TA Top Five: Games That Failed to Launch a Series

By Kevin Tavore, 3 months ago
Some games are simply destined for greatness. They're games we just know will get sequels even before the first title is released. Games like Destiny. Every so often, a game will come along publishers are so confident in that they're certain it will set the world on fire. And sometimes it does. But sometimes, these games end in disaster critically, financially, or both, and a once-promising series is relegated only to abject failure for all to see.

And so what better thing to do than to honor these fallen games, who serve as warnings to those who pass by that you never really know if you'll have a series until you have a series. These are games that the publishers and the gaming public truly believed would be wonderful, long-standing series...until they weren't. These are the games that failed to be what they should have been.

Honorable Mentions

Evolve and Battleborn

Modern consoles have had not one, but two games that really fit this list to some extent. Evolve and Battleborn both received huge amounts of hype before release only to fail to meet expectations. Both were clearly designed around having a normal entry price and then free content updates supported by microtransactions a-la games like League of Legends. Now, it's true the jury is still out on these two, which is why they're honorable mentions, but things do not look good.

Evolve recently went free to play on PC with promises of doing the same on consoles shortly thereafter...until support was abruptly ended and the developers removed from the project just two months later. At this point, it's pretty safe to say Evolve is dead and it won't be providing games as a service in the coming years.

Battleborn does still have a chance, but constant firesales at $20 and under are not a sign of a healthy game. Multiplayer matches are not always quick and easy to find and, in general, it seems obvious that Overwatch: Origins Edition releasing three weeks after Battleborn condemned it to an early death not deserving of the quality of the game. A free to play version seems inevitable, though Gearbox assures us that will not happen. I'm not so optimistic, but we'll see if the Battleborn brand can survive going toe to toe with Overwatch in the end. If history is any indication, going up against Blizzard is a recipe for disaster. Just ask the literally dozens of MMOs World of Warcraft has crushed in the past 12 years. Gearbox should have known better.

DmC: Devil May Cry

Now that's not the Dante I know and love...Now that's not the Dante I know and love...

Everyone knows Devil May Cry. It's got a catchy name and a hero who fights demons with swords and guns. It's pretty awesome. Dante is the white-haired, rugged badass that isn't named Geralt that we've all come to know and love.

Except he's not always. Sometimes he's kind of emo and wimpy while still trying to look cool. Such is the curse of DmC: Devil May Cry. After Devil May Cry 4, Capcom wanted to revitalize the franchise with a reboot. The reboot featured the same characters but in different forms. It was a DMC game, but nothing was the same. Even the name added the acronym "DmC" for some reason, which was redundant but far from the worst transgression in the minds of many fans.

Those fans did not appreciate the reboot changing everything they loved about the games. The combat was still objectively good, but the lore simply wasn't there. The game was a success by virtue of being a DMC game, but it was clear that fans didn't want more of this. They immediately clamored for Devil May Cry 5. If rumor has it right, that's in our future. But what's abundantly clear is that emo Dante and his redundant title will not be receiving a sequel.

5. Brute Force

Dangerous Alone. Deadly Together. With a slogan like that, it's hard to imagine this gaming not being a success. I mean look at these guys. They've got a crocodile."Dangerous Alone. Deadly Together." With a slogan like that, it's hard to imagine this gaming not being a success. I mean look at these guys. They've got a crocodile.

If you weren't paying attention to the gaming scene in 2001, you might not realize that Halo effectively saved the Xbox single-handedly. It was by far the best game on any system to many, and certainly the only "killer app" on the Xbox. Halo set the world on fire and made the Xbox brand relevant, but Microsoft knew one game couldn't do it alone. Over a year later, in 2002, the Xbox still didn't have a second "killer app" and Halo 2 was still years out. Microsoft's solution was known as Brute Force.

Brute Force released in May 2003 as a squad-based third person shooter. Microsoft had put a ton of effort into building hype for what they assured us would be an amazing title. Halo's hype had been great enough to even spawn a few books at that point, so Microsoft figured they could skip ahead and even published a prequel book for Brute Force - you can only imagine how good that one was.

Brute Force's reception wasn't good, but it wasn't bad either. The game was a decent third-person shooter that was perhaps the victim of its own hype. Early demos had shown the squad moving forward together, combining all their abilities strategically to eradicate enemy forces - it had even been compared to XCOM in that way. The final product didn't require anything but...brute force. Lukewarm reception after a massive ad campaign and a huge amount of funding when AAA games were rare simply wasn't good enough.

If you're curious what the next Xbox exclusive was that finally helped Halo with its burden, it was a little game released a month later in June 2003. It's called Knights of the Old Republic. And with that, Brute Force was forgotten, left in time only as a memory of what it wasn't.

4. Advent Rising

Oh was it ever a party.Oh was it ever a party.

Advent Rising was a 2005 Xbox and Windows game that was perhaps too far ahead of its time to succeed. With a story penned by famed writer Orson Scott Card (writer of Ender's Game, among others), it was set to be a cinematic experience and the start of a new trilogy. These types of games happen all the time now, especially on PlayStation consoles (think The Last of Us, Uncharted 4, and even the Series), but in 2005 this type of epic tale was really only told through JRPGs.

Advent Rising was a new breed of game, and the vision was vast. The game was developed at the same time as a PSP spin-off as well as with intent to make it a trilogy. There was a five-issue comic series and a movie, also written by Orson Scott Card, was in the works. The game's marketing was intense, with trailers being shown in movie theatres and a competition at once where you could win $1,000,000 USD. Advent Rising was going to be huge, until it wasn't.

The game launched with disappointing sales despite the money and names attached to it. Majesco, its publisher, quickly reconsidered things and pulled out of the console market entirely, effectively killing the franchise. The IP was stuck in limbo, which meant no one could ever revive it. And it's all really too bad - the game was actually pretty good. The world just needed a few more years to ready itself for a huge, story-based AAA game of this style. Not everyone could be Bioware at the time.

3. Defiance

Hey lady, you wanna ride in my Warthog knockoff?"Hey lady, you wanna ride in my Warthog knockoff?"

Oh Defiance. An Xbox 360 MMOFPS that received an absurd amount of hype prior to release. Console gamers were getting their first taste of accessible MMO gaming and were anticipating it with great fervor (a fervor that Destiny would later capitalize on). Not only were we getting an epic-scale MMO, we were even getting a companion TV show on SyFy. The TV series and the game would connect to each other across multiple seasons (series, to Europeans) on TV and multiple expansions in game.

On April 2, 2013, Defiance released and it all went downhill. It's not that Defiance was a bad game. It took the skeleton of trendy MMOs like World of Warcraft and turned it into an FPS. You still did quests, dailies, and grinded reps. The issue was that it simply wasn't what console gamers were expecting at all. It was no success.

Since then, the game and TV series did move forward. The TV series was actually well-received, finishing a final third season in 2015. The game still receives occasional updates, the latest being what the developers called season four back in April. But the fervor is gone. The lust for the world of Defiance has disappeared. There will be no sequel.

2. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

It had all the trappings of an epic RPG, including a badass in plate dual-wielding a giant warhammer and a magical sword.It had all the trappings of an epic RPG, including a badass in plate dual-wielding a giant warhammer and a magical sword.

The tale of 38 Studios' Kingdoms of Amalur is a tragic one. It all began when former baseball superstar Curt Schilling and fantasy writing legend R.A. Salvatore got together to develop a 10,000 year history for the world of Amalur. Originally planned as an epic MMORPG, financial trouble struck and the game was retooled into a single-player experience with huge worlds, lore, tons of quests, and player decision-making and customization. It all came together to form an RPG that truly was quite excellent, especially considering the scope. The game received good critical reception, with a metacritic score of 81.

Sadly, it was not meant to be. Under the hood, everything was going wrong. Despite strong sales to the tune of 1.2 million units shortly after release, the game needed to sell over 3 million to break even. You see, 38 Studios was in dire straits. To get off the ground, the company had moved to Rhode Island to secure a $75 million loan guarantee from the state's Economic Development Corporation (in the US, economic development corporations are quasi-public, quasi-governmental corporations that exist to promote business development in a geographic area). With the money, 38 Studios was to continue making Reckoning, which was already in development, and also begin work on an unnamed MMORPG.

When Reckoning's sales weren't as high as Rhode Island and its investors hoped, things came crashing down quickly. 38 Studios' first attempt at repaying the loan failed when the $1.125M check bounced. A few weeks later, 38 Studios did finally made the first payment in the form of a $1.025M wire transfer and a $100K personal check from an unnamed source. That success is mounted on despair though, as the next week the company failed to make payroll. Rhode Island news sources reported then that both the CEO and a senior VP had left the company. 38 Studios declared bankruptcy just three months after Reckoning released, damning any chance that the series would ever be something more than a single, pretty good game.

If you're interested in the aftermath of 38 Studios, it wasn't pretty. The Rhode Island state police and attorney general launch investigations alongside the US Attorney's office and the FBI. Curt Schilling, the baseball all-star that founded the company, said in an interview that he had lost his entire $50M fortune on the endeavor. Subsequently, Rhode Island itself came under investigation when allegations surfaced that the economic development corporation knew the loan was not enough to make two games and that it had deceived investors. Today, the fallout still hasn't cleared and Rhode Island has lost nearly $30M in taxpayer money on the deal.

1. Too Human

Cyber Vikings. How could it go wrong?Cyber Vikings. How could it go wrong?

Those who called themselves hardcore console gamers in the early 2000's know the name Silicon Knights quite well. Helmed by lead designer Denis Dyack, the studio made its mark on the industry with the 2002 release of Eternal Darkness. Despite its faults, the game was very well-received (and, if it were not a Nintendo property, would absolutely be high up on this list). Silicon Knights followed up with a Metal Gear Solid 1 remake and then jumped straight into a deal with Microsoft to develop Too Human.

Originally conceived as a PS1 title and then a GameCube title, Microsoft bought the rights in 2005 and helped Silicon Knights get the project off the ground. Denis Dyack was not a man prone to selling himself short. He believed in his product and he was willing to tell everyone about it. Here are just a few short quotes that only one person would ever believe could refer to Too Human:

Too Human is a collaboration between Microsoft and Silicon Knights that will produce something very unique. Think about the stuff we're interested in, and the stuff that they're interested in, and combine them.
- Gamasutra, 2005
We're trying to erase the seams between cut-scene and gameplay...We're trying to elevate the art form, the interactivity, the medium.
- Ars Technica, 2008
The game game was shown at E3 2007 and the response was disastrous. Performance was bad and, frankly, the game just didn't look very fun. For a little over a year until the game released, every bit of media and every comment from Dyack were received with caution. Dyack was understandably defensive of a product of passion that he loved. He was so inflamed he actually issued a challenge on the gaming forum NeoGAF to anyone who didn't believe in the game:

I think it is time to draw the digital line. Too Human will be out in August and I think there is going to be a lot of trolls and crying here. Either way when the game comes out this forum will likely be on fire. So in order to try to put it out some gasoline on this fire I will ask those interested to stand up and be counted.

I feel Too Human is a great game, likely to be better than most that will come out this year. I certainly feel it is the best game we have ever made. I also believe the press and gamers alike will believe this.
- Dyack on NeoGAF, June 25, 2008
The challenge would result in those in the "For" camp or the "Against" camp being tagged in a negative fashion. NeoGAF administration did not support the challenge, so nothing ever came of it but the act alone certainly drew further negative attention onto the game.

The game released two months later on August 19, 2008. Things didn't go as Silicon Knights had hoped. When it became clear after release that the really wasn't as good as promised, Dyack was also quick to lay blame at Epic's feet for failing to deliver on promises made regarding Unreal Engine 3:

[Too Human has] been a four-year development cycle and it would have been even quicker, but we had to re-write the engine because of all the Epic stuff...We all feel really strongly that [Epic has] defrauded us, and a major portion of the industry.
- Eurogamer, 2008, quoting Develop magazine
If you're curious, Epic won $9.2M in that lawsuit and Silicon Knights was ordered to destroy all copies of their games using the engine - Too Human and X-Men: Destiny. Luckily, they can't destroy what they don't own so the games are still available in stores around the world if you're truly interested in the full Silicon Knights experience.

Ultimately, it's obvious that Too Human is done.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Purveyor of news articles and the occasional walkthrough or op-ed. The American equivalent of Aristotle. Likes almost all genres but has an unhealthy aversion to exploration and puzzles. Nicest place he'd never want to go? Japan.