Pink Darth Vader. Should we care?
There used to be a time in the gaming industry when the general consensus was that you get what you see. If you see the words first person shooter or real time strategy or see the appropriate screenshots in the back of the box, there was a 90% chance that it was what you were going to get (the 10% being bootleg discs and shameful rip off demowares). Games oddly enough, stayed within their genre parameters and tropes. Up until the release of Valve’s Half Life, the first thing that came into people’s mind when they thought of first person shooters was Doom, Quake, their clones and pictures of angry, muscular hero’s running around spilling evil guts and saving the day. You would’t see Doomguy or Duke Nukem or Gordon Freeman for that matter, spend their precious time hovering over the upgrade screen thinking on which upgrade to grab next or which type of eyelash would suit them better. Of course there were a few odd titles in the mix which combined genres but generally speaking up until the last 10 years these mixing and matching of different genres into a single game was far and few between. You might dare ask me what’s wrong with that? Isn’t it great if you get two of your favorite genres in a single game? Wouldn’t it be great if Gordon Freeman could speak and put on a pair of jeans and upgrade his gravity gun into something that fires mini nukes? Well I would have found that idea intriguing on paper (nope. I wouldn’t actually) if that market wasn’t so saturated right now and we hadn’t received so many such half baked titles, and especially if many beloved franchises weren’t transformed into soulless hybrids.
You don’t need to look further to see such hybrids. The renowned AAA gaming company Ubisoft is an obvious example. In 2007, they released Assassin’s Creed which has evolved into a multi-million or billion franchise since then. Assassin’s Creed was developed from an idea about a scrapped Prince of Persia game and it was normal for Assassin’s Creed to feature elements both new and salvaged from Prince of Persia. It was an open world action game with the parkour elements from the aforementioned game. You didn’t see games mixing genres like that, with some exceptions up until then. Then as Assassin’s Creed franchise began to stagnate, Ubisoft revived the popular Far Cry franchise. What’s different about this new game, ‘Far Cry 3’ was that, instead of being a pure fps sandbox, Far Cry 3 had elements from other titles even from their own Assassin’s Creed, notably the viewpoints and the crafting system. Features such as hunting, experience points and character progression were all borrowed from different genres. Adding these systems in paid off and Far Cry 3 was a massive success. Ubisoft kept doing this with pretty much all of their franchises and not just them,since then there have been countless new and old IPs that followed this trend and has now culminated in an oversaturated market where it’s difficult to determine the genre of a game just by looking at it or just by playing it for a few minutes. There have been countless Assassins Creed’s and Far Cry’s seeking to make a killing in sales by cramming in all these features into a single game. It’s fine when it all works out and the game becomes a hit by today’s standards. But what happens when it doesn’t? There have been many such failures seeking to cash-in on this new trend. Just look at what happened to Homefront: The Revolution, the Thief reboot, Syndicate reboot, Mirrors Edge: Catalyst, Need For Speed: Payback and even Ubisoft’s own Watchdogs and Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Then again, new IPs won’t suffer as much as some of these already renowned franchises, their name tarnished by the one black sheep in the family who wanted to be the ace of clubs and ended up being the jack of all trades or even worse, the joker.
Just take a look back to 2017, where a large majority of the top tier (or so-called) games suffered some this lack of self identity. One one hand we had, Warner Bro’s new pet IP Shadow of War which was dipped in a barrel full of random gameplay ideas, seeking to emulate the success of it’s predecessor. What came out was an amalgamation of glued together mechanics and systems which ultimately resulted in the game overstaying it’s welcome and turning into a grindfest towards the end. Whoever thought of implementing lootboxes into a single player game was utterly not right in the head. But I won’t beat a dead horse further. There is two online modes: vendetta and conquest. But both felt out of place and it’s not something useful or even fun for the player other than adding pieces to the whole pay to win aspect (this will be discussed further in the upcoming review). All of this stuck like decade old coffee stain on the rather excellent nemesis system and the refined combat. Far too much of the negative press was focused on these pointless additions to an actually solid core formula. It wasn’t soon after that, the game was spotted carrying a hefty discount tag in the steam winter sale. Much like Shadow of War, Wolfenstein:The New Colossus was also affected by this new mixing and matching trend. Wolfenstein, has always been a beloved franchise and add to that, the excellent New Order reboot which quenched the thirst of fps lovers for a satisfying run and gun shooter, the series was going uphill from the newfound success. Then the sequel happened amidst all the hype and controversies surrounding the marketing. Although the reception was somewhat positive, there has been numerous outcries among fan communities about the game’s writing, gunplay not being satisfying enough, the broken stealth and the accompanying alarm mechanic, hub-like area, mediocre level design etc. Wolfenstein was always a mindless run and gun bulletfest, pardon my French. New Colossus tries to change it to something it’s not. A shooter with a Tarantino-esque feel, especially in the writing department. But the writers just went ahead and tries to push their social agenda through the game and it shows throughout the campaign. The time spent on writing these ridiculous parts should have been better spent refining the shooting and doing what Wolfenstein always did well, fast paced gameplay that fills that special hole in your soul the way nothing ever could. Then there was Ghost Recon :Wildlands, which was more similar to Far Cry than the titular series which redefined the tactical action sub genre. Wildlands was your average Ubisoft morning diet. With mechanics ‘borrowed’ from Mercenaries to every random open world game out there including the cumbersome busywork. As expected, the game had lackluster sales and has received a Predator update recently, through which Ubisoft hopes to breathe some new life into the game. Then at the opposite side of the spectrum, we got games like Agents of Mayhem and Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 which are not exactly AAA games in general, but nonetheless had received a moderate budget and mainstream coverage. Sniper Ghost Warrior tries to be every game from one side of the globe to the other while Agent’s of Mayhem showed up like an unwanted guest to a nuclear shelter. The less said about these titles, the better.
There is a constant need nowadays for every game on the market to be either open world or to have some of the crafting, survival or rpg mechanics mentioned above. Companies pour considerable resources and manpower into their lovechild for it to be feature perfect rather than refining the core gameplay. I can still hear them saying ; “just one more type of crafting system into this linear first person shooter and nobody won’t notice the shoddy shooting mechanics!”
Game studios are not the only one’s to blame however. With the release of plethora of early access titles that puts focus on survival and crafting and their fandom and subsequent success force these companies to achieve the same level of success for their own franchises and gain some profit in the process. How many pure fps or tps or even open world games can you find today without these tacked on crafting mechanics and skill trees? This isn’t to say that all of those games are bad but rather that the games in which these systems feel natural and not tacked on are limited. Doom (2016) in my opinion, pulled off the addition of upgrades and skills into the classic fps formula quite decently. Aside from weapon upgrades, Doomguy’s Praetor suit could also be upgraded using upgrade tokens found throughout the game. Praetor suit being an ancient piece of armor from a forgotten age helped ease the implementation of the said upgrades into the game and worked in favor of the lore. A purist player could complete the game without them if he wishes so. Thus, it did not get flack even from the most hardcore of fans and preserved the IP’s identity. Sadly, that’s not the case with most of the games out there. Like I said, this behavior highlights the current trend in gaming where maximum effort and resources are poured into a single game to make it feel like that the particular game has the maximum amount of content and features available compared to it’s contemporaries, with little attention paid to see whether the added systems work properly or, if it fits the game in the first place. These tacked on mechanics whether it be skilltrees or crafting or unnecessary customization, if not integrated and balanced properly sticks out like a hipster in a choir group. Let a game be what it’s supposed to be. If it makes sense both story and gameplay-wise to implement these kinds mechanics into an fps or rts or an rpg then go right ahead. But if the intention behind bloating games up is to overshadow its other weaknesses or just for the sake of it, please don’t. Appreciate a game for what it is, not what it can be forced into.