Video Games That Killed Their Franchise

Imagine taking a successful or even semi-successful game or series of games and destroying the brand with a new title. These games were so bad that the developer either abandoned the franchise completely or led the game’s future creation down a path that it never fully recovered from. In one case, the disastrous release of one game forced a game developer into bankruptcy.

While some titles haven’t been heard from in years, others have carried on but without the same type of innovative gameplay, storytelling, or general feel they were originally known and loved for in the beginning.

Here are some of the worst video games that killed their franchise.

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

Pure misery
Image Credit: Square Enix

We’re kicking off with a real stinker. The original Kane & Lynch: Dead Men was a thoroughly mediocre game but apparently did enough to produce a sequel, Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days. Rest assured the second game in the series will never follow suit. Dog Days was such a stomach-churning mess no one wanted anything to do with it.

Awkward, ugly, and unpleasant, and that’s just the protagonists. I don’t think any other game has done so much to put me off with its presentation alone. The big gimmick is that the game looks like it was filmed on a handheld camera. It might have sounded cool in the marketing but in practice, it means an excessive shaky cam, lens flares, and other ugly digital artefacts. Sure it’s unique, but so is a dog turd sandwich, and that won’t make it taste any better.

Looks aside, the whole game is one miserable, ultra-violent trudge through what might as well be the same Shanghai back alley. The characters don’t do anything but swear at each other and shoot people. It’s a classic case of trying to be “mature” by making everything thoroughly unpleasant. It’s not gritty, it’s just dumb.

I could go on. Broken AI, a cover system that’s barely functional, and to top it all off, the game is only about four hours long. Dead Men had potential, but after the abomination that is Dog Days, I doubt anyone is holding their breath for Kane & Lynch 3.

Medal of Honor: Warfighter

Modern warfare garbage
Image Credit: EA

Another game with a stupid subtitle. Now, whether or not a particular game “killed” its franchise is an ambiguous notion, but in this instance, I think things are fairly black and white. After Warfighter’s poor critical reception and sales, Peter Moore, the then COO of EA declared that the Medal of Honor series was to be put on hold.

If you’ve ever played Warfighter, that probably didn’t come as a surprise. Released during the “Modern Warfare” craze, Warfighter is an utterly brain-dead piece of modern shooter rubbish. You and your khaki-clad mates mow down wave after wave of angry foreigners, stop and do some embarrassingly bad story moments, repeat ad infinitum.

Previous Medal of Honor games actually managed to have both personality and variety. Warfighter does nothing to mix it up or surprise the player, and the only personality on display is what little it could steal from Call of Duty Modern Warfare. If you value your time, you’ll avoid it.

We did get Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond in 2020, but it was hardly a triumphant return. It was a lazy WW2 shooter that used VR as an excuse not to do any work. It was utterly forgettable otherwise and I still consider the franchise dead. Parading the corpse around isn’t the same as reanimating it.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor

Totally unplayable
Image Credit: Capcom

I think the problem with this one is pretty self-evident. Steel Battalion is a series based around mech combat and a bespoke “Mega-Jockey-9000” controller. To play the game you needed two joysticks, a throttle handle, a radio channel dial, five switches, an eject button, and three foot pedals. Not to mention all the other buttons and inputs.

Trying to do all of that on the Xbox Kinect was always going to be a disaster. There are unplayable games, and then there’s this. Steel Batallion Heavy Armor is impossible to play. The Kinect struggled with precise movement at the best of times, and so a control scheme as complex as this was bound to freak it out.

There’s really not much more to say other than reiterate that this game simply doesn’t work. It also seems to have wiped Steel Batallion off the cultural radar entirely. Heavy Armor was released in 2012, and I haven’t heard the franchise mentioned since then. It appears the Kinect sent it to its grave.

Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two

Franchise and studio down the drain
Image Credit: Disney Interactive Studios

Here’s another game for which we have conclusive proof of franchise-icide. There were supposed to be four Epic Mickey games, but only two were ever released. Unfortunately, The Power of Two failed so badly that it killed not only its own franchise but its own developer. Due to poor sales of Epic Mickey 2, Junction Point Studios was forced to close in 2013. It’s never good to see a developer go under, but it does illustrate just how hard this game flopped.

What makes the failure of Epic Mickey 2 such a shame is the obvious effort that went into it. It unquestionably has that retro Disney charm, if you’re into that sort of thing, and the production values are generally high. There’s a lot of imagination on display and the pseudo-post-apocalypse setting is definitely intriguing.

In stark contrast, the actual gameplay is simplistic, repetitive, and borderline asinine. It’s worth remembering that this is a game for children, but that excuse doesn’t hold up here. Nintendo routinely releases games that people of all ages can enjoy, but even children will get bored of The Power of Two pretty quick. Fixing the same machine with your magic paintbrush over and over again just doesn’t have any staying power.

With the developers long gone, and little interest in the property, I doubt we’ll ever see Epic Mickey again. Never say never, but this seems about as conclusive as things can possibly get. By no means the worst game on this list, but perhaps the least likely to come back to life.

Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)

A living death
Image Credit: SEGA

I am well aware that we are still seeing Sonic releases to this very day. However, I argue that this is the game that reduced everyone’s favourite blue hedgehog to what he is now. Sonic at this point is basically little more than a meme. Games like Sonic Boom and Sonic Forces may have put the nails in the coffin, but after 2006, the damage had already been done. Compare modern Sonic to 90s Sonic, and there’s a painful contrast.

This nightmarish state of living death could perhaps have been avoided if Sonic ’06 hadn’t sent the franchise into a nosedive. It was so epically awful that every game since has basically been an effort on behalf of Sonic Team to work out what the hell went wrong. The weirdly gritty tone, the awful controls, and the expanded cast, Sonic Team have desperately been trying to “get it right” ever since.

To be clear, I’m not saying Sonic is totally beyond saving. Sonic Mania was great fun, and perhaps a sign that someone other than Sonic Team should be handling the franchise. But even that was really just a call back to when Sonic was still good, and only a few months later we got the aforementioned Sonic Forces, which ruined everything all over again.

Whether or not the Sonic franchise is “dead” may well be up for debate, but I think we can all agree that all it’s flailing about is getting painful to watch. Maybe it’s time someone stepped in and did something about it?

Crackdown 3

A franchise that aged poorly
Image Credit: Microsoft

Time makes fools of us all, and Crackdown 3 is no exception. After being stuck in development hell for more than five years, what we eventually got was clearly not the original vision. Microsoft promised the latest game in the series would be the “ultimate sandbox”, using modern technology to power a fully destructible city. Unfortunately, Crackdown 3 fell far, far short of that goal.

It felt like a game from 2007. A specific game from 2007 actually, namely, the original Crackdown. That may not sound like a bad thing, but believe me, it is. It looked like an early Xbox 360 game, and all of the supposed innovations were nowhere to be seen. There was nothing new to see, and all the problems from Crackdown 2 were still around.

Jumping around a flat, lifeless city, negotiating the clunky physics, and watching the AI bug out was nobody’s idea of fun. If Crackdown 3 had actually been released in 2007, it might have been hailed as a masterpiece. As things stand, it looks as though it may have killed off the franchise for good.

Duke Nukem Forever

Duke can stay in the 90s
Image Credit: Gearbox

This is one of the few games on this list that I am prepared to say deserved everything it got. Gross incompetence, coupled with ego and hubris were its downfall. Both behind the scenes nonsense, the unbelievably tacky marketing, and the horror that was the game itself make me glad we probably won’t see Duke again for a very long time.

Announced in 1997, the game took almost 15 years to finally release. Most of the delay was caused by an obsession on the part of 3D Realms co-founder George Broussard with incorporating new technology from competitors so that the game would feel “outdated”. Ironic given the bugs, dated pop culture references, adolescent humour and outright misogyny.

After such a long wait, gamers deserved much better than this snooze-worthy cringe-fest. Broussard (putting his foot in his mouth once again) compared Duke Nukem to Mario and James Bond, claiming the franchise would last for decades. How wrong he was. Duke Nukem Forever did an amazingly thorough job of killing off the franchise, and so I doubt Mario or Mr Bond are nervously looking over their shoulders.

Simcity (2013)

This is not a multiplayer franchise
Image Credit: EA

There’s a good reason “always online” is such a foreboding phrase. Games like SimCity showed us all just how devastating it can be. It’s almost never a good idea anyway, and implementing it the way Maxis went about it can (and did) completely ruin a game. There were so many issues at launch, both technical and design-related, that the SimCity franchise has never recovered.

The game required that you play online at all times. That was bad enough, but making things even worse were the network outages and connection issues. A city builder series that had always had a strong single-player focus had no business being so difficult to sit down and play. Adding insult to injury, Maxis actually claimed that adding an offline mode would be impossible, which was later debunked by modders who found an offline mode in the game’s files.

Even if you could look past the technical issues, SimCity was still an embarrassingly bad game. A cut-down, simplified imitation of what had come before. There was significantly less freedom of expression, with smaller areas to build in and everything you build having to be connected to a road.

There were also multiplayer elements, but they only really got in the way. It isn’t hard to see why Cities: Skylines had such an easy time finding a player base. Sim City died and left its own up for grabs.

Alone in the Dark: Illumination

A truly confused game
Image Credit: Atari

This one really stings. To see such a venerable franchise sink to such depths is truly disheartening. The reboot in 2008 (imaginatively titled “Alone in the Dark”) was god-awful, but Illumination was somehow even worse. The briefest of descriptions will tell you everything you need to know. The game is 4-player co-op, so you aren’t alone, and as the subtitle suggests, you are rarely in the dark. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game misunderstand its own heritage to such a degree.

It isn’t a horror game is my point, which left fans angry and confused. Why even call it Alone In The Dark if the developers clearly had no interest in a new entry in the series? It’s a painfully generic third-person shooter that does nothing novel or interesting. The one unique mechanic is that enemies are only vulnerable in light, but all that really does is turn the game into a repetitive slog. Lure the enemy into light, shoot it dead, rinse and repeat. It gets old fast.

There haven’t been any more Alone In The Dark games since and frankly I’m not surprised. THQ Nordic has since purchased the license from Atari and it doesn’t seem like they have any plans to do anything with it.

Are there any games you think we’ve missed? Tell us all about your favorite franchise-killing games in the comments!

Written by Robert Webb

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