The subject of recent classic PC franchise reboots, has been something I have been avoiding for some time now. When I discovered these cherished moments are being dumbed downed into shooters, to appeal to a larger, less cerebral audience, than the audience who initially made these classics, there are mixed feelings that come with that. On the one hand, a popular IP from the days of my youth, will now be appreciated (to some degree), by an entirely new audience. On the other hand . . . well, the games have been dumbed downed, and very likely devoid of most of what made them special in the first place, just to reach this new audience. In my mind, it’s like having sex while wearing a concrete condom – the upside is that you are having sex . . . if you can call taking almost everything that makes sex pleasurable in the first place, having it stripped away, and replaced with a blunt-force object, “having sex.”
Far too many classic PC game IPs being rebooted as shooters, for the sake of entertaining the modern console gamers – gamers who mostly have no clue about the heritage of the shooters they are playing in the first place. When they did it with Fallout, I was fine, as at least Fallout 3 was primarily an RPG which followed very close to it’s heritage, and not a shooter. Besides, all Bethesda RPGs are in the first person, so it was expected that Fallout 3 would be anyway, years before the first screenshots showed up. But this thing with every other classic PC game being revived as shooters that have nothing to do with the source material, that’s no different than when shit Hollywood movie directors get their hands on video game to film projects, and change everything for the sake of doing so with no regard for the source material – I’m looking at you, Max Payne. And lest we forget, that for every Fallout 3, there is seemingly always a Shadowrun (2007).
Instead of these companies taking out the time to innovate fresh and modernized styles of game play more inline with existing game play models from these IPs so that the reboot of these games could remain true to their source, they just do the least amount of work they can do, take the fewest risks, and shoehorn every game into a shooter framework. At this rate, can a Grim Fandango, or Magic Carpet, or Might & Magic shooter be too far behind? And it is not like I am a purest or anything, and expect these games not to have evolved in any way over the generations. I’m not even remotely in that camp. It’s just why take part of what makes something so special in the first place, and completely rip it out? Where’s the joy in that? Why destroy something great about a classic IP, when you can build on it, modernize it, and make it better instead?
And the real shame to all this, is everyone is attempting to mimic the success of Bungie, finally making shooters successful on consoles when they created Halo for the original Xbox. The shame here is, none of these guys have half the cojones that Bungie had. Bungie took an age old, almost PC-only game style, and made it work on consoles as good (and arguably better in some ways), as they did on the PC. True there had been shooters before on console, Perfect Dark and GoldenEye come instantly to mind. But the birth of the modern shooter starts with Halo. So it always gets me. You know, why can one innovative company get one thing previously thought to be impossible, working on console to the point where it launches a million successful copycats, and no one else out there can seem to manage something similar with other “impossible” styles of game play? And at the end of the day, this is what the game industry has been missing for a very long time now – a proper set of cojones. There are very few, to no more risks being taken any longer. Which is sad, as it is the gamers themselves who suffer as a result. I mean, how many fucking shooters do they honestly expect a person to play, before they finally get bored with gaming? So many friends I know, gamers who grew up bottle fed on console gaming, just won’t play games at all any more. They are bored with them, and don’t really understand their boredom with a medium that used to bring them so much joy. However, I highly suspect this boredom, like with the boredom of anything else in life, stems from a lack of proper variety. Gaming has become to safe, too homogenized. And when more than half of every game idea needs to be a shooter to get a green light from the publisher these days, its not helping the situation one iota.
FROZEN SYNAPSE. TRUER TO THE ORIGINAL SYNDICATE THAN THE REBOOT.
And what really buggers me about the lack of any developer having Bungie’s cojones, and bringing other styles of traditional PC game play to the modern masses on consoles, is all the wasted opportunity that innovative new game controllers like touch screens/pads, the Wii-mote and Kinect bring to the table. The true potential of these controller inputs are squandered on a daily basis by the gaming industry. And when you see a classic strategy IP come over from PC to console as a shooter, the potential of these new input types are squandered even more. These are truly the biggest missed opportunities in gaming today. And even Bungie successfully bringing shooters to consoles, they simply could not have accomplished it without dual analog stick controllers, something that was still relatively new at the time. I mean, Sony put the second analog stick on the DualShock and DualShock 2 controllers, but that was more a vanity move to one up Nintendo’s N64 controller, than anything else. No one really had any clue what to do with that second analog stick (which is why you don’t see one on Dreamcast) until Halo came out and changed the face of gaming forever. But my point is, the success of shooters making the jump from a PC gaming mainstay, to a console gaming mainstay, came on the back of controller innovation making it possible. Today, between touch screens/pads, the Wii-mote, and the Kinect, we have arguably some of the most innovative controller designs in the entire 30+ year history of the medium. The things that should be possible with what we have . . . at this point in tine, there simply should not be any game play style from PC, that could not be given the Bungie treatment on console. The fact that game developers have not worked that out yet, speaks ill of the game industry as a whole.
Which brings up another point. These companies are rebooting these classic PC games into shooters to cater to a singular-minded audience. But the singular-minded audience they are catering too, only cares about Call of Duty in the first place. So much so, that other shooter series which have been around for longer, have to start emulating Call of Duty themselves, for any hope of tackling high sales numbers. I won’t name any name of shooters, but they know who they are. And my point is, Call of Duty sells somewhere north of 15 million units each game. No other shooter on the market comes even close. Once upon a time Halo did (got close), but unless something drasticly fresh happens with Halo 4, those days are over. Battlefield 3 is attempting to now, and may even get their with Battlefield 4. But that is another couple years down the road, and an entirely new console generation to hit that mark. My point is, every shooter even in the same league as selling in massive numbers like Call of Duty, can be named on one hand. So that being the reality we live in, then why is every other game these days is a shooter? You cannot possibly hope to keep up with Call of Duty on sales. Yet outside of massive openworld games, shooters are the most expensive type of games to develop. And the average shooter shifts about as many copies as the average of any other game you can turn into a hit – between 2 million and 4 million units. So if all you can reasonably ever expect to shift is the average, then why waste the extra resources turning a game which is not a shooter, into a shooter in the first place? And in the case of classic IPs, why not simply just let them be what they are, and still sell your 2 million copies to fans who would appreciate your respect of the original source material.
IF EA WANTED ANOTHER SHOOTER, THEN WHY NOT REBOOT SYSTEM SHOCK?
As a fan of strategy games going all the way back to spending countless hundreds of hours playing Nobunaga’s Ambition on the NES, in high school, Syndicate and XCOM in particular rub me the wrong way. Okay, Syndicate less so, as at least Starbreeze has got half the formula right . . . you know, the action part, any sense of strategy or tactical game play, seems to be almost devoid in the game. But since the Syndicate series was action-strategy, perhaps Starbreeze and EA can get away with this . . . this “reboot“. But looking at what the series used to be, you cannot help but feel that something akin to the amazingly awesome, award winning, indie title,Frozen Synapse (see video), should have been the game sporting the Syndicate reboot moniker, and not this mess that EA is trying to pass off as Syndicate. Frozen Synapse is the perfect example of taking tried and true classic game play design, and updating it for a modern, “next-gen” audience. Everything that made classics like Syndicate a classic in the first place, with all the action and water cooler moments that make modern gamers drool over.
And seriously, if EA really wanted to raid their classic vaults for a potential FPS to reboot, then why the hell did they skip over System Shock? Following the success record laid down by the likes of the Fallout reboot, and Elder Scrolls, plus with the popularity of the spiritual successor, BioShock, it would have seemed to me that System Shock would have been a shoe-in for a series to reboot . . . so long as it turned out to be an atmospheric, scare the shit out of you, first-person RPG, and not just another shooter. The irony with these two reboots, is that the XCOM reboot features a lot of the tactical strategy that the Syndicate reboot should have come with. Meanwhile, X-Com itself used to be an awesome pure strategy series. Now its a shooter with watered down strategic elements. Is it me, or are games simply devolving the larger the audience gets? Don’t get me wrong, they both look like fine games. And despite myself, I will probably wind up enjoying both games. It’s just that, I also feel they both represent more missed opportunities, than anything else. They could have been so much more, they could have truly set the world on fire by attempting to break the molds – the way Halo did before them. But instead, at the end of the day, they have just been merely dumbed down into shooters.