sunnuntai 3. kesäkuuta 2012

Sequels the world craves for

The Electronic Entertainment Expo starts on Monday. Ever since video game developers began pursuiting Hollywood flick-sort of epic promotion stunts to their already established franchises, sequels have ruled E3. Sure, a new brand of games from a well-known developer is always exciting, but no-one REALLY knows what it’s all about and whether it's any good or not before the final product hits the shelves. This year's E3 will be packed to the brim with huge, already announced sequels - and surely a few more will be announced at the event itself - and there are a lot of rumours based on nothing but thin air. The last week or so, I've been thinking a lot about sequels, and other games that would be the next logical steps from developers that have already closed the lids on their most known franchises. Let's start with an example from the latter category.

They kinda remade this...
Rocksteady Studios is rumoured to have been planning a game based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles media franchise. Well, I don't think there's anyone left to actually expect the arrival of an Arkham 3. I know, I know, Batman: Arkham City left a lot of questions unanswered, not even the recent Harley Quinn DLC helped us to understand the original ending any better, nor did it create any more true closure to the franchise. However, Arkham City featured an all-star cast and gallery of rogues who I think Batman settled the score with once and for all when it comes to his career in video games. No less than three major villains in the Batman franchise died in that game. I think Batman: Arkham City did everything and more than a whole franchise of Batman games could. IF Rocksteady could come up with a great idea for the rumoured Batman: Arkham World, I guess I'd be fine with the game coming out, I'm sure it would be a good one, but I simply can’t imagine they could create a stellar storyline or a truly fresh experience from what they have left.

...Maybe now they should kinda remake this?
So, back to the subject. Just imagine classic TMNT brought back by Rocksteady. When I first heard of the mere possibility of this, I think I really pissed (and shat) myself at the same time. Backed by Rocksteady’s fast built reputation as respectable comic book maniacs, I think this one game would be enough to make people forget all about the great big shitter TMNT has vigorously been flushed down for the last 20 years, since the cancellation of the first – that is, one and only! – cartoon. If Rocksteady ever goes ahead with this game, I firmly believe it’s going to be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game we’ve waited for since Turtles in Time. Can’t imagine what the game would be like, though. A simple beat ‘em up game in the spirit of the classic TMNT arcade games wouldn’t be a very viable choice these days, especially after Batman’s Arkham adventures revolutionized interactive hand-to-hand combat, but I can’t imagine a similar upgrade-and-fetch type of game set in the TMNT universe, either. Time will tell what kind of game it’ll be (if it’ll ever be), but in Rocksteady I trust.

Let’s move on to the most recent exploits of TMNT’s previous publisher – Konami. What the hell has happened to ‘em? Konami was, bar none, the best and most trustworthy third-party developer and publisher back in the 80’s and 90’s. Contra, Castlevania, Silent Hill, Metal Gear… you could even leave a licensed title in Konami’s hands and they would brew up something great, such as the early Tiny Toon Adventures games and the Nintendo versions of Batman Returns. After the release of their PlayStation 3-exclusive hallmark Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Konami’s had a serious stroke. First, Silent Hill truly went down the tube, then they made that horrible abomination known as NeverDead, and I’m hardly surprising anyone by saying my expectations for Metal Gear Solid Rising: Revengeance (what a mouthful) are in a dark space below zero.

I haven’t tried Silent Hill: Downpour yet, but what I’ve read about it does not convince. There hasn’t been a good Silent Hill game since Silent Hill 3, and even that game wasn’t exactly a masterpiece you just couldn’t refuse. After 11 years, Silent Hill 2 remains the best, most replayable and defining game in the franchise, standing clearly above the rest. It is pretty much the reason people are expecting a lot of every new Silent Hill game that comes along, even if nothing but disappointments, even embarrassments, have emerged from that camp in the last eight years. There is one Konami franchise besides classic Metal Gear that has stayed strong in these hard times that the 21st century has turned out, and produced us a bunch of good, even great games to gawk at, amidst some random forgettable ones, and that’s Castlevania.

Let it be re-stated that I wasn’t very thrilled about the well-promoted reboot of the franchise, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, initially when it came out in 2010. Even if the story was a very fresh and surprising take on the Castlevania mythos, the gameplay scheme hit me as an outrageous carbon copy of just about every great third-person action game there ever was. However, let it also be remembered that I had just borrowed the game from a friend, who was so enthusiastic about it that he wanted it back A.S.A.P. – so I was in a kind of hurry to finish it. I recently bought the game for the Xbox 360, and actually owning the game and seeing the story unfold for the second time opened my eyes. It still suffers from a lot of different problems, practically as well as aesthetically, and its unoriginality is transparent as hell, but it is a good game.

I'm not surprised. I'd be more surprised if someone actually
didn't know what this was supposed to be about.
Last Thursday, Konami revealed the long-lingering rumours to be true, and changed their enigmatic “The Dragon Returns 05/31/12” into the official website of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, giving us the first official trailer and a very vague plot synopsis, in consideration of those who haven’t finished the first game. There are some things I’d like to point out, in better and worse, and from the practical and aesthetic sides of things. First of all, there hasn’t been a numbered sequel in the series since Super Castlevania IV (remember that the “X” in Dracula X stands for absolutely nothing, as does the game itself), and never a game that shares the same basic title with a previous installment. The name of the game is very unappealing and boring, and I hope that Konami realizes this and changes it into something a bit smoother. When it comes to what the game looks like, I’d say I’m expecting a lot out of Gabe’s next adventure. Of course, he’s not quite himself anymore and I believe MercurySteam will reach whole new levels in copying God of War, in the sense that the protagonist of the game will most likely be more of an antagonist; in other words, I believe Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 will be another game without actual heroes. We’ll just have to wait and see what Alucard’s role in the game is; even if a part of me is tempted and teased by the thought of MercurySteam creating an unexpected link between the original continuity of the series and the continuity that began with the first Lords of Shadow game, the other part of me is wishing for them to stick with their own canon. The trailer looks good, I believe the game’s going to be a blast and I truly hope they could harvest the biggest peeves I had with the first one. I’m particularly intrigued of how they’re going to incorporate that “smoke dragon thingy” into the gameplay (watch the trailer and you’ll know, I’ve bluntly spoiled the plot enough in the past).

Yes, I see it. We all see it. Thank you.
As long as we’re talking about games that are mostly about slaying or blasting monsters from one oblivion to another, we are obligated to take a look at the latest thematic inputs by Capcom and Visceral Games, which will surely be some of this year’s E3 highlights. I’ve already placed a pre-order on Capcom’s entry, the seventh game in the main continuity of one of my favourite video game franchises of all time, which is naturally called Resident Evil6. It seems that fans and non-fans alike have rallied at the game’s logo since day one, and not really paid nearly as much attention to how damn good the game looks. I think Capcom’s going to have their hands full with promoting the practical qualities and dramatic progression of the game at the E3, to make people forget about the total irrelevance of what the logo looks like.

As far as I’m concerned, Resident Evil 6 has all the potential to be the video game of the year. I loved the first trailer, I loved the second one even more. After Resident Evil 5, I was convinced Capcom had done everything they possibly could, and even if they didn’t talk about it, I was pretty sure Resident Evil 5 was the end of the original continuity of the series. I was pretty sure that from there on out, the series would be all about utterly unremarkable or downright shitty spin-offs like Outbreak and Operation: Raccoon City. I was DAMN sure that Resident Evil 4 couldn't possibly be outdone, as even Resident Evil 5 didn’t quite make the cut. However, having an all-star cast like this, interesting plot twists like this even after Albert Wesker’s total and absolute death, and such seemingly explosive energy and intense action never seen before in this particular franchise will surely make this game a must-have for someone who’s been obsessed with the franchise from day one.

Isaac's back. And he's got a beard.
Dead Space 3 isn’t coming out this year, but it has been confirmed to be EA’s E3 hook of the year. We don’t know a whole lot about the game, but judging from the promotional material that has been released thus far, Isaac Clarke is returning for a third round against the necromorph menace. The first game, released in 2008, was a very refreshing, truly frightening, thrilling and intense survival horror experience, but not a perfect game. Dead Space 2, released in early 2011, was similarly an extremely heartfelt horror game, but any true attraction I had to the game ended after the first ten chapters out of 14 or 15. Everything that came after, in terms of both gameplay and storyline, was simply a frustrating end to a game that had serious potential of being THE survival horror game of all time. So, I don’t really have expectations when it comes to Dead Space 3, but I HOPE Visceral Games is able to write a good story along the same baseline, and come up with the perfect Dead Space gameplay experience. I’m surely going to play it, I wouldn’t be a good horror fan or much of a gamer if I opted not to.

Speaking of EA, it’s known that when it comes to games developed by BioWare, they’re currently focusing on expanding Mass Effect 3, BUT Dragon Age III has been confirmed to be in very early stages of development. As dedicated as I am when it comes to BioWare, this game can go both ways, up ‘til the point of eternity it’s finally released in; there’s simply no reason to polish up the fact that the game has the potential to suck. However, if BioWare has truly listened to what fans have had to say about Dragon Age II, and if they have truly used as much time on polishing the basic gameplay scheme as much as they’ve claimed, Dragon Age III also has the potential of being the greatest role-playing game of the century. There’s nothing to look forward to yet, nothing to reflect on, so only time will tell the story and possible legacy of Dragon Age III. We know the name of the game, and that’s quite enough for me to get all hyped up.

I’ve been thinking of a couple of “part fours” I’d like to see. A couple of months ago, Bethesda put out a few screenshots that were meant to demonstrate how they’ve worked on facial construction – something they’ve been laughed at since Oblivion. First of all, the pics looked great, but that’s not all: the colours, the details, and a certain aura about the pics prompted a lot of people to sit back and start waiting for Fallout 4. Then, Bethesda went and announced an MMO RPG taking place in the Elder Scrolls universe, instead. That’s where I and a million other people went all “the fuck!?” All of us do not want a new Elder Scrolls game so soon after Skyrim, be it as different as it may. We want a new Fallout game, a truly new one, not another carving from the same old engine like New Vegas was. OK, so millions of people can’t be wrong: The Elder Scrolls’ fantasy universe is great, but what Bethesda needs to remember is that there are millions of other people eager for another round in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and even those people who have “waited for a true Fallout game since Fallout 2”. GIVE US FALLOUT OR GIVE US DEATH!

Then there’s the fact that Mass Effect 3 is constantly referred to as the end of Commander Shepard’s journey by its developers – there has never been any solid thesis of Mass Effect 3 being the very last game in the Mass Effect series, and I think it’s great. I think that the universe still has much to give, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there were initial drafts of a spin-off or two just lying around the BioWare office, waiting to be rediscovered and polished by the guys who gave us the greatest new game series of the century thus far.

We're going back to where it all jumped the shark.
Another series of games was created as early as 1997, but it didn’t quite make the grade to worldwide renown before the release of the third game in 2001 – after which it has turned into one of the most innovative, copied, consistent, distinguished and best video game franchises of all time. I’m, of course, referring to Grand Theft Auto. The “fifth” game (actually the 11th), Grand Theft Auto V, has been rumoured to be released as early as the end of this year. I don’t believe that to be true, but I wouldn’t mind if it would turn up, since we’re once again talking about a major installment in one of my favourite game franchises in the world, and a game that brings the urban setting from my favourite game in the series – San Andreas – back into the fray. We don’t actually know much about the game yet, there have been many rumours, but in this case, I choose to wait for facts.

Let’s rewind a bit, back to the Silent Hill franchise. I said that even though I liked Silent Hill 3 very much, it was not a masterpiece. Silent Hill 2 was, and it’s still that game that serves as the beacon of hope whenever a new Silent Hill game comes along. Another, totally unrelated franchise is exactly the same, with the difference that the first Silent Hill game was good. The first Assassin’s Creed game was not good. However, it did manage to get players involved and entangled in a storyline which is one of the most impressive conspiracy theories ever told. Assassin’s Creed II was a masterpiece; it was such a great game that Ubisoft opted to focus on twisting the story to a blob in future games, and never change the game again, but for the worse. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood was still a very good game just as Silent Hill 3 was in comparison to the previous one, but Assassin’s Creed: Revelations was an utter disappointment. The story wasn’t much to get excited about, and the gameplay simply hadn’t been positively updated at all in two years. Well, Ezio Auditore’s saga ended with Revelations, and now Assassin’s Creed III is coming, starring a new pseudo-lead by the name of Connor Kenway and featuring a whole new scenario in the midst of the American Revolution. I guess I’m supposed to feel ecstatic about Ubisoft finally turning a new leaf in the Assassin’s Creed series, but it will still bear the same basic plot that has already been mangled beyond recognition, the basic gameplay still seems to be the same as ever before, AND it’s yet another annual release in the series. Ubisoft just doesn’t seem to get that the main problem with the waning success of the series is their God damn money hungry rush to spew these games out. I’m not saying I’m totally counting Assassin’s Creed III out, but Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and the first gameplay trailers for this one made me very skeptic towards the AC brand’s future.

It's good. Not excellent, but so much closer to
home than Final Fantasy XIII that it hurts.
I’ve talked a lot about my favourite franchises, so it would be a waste if I did not mention my number one favourite franchise of all time. It has been a while since we’ve seen a great Final Fantasy game – even a good while since we’ve seen a good one. Actually, when I think of the series as a whole, I find it hard to even remember Final Fantasy XIII and its sequel’s existence; my thoughts inevitably wander to games like Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon and The Last Story on the Wii, which I regrettably have not had the slightest chance to see in its undoubtedly beautiful motion. I recently bought Lost Odyssey for the Xbox 360, and my girlfriend’s been playing it for something like 15 hours; thus far, I have not dared to touch the game, since I know I wouldn’t have time for it. You see, I absolutely KNOW I would love the game, and ironically, for reasons a lot of critics are blasting it for. It was made in 2007, and it’s closer to classic Final Fantasy than Final Fantasy games made within the last decade are. It’s exactly – well, not exactly, there are some ugly spots – what I would like to see from a Final Fantasy game, and I hope that Square Enix would listen to their old school fans. If they’re not going to remake Final Fantasy VII, they should at least give us a game that FEELS like Final Fantasy. Anyone who’s ever played Final Fantasy in its golden era knows what a true Final Fantasy should feel like, or shouldn’t feel like. Here’s hoping for a true revival of this once omnipotent series of role-playing games.

Somehow I just feel this game is going to wipe
the floor with the rest of 'em T'Raiders.
Last, I would like to express my huge, totally unexpected interest towards a game from a franchise that always meant SQUAT for me. You know why I’ve never really mentioned Tomb Raider in any context, even though it’s one of the biggest names in a genre I adore? It’s because I consider Tomb Raider and its acclaimed sequels some of the most overrated games in history, or games that have been rated for the wrong reasons. What some of the games lacked, the designers made up for with more cleavage and a clearer definition of heroine Lara Croft’s fine assets. This is how I see it. I played Tomb Raider 3 for a good while back in the day, and finally quit the game because it just didn’t make an impression one way or the other, as a game. Well, now Square Enix is giving us a reboot simply entitled Tomb Raider, in which Lara Croft is still one sexy, dirty beast of a woman, but it seems that the main emphasis is on providing us a different, more mature take on the character, and an altogether different game that’s somewhat a darker version of Uncharted. I sincerely like what I’ve seen thus far, and I’m definitely hyped for this Tomb Raider reboot. Who knows, maybe it’ll make me see the whole franchise differently. Again, time will tell.

There are many other games and sequels, whether they’ve been announced or not, I could discuss within this context, but I think I’ve went over the ones that are most important to me on a personal level, and the main reason I wanted to do this was to create some discussion and evoke thoughts among you. Which games will make your near future that much more bright, or which sequels would you like to see emerge out of the blue? Think about it, and have a great week.

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