I'm an old school gamer, but I like to think I have an open mind. I like it when series reinvent themselves and I rarely object when a developer attempts a new aesthetic or visual style. I was there to applaud Konami's Guillermo del Toro-inspired Castlevania reboot, Lords of Shadow, and was happy to see Silent Hill attempt something new in Shattered Memories.
In this day and age, publishers are always going to drag out established franchises, so I'd much rather see them stitching new dresses for them to wear instead of beating a dead horse. I don't think I'd want to see anyone beat a dead horse, now that I think about it.
Consumers-at-large aren't so different then me: They demand something new out of their favorite franchises. The key difference is that they demand something new that has been done to death by others. Publishers are in no place to argue against consumer demands, so they bowed down and homogenized their once unique franchises.
This is an alarming trend I saw at this year's E3. Here's three examples of great franchises dumbed-down and removed from their defining elements.
Boobs do not define this franchise. At least, not for me. I felt insulted after I read previews from this and last year's E3, stating Lara Croft is more vulnerable because she constantly cries out in pain -- never mind that she can get SHOT IN THE HEAD WITH A SHOTGUN AND KEEP WALKING -- and is more human because her boobs aren't perfectly round balls made of gelatin anymore. They're more like American Apparel boobs now.
Crystal Dynamics can morph Lara's boobs and make her moan all they want, as far as I care, because that's not why I ever played Tomb Raider. The appeal of Tomb Raider has always been the element of exploration. Only Super Metroid and BioShock come close to the loneliness and awe that Tomb Raider's large environments can convey. Even better is that every room is a platforming puzzle that must be solved. You look on to the other side of a chasm, wondering how you'll ever get there and slowly work your way one step at a time.
Though there have been some drops in quality after Tomb Raider 2, Crystal Dynamics got things back on track with the excellent current-gen releases. Yet, the internet complained. They said that Lara's quaint puzzle-solving and platforming is outdated and can't compare to the high-end thrills of Uncharted. On the surface, the games are similar enough: you climb cliffs, explore tombs, adventure, and shoot at things.
So, Crystal Dynamics made a game in response to this. I thought this may be true at last year's E3, but these grievances were finally confirmed this year. Lara is now in a cover based shooter, running-and-gunning her way through thugs, shotgun in hand. Even worse, we now have QTEs and over-the-top cinematics that will greet us at every turn. Crystal Dynamics have taken her out of the tomb and placed her right beside Drake in the jungle. The series I once loved has been killed and now we have female Uncharted in its place.
Good going, internet! I won't even capitalize you anymore!
I loved stopping, aiming my laser sight, and taking shots at zombies in Resident Evil 5. Yet, by the time the game came out, the world had already moved on to Gears of War and Uncharted. While I love those games, there is nothing quite like the pacing of RE4 and RE5's combat and the feeling of a well placed head shot. Yet, forum boards and critics alike rejected the notion of standing still to aim. Never mind that it's far more realistic and fun, especially when implemented against slow-moving zombies.
So, here we are at RE6, where characters now slide on the ground, throw grenades like crazy, and fire machine guns while moving toward fast-moving, armed zombies. The unique pace and feel of Resident Evil 4 & 5 has been thrown out alongside any remnants of survival horror the series had upon their release. Now, we have Gears without cover or Dead Space 3 without the interesting weapons and abilities.
So, now you can move and shoot at the same time. HAPPY!?! This is the new Resident Evil, yet it feels very old and familiar in 2012.
Doom 3 was the sequel everyone always wanted and the reboot no one wanted. The fast-paced action had been morphed into a survival-horror game. Ironically the opposite of what happens these days. The languid pacing, narrow corridors were unnerving, but it was something else that got under the community's skin.
The flashlight. "Why can't I use the flashlight and guns at the same time, in this futuristic setting? For crying out loud, anyone can achieve this with duct tape!" Or, with a player-made mod released a week or so after Doom 3 hit PCs. Yet, this mod undermined what made Doom 3: The constant vulnerability that comes from balancing not being able to see what is in front of you versus not being able to combat what you can see. The game's most memorable moments took place in its darkest rooms. Once you illuminate them with a shotgun's flashlight, you miss out on a key part of the game.
id Software heard the cries and they are here to address the complaints ... eight years later. The tweaked and updated Doom 3 release, BFG, is addressing this non-issue, despite the game being designed around it.
The Penny Arcade Report says it best:
The flashlight is mounted to your body armor in Doom 3: BFG, so you can finally use it while a gun is in your hands, although the battery life is limited. My thought on the matter? id sold out.
Out with the old, in with the new-old
I repeat: I'm not against franchises being re-imagined for a new audience and generation. But, what happens when that audience and generation just wants every title to be like the ones they already know and enjoy?
Publishers keep making old franchises resemble popular franchises, that were novel five years ago, all while not contributing any new experiences or properties. Dishonored and Watch_Dogs stood out at E3 because of this -- okay, and being awesome.
As I walked the E3 floor, I became increasingly alarmed by how homogenized games are becoming. The upcoming Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid, and Hitman games are taking great strides away from stealth, in order to service an audience hungry for more fast-paced action. Franchises only have a couple things that define them and they are not defined by their characters or setting as much as play. This isn't the way publishers would have it, though.
As excited as I am for Metal Gear Rising, I worry about what sort of standard it is setting for other stealth franchises and whether its success means we'll never see a true Metal Gear Solid ever again. Give me a teen-rated "Kid Snake", a cel-shaded MGS, or set the game in the 18th century. But, don't strip a game away from its defining mechanics and ideas, even if the angry, vocal mob of the internet is begging you to conform. Because, the internet too may mourn the loss of a great franchise someday and having that franchise's ghost linger only makes it harder to bare.
Lara, Leon, and Doom guy: We lost you all too soon.