Some games are born brilliant, some are born bad, but there's nothing more aggravating than a game that manages to fall short of true greatness. Over the last few years we've seen our fair share of titles with wonderful ideas and clear potential, yet managed to squander their lofty promises. Perhaps they didn't capitalise on their unique features or left potential untapped, maybe they tripped over in terms of production values and testing, often they just made one critical error that ruined what should have been a superlative experience.
So it's high time we took a look at some of the main offenders of recent years. While all of these games are still well worth playing, they all share one thing in common: they could easily have been so much more.
Close... but no cigar.
Need For Speed: Rivals
By far the most current game on my list, Ghost Games' debut makes all the right moves and all the right noises. It's fantastic drift-heavy arcade fun, providing a range of ridiculous supercars to rag around an enormous playground on both sides of the law. To top it off, AllDrive promised to merge singleplayer and multiplayer into a single experience, bringing players together into insane hectic sessions whether racing together or working on their own goals.
In practice, though, AllDrive proved to be a nasty sticking point. Its long loading times, lack of dedicated servers, lack of pause functionality, aggravating host migration, difficulty organising races and other flaws could have been worth living with, if only it supported enough players. Six was not enough. Not nearly enough, both in terms of filling out Redview county and providing a consistently enjoyable experience.
Rivals is still seriously good fun, mind, and worth keeping an eye on - as we'll discuss in our full review. It's close to being brilliant... close, but no cigar.
For me, Brink is one of the most enjoyable yet ultimately depressing games on this hitlist. Before we'd even heard of Titanfall, it made an earnest attempt to add context and narrative to FPS multiplayer matches, all while delivering a robust class system, loads of weapons, massive character customisation and sprawling maps with all manner of objectives. It was brave, it was ballsy, it was fun... and nothing worked quite as well is it should.
The parkour was clunky, the storyline was pointless, the netcode was patchy, the bots were unreliable, everyone looked like melted wax models of Gareth Southgate and the core shooting just wasn't anywhere near as compelling as it needed to be. And don't get me started on the weapon unlock system that forced us into awful challenge arenas. No cigar for you, Brink.
That said, I still enjoyed Brink overall, and a lot of players didn't approach it in the right mindset. Anyone moaning about the lack of a K/D counter in a game designed around teamwork needs to get their priorities straight.
I'm not going to get on any Christmas card lists for including this one, but the point needs to be made: Gravity Rush squandered a huge amount of potential. It was a decent game all-told, that much I absolutely agree with, yet the stunning good looks blinded us to the fact that its innovative mechanics were wasted on a very repetitive brawler with tedious objectives and more recycled enemies than anyone cared to admit. Its floating city was big and beautiful, yet boiled down to an embarrassment of totally nonsensical challenges rather than a real world to explore.
Worse, though, Sony Japan Studio were more interested in finding lame excuses to rob Kat of her powers than giving us new and exciting ways to use them. Do I want a sequel? You bet I do. But mainly because Gravity Rush could have been so much better, and made so much more of its unique features.
Far Cry 2
Personally, I feel that Far Cry 2 deserves more attention and love than it gets. Rather than a fun-filled cathartic sandbox, Ubisoft's first crack at Crytek's license was purposefully designed to make players feel alone deep within totally hostile territory, experiencing the horrors of war first-hand, and constantly improvise to finally complete their objectives under extreme duress. It's gritty, real and even soul-searching, especially when one of your few friends bit the dust.
But arguably Far Cry 2 would have been better off with its own identity as a new IP, since it brought expectations of colourful fun that it could never live up to. Plus, let's face it, the constant enemy jeep spawning and totally broken stealth mechanics still irritate us to this day.
Heroes Of Ruin
The 3DS is currently one of the most superb consoles on the market, but back in its formative 12 months, things were very different. Nintendo's handheld had yet to prove itself on the games front, so when an APRG with bags of content came out of left field, we sat up and took notice.
Heroes Of Ruin got so much right. Loot and class skills were delivered in merry abandon, which paled in comparison to its multiplayer functionality. We could effortlessly quest with other players, form guilds and enjoy some of the most robust handheld online cooperative play ever to feature on a handheld.
Sadly, Heroes Of Ruin's ambition gave out at the most critical time, leaving us with a paltry level cap, no game-complete content, no ability to restart the campaign on harder difficulties and no reason to keep playing after the first few hours. Shame, because this could have been a killer app. At least the 3DS has plenty of those now.
Gears Of War 3
Oh dear. I'm not going to make any friends here - especially since our own Felix Kemp awarded Gears Of War 3 a perfect score - but this is my list and we're running with it. To mollify any rage you might be feeling right now: Gears Of War 3 was good. It was very good. But great?
No cigar, Epic. Though the multiplayer was much improved, the campaign took a serious step backwards and sideways in this reviewer's opinion, both in terms of forgettable enemy encounters (I can barely remember anything that happened), wasting many of our favourite characters and ending with an abject lack of closure.
As one of the most disappointing, gutless and disingenuous games on this list, you really shouldn't play Rain. I've rarely seen a game with so much obvious promise sabotage itself so badly with purposeful design decisions.
I'm too depressed to explain why. Here's the review.
As the kids would say: dat trailer.
Yes, the infamous 'reverse' trailer was a masterpiece of marketing, setting the internet on fire and preparing us for a truly revolutionary, emotional zombie game unlike anything we'd ever seen. It was good enough, in fact, to make us cut the resulting game some slack - since the finished product was actually fairly dumb and straightforward if eminently good fun.
Unfortunately lightning couldn't strike twice. We knew what to expect from the sequel, and panned it accordingly.
For my money, Alpha Protocol is a great game... if you play it in the spirit Obsidian intended. It's an "Espionage RPG," so focusing solely on pure stealth and dialogue makes for a uniquely replayable and thought-provoking genre hybrid that deserves more credit than it ever received.
However, Obsidian made one lethal mistake. One mis-step that absolutely crushed Alpha Protocol in the eyes of players and critics alike. They let us play it as a third person shooter.
They really shouldn't have given us the option. Alpha Protocol simply doesn't work as a TPS. Its AI was unfit for task, its guns were flimsy, its progression system was inappropriate and more than anything, we were playing as a spy - not a commando. Regular gunplay made no sense in context, and anyone who went down this road rightfully came out angry and disillusioned. Plus, erm, a little more stability and graphical polish might not have gone amiss.
Sound off: what games missed greatness in your opinion? Did I screw up and deserve righteous fury? Fancy adding to some honourable mentions? Let us know in the comments!