There are legions of marketing people out there who go to work every day with the goal of finding new ways to separate you from your money. Their job is to tell you that a game is going to be awesome and that you should not only buy it, but you should pre-order the collector’s edition.
And yet for some reason people often take offense when I tell them that the one game they’re looking forward to is going to be terrible. I don’t know why this is. Whatever my faults are as a professional doomsayer, at least I’m not the one asking you for sixty American dollars. (Or if you’re Australian, double that, and you have to wait six months.)
So now the marketing folks have had their E3 sideshow. It’s been a week of booze and loud music and screenshots and trailers and circus performers. But now it’s time to sober up and take a good hard look at the hype before we run off to launch fan sites and start pre-ordering things we’ll be ashamed of later. Brace yourself, because I’m going to say mean things about stuff you might have been planning to buy.
It’s for your own good.
A lot of people are praising this game for the stylized 50’s setting. But I want to note that the original was neither retro-50’s or done in that art style. It was near future, and anime styled. It had nothing to do with the FBI and your team wasn’t (necessarily) American. You didn’t even have an in-game avatar. The aliens weren’t oil blobs and the weapons weren’t retro zap guns.
There is nothing of the original series in the new XCOM game. Not one shred of style, art direction, gameplay, or premise has survived beyond “aliens invade, do something about it”. This isn’t “updating” the gameplay any more than making an Animal Crossing clone would be making an update of the Halo gameplay. If it’s to be an update, there has to be something of the original left.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the game has to suck. It might still be fun. But you should be extremely suspicious whenever anyone hollows out an IP and stuffs something completely different into the old name. This is a game begun by marketing, not by a team of die-hard X-com fans who want to bring an old favorite to a new generation. If they couldn’t even be bothered to borrow the broadest conventions of the series or familiarize themselves with the setting, then you should not count on this team for attention to detail.
I predict the gameplay will be repetitive and the strategy will have roughly the same depth as the fiver they expect you to put down for pre-order.
The Old Republic
This is the second year in a row where BioWare has just shown up with a non-gameplay cinematic trailer. Thanks for that BioWare, but we were already sold on the idea of “lightsaber fights are awesome”. If this was just another MMOG it wouldn’t be a very big deal to just show us cinematics, but the developers are making all kinds of claims about this game. It’s going to be story driven? Your character will be voiced? All classes can switch at will to different roles within a group instead of being locked in as a “healer” or “tank”? And each player character gets their own gaggle of followers? These all sound like great ideas that we’ve never seen before. (In an MMORPG.)
So far I’ve seen one screenshot. No gameplay. Apparently the press got to see a bit more in the look-but-don’t-touch demonstration, but those of us who didn’t go to E3 didn’t get to see any of it. All we have is a second-hand description of a gameplay demonstration under controlled circumstances at a closed press event. How many Bothans do we need to kill to get a look at this game?
The mounting promises of innovation coupled with the lack of any sort of demonstration is making my cynicism gland swell up. It could be great, sure. But I’d advise against getting your hopes up until we see some evidence. (If you manage to do this, please tell me how. The idea of multiplayer KOTOR is making me crazy.)
Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood
Ubi Marketbot: You know, people really, really hated our DRM system that made them log in and play their single-player game online.
Ubi Exec: Oh? Maybe they were pirates.
Ubi Marketbot: No, I mean people who bought the game. They don’t want to go online for single-player. Maybe we should change that?
Ubi Exec: Good idea. Make the whole game multiplayer.
While the Wii has failed to wow hardcore gamers, it’s managed to thrill a lot of new gamers. It’s a solid idea and it bears some iteration to see what else motion controls can give us. This seems to be what Microsoft is thinking with the Kinect gizmo. (Well, they’re actually thinking they want a cut of those sweet Wii sales, but the result is the same.)
But you don’t have to look that far to see the fatal flaw with Kinect. It will be right on the box: One hundred and fifty US dollars. Their marketing campaign keeps trying to tell you that you are the controller, but let’s be adults here. The controller is the piece of hardware that will now sit on top of your Xbox, which is probably on top of a bunch of other stuff, which might be on top of your TV. (I’ve got three consoles in my setup here, and the last thing I want to add is another doohickey that can’t be stacked with other stuff.) It’s true that the controller is one of the key selling points of the Wii, but the other selling point is its low price tag. $150 for a controller is ludicrous considering the market they’re courting, and Kinect is going to be a joke unless they can fix that. For $50 more you could just buy a Wii, and the Wii comes with some free games. Unlike Kinect.
Also, everyone has noticed that Wiimote stick-waggling is sort of the catch-all generic action for lots of Wii games. Judging from the Kinect previews, hopping will be the new stick-waggling.
After several years self-defensive posturing from PS3 fans about how hardcore and powerful their system is, we’ve got Sackboy, ModNation Racers, Joe Danger, and a Wiimote with a ping-pong ball on the end. After defending their platform as the choice for real men, Sony has showed up to the party dressed in drag.
Like Kinect, the trailers seem short on actual demonstrations of the product in action and long on absurd fantastic scenes of what it will feel like to use the thing.
And like the Kinect, they have bowling.
Motion Controls in General
I know that lots of people like to dismiss the Wii motion controls as a “dumb gimmick”, but our entire hobby was built one dumb gimmick at a time. Twenty years ago we didn’t have force feedback, pressure-sensitive buttons, or thumbsticks. Some new ideas change the way we play games, and some new ideas are the Nintendo Powerglove. You can’t try new things without making mistakes. Expensive, hilarious, humiliating mistakes. But both Sony and Microsoft are looking less like they’re innovating and more like they’re jumping on Nintendo’s bandwagon. Four years late.
We can only hope these two aren’t planning on repeating Nintendo’s mistake of shoehorning their motion controls into games where they don’t belong and turning out a heap of shovelware. I’m all for innovation, but part of innovation is learning from the mistakes of the past.
Shamus Young is the guy behind Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, and Stolen Pixels, Shamus Plays, and Spoiler Warning. He’s really busy.