Mark it 2014 is the year game franchises became utterly meaningless

Mark it 2014 is the year game franchises became utterly meaningless

first_imgTry to think back to prehistoric times, all the way back to 2008, when online matchmaking was still a feature and Sony was the Great Satan of console gaming. Call of Duty: World at War was released to spectacularly OK reviews, but one major point of disagreement among critics had to do with the game’s unusual addition to multiplayer: on all platforms except the Wii, World at War featured a 4-player co-op mode which saw players fighting waves upon waves of zombie Nazis.The reaction to this was understandable. Knee-jerk zombie love clashed with equally knee-jerk zombie hate, while many others (including myself) expressed discomfort with bringing lighthearted elements into a game that meticulously recreates slow, graphic deaths that occurred well within living memory. Call of Duty‘s more serious and historical view of combat was a big piece of what set it apart from other shooters in the first place, and to undermine that needled people for a whole variety of reasons. When Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare brought the series out of the past and into the modern era, fans accepted it because at least some of the core principles of CoD remained intact. Subsequent installments have wiped them out entirely.This series used to be partially about imparting an understanding of the sacrifices of WWII veterans…Appropriate or not, the zombie mode was fairly fun, and since these are video games we’re talking about (as opposed to anything important) the “controversy” quickly passed. Perhaps as a result, a similarly out of place zombie expansion for Red Dead Redemption released two years later to little if any thematic backlash. Both of these additions were ultimately superfluous to the core games though, hidden away in multiplayer or sold as a separate product. In the four years since then, publishers have only gotten bolder with their use and misuse of properties.At this year’s E3 we saw some of the most frivolous, and certainly the most high-profile, misuse of franchise names ever. Battlefield got a kind of reboot under the subtitle Hardline, which essentially reinvents the series as an urban crime shooter. Much like Call of Duty, the period-hopping Battlefield series has always been defined by its gameplay philosophies more than any specific aspect of its setting; even with robust single-player built in, Battlefield is a large-scale team-based online military shooter with large maps that incentivize teamwork between large numbers of players for collective goals. That’s what an entry in the series is. That’s not what Hardline is, and there’s simply nothing about the Heat-meets-Payday gameplay or subject matter that justifies its inclusion in the series.The animus from Assassin’s Creed works to help ease the pain of name bloat.But of course, the worst offender when it comes to name bloat has to be Ubisoft, which seems to be perfecting the science of meaningless super-titles (as in, the opposite of subtitles). The Division is actually, technically, Tom Clancy’s: The Division, I suppose because characters hold guns during the game, which is sort of like what Tom Clancy wrote about. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ubi has some sort of minimum Clancy-ness requirement for script writers. “Mention two (2) of: a) Chechans b) North Koreans c) suitcase nukes d) literally just mention Tom Clancy.”Ubisoft actually seems to have identified this problem in advance, and has structured the Assassin’s Creed series so it can support almost any sort of game. The genetic time-travel mechanic has allowed that series to reinvent itself multiple times with a plausible story-based excuse. There’s something almost brilliant about this, and it works well in this one series. Don’t be surprised if you see more titles shoehorning in narrative excuses for disorganized, scattershot franchises.Though there are big aesthetic differences, the transition from Bioshock to Bioshock: Infinite was sooth and logical.Some franchises can support crazy additions more easily, given their premises; the Blood Dragon mini-sequel to Far Cry 3 fit well with the game’s already schizophrenic persona. So too did the transition from Rapture to Columbia for the Bioshock series; the franchise can trade blue water for blue sky because it is defined by its themes and philosophies rather than its setting or even its characters. If 2K had released a Bioshock arena shooter set in Rapture and featuring all the same characters, it would have been a far less meaningful sequel than Infinite ended up being.Sometimes it does backfire though. 2007’s Shadowrun online team-shooter so abused that license that many people dismissed its genuinely solid design out of hand. Bioware and EA also learned the danger of too much mucking when they released Dragon Age II with enough fundamental changes to actually switch the series’ genre from RPG to action-RPG. Prince of Persia: Warrior Within was also an overly calculated sequel trading the original’s charm for hardcore raditude, much to the fans’ disdain — though it sold well enough for all that. It seems there are times you can get away with these sorts of changes, and times you cannot. Gamers are nothing if not demanding and entitled, and certainly the nerdier the fan base the less receptive to change it will inevitably be.Wikipedia lists a full 44 games bearing the Clancy name. Will we hit a hundred by 2020?It’s not that I don’t like new things. The use of the Battlefield name here is simply lazy, and shows a fundamental lack of confidence in the game as a product — which actually looks alright on its own merits. It’s fear that needlessly forces so many new ideas into existing franchises, owing to the horrible economics of AAA titles these days. And as for Ubisoft, if slapping Tom Clancy on a game can reliably increase sales by even a few percent, why not do it? The company outright bought the rights to the Clancy name several years ago, so it could release an unlimited number of branded titles without paying an extra fee. It’s certainly determined to get its money’s worth.I don’t care what anyone says — Starship Troopers the movie may be great, but its existence fundamentally detracts from the integrity of the book it’s supposedly based on. Smearing the edges of a title or franchise is always negative, even if every poorly targeted title is of a very high quality on an individual level. This trend is devaluing several beloved game franchises into meaningless tag lines, and while it should stop, the financial realities of the industry might make that impossible in the short term.In 10 years, will we all be playing Alan Wake 3: This Time It’s Personal, or perhaps a Journey sequel that incorporates sweet BMX tricks? Let’s admit that that’s the road down which we are headed. If at all possible, we really ought to at least try to stop.last_img

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