’
The game’s director, Casey Hudson, had gone on record as saying that the ending would be greatly affected by your choices up until that point, although it’s entirely possible that his vague proclamations were simply misinterpreted. ME3’s final, galaxy-shattering battle did change depending on your decisions – as well as your multiplayer exploits – but the fifteen minutes that followed said battle followed a pretty strict and linear path.
People didn’t exactly react with grace and poise though. While some tried to explain away the events of the ending with the admittedly AWESOME ‘indoctrination theory’, others hurled abuse at BioWare, or sent red, green and blue cupcakes to their offices as a snide gesture of contempt.
4. Tom Clancy’s The Division
The Division’s first act of truth-manipulation appears in its name. Like the majority of games attributed to Tom Clancy, the acclaimed author actually had very little to do with development on The Division (he passed away three years before it was released).
But that’s not the only way Ubisoft pulled the wool over our eyes. Like Watch_Dogs before it, the finished version of The Division was graphically inferior to footage first shown at E3 2013. The differences weren’t quite as glaring as those we’d seen a year earlier, but the trailer itself did come with some of its own unique quirks, namely the inclusion of scripted ‘in-game chat’.
This is a fairly new trend within E3 reveals, but we’ve already seen it co-opted by the likes of Rainbow Six Siege. Rather than have players showcasing the game live in order to record their genuine experiences, voice actors are hired to dub lines over already embellished footage.
In yet another example of Ubisoft playing fast and loose with the truth, The Division’s creative director Magnus Jansen stated that the game would not contain micro-transactions. Surprise surprise, the game has micro-transactions.
Add to that the fact that servers struggled to cope with the game’s player-base on launch (people were actually queuing up to use a laptop in the first mission area), and Ubisoft’s initial promise of a beautiful, seamless online open world starts to sound more and more like fiction.
3. Killzone 2
It’s hard to believe that anyone fell for this one, but back in 2005 we weren’t quite so savvy. Killzone 2’s reveal trailer at E3 was far too glossy to have been comprised of in-game footage, and later was revealed to be a “target render” – a video package designed to accurately portray what the finished product would look like. Assumedly, Guerrilla Games did not yet possess footage they deemed worthy of showing to the public.
This still happens nowadays. Star Wars Battlefront was sold on the basis of an ‘in-engine trailer’ that demonstrated what the game would look like, and generally how it would play. The difference is, most trailers of this kind are clearly watermarked as ‘NOT GAMEPLAY FOOTAGE’, or something to that effect.
Killzone 2 actually wound up looking fairly similar to its pre-render, mainly because animation quality and graphical fidelity improved a lot between 2005 and the time of the game’s release in 2008. The key difference is the play character’s first-person animations, which are just plain unnatural.
2. Aliens: Colonial Marines
Colonial Marines will forever remain the game that was finally going to give xenomorph fans the game they deserved, only to release as a buggy trash fire; a murky and slapdash piece of software cobbled together with seemingly no consideration for what made the Alien franchise work in the first place.
Upon release, the internet was flooded with videos depicting dancing xenomorphs, broken AI and muddy textures. This would have been bad enough in isolation, but considering that the game we had been sold at E3 2012 was so radically different to the one filling up trade-in shelves, emotions started to morph from confusion and disappointment to pure anger.
For a start, the game fans bought was missing a lot of the textures, shadowing, dynamic lighting and cinematics that had been trailed at E3, and comparison videos by the likes of Videogamer served as damning indictments of developers Gearbox Software.
The inevitable fallout was something to behold. The debacle almost cost Gearbox its credibility, as fans rushed to decry CEO Randy Pitchford as a liar and a con man. YouTuber and reviewer Jim Sterling launched a barrage of criticisms and investigative reports at the developer, who eventually wound up getting sued for false advertising.
Insider sources eventually revealed that significant portions of the game had been outsourced to other developers, while Gearbox shifted their workforce over to Borderlands. Gearbox has categorically denied these accusations, but have been completely unable to provide a sufficient explanation as to why the release version of Colonial Marines was so much worse than the game they had had convinced people to buy.
1. No Man’s Sky
The most recent and perhaps most egregious example of a developer lying to its audience, No Man’s Sky may well prove to be the straw that broke the E3 hype train’s back.
In a series of visually stunning gameplay demos, Hello Games sold No Man’s Sky as a space exploration game in which ‘anything could happen’. It was a universe of 18 quintillion planets, with you at its centre.
The finished product left a lot to be desired, and was curiously missing some core gameplay elements that had been teased by Hello Games’ Sean Murray. Instead of the open-world sci-fi epic we were promised, No Man’s Sky was a fairly middling, survival-crafting game, albeit with its procedurally generated elements turned up to eleven. A lot of players were hit with glitches, frequent texture pop-ins, and even game-breaking bugs upon launch, which led to speculation about the legitimacy of the game’s E3 demos.
Worst of all, players were confused to find no multiplayer component within the game. Sean Murray had stated on several occasions that No Man’s Sky would include multiplayer lobbies, and that players could meet each other on different planets.
When such features never materialised, the backlash was insane, albeit not entirely unprovoked.