The turn of a generation always brings new IPs to gamers everywhere. This generation saw the likes of Uncharted and Gears of War championed as their respective console exclusives, with third party offerings such as Assassin’s Creed and the Batman: Arkham series firmly in the hearts and minds of gamers everywhere, and I need not mention the juggernaut that is Call of Duty. More and more, though, I’m wondering why I’m getting excited about announcements of “yet another sequel” in a lot of franchises, and it seems I’m not alone.
So far this year, there have been a number of game announcements and high profile releases. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Batman: Arkham Origins stand out as the big reveals, and the likes of Crysis 3, Gears of War: Judgment and God of War: Ascension have been touted as the “AAA games” that have been released thus far. The thing is, I know that I’m probably going to end up buying or playing all of them, but I’m just not excited enough any more. I’ll probably get the collectors’ edition of Assassin’s Creed IV to go alongside the others from the series, but ultimately I know it’s going to be a “run, jump, stab, repeat til fade, then run round collecting things” affair. And that’s fine, that’s what Assassin’s Creed does, but is it worth the hype every single year? As for Call of Duty, I gave up with Black Ops 2. I gave it a rental, and that was enough for me. It’s the same “LT, RT, kill, die, swear, repeat” mechanic with new corners for folks to get the jump on me from. I want something fresh and new, but there seems to be a reliance on the same old names again and again.
The most frustrating thing is that I can totally see why it’s needed. Big publishers need a big franchise (or two) to satisfy their shareholders and to make as much money as possible. There was a time in the fairly recent past when EA (yes, the same company who’ve just been voted “the worst in America” by angry internet trolls) were the darlings of the industry. The money they were making from the likes of FIFA was being ploughed into other titles such as Mirror’s Edge and Brutal Legend. Whilst these never manifested into huge sellers, a large portion of the audience loved them. It was a company that was putting out something fresh and exciting, with bold visions. But not any more. Every game is expected to be a huge seller. Multiple studios work on annual installments of games that really don’t need it, and it’ll eventually lead to a burnout in the market. This generation we saw the incredibly rapid rise and equally quick decline of the “plastic instrument” genre that started towards the end of the PS2’s life. Why did this happen? Too many games in such a short space of time. We didn’t need “Rock Band: Those guys that murder classic rock tunes at your local on a Friday night”, but given enough time, we’d have probably got there. The market grew tired of it, and they very quickly became a waste of money to develop.
This increasing fatigue is one of the reasons I was pleasantly surprised by Tomb Raider this year. I’m beginning to loathe the word “reboot” in the entertainment industry. It just says to me “Hey guys, creativity’s gone down, here’s a shoddy version of the game/film you used to love”. Tomb Raider, however, did everything right. It took elements from the original games, and threw in a lot of touches from other adventure games (I’m looking at Uncharted mainly) to make it feel just new enough to warrant the release.
I mentioned Uncharted, which brings me onto the next point. This generation has gone on for much longer than previous ones, and it’s partly this reason that the “franchise fatigue” has set in as much as I feel it has. Games that were fresh and exciting at the start of the generation have now so many sequels that it’s scary. Gears of War has just had its fourth outing. The aforementioned Assassin’s Creed has had the sixth main console game announced (with a couple of handheld storyline fillers as well), and we already know that a seventh is in the works. Uncharted 3 was released just four years after the series’ debut. The Batman: Arkham series is in the same boat, with Origins being released later this year. It’s not exclusive to franchises started on the current consoles either. There have been 8 Call of Duty games released on the Xbox 360, and five Halo games (not including the Anniversary HD release of the first game). Whilst God of War has had a slightly longer release schedule (and only two ‘proper’ games on the PS3), the decision to confine itself to a very specific time period has enhanced the feeling that the franchise needs to take a break. Again, I’m not saying that these are bad games, merely that they’ve been released extremely close together.
Having said all that, I am excited about two console releases that have the number five in them. The first is Grand Theft Auto V, with its release in September, and the second being Metal Gear Solid V. It’s been five years since the release of the last iterations of these two franchises, and the time is right for new ones. GTA went through the “churning them out” phase towards the end of the PS2 era (3, Vice City and San Andreas were released in the space of 4 years), whereas MGS always had a fairly steady “3 years between sequels” during the same era. MGS4 took a little longer, and if you’re counting Peace Walker, that was a two year gap. What the Metal Gear franchise has done right is change things up with a side project. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has to be my favourite game of the year so far. It’s silly, it’s outrageous and it’s totally different to anything else in the franchise. It’s set in the same universe, but it’s gone in such a different direction that it was a joy to play through. I don’t think this would work for all franchises, but a distinct change in either gameplay or storytelling would work to satisfy the hardcore fans, and also bring in something new to keep folks who are getting tired with franchises interested as well.
It speaks volumes that my most anticipated game for this year is The Last Of Us. I’ve put a media ban on myself so that I can get the most out of it, and not have a single thing spoiled in the run up. I saw the initial trailer, the next one after that and then decided “Nope, no more. I’m in”. New IPs are exciting, and whilst pumping sequels out quickly is a good way for studios to earn money, ultimately it leads to a block in creativity. When was the last time a franchise truly innovated and revolutionised itself? Yearly refinements aren’t a reason to pick up the latest release on launch any more, especially as the majority of titles drop drastically in price after a few weeks. I wish publishers were able to greenlight more risky moves, like Spec Ops: The Line which, whilst not perfect, at least opened up some fantastic new methods in storytelling and voice acting. I’d much sooner take two or three experiments over another “squeeze both triggers to make things die” outing.