Best of 2014: Top 10 Disappointments

VR_Bestof2014

Last year I began my year-end countdowns with a list of a more negative flavour than the stuff I’m usually inclined to write, but it received a pretty substantial amount of attention (who knew?) and was a refreshing challenge to put together, so here we are with its 2014 return. I present my opinion on the top 10 entertainment media disappointments of 2014.

In the early months of the year, I didn’t have much of a list building. Almost every widely anticipated movie proved to exceed expectations rather than dip below them, and as for videogames, despite a relative six month drought of major releases, there was always something good to play. Then, in the second half of 2014, things started to unravel, with huge, emotionally charged media stories abounding over controversial issues. They were mostly gaming related, which stung a bit, but that was fine with me in at least one department, as it ensured I wouldn’t have to think up a new type of list for 2014. Here we go.

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VR BEST OF 2014 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s spooky. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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10. Interstellar fell short of the hype

One could make the point that no movie of 2014 felt the weight of expectation more than Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Many people, myself included, waited with baited breath for more details to be revealed about the sci-fi epic following a highly cryptic opening teaser and an even less transparent first trailer. Few would disagree that Nolan’s highly impressive track record justified the kind of hype afforded to Interstellar, but when the disappointing first wave of reviews came through for the American release of the film, that hype backfired. Then, as my free time began to dissipate due to new commitments, a lot of my friends started to see it without me, and several of them raved about it. So my hopes were raised again – then I saw it myself. While I do think Interstellar is a good movie, even a very good one, I just can’t get past its messy attempts at sentimentality which, for me, place it below every other (admittedly excellent) Nolan movie thus far. It’s a compliment to the director, really.
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9. So many cool videogame announcements… For 2015

2014’s Electronic Entertainment Expo was packed with genuinely exciting new game announcements, and by no means was it the only source of delicious gaming details. This year’s Gamescom in Germany was so laden with news that it rivalled E3 itself, the Tokyo Game Show returned to classic form, this month’s Playstation experience surprised everyone and the Nintendo Directs kept coming. But there was one slightly deflating thing these events all shared – almost none of the games they revealed would be ready for 2014. Not that there was a shortage of 2014 games to play by year’s end, of course, but if anyone you speak to over the next few weeks expresses a general shortage of exciting new ideas in console gaming this year compared to previous ones, you know why.
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8. Samurai Gunn missed the boat

Relatively early every year I write a list of my most anticipated games of that year, and to be honest, I never expect all of the games on that list to actually come out when I expect. But when I put the insanely fun Steam local multiplayer fighter Samurai Gunn on my 2014 list, I felt really sure that its announced PS4 port was good for this year. At the end of 2013 my MUBC colleagues and I played an insane amount of it while huddled around a PC monitor, so I was super keen to introduce it to my wider friend group in a console environment. And yet months and months rolled by without any information on the game, until its ship arguably sailed on November 29th with the release of Super Smash Bros for Wii U. When the manic indie eventually does release, its going to be rather difficult to convince friends to play an 8-bit Smash-like game when the full Nintendo experience is right there. And that’s a real shame.
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7. Titanfall fell off in a big way

Among other things, 2014 was a year permeated by overhyped games failing to meet expectations. Watch_Dogs and Destiny immediately come to mind, but I would argue the game that was the hardest hit by this phenomenon was the first one out of the blocks, March’s Titanfall. The futuristic mech-and-jetpack shooter felt incredibly fresh before and just after launch, and it is now evident that its mechanics have already been influential in the FPS genre. And yet describing its day one content as “bare bones” is generous. Titanfall had so few maps and modes when it came out that many people got bored after a week of playing, even without accounting for the game’s half baked online-only campaign mode. The hype train derailed very quickly indeed, meaning Respawn Entertainment’s repeated free patches of the game with substantial content improvements over the course of 2014 fell on largely deaf ears.
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6. Shovel Knight was inexplicably delayed in Australia/Europe

Yes, I realise it was available on Steam pretty snappily worldwide, but for some reason when the highly anticipated Kickstarter retro throwback Shovel Knight was released on Wii U and 3DS in North America back in June, the Australian (and European for that matter) eShop showed absolutely no sign of it. For months. In fact it wasn’t until November, amidst a deluge of other game releases, that expectant Nintendo fans in this country were finally able to play either version, leaving many of them scratching their heads as to what possibly could have held up the European release for so long. Shovel Knight wasn’t the only exciting indie release to lag behind the US in this part of the world, but it was definitely the one with the biggest profile, and the whole ordeal really sucked.
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5. The whole mess around “GamerGate”

Ugh. For those unfamiliar with the #GamerGate saga that began to devour much of the online videogame media in August, I won’t ruin your mood by pointing you to the rabbit hole’s entrance. Suffice to say the intentions for the social media campaign were noble, stemming from the justifiably enraged internet reaction to an ugly incident that brought the seedy underside of mainstream game journalism to the fore. However, when the so-called spokespeople for the campaign can’t agree on what GamerGate is even about, you know something has gone wrong with your messaging. Some claim GamerGate was about journalistic corruption, others claim it was about misogyny and racism, while still others insist it was about the modern definition of the word “gamer” and its supposed negative connotations. What’s more, there wasn’t much effort, from what I could gather, to have a proper conversation about any of this, as members of the different camps making up the fracas were adamant about holding their proverbial cards high above their heads for all to see. There was a lot of finger pointing, a lot of name calling, and very few internet commentators on the issue escaped the mess with their reputations unsullied. There has been some tangible progress in the fight against corruption in games media since, to be fair, but the process of getting there resembled a very public lesson in how not to conduct oneself, not only in heated debates, but, well, ever.

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4. I saw the downside of Kickstarter

2014 saw gamers the world over reap the rewards of a number of great pieces of entertainment media that simply wouldn’t exist without the crowdfunding phenomenon known as Kickstarter. The aforementioned Shovel Knight, the highly praised new Double Fine adventure game Broken Age and the manic box of fun that is SportsFriends are just some examples of this. Fans of the Veronica Mars TV series also received a film adaptation that was decently well received. But when it comes to the projects to which I’ve pledged my own money, things look a little less rosey. By all accounts Zach Braff’s spiritual sequel to Garden State, Wish I Was Here, wasn’t exactly crash hot, while WayForward’s new Shantae game Half Genie Hero seems to be crawling through development, still without a release date. I realise throwing money at a mere promise is an inherently risky move, but it’s still a downer when optimism collides with reality.
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3. Target removed GTA V from sale in Australia, everyone lost their minds

When Target Australia decided to remove all versions of Grand Theft Auto V from its shelves earlier this month, there were many disappointing elements to the unfolding saga, most of them related to the far-too-easy spread of misinformation that facilitated the change.org petition. If the sexual assault allegations made against GTA V were actually true, for example, the game would not have made it past Australia’s rating system at all (see the censoring of South Park: The Stick of Truth). And yet, much like with GamerGate, neither side of the issue seemed capable of having an informed, civilised discussion about the whole thing, and that was the most saddening part. The vitriolic internet gamers that sent death threats and obscene rhetoric barely passing as English towards incidentallly misguided organisations like Collective Shout, who do otherwise very positive work in the wider Australian community, was appalling to say the least. They gave the rest of us a terrible name.

If you’re after a good, balanced third party observer take on the kerfuffle, I recommend checking out Jim Sterling’s recent video analysis. It hits all the main points of contention right on the head in my opinion.
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2. Far too many games didn’t work at launch

To paraphrase Arthur Gies of Polygon, buyers of videogames are not actually entitled to many of the things they feel they are, but they unquestionably have the right to a game that works on the day they buy it. So the ridiculous glut of late 2014 games that quite frankly didn’t even meet that standard was not only disappointing, but infuriating. Games cost a lot of money, and as the average worldwide age of videogame players pushes upward, an increasingly significant percentage of gamers have very minimal time to play them. So a game like Halo: The Master Chief Collection should not have had so many online multiplayer problems lasting weeks, Assassin’s Creed Unity should not have had more bugs than an Australian front porch in the heat of summer, LittleBigPlanet 3 should have run better than a PowerPoint presentation and, well, it would have been nice if DriveClub could do anything online at all. Suddenly every otherwise disappointing release date delay into 2015 looks like a very good move.
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1. The Great SM Debacle of 2014

For all the non-K-Pop-affiliated readers out there, let me attempt to summarise the less than flattering story of Korean mega-label SM Entertainment in 2014 with a simple allegory. Sort of.

Imagine there’s a burger restaurant that you’ve been going to for almost three years. The owners may have had their fair share of criticism in their day, but they run the place in a highly professional manner and have the widest range of quality burger options available, so even though you may eat elsewhere as well, you keep coming back to them because, well, they introduced you to burgers and they’re the reason you eat burgers at all. But after a while you start to notice that they do a really terrible, inconsistent job of explaining shortages of ingredients, letting the speculation of food critics and regulars alike go unchecked one week and then clamping down unusually hard on rumours the next. Then, one day, they’re investigated for large scale tax evasion, and found guilty. You start to question your allegiance to the chain, but just as you start to forget the incident, things get really weird. Just after the restaurant brings back one of its popular special edition ‘double burger’ meals for a limited time only, they start serving one of the two burgers without a top bun, and soon you stop seeing the slice of avocado that used to cling to the top bun, as well. They blame the ordeal on the foreign suppliers of the bun, and right after another one of their more popular burgers suddenly loses its signature slice of pineapple, they sweep the dish under the rug and try to distract you with an almost exact replica. Only this one tastes slightly off, and its contents all look the same. The restaurant then decides to start serving undercooked meals consisting of only one ingredient each, and finally, to top it all off, they announce that their most popular ‘mega-burger’, which has always brought the goods with nine layers of fast food goodness, will now be served without its famous sauce because, apparently, they aren’t OK with the sauce also appearing on a separate gourmet sandwich. Yeah, I’ve stretched this metaphor a bit too far.

2014 was not a good year for the K-Pop industry. While the music delivered some good material at a fairly standard rate (more on that in a few days), the news stories surrounding it ranged from laughable incompetence to unthinkable tragedy. They came thick and fast, and it seemed that every second or third negative development had SM Entertainment’s name scribbled all over it. Not everything that went wrong was entirely their fault, as there are two sides to every story, but the way the supposed leaders of K-Pop dealt with all the scandals, lawsuits, contract disputes, idol health issues and general controversies over 2014 was regularly irresponsible and unprofessional. Much of their luster has now well and truly faded, and their influence will likely follow. I could go on for the length of an entire article about it, but this entry is already too long. R.I.P. SNSD.

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Honorable Mentions
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The Inbetweeners 2 wore out its welcome
I was a massive fan of scarily accurate British high school comedy The Inbetweeners during its TV run a few years ago, and I thought the 2011 movie adaptation represented a fitting (and hilarious) send-off for the main cast. It was a bit of a downer, then, to see a completely unnecessary sequel that, while funny, took a noticeable step backwards in terms of character development and originality.

No solid word on A Hat In Time
I don’t really have much of a right to include this as a disappointement, as I don’t know what I expected from such a small team, but I’m just so excited for the release of Gears for Breakfast’s Banjo-Kazooie throwback A Hat in Time that any stretch of time without information hits me harder than it should.

I didn’t get a beta key for Heroes of the Storm
Come on Blizzard, get your act together.

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