Sony seems to take the shotgun approach to creating memorable franchises, throwing a billion ideas at the wall in a blitz of creativity and hoping a few of them prove to be stickers. God of War was one of those stickers, and boy does Sony know it. Since the genesis of the series in 2005, there have been six games in the core franchise (seven if you count the spin off mobile game, Betrayal
). Most of those games have been exceptional, and GOW2 is easily one of the best hack-n-slash games of all time. But for me personally, the shine's kind've gone off the gore-encrusted apple. The four games split between the PS2 and the PSP were damn near perfect, but the other two on the PS3? Not so much. GOW3 felt like it was lacking something deep down, and Ascension
felt like squeezing blood from a stone (although admittedly, if anyone could make a stone bleed it would be Kratos). The series still has enough cred with me to warrant getting excited over, but if Sony announces another Kratos themed prequel I'm going to puke. In fact, I think I'd like a break from Kratos in general, maybe even from Greek mythology entirely. Blasphemous as that may sound, I think the ground around GOW's roots has gone fallow, having been sucked dry by successive generations of prequels and sequels scrapping the bottom of the barrel for further mythical entities for Kratos to eviscerate. The GOW series needs a fresh coat of blood, and I think a Bioshock Infinite style spiritual successor that preserves the core elements of the franchise while exploring new characters, new mechanics, and new mythology would do the trick quite nicely.
First off, let me clarify what I mean by a "Bioshock Infinite" style spiritual successor. The original Bioshock was an exceptionally original game, rich with literary themes and storytelling. The gameplay was exciting as well, seasoning tried and true FPS model with the morbidly engaging plasmids, which when combined with the game's devilish AI and unique character design delivered some of the most memorable gameplay moments of the last generation. Irrational knew that it had struck a vein with Bioshock, but they were also aware of the danger of spoiling the formula by over exploiting the world of Rapture. Bioshock owed a large part of its success to its originality, to its daring to invest a videogame with the kind of thoughtful, educated world building usually reserved for serious literature. So Irrational didn't just strip-mine the mythology they'd created for Rapture, pumping out sequel after sequel year after year, cobbling together increasingly strained "backstories" for every little bit of mystery until we were all sick to death of that which we once loved; instead, they did something much more exciting and artistically wholesome. They took the core experience of their game- augmented gunplay, thought provoking characters and storytelling, enthralling world building- and they did it all over again. Instead of playing it safe and sticking with what they knew worked, Irrational had the balls to make a second attempt at capturing lightning in a bottle. And it was good for everyone.
That is, in essence, what I want for the GOW series. Now, of course, it's not so simple as "do it like those Bioshock guys did it". Bioshock was a one off game (actually, Bioshock itself was a spiritual successor to System Shock, but whatever), not whole series of games, meaning that Irrational didn't have to worry about legacy as much as Sony does. It's not clear that GOW can survive outside of Greek mythology, or without Kratos. But if Sony were to make an attempt at creating a spiritual successor to GOW, I think their best bet would be to hit these three bullet points:
1)[u] Bring Hack-N-Slash To the Next Level[/u]: GOW did something special for the hack-n-slash genre. It wasn't as technical as the other heavy hitters of the time, like DMC or Ninja Gaiden, but it did have that "je ne sais quoi" of an instant classic. The chain blades, the Greek asthetic, and the iconic character of Kratos all came together into something truly memorable. And now, GOW is really the last great hack-n-slash left standing. Ninja Gaiden has fallen from grace since Tomonobu Itagaki stopped working on the series, and DMC... well, lets talk about what happened with DMC, because it's actually a great template for what NOT to do when rebooting GOW.
Earlier this year, Capcom released a punky, angsty reboot of DMC (cheekily titled DmC), and needless to say, it wasn't exactly a smash hit
. Despite a respectable metacritic score of 85
, the game posted awful sales and received a boatload of backlash from long term fans of the series. Where did Capcom go wrong? Well, having been one of the few people who actually bought the game (I like the dev, Ninja Theory), I feel what DmC was really lacking was worthwhile gameplay. Ninja Theory is known for their cinematic storytelling and direction, but the combat in their other games has always seemed lacking to me, and pattern holds with DmC. While the game had some interesting systems and actually controlled pretty well, it never the less ended up feeling slightly repetitive and shallow. There just weren't enough combos, not enough enemies that actually forced you to be creative. I was hooked for the first two hours, but the shine soon wore off and I quickly became bored. That, coupled with the fact that the writing in the reboot wasn't really any better than anything from the original series, left the game feeling underwhelming and not really worth the $60 price tag, ergo the poor sales.
If DmC had had great gameplay the story could have been forgiven, as has been shown with the series in the past. But without the gameplay there really wasn't much to the game, aside from some interesting visual design that, like the combat, eventually looses its luster. That's where GOW's reboot has to do better. Story is good, visuals are nice, but gameplay is the most essential component to a video game. But it can't just be any old gameplay, I want something that feels as fresh and exciting as the first time I laid my thumbs on the Blades of Chaos. What should that new gameplay be? I don't know, I don't make games for a living (yet), but it's the dev's job to surprise us with something new and exciting. You can't lay a template for innovation, all you can do is see what people want, and what they don't want, and it's pretty clear that what people don't want is another DmC.
2) [u]Remix the Revenge Story:[/u] I think I speak for everyone when I say that I'm sick to death of Kratos whining on and on about his dead family and the "terrible things" he's done. It was good for, like, 2.5 games, but after six games I've had enough of a psychopathic killing machine whining about his feelings. Thing is though, that revenge narrative is an integral part of the GOW franchise, it justifies a character who never runs out of things to stab nor the will to stab them. Plus, revenge does well as a big, melodramatic motivation, which is exactly what GOW needs. Hephaestus was interesting enough in GOW3, but his heartfelt plight seemed out of place in a game that lets you tear out cyclop's eyes with your bare hands. And don't even get me started on Pandora, her plaintive mewing about "hope" was utterly unbearable. If there are going to be people in the game who berate the protagonist for being a bad person, then you should be able to burn them alive or smash their faces into books like you could in the first two games. By no means do I want a beat for beat repeat of past games, but the new story should definitely explore the idea of a man (or woman, totally!) seeking revenge against the gods who keep him under their thumb and abuse him like a pawn.
3) Steep it in Lore: I think it goes without saying that anything even tangentially related to GOW should be steeped in religious lore. Does it have to be religious lore, can it just be any old fantasy lore, or something that the devs make up themselves? Hell no, gotta be the genuine fake shit. There was something extremely cool about playing a game that had so many references to all the random facts you learned about dead religions in middle school social studies. "Oh sweet, a gorgon, I'm going to tear it's head off and scare people to stone with it!" "Awesome, I'm stabbing a minotaur in the face!" New lore can be great, but GOW was always about exploring the old myths and legends, exploring them in the face with huge pointy swords and magical energy bolts.
So what lore should the reboot explore? Norse lore, Hindu lore, Mormonism? Personally, I think it should go full American Gods and mix it all together into a great big bloody stew and throw the player right in the middle. The creator of GOW David Jaffe has said
that if he had got to write the script for GOW3 (he wasn't working at Sony SM at the time) he would have gone the multiple mythologies route, and what's good enough for Jaffe is good enough for me
There are of course 1 trillion more things that need to go into a game in order to make it a success, and you could probably and a million more things to this game as its an attempt to revitalize such a beloved property. That doesn't however mean that it's impossible, or even improbable. Cory Balrog, creative director for GOW2, has just announced that he's back at Sony SM, and that the project he's on is "something huge". Balrog has said that they're putting together an all-star team of creative types for this next project, and it's been know for awhile that Battlestar Galactica writer Michael Angeli has been working with Sony SM. Could this mysterious project be a GOW game? A GOW reboot? Something totally new? Who knows! But all this activity over in Santa Monica has got me excited for what's coming up, so lets keep our fingers crossed for more awesome games to come. read