As the current console generation goes on longer than any before it, some of our favorite franchises are starting to feel a bit tired. Others were tired long ago. Both need a rest. What’s worse is that many of these franchises are some of my all-time favorites, making it especially painful to admit.
A few obvious titles are missing: Call of Duty, Final Fantasy, Halo. This isn’t to avoid fan ire, or because I like or don’t like those games. As noted, those titles are obvious. Any similar lists that pop up will inevitably feature a couple of those, and this is about picking on a few that maybe aren’t quite as obviously worn out.
The main problem with our friends the Assassins is one of ubiquity. As Ubisoft’s flagship franchise, the Assassin’s Creed games have become something of a yearly franchise with six studios developing the latest title, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Assassins are supposed to be subtle, popping out of the shadows and disappearing just as fast, leaving a lasting impression; this assassin just sort of hangs out on the corner, introducing himself to everyone.
Assassin’s Creed 2 was, in all respects, a great game and one of the truly memorable from this console cycle. Brotherhood was more of the same, and Revelations was even more of the same. By the time Revelations came around, groans were going around both the journosphere and among friends. From moment to moment, Revelations is an improvement over Brotherhood, but we’ve all overdosed. Assassin’s Creed 3 could be the key to revival with a new character and new setting, but it’s still that hooded man leaping around and unraveling conspiracies.
I hope it’s the answer to the same-y boredom of the last couple AC titles, but maybe the assassin needs to throw down a smokebomb and make himself scarce.
Dead Space has, for me, been a symbol of EA over the years. First it was a sign of new things ahead when John Riccitiello stepped up as CEO and turned the company’s focus to new IPs; new ideas, thoughtful design, and mostly importantly fun gameplay. Dead Space 2 seemed to signal that things were going well. It wasn’t that different, but it still retained the high bar set by the first game. It expanded on the lore, artwork, and mechanics.
Dead Space 3 shows signs of struggle. Where Dead Space felt like a breath of fresh air, it’s easy to see outside influence creeping into the third entry in the series. What was once a lonely, gory exercise in tension now seems to be a buddy-cop action game. Ammunition is universal and common. Heck, even the cover art (pictured) looks more like a Modern Warfare game than it does horror.
Even if I never found Dead Space terribly frightening, it was the king of atmosphere right from the start. Where the first Dead Space looked like Aliens, Dead Space 3 looks more like Bad Boys III: The Great White North; it might be better of Isaac Clarke turns in his metaphorical badge for a while, if that’s the case.
Some long-running franchises find their best years later on; Silent Hill has going, well, downhill for a long time. Silent Hill 2 is truly my favorite game. An incredible combination of carefully chosen aesthetics–graphics that still hold up pretty well despite their age, a soundtrack that can stand on its own as good music–and a well-crafted story of psychological horror made for the perfect recipe of what a Silent Hill game could be that the first iteration only hinted at. Even the third game was quite good as a follow-up without reaching quite as high.
Then came Silent Hill 4–it was never meant to be a Silent Hill game and didn’t even take place in-town. Origins and Homecoming followed after, both of which emphasized combat over horror (despite some great visual pieces in Homecoming). Silent Hill: Shattered Memories on the Nintendo Wii approached the former greatness with a painfully sad story about a young woman who misses the father she lost as a girl. Downpour, the latest, was again a mixed bag in mostly wrong ways.
Silent Hill was a strong influence during some of my most formative years as a gamer, and I’ll never forget it. But the town needs to lay dormant for a long enough for people to forget it’s there. When the time is right, it’ll swallow up some pour soul again; for now, though, Konami needs to stop passing it around and let it dream some evil dreams for us.
Bioware’s current stable of RPGs: Mass Effect and Dragon Age
Games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age: Origins left an indelible mark on gaming. Bioware brought the idea of player morality and choice to games before almost anyone else. They might not have been first, but they did it more compellingly and more memorably than anyone else.
The last few releases from Bioware, though, show a worrying trend. More and more, Bioware games are shrinking in scope and providing players with less interesting choice. I’m not just talking about the ending that garnered so much outrage, either. Dragon Age 2 felt more like an expansion pack than a full game. Origins had you exploring a nation; the sequel took place in a city with many dungeons being reused multiple times.
While Mass Effect 3 had a few interesting choices (and really was a great game), it felt like it was lacking the scope of the previous titles both in terms of sheer exploration and choices made.
Bioware changed gaming with complex writing and choices layered over fun games, but things are getting a little stale. I want to see Bioware take a step back and see what else they can add.
Yakuza / Ryu ga Gotoku
The big kids remember when Sega was going toe-to-toe with Nintendo. Nowadays, they’re really only known for terrible Sonic games and the Yakuza series. Mechanically, Yakuza is essentially an action RPG, but a mature crime story and modern setting gave it a fresh coat of paint, bringing in massive success in Japan and modest sales even in America.
As a hardcore geek for information about real yakuza, the series has had me easily since the beginning. There’s something about ugly dudes rolling their R’s and shooting each other that I just can’t tear my eyes away from.
Thing is, I’m starting to wonder if the series isn’t a bit tired. December 2012 will see the 7th Yakuza title released to the Japanese market in just as many years and the sixth released state-side, assuming Sega does so.
Things are getting stale and silly. Apparently Yakuza protagonist Kazuma Kiryu is driving a taxi now. Most of the other characters are off somewhere else for whatever convenient reason. The last couple plots have involved an FBI conspiracy, a pile of money the size of a moving van, and lots of very artificial posturing.
I don’t expect my games to all be super realistic, this particular series has kept its feet on the ground pretty well (except during jump kicks, of course), and that’s the route for breathing new life into the series. The developers could go one of two directions. The first is to take the series backward to the 1960s when yakuza really were still acting like noble outlaws. The other option is to treat the characters like modern yakuza: ruthlessly clever and unrelentingly cruel (as depicted in Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage.
If the games are going to keep going down the ‘80s-Action-Movie route then it is, once again, time for a break.
No, I’m kidding. Please make another Half-Life game.