There is never going to be a universally beloved video game (or any other piece of media for that matter). Opinions will always vary as they are meant to do. Yet, there are some games that proved to be so divisive that their legacies are practically defined by the arguments they started rather than the contents of the games themselves. At this point, it’s clear those arguments will probably never be settled.
So why even bring this topic up? Well, to weigh in on it, obviously, but also because “divisive” is one of the strangest and most fascinating legacies a game can have. It’s a legacy often forged in the earliest days following a game’s release, yet it can stay with that game for years to come.
However, time and perspective can often cool even the most heated views. Like every other game, these titles will never be universally beloved. Yet, for one reason or another, they all deserve a lot more love than their infamously divisive legacies may suggest.
15. Deadly Premonition
Though people do seem to be generally more positive about Deadly Premonition these days, it’s hard to look beyond the meteoric impact of this game’s divisive debut. Quite a few critics and fans called Deadly Premonition the worst game of 2010, with some even wondering if this bafflingly bizarre failure was a scam. Still, others considered it to be a masterpiece that elevated the horror genre in bold and necessary ways. The arguments over this thinly veiled Twin Peaks tribute eventually earned it a strange spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
While I tend to side with those who call this some kind of masterpiece, I certainly struggle to see Deadly Premonition as anything less than “so bad, it’s good.” This open-world survival horror game sees you navigate the town of Greenvale at a snail’s pace while trying to solve a murder mystery by participating in dialog sequences that feel like they were written by an alien. No matter how frustrating things get, though, the singular weirdness of this game is often enough to get you to those moments that are genuinely frightening, genuinely emotional, and entirely unforgettable. This is one of those divisive games where some of the creative “flaws” are a big part of the intended experience.
14. Gone Home
As one of the earliest “walking simulator” games, Gone Home has arguably become the poster child for that inherently divisive genre. Though Gone Home debuted to nearly universal critical acclaim in 2013, the reactions among the general gaming public were decidedly mixed. Some looked at the story of Katie Greenbriar wandering through her family’s new home in search of clues regarding their mysterious absence and asked, “Is this even a video game?” That question lingers over the so-called walking simulator genre to this day.
Once you accept that Gone Home is inherently not for everyone, you almost have to appreciate how it accomplishes everything that it sets out to do. Though it’s even slower than games like The Stanley Parable and What Remains of Edith Finch, Gone Home’s mind-bending story is matched only by the power of the uniquely video game-like way you uncover it. How titles like Myst become part of the cultural canon while Gone Home attracts such vicious ire remains something of a mystery to me.
13. Super Mario Sunshine
While some other initially divisive GameCube games have gone on to receive generally widespread acclaim (such as The Wind Waker), Super Mario Sunshine remains firmly divisive. Even its recent re-release in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection (which was, admittedly, a flawed collection) was met with a largely divisive reception that echoed the game’s 2002 debut.
Sunshine’s control and camera problems (as well as its slightly limited levels) were obviously hard to swallow after exceptional Super Mario 64 and have rightfully attracted much criticism. However, I think that so much of the raw hatred that this game received and continues to receive is more about how different it is and how those differences contribute to Sunshine‘s learning curve. Sunshine asks you to learn entirely new mechanics and master old ones while navigating a truly bizarre environment and scenario for a Super Mario game. Much like Wind Waker and Metroid Prime, though, the time you spend acclimating yourself to those strange waters does eventually pay off.
12. Batman: Arkham Origins
Upon its release in 2013, Arkham Origins was criticized for its bugs, unrefined gameplay features, and difficulty balancing issues. However, much of the criticism the game faced at that time (and since then) was focused on its “familiarity.” Origins was seen as a cash-in on the Rocksteady Arkham games and was generally considered to be inferior to those titles. To be fair, it is largely inferior to those titles that it is clearly built upon.
Yet, in an industry that regularly relies on iterations and variations of the same basic concepts and franchises, I find it fascinating that Origins is the title that ended up drawing so much of the hate that should instead go to countless other titles that build their empires on entirely familiar ground. Even more negative reviews of the game pointed out that its storytelling, world design, and performances were all as good (if not better) than what the Rocksteady games offered. Like BioShock 2, it’s a surprisingly strong entry into a widely acclaimed franchise that also benefits from some exceptional DLC.
11. Final Fantasy 7 Remake
Though many recent Final Fantasy games have been divisive for one reason or another, Final Fantasy 7 Remake‘s ending really bothered a lot of long-time fans of the franchise in a profound way. You can read this full breakdown of the ending if you’re not familiar with it, but the gist of it is that the remake’s ending went incredibly meta by suggesting that the entire experience was governed by powerful in-game entities that existed to ensure everything played out pretty much exactly the same as it did before.
While the game’s characters eventually break free of those shackles, that entire plot device upset those who wanted a more straightforward remake of the original game as well as those who actually saw those entities as a kind of “shot” at those fans’ expectations. Ultimately, though, it seems pretty clear that the Final Fantasy 7 Remake team just wanted to find a way to justify this remake’s existence for reasons other than money. This is a unique and utterly fascinating approach to the entire concept of remakes that argues (often successfully) that we should expect more from such projects than more of the same. The original Final Fantasy 7 you know and love will still always be there for you.
10. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
It’s wild to look back at the sometimes overwhelming hate that Infinite Warfare received pretty much out of the gate. Its debut trailer quickly became one of the most disliked videos in YouTube history, and the reactions to the game only got worse from there. CoD fans everywhere couldn’t help but ask why their beloved military shooter series suddenly went sci-fi and seemingly wanted to be a Halo game. Though Infinite Warfare’s sales were strong in the grand scheme of things, its disappointing performance in relation to the rest of the Call of Duty series seemingly confirmed just how much fans didn’t want anything to do with it.
However, Infinite Warfare is actually quite good. Though its multiplayer left something to be desired, its surprisingly strong campaign and excellent Zombies mode are at least as good (often better) than what you’ll find in other fairly recent CoD games. At some point, you realize that much of the hate this game regularly received is based on how different it was trying to be (an idea we will return to time and time again on this list). It really goes to show just how hard it is for a modern CoD game in the yearly installment era of the franchise to try to take even a slight creative detour.
9. Chrono Cross
I struggle to think of many games that were harmed more by their pre-release expectations and name associations than Chrono Cross was. You can’t even really talk about this game before you address all of the ways that it doesn’t even try to replicate and advance the Chrono Trigger experience. Many wanted Chrono Cross to be Chrono Trigger 2, and…well, can you blame them? However, it was never meant to be that game, and it never will be.
However, Chrono Cross is one of the most intelligent, complex, and innovative JRPGs of an era known for such JRPG experiences. Even if you go into this game with zero expectations set by Chrono Trigger (a remarkable feat), it will take you hours to really feel comfortable with Chrono Cross’ shockingly deep gameplay and complex narrative. Even the game’s creators admitted that they may have gone too far by trying to challenge players in as many ways as this game challenges players. Yet, it’s that very quality that helps make this such a truly special gaming experience.
8. DmC: Devil May Cry
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that my love for DmC is probably the biggest gaming hill that I will die on. More accurately, it is probably the biggest gaming hill that I will be killed on by a legion of Devil May Cry fans who seemingly hate this game and everything that it represents with every fiber of their being. To be fair, I understand that DmC changed quite a few things about the franchise (to say the least) and that things got pretty bitter between those fans and members of the game’s creative team at one point.
However, as someone who only casually enjoyed the prior Devil May Cry games (*shock*) I not only respected Ninja Theory’s desire to do something different but genuinely loved what they came up with. While DmC‘s gameplay was certainly simpler than what we saw in previous Devil May Cry games, it offered a finely tuned and enjoyable action experience that was significantly more enjoyable than what numerous other genre titles bother to offer. More importantly, its world design and excellent story penned by Alex Garland (yes, that Alex Garland) would have almost certainly gotten more love if they weren’t associated with the Devil May Cry name.
7. Death Stranding
When writing about Death Stranding, our own Bernard Boo asked the question “Do Games Need to Be Fun to Be Good?” It’s a seemingly strange question, yet it taps into the heart of the entire Death Stranding discourse. Death Stranding throws a variety of seemingly insurmountable obstacles in your way and then forces you to slowly (so, so slowly) find ways around and through them. Imagine a walking simulator game on an open-world scale that also offers numerous opportunities for you to fail in the most uneventful ways. It can be a lot.
While I do think that there are times when Hideo Kojima’s worst creative tendencies get in the way of Death Stranding’s brilliance, there is so much about this game that is indeed absolutely brilliant. Few titles tie their gameplay to their broad narrative themes as well as this one, and fewer still are bold enough to do it in a way that requires the sacrifice of traditional gaming pleasures. Yet, when you do succeed in this game, it not only feels rewarding because of the punishments you endured along the way but because of the ways those successes allow you to appreciate the bigger (and more important) picture of the entire experience.
6. Assassin’s Creed 3
While Assassin’s Creed 3 received fairly positive reviews, the game’s public debut revealed the extent of its divisiveness which continues to define the game’s legacy to this day. Though many of those fan criticisms rightfully pointed out the game’s numerous bugs, much of the backlash centered around the game’s various departures from franchise norms (another recurring theme on this list). Some fans didn’t like Connor as a protagonist, didn’t like the game’s slow narrative build, didn’t like the game’s subversive ending, and even didn’t like AC 3’s defining feature: its unique American Revolution setting.
Now that many of those bugs have been squashed all these years later, though, those other parts of the controversy feel far more distant. That notoriously “slow” opening is actually the prelude to one of the series’ most gripping and fascinating narratives. That setting may be a notable departure from what came before, but what we lose in tall buildings and packed urban areas, we gain in fascinating worldbuilding touches that creatively shape that rarely-seen setting. Not every element of this game is a crowd-pleaser, but it’s wild to think that AC III is still often thought of as a massive misstep.
5. Dragon Age 2
Much like Mass Effect 3, I find that Dragon Age 2 is sometimes best remembered for its worst elements. Whereas Mass Effect 3 is practically defined by its disappointing ending, though, Dragon Age 2’s legacy can be attributed to a series of shortcomings that seemingly stemmed from the game’s hastened production schedule. Repeated areas, missing features, linear, action-focused areas…Dragon Age 2 often feels closer to being an ambitious DLC expansion rather than a proper BioWare RPG.
Honestly, I agree with just about all of those criticisms. In a strange way, though, Dragon Age 2 has aged well throughout the years by virtue of standing still. For all its compromises, it’s a far more engaging ARPG than the small army of action titles with light RPG elements that we’ve been “blessed” with in recent years. Its companions are compelling, it features some truly shocking narrative moments, and even its comparatively simplified action is significantly deeper than what we generally see from other RPGs designed with console players in mind.
Dragon Age 2 needed a lot more time in the kitchen, but it’s really the last taste of a “pure” BioWare game that we got before things started to head south. We didn’t know how good we had it.
4. Max Payne 3
I feel strange defending Max Payne 3 given that I was one of those fans who looked down on this game shortly after playing it (and for quite some time afterward). It hurt to watch someone other than Remedy make a Max Payne game. That pain didn’t go away the moment I saw this sequel’s new setting and style. I missed the almost cartoonish noir qualities of the first two games, and I wasn’t entirely sold on the Man on Fire presentation style. Truth be told, I’m still not entirely sold on it.
However, the thing about Max Payne 3 I couldn’t quite appreciate at that time is the thing that makes it so obviously great now. Max Payne 3 not only features the most satisfying third-person action in any Rockstar game but the best feeling action of any of the Max Payne games. I’d go so far as to argue that no third-person shooter released since Max Payne has significantly improved upon its nearly perfect combat system. That combat also shines in the game’s underrated multiplayer modes (which are sadly largely unavailable today).
While I’m still annoyed by parts of this game’s presentation (there are far too many cutscenes), it’s difficult to play Max Payne 3 today and try to remember the time when I was disappointed in the experience.
3. Dark Souls 2
Generally speaking, Dark Souls 2 is considered to be the weakest of the FromSoftware Soulsborne lineup. It almost certainly is. Filled with tons of terrible boss fights and a series of questionable design decisions (including its more segmented and linear levels which abandoned the Metroidvania style that helped make Dark Souls so notable), Dark Souls 2 stands out in some less than flattering ways. Hell, it wasn’t even directed by the legendary Hidetaka Miyazaki.
Compared to most other major games, though, Dark Souls 2 is at least some kind of masterpiece. I can easily defend Dark Souls 2’s excellent Powerstance mechanic, New Game+ ideas, movement systems, soundtrack, PvP concepts, and numerous other highlights. You really don’t have to look hard to find the things that make Dark Souls 2 special in terms of other Soulsborne games and really special compared to the average modern major release.
Yet, Dark Souls 2‘s greatest quality may be its unwavering commitment to the boldness this entire series was built upon. In the peak era of “more of the same” gaming sequels, Dark Souls 2 bothered to take a lot of big swings. They may not all be hits, but it’s a testament to the ambition of the team that this title still feels unique despite the debut of so many Soulslike experiences in recent years.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Ages ago, I asked Zelda fans to find it in their hearts to forgive Skyward Sword. Most of my defenses of the game still hold true through its recent remaster. However, many of the more popular criticisms of the game also remain valid. Get rid of those wonky motion controls, and you’ll still find an annoying assistant, inconsistent world design, and a painfully slow pace that has scared off even the most adamant Zelda fans.
Yet, I love Skyward Sword and always will. Its story may be strangely paced, but it’s emotional and important to the often confusing Legend of Zelda chronology. Its combat suffers through similar ups and downs (though playing without motion controls certainly helps), but it’s still significantly more substantial than what even the best Zelda games bother to offer. Its dungeons and bosses…well, its dungeons and bosses are some of the best we’ve seen in a franchise known for both of those things.
That’s the thing about Skyward Sword. It might very well be the last major traditional Zelda game we get for a very long time, and many of its traditional Zelda elements rank high among the series’ greatest offerings.
1. The Last of Us Part 2
Few games in recent memory have been as contentious as The Last of Us Part 2. At the time of this game’s release, we discussed a few of the reasons people reacted to it so negatively. You only have to read the comments on that article to begin to understand the pure hatred some harbor towards this sequel. Like all the other games on this list, The Last of Us Part 2 certainly has more than its share of design issues. Perhaps most notably, its best moments are spread relatively thin across a surprisingly long runtime that it often fails to justify. Speaking of justifications, those who walked away from The Last of Us not entirely convinced the game needed a sequel in the first place may struggle to be convinced by this sequel that often feels more contemplative than definitive.
For all of the criticisms that The Last of Us Part 2 rightfully received, though, its divisive legacy is largely defined by other criticisms. There are those who hate The Last of Us Part 2 because the game taps into much deeper and darker bits of hatred in their hearts. There are those who hate this game because it features a massive plot twist involving a beloved major character. Mostly, though, there are those who hate this game because it just doesn’t play out the way they thought it would or the way they hoped it would.
Some of The Last of Us Part 2’s most glowing early reviews should have been a little more critical of the game’s shortcomings and stumbles. Yet, the extreme negativity that makes this game as divisive as it is already aging poorly as we remove ourselves from the pre-release expectations surrounding this title and simply look at the sheer craft of what we got instead. It will be interesting to see if The Last of Us series’ upcoming seasons allow people to see this game in a new light.