The HypeSpotting a bad game can be as simple as paying attention to the release trailer leading up to the launch. Bad and underwhelming titles are the hardest to spot here, but also the easiest to avoid if found out at this point. What's important to remember above all else, though, is that, before the game is launched, everything is marketing and advertisements.
The first step comes right at the trailer. The first ones probably don't tell you anything and will consist of little more than a pre-rendered video and title splash. At this point it is important to remember that you have not seen anything about the game itself. Hearing that your favorite franchise is getting a new entry is great but it doesn't tell you anything about what it involves or its quality.
Later on, more trailers will be released and some will even show gameplay. Remember that this is advertising. They are trying to show the best parts to make people interested. A cool new mechanic or flashy visual can be good and interesting, but it can also be a poor attempt to drive up hype for something that really isn't that big a ground-breaker. All you are seeing is a trailer.
2.) Remember your limitations…
This plays into the above. Let's say you play a game where a character darts forwards, jumping and rolling under a series of blade-swipes by their foe, before jumping off a wall onto the foe's face and unloading a salvo of bullets into it. Would seem pretty flashy, no? Ask yourself, though, 'How on Earth could they actually do that?' At the end of the day, the player is limited by whatever controls they have and that this flashy sequence is nothing more than a series of button presses. For someone with a gaming console, that means that entire sequence has to be done with two thumb sticks, four face buttons, four shoulder/trigger buttons, a D-pad, and Start/Select. Don't get smug PC fans because, while the keyboard has more buttons, the number of buttons doesn't affect much. That entire sequence you saw was either a cut-scene or done with a series of button commands. Ask yourself how it was pulled it off before getting hyped.
3.) Ask yourself if you would want to do that repeatedly…
Once again, while that above description is cool, ask yourself if it's something you will want to do constantly. If that thing was not a cut-scene or a boss fight, it was likely some common enemy, one that will be faced constantly throughout. That flashy sequence, even if it is possible, might be thrilling the first time, but the tenth… fiftieth? Eventually it will become boring if it isn't kept fresh and new. Watching Kratos tear the wings off a harpy might be fun the first time, but imagine fighting a room full of them. How long until it stops being cool and starts being 'Okay, I gotta rip off ten harpies for the most EXP and I want to get to bed soon…should I bother?'
4.) Be VERY wary of the cash-in…
There are plenty of developers out there who would gladly ruin a failing or dead franchise just to squeeze a bit more money out of it. The Dungeon Keeper releases are a prime example of them. While in the past they weren't amazing successes, each entry became a cult favorite among those who played them, despite the fact that the last one came out in 1999. Imagine, then, the reaction when it was announced it would be having a new title in 2013. Except it would be free to play… and developed by Electronic Arts, rather than anyone involved with the now defunct Bullfrog. Warning lights should have been flashing from Day 1 that this would not be a valid attempt to restart the series but, rather, be a mere a cash-in to make a quick buck with the game being good or not being inconsequential, and such a low priority as to not even rank as an 'afterthought.' This sort of thing happens more than it should, with titles like Soul Calibur: Unbreakable Soul as a prime example of this happening.
The StoreThe advantage of catching a bad game before its release is that there is plenty of time to gather information on it. After all, even if you want to buy it on Day 1, there will be new information released up to that point, reviews likely released before launch, and so-forth - plenty of time to cancel a pre-order. However, when down at the local store, things change, as you are going in blind, with no knowledge of the game besides the box blurb, and can't reach out to the Internet to look up reviews (never mind the time it would take). While plenty of the things in here can apply to the above, these are things that will matter a lot more when buying in a store post-release.
When a game is released for a franchise not part of gaming already, it comes out for one reason: to cater to fans of the show/book/whatever. Sure, there are the occasional good titles, but for every Batman: Arkham Asylum there are three other Batman games that people forgot were even made… and for good reason! When a game is made for a movie, it is selling to fans of the movie, fans it loses if it doesn't get rushed out the door with just enough polish on to make them hope it's actually good before revealing that it's little more than a barely functioning re-tread of the film.
This holds true even for series that have been out for a long time. They exist simply to appeal to fans of the book, show, movie, whatever. Quite often the developer doesn't care if the end product is actually good or not, just that it can get some extra cash off of it. A ninja adventure that is bad and wouldn't draw a crowd at all can suddenly make a sizeable amount of money if Naruto's face is plastered over it. Make a bland shooter? Throw James Bond's image onto it, offering some hope of returning to the near-mythical multiplayer it once achieved in the form of GoldenEye, and suddenly people will buy it far more than if the team had tried to come up with something actually new.
2.) Pay attention to the pedigree…
Some games seem very promising at first glance, yet end up being made horribly. Likewise, some games seem like they would not even be worth considering, until you spot the name on the box telling you what company made them. Something that might seem like a terrible idea might be saved by that delightful 'Level 5' logo, while something else that might seem like a sure-fire hit might be ruined via the little 'EA' logo. Knowing a bit of gaming history and what quality a company is known for, goes a long ways towards avoiding disappointment.
3.) Pay attention to what is advertised…
This one is fairly straightforward and obvious: pay attention to what the game is trying to sell. If there are scantily clad women on the cover, it's clearly offering at least some cheesecake, but it's more than that. 'Legendary' sounds like a smart idea at first. Mythical creatures in the modern era! Get to fight them off using guns! Stop and think about it for a second, though. Mythical creatures in the modern era… Is that actually a valid attempt at something unique or a cheap hook to get people interested in an otherwise boring title that shouldn't exist?
4.) Understand that there is a vast difference between 'niche' and 'bad'…
Some games just won't appeal to you at first as they appear to be bad at first glance. Imagine trying to get involved in the Final Fantasy series but starting on the music-based sub-series, Theatrhythm? It is a perfectly great series, yet without already knowing a bit about the Final Fantasy world, a lot of what makes it good will be lost. Yes, it's still solid, but unless you are a huge fan of rhythm-based action, it's probably not the best entry to start with. When the time comes, it will be a good idea to play, but to someone not already familiar with the franchise? Not a smart idea.
Digital, Online, and MultiplayerWith the rise of the Internet, many new things have come about. The ability to check reviews online, play games with friends across the world, download content, and the like. When buying, online reviews will be very easy to access and, as such, it is best to talk about other methods of spotting bad games beforehand.
When buying a new game, checking the DLC is a huge deal. Plenty of companies are willing to launch titles that are little more than platforms for copious amounts of DLC and microtransactions, so when scoping out a game be sure to check to see how much DLC is available, as well as how the microtransactions are presented. It is one thing to have a series of optional DLC and micros that provide new skins or music, but a game where purchasing things is almost required to win? Money soak. Some titles, like League of Legends, can do it right, but more often than not, it's some way of just trying to grab up as much cash as it possibly can.
2.) Check to see if it requires always-online…
If it needs to be online all of the time, don't bite (unless it's an MMO or something). Quite often games that do this will try to force the player into accessing online 'features' and will hobble anyone for not doing things like multiplayer. If requiring online features for solo play, then it is trying to squeeze you for cash, unless it's an MMO, MOBA, or a multiplayer-only release that wouldn't work without the online… so don't bite!
3.) Remember that ANYTHING can be sold online…
This is one of the big risks of indie products. Sure, there are occasional bright-spots and glimmers of hope and genius, but there are also plenty of unoriginal mash-ups, flinging around a bunch of buzzwords (explained later) or tired ideas in the hopes of getting just enough people to buy the title, despite little to no effort. That's not to mention that you will see a lot of older games - ones that did not stand the test of time - for sale, as well.
4.) Imagine a shrieking, trolling, obnoxious, fourteen-year-old child playing it alongside you…
When you play a game with online features - anything - there will be people who will find ways to be obnoxious and are more than willing to ruin the experience for other people in favour of their own, personal, laughs. If a game allows the player to kill NPCs, you will find players gladly killing quest NPCs just to laugh at people who can't fight back… before killing them, as well. If you have voice chat, you will find people more than willing to shout out toxic statements and shout down anyone who tries to respond, to the point of making the voice chat sound like a howler monkey cage. There will be people who will find ways around censors. There will be people who will enjoy just making life more difficult for others… just because. Ask yourself if that game is really the kind you would be okay playing with one of them.
Buzzwords to WatchWhen you see these words in a game description, drop on your guard! It's not that these things can't be good, but they can also be used to try and make some very bad things slip under the radar.
'Cinematic': Ignoring the obvious question of why one would desire to watch a movie while playing a game, the simple fact is that this word often results in a game that is short but flashy on the visuals without much to actually do in it, in an attempt to make it seem more 'tense.'
'Crafting': Crafting systems can be a great thing. In something like Minecraft it can be outright amazing. For many games with this tag, however, it's just a cheap way to pad out the game or make it seem like it has much more to it than it actually does. Being able to make a house and levelling a mountainside via crafting is fantastic. Having to hunt down materials to make minor and obvious upgrades to an otherwise unimaginative game is just bad design.
'Dark': Dark games are fine. Some know how to present a dark and depressing world well and keep it interesting. However, this term also tends to relate to 'needlessly violent/gore-filled/foul-mouthed/sexualised/pessimistic' where, instead of being actually dark and using the setting well, it simply acts like a holier-than-thou game that's more 'realistic' while, somehow, forgetting that there are plenty of good things in the world still.
'Modern': Not so much on newer games and franchises, but when used in relation to older titles, it often means attempting to 'update' it to compare to whatever top-selling title is hot right now, often ignoring what actually made the franchise great in the first place. It's okay to update things and experiment, but if a game appears to be updating just for the sake of updating, warning sirens should be blaring.
'Realistic': Wanting better visuals is obviously acceptable. Wanting a more down to earth title is equally fine. However, some games work specifically because they are not realistic, and trying to make them so ruins the whole point of why people played them in the first place. That's not to mention that, sometimes, it is being simply used to up-sell something that doesn't matter, like 'realistic lighting' in a game where light has never been an issue.
'Re-imagining': DANGER! If you ever see this word, cancel a pre-order or flee from the game until you have read a lot more reviews. It's not that games can't shift, change, or explore new ground over the years, but doing so needs to be handled carefully. Therefore, when you take a franchise and put it in a different setting, things need to be done right or else it will collapse in on itself. This word, when used, often relates more to 'we wanted X game in space/with modern trend/to pay off our new monkey butler' than 'we're making a legitimate effort to try and bring this franchise into a new setting.'
'Retro': Especially when related to difficulty, this is a buzzword that should instantly put you on high alert. The thing about retro is that, while there are some games that manage to capture the feel of older releases well, it's also a cop-out for teams to have poor graphics, a bad story, or imbalanced difficulty. Obviously, there are ways to look good despite low-level graphics, tell good stories with minimal dialogue and scenes, and ways to be difficult without problem, but the same term can be used to justify bad looking games (it's trying to 'recapture the feel' of the classics), bad/nonexistent plots (look at that old popular game and how it didn't have a good plot/any plot!), or is willing to kill the player for even the slightest mistake (retro games were always hard!). Be careful.
'Zombie/ninja/pirate/zombie ninja pirate/etc': Anything with these words in the title or description needs to be handled with care. These things have oversaturated the industry to the point where they are not even real selling points anymore, just the copy/paste jobs.