Everyone is in a titter. Halo: Combat Evolved is getting an HD remake on the 360. The original adventure of Master Chief on the very first big artificial planet ring/weapon is getting all pretty and saucy for another night on the town.
This is the sound of me not caring.
Now don't write me off as a hater. I can understand why Halo is getting a remake. It is an extremely popular series with a huge rabid fan base. Halo fans are fucking into Halo. They have read the books, played the RTS side games, and followed the ARG marketing campaigns. There is true love for the franchise and a real nostalgia for the original (or at least for the original pistol). With Halo coming up on its ten year anniversary, the time is right to celebrate the game that started it all.
Beyond indulging the fanbase, Halo is an important game in the development of the latest generation of games and consoles. Before Halo, FPS games were the PC's bread and butter. Aside from a few stand out titles like Goldeneye, everyone knew that if you wanted shooters, you had to get a PC rig; consoles were for platformers and JRPGs.
Halo put an end to all that. A brand new FPS IP released to glowing praise and featuring tight natural gameplay that felt right on the Xbox's mammoth pad, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that consoles could do FPS games. It paved the way (for better of ill) for the current market of dominating shooters and FPS hybrid titles. The ripples from Halo's success are still felt today.
On a personal note, Halo 1 was by far my favourite of the series. While 2 disappointed and I fell out of the franchise until Reach (which was very good), number one grabbed me by the nutsack of the imagination from the very first time I played it and did not let go for a single year. I had a nightly routine of watching DS9 reruns and playing Halo at 2:00AM for months, a period of my life where I believe I attained spiritual bliss. That game was fucking amazing. I had just as much fun messing around with Warthog jumps and creative suicides as I did blasting my way through the campaign on every difficulty setting.
But alas, even with all the extra syrupy love I feel for the original, I can't muster up any excitement for this remake. We've seen an HD graphical upgrade for Halo, it was called Halo 3. We've seen throwback multiplayer maps and homages to the original set in every game since, and we have custom maps for the ones not officially included. We have Reach style multiplayer in, well, Reach! I will admit, playing the classic campaign with a few buddies might be cool, but I don't know if its cool enough to spend $40 on yet another Halo game.
And as I look at all this Halo: Anniversary news, I can't help but feel sorry for all the stragglers. All those poor emaciated games shivering in the corner begging for a remake or a reboot. Watching Johnny "star quarterback" Halo flocked with another accolade while they waste anyway, forgotten and abused.
A remake for Halo: Combat Evolved might have been a wish for Halo fans, but I have a wish list of my own. A sullen group of beautiful losers that I believe for one reason or another deserve another shot at the popular audience. Most of these either never made the pavement shattering impact they should have or were one-time hot properties that have since fallen into hard times, not unlike the actress who goes back to cable soft-core after her second big movie flops and she can't find work.
Now I'm a nostalgic guy, fact is there are a lot of oldschool 8 and 16-bit era games I would love to see remade with HD sprites. But to keep this wish list focused and relevant, I'm basing my desire for remakes and reboots on some rough criteria.
1. Games that were screwed over or not given a fair chance in one way or another. -
Like the horse surreptitiously doped full of morphine before the starting-gun, these guys tripped right out of the gate and never got a fair race. Executive meddling, the money fell out, crippling bugs ruining an otherwise intriguing idea, that sort of thing.
2. New technology or gameplay innovations that have been made since the original that could be used to enhance the game in some way.
Obviously every old game could benefit from a graphical bump, but lets not forget all the other innovations that have been made in the past years. Motion control, the blending and fusion of genres, added control complexity, drop-in/out online multiplayer, ect.
3. Historical worth.
Now this is a tricky one. I think of games that were important in someway. Maybe the game was the progenitor of a new genre, the first innovator that would become the formula to those that follow. Games that are especially nostalgic or harken back to a type of gameplay we don't see anymore. Classic games coming up on an anniversary or milestone. Think of the Street Fighter Turbo HD Remix.
Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines
The poster child of the brilliant but screwed, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines is a game you can't mention without hearing the moans and lamentations of "what could have been."
Set in White Wolf's grim World of Darkness setting, Bloodlines plunges players like a stake into the heart of a vampire conspiracy. Turned into a vampire ("embraced" by the game's rich world building parlance) without the consent of the ruling kindred powers, your vampiric sire is killed before you even have a chance to realize there are two fang sized holes in your neck. Spared the same fate solely on the basis of political posturing, you are left to fend for yourself as the lowest of the low in vampire society, subject to the errands and whims of your betters (who include just about everyone).
Played like a pawn in a great and subtle political game you don't have a hope of understanding, you try to eek out the best unlife you can by selecting your friends and enemies carefully and playing them off each other in a time of multiple crisis.
A new Prince tries to assert his dominance over an increasingly resentful community, a terrible kindred artifact has been uncovered sending even the elders into a panic, monsters from the far-east threaten to invade, and the werewolves howl through the night. Oh, and did I mention it may just be the end of the world? Tensions are running high.
Fortunately, you have a few tools at your disposal to aid you. Along with the typical vampire package of super strength, resilience, and a poor ability to tan, each clan of vampire (determined by your choice in the character builder) has a unique set of talents and skills to draw from. Tough Bruja's can tap into super-speed to rushdown prey, Tremere can craft a vile sort of blood-magic, Nosferatu can slink into the darkness, while the upper crust Venture can use their powers of hypnosis and persuasion to make friends and influence victims.
Many of these abilities can be used outside of combat to great effect. Talking, manipulating, and side-stepping your way around conflict is often just as effective if not preferable to diving in fangs first.
You also keep and expand your human talents such as your gift of gab, hacking ability, and business savvy, all of which you will need if you are going to maintain your charade of humanity in front of public eye and survive the harsh and unfair kindred night life.
Your clan affiliation has long reaching effects into the game beyond your suite of powers. The vampire world is one rife with class disparity, bigotry, and truly unfair fates. While moneyed and powerful clans enjoy a rich network or resources and control, the more rough around the edges clans are lumped into the slums of the city and marginalized. Nosferatu vampires are horribly disfigured by their curse and for them even being seen by a normal human is a breech of vampire law, forcing them to crawl the sewers and stay in the shadows. And of course the poor maligned Malkavians carry the burden of madness in their veins. Playing as a Malk radically changes all dialogue options as everything you say and hear is filtered through a screen of instability and sideways thinking. Malks are privy to whispered secrets of terrible things and have an uncanny insight. They also have arguments with stop signs.
What this means for the gamer is a rich world that you can explore again and again having radically different experiences each time. From the clan you choose, the allies you cultivate, the paths you take, and topped off by a 4-way ending, there is so much richness and depth to this game its almost unbelievable.
Which makes it such a shame that all that brilliance is hidden at the bottom of an almost unplayable game.
The swan song of Troika Games, development for Bloodlines was a struggling mess. An overly ambitious vision ran headlong into the difficulties of a rushed development schedule, technical set-backs, a team too small to handle the workload, and a battery of rewrites and redesigns. What results is a game with incredible guts, but zero polish.
Working with a very early build of Valve's Source engine, the dev team was forced to make due with some limited tools. Basic things like enemy AI were not fully implemented yet, leaving the team to try their own hand at patch-work solutions and work-arounds. Needless to say, these attempts lacked the poise and craftsmanship Valve would show with Half-Life 2. Releasing on the same day, not only did the titanic HL2 walk all over the obscure single player RPG sales-wise, it also drew the disparity of technical polish into sharp relief.
Whacky targeting controls, dog shit stupid enemies, and repetitive character models are just the tip of the iceberg. That kind of thing can be overlooked if the rest of the game is good enough. However, scripting errors rewriting your choices and changing the narrative (sometimes irreparably) half way through a game, levelling glitches eating XP points, and constant crashes are a different story.
Despite these horrendous flaws the game managed to do fairly well on review scores, and while initial sales were pathetically low, the game began to accrue a cult status it enjoys to this day.
Troika had no money left for the invasive surgery that would be necessary to patch the game up to speed. Laying off the majority of the company, several employees worked for free to issue a final patch to fix some of the most crippling of errors. Such was the affection for this game that fan communities have since taken up the torch and a widely known "fan-patch" has managed to not only smooth some of the rougher corners off the game, but restore some of the dummied out content that was cut in the last phases of the games frantic development.
If you ask me, that kind of commitment is proof that there was something special about this game. Buggy games are released all the time, you don't see laid off workers coding for free and dedicated fans coming together to fix them up. I think Bloodlines deserves another shot.
I would gladly shell out $60 for a remake of Bloodlines. I am no developer, I don't know how difficult these things are, but it seems to me that it wouldn't be impossible to rework a game made with a beta of the Source engine with the tools and refinements they have for Source now. Imagine a Bloodlines that looked and ran as well as Left 4 Dead 2. Overhaul the graphics, add more character models, redesign some of the less than special effects, the whole package. Take the time to add the polish and finesse that the original so sorely lacked.
Along with cleaning up graphics and the technical side of things, there are quite a few gameplay elements that could use some refinement. Rebalance some of the skills and make them more useful (haggle in particular). Redesign the way the engine handles melee and guns, find a way to make both options feel natural. Take a mulligan on the games third act which most players agree turns into a train wreck, whip-lashing from the smart choice based gameplay previously enjoyed into a difficult dungeon crawl (that may be near-impossible for some characters). Find a more elegant solution for the loathed sewer level, add more options to the late game content for characters that are less-combat focused.
I long for a day when some developer will take up Troika's fallen torch and give this beauty of a game the treatment it deserves.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Oh my, what can be said about the better-half of the Metroidvainia genre? A brilliant masterpiece of design that sparked the birth of an entire genre and featured some of the best/worst voice over work to ever grace a console.
True, there have been countless sequels to this game, mostly incremental advancements following the same formula with a different pretty boy protagonist fighting in a different castle. I'll admit it seems a little hypocritical to call Halo: Anniversary out on this and then clamour for a re-make of a game that has essentially enjoyed a bunch of remakes. However, a few things set SONT apart that I think justifies its own HD Remake.
As mentioned, SOTN really cemented the Meroidvainia design of the 2D exploration adventure game. Taking the best parts of Metroid's labyrinth architecture and item gated progress and melding it with the best of Castlevania's platforming and boss battles. It was one of the most compelling games released on the PlayStation despite that even then it was considered anachronistic. That was over a decade ago, yet the success of its sequels, Metroid's continued popularity, and fellow travelers like Shadow Complex, have all proven the genres classic appeal. On top of that longevity, SOTN is still held as the best of its type, I think that should be celebrated.
The classic SOTN style sequels have been the domain of handhelds. An injustice of the highest order, forcing the artists to work with a mere pittance of sprite pumping power. I never understood how the deep and dangerous dungeon exploration of those games fit with playing for fifteen minutes on the bus or on a lunch break. Maybe its just me, but for portables I want games like Tetris and SF, games you turn off without a second thought or play by the round. Quick light snack gaming. I only ever played the GBA Castlevania games on my couch; straining my eyes like Mister fucking Magoo peering into a matchbox sized screen while my 30 inch television is mere feet away. Laughing at me.
Meanwhile the consoles have been "graced" with various attempts at 3D Castlevainia games that have ranged from the utterly horrid to the "so-average-its-mediocre". True we had the XBLA game Harmony of Despair, but it wasn't a true HD upgrade and its whacky gameplay was unlike any of the other Castlevania games. The Four-Swords to their Zelda. I want the real Castlevainia experience at home. Powered by today's excessively over-muscled hardware. Oh yes, I want to use all the power of the 360 and PS3 to kick out 2D sprites. The best looking sprites you have ever seen.
In my perfect world we would see a remake with 100% new assets. I don't want to see a filter on the old pixels, I don't want smoothing or a new polygons on a 2D plane job, I want to see Alucard do battle with luscious hand-drawn HD sprites. I want to hear a full suite of remastered music featuring those classic gothic tunes we remember as well as fresh rearrangements, options to play the original or the new, and even some of the power metal remixes done by folks like the Minibosses and Powergoat. And to top it off, an expansion on the inverted castle area.
For the uninitiated, SOTN featured an amazing bonus area for those who strove for the best ending. Just when you think you're done, the dark forces at work in Castle Dracula create a mirror of the keep on-top of the original, forcing Alucard to make his way through the entire game again, this time upside down and filled with new monsters and obstacles. It was a masterstroke of level design and bonus content, but in truth a player could whip right through it with all the mobility powers you have by that point in the game and the enemies were weirdly unbalanced, some being boss encounters in their own right while others were pitiful chaff. I would love to see the inverted castle hammered out to a full third act instead of a short but cool bonus area. Complete with more elaborate traps and boss encounters, and maybe even a new ability or two. A tall order, but I did preface this with "in my dream world."
I'm sure lots of Dtoiders remember this SNES launch game. Act Raiser was a strange nut, two parts platforming action and one part Sim City, the game combined action and world-building in separate phases that had an effect on each other. Throwing the player into the role of a deity, it was up to you to make sure that the peasants of your world had half a chance to grow fat and die of old age. This meant that laying down plans for a wheat field was just as important as slaying the local Manticore terrorizing the coast. Good civic planning and a strong moral upbringing meant more worshippers, and more worshippers meant more health and power in the action sequence. The higher the score achieved in the platforming and slashing Acts, the more resources you got to play God-Mayor. Pretty sweet feedback loop.
On top of the interesting premise the game had solid platforming chops and an amazing musical score that was frankly ahead of its time. It got a sequel that I never had a chance to play and I understand is in every way inferior to the original. Abysmal controls, terrifying difficulty, and worst of all it stripped out the simulation phases, robbing the game of what made it so unique. The sequel was so bad it effectively killed the franchise, a real pity. The original Act Raiser got a straight port to the Wii on the virtual console a few years back indicating that at least some people remember it.
As opposed to a straight remake, I want to see a Wii U update to this game. A successor to the original updated and manicured for today's audience. A 3D action-adventure game in the vein of God of War that slams both the action and simulation elements of the original together.
I envision a game where the player takes command of a heavily armed avatar of justice on the TV screen while the Wii U's controller screen is used as a window for your godlike omnipresence. Providing a birds eye view of the action, you could use the touch screen to call down lighting to your location, encourage the growth of trees and vines to make a bridge for your battling avatar, or punch holes in clouds of darkness to let protective rays bathe your warrior, all that good God-power stuff. When not immediately assisting your character, the simulation view could be used to check in on the local population and manage the business of world building without stopping the action on screen. There are all kinds of options there.
It would run the risk of over-stimulation, too much juggling the action spread out over two screens, but I think a careful development team could pull it off. Obviously the action couldn't be as frantic as GoW's or DmC's if you had to keep track of the hand screen, but not every action game has to be as murderously difficult as those examples.
I think it would be a good display of the flexibility and usefulness of the new controller. Show that it isn't just for menus and minigame fluff, that the touch screen can be integrated into a more "hardcore" game experience. It also lets Nintendo tap into that nostalgic well they love so much, but without using one of their first-party licences. It could be used as a subtle sign that Nintendo is reaching back to the SNES hey-day, when third-party support was strong and just as capable of releasing classic gems as Nintendo themselves.
The most recent game on my wish-list. Alpha Protocol got a bad turn. Billed as a triple A action espionage adventure with branching plot elements and a deep dialogue system; a sort of "Mass Effect meets James Bond". Players were going to be put in the shoes of a hard-boiled secret agent named Michael Thorton as he kicked ass, played the ladies, and slithered his way through a globe spanning conspiracy. Sadly, the result was less a glorious Goldeneye and more an embarrassing Moonraker, and Thorton turned out to be an Octopussy.
Blatant show stopping bugs that could ruin entire playthroughs, controls with less finesse than the Wright brothers aeroplane, and depressingly uninspired action and level design all conspired together in a wicked plot to toss the game directly into the bargain bin. If internet scuttle-butt is to be believed, this was largely due to classic executive meddling.
A "tired dev" posting behind the shield of internet anonymity complained of a prima donna lead designer deaf to criticism and advice, a busybody Sega bureaucracy constantly interrupting development with notes and new bullet points to hit without ever finishing up the last batch of ideas, and a dev team who burned out on the project almost immediately but were forced to trudge through it for years of redesigns.
After the absolutely savage reviews the game (deservedly) gathered, most players could hardly be bothered to give it a chance. Its a shame, because if you are able to wade through the sea of bugs, sloppy control, randomly spraying weapons, and poor voice acting, there are some surprisingly sharp gameplay elements to be found.
Despite its designed by committee bullet-point nature, the best part of the game really was the plethora of choices available to the player. The game had an experience point system that let you buy skills and upgrades to build your character in a myriad of different ways. You could go down the typical "run and gun" or "sneaky assassin" type trees, but there were also some really interesting technological and equipment based options.
Your homebase inventory screen provided some of the most interesting content and choices. From your black market and agency connections it was possible to purchase or trade favours for intelligence and aid to assist you in the field. Maps of the enemy stronghold, troop movements, paying a crooked guard to leave a door unlocked or a concealed rifle in the rafters, or just bio info on some of the most elusive criminals on the planet. Valuable commodities, but where is your money going? I had a lot of fun with these options, often spending more on planning the perfect infiltration than I did on my gear.
Dialogue was handled similar to Mass Effect, but with a few key differences. Instead of just the typical aggressive/neutral/positive options, AP threw in deceptive, snarky, and skill based responses. Not only that, but the game put you in the hot-seat, giving the player only a few seconds to choose a response instead of lingering on the options all day. It was a joy to actively lie to my asshat of a commanding officer about the location of some stolen weapons that I decided I would rather keep for myself than turn in like a good boyscout. Fuck the man.
Which brings me to another thing I liked about the game. Similar to Mass Effect and Dragon Age, you could foster individual relationships with your various handlers and contacts. Some of them preferred an efficient no-nonsense professional rapport, others respected assertiveness both in conversation and in the field, and still others were searching for a friend. Again though, as a manipulative spy it was up to you if you wanted to be genuine with these people or play them like a fiddle. Pile all this onto a plot that, if you so desired, could include some of the most convoluted and magnificent double-triple-quadruple-back stabbing to be found this side of Metal Gear. Except instead of passively sitting through a cut scene where a cowboy geezer explains why he is so much more clever than you, its YOU who are playing puppeteer to the hopelessly misinformed intelligence agencies and tragically trusting "friends".
Obviously I don't want a direct remake of Alpha Protocol, its too recent. I wouldn't even hold my breath for a direct sequel -that well has been poisoned, nobody is going to drink from it again.
However, I would love to see a spiritual successor to it. A game that could take the best parts of its multi-branching conspiracy heavy plot-line, quick-thinking dialogue choices, sneaky spy options, and character building elements, and incorporate them into a game that actually fucking works. You know, one that isn't a chore to play. I want to see a really good spy game, one that pays as much attention to the way you talk to people and control information as it does spraying random mooks with automatic gunfire because that was the most compelling part of the game.
We need a spy game that puts the intelligence back into intelligence work. One that rewards doing your espionage homework and developing a network of contacts and resources. Get a dream team of Deus Ex, L.A Noire, and Mass Effect devs together, and let them make a game that features all the complex multi-pathing, dialogue options, character development, and action of those games -and keep Sega management the hell away from it.
Dungeons and Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara
If I had written this before E3 I would have added Dungeons and Dragons: Shadows Over Mystara to the list. It was an incredible arcade beat-em-up based on the D&D world that featured light RPG elements, branching paths, hidden items, and unique skills, all discovered one quarter at a time. But it looks like Dragon Crown has rendered that unnecessary!
My wish has been granted. Listen closely, you can hear an angel receiving his wings.
Not much is known about the game so far other than it seems to feature very similar gameplay and GORGEOUS art. Alright, so maybe the tits are a bit overdone but hey, they call it fantasy for a reason right? All I know is that in the less than two minute trailer reveal I saw a Drawf pec-dive his burly chest into a caterpillar squid monster. Fucking sold.