Editorial: Not What Was Expected

Red barrels are explosive. Everyone knows this. Pictures of red barrels should be used indicate explosiveness.
Resident Evil 4 marked a big change in the series and defied many expectations. But in a good way.

A common complaint I hear about games is that there are too many sequels. Too many games are out there that have a number after their name and it looks uncreative and stagnant. However, there are plenty of good games that belong to a franchise or series. I have played and ranked high among my favorites many a game that had a number after its name. So being a sequel or reboot is not grounds for derision, but it is grounds for something else: expectation. Games that come from a series or franchise often carry the weight of their predecessors upon release. Once a good game is made, typically a sequel is expected, both from the gaming public and from the publisher. And once a sequel is announced, a veritable truck load of expectations are piled onto the unreleased product. If a game releases and runs counter to those expectations then without doubt it will offend and disappoint some that enjoyed the original entries. But when a game does run counter to these expectations the game is not always worse. Far be it from that, games that explore new ground in a series can stand as great examples of courageous innovation and creativity. Though I am not always on the gaining side of some of these changes, I can still recognize when a good game is made and I try not to let my own expectations ruin a perfectly fine game.

One of the biggest overhauls to a game from a series I enjoyed was Resident Evil 4. I became a fan of the original games when they were all ported to the Gamecube as a ramp up to the old Capcom Five stunt that initially promised five exclusive titles, including Resident Evil 4. I grew to enjoy the odd controls, the harsh inventory limits, the emphasis on avoiding combat until absolutely necessary. I even thought the stationary camera angles lent an eerie touch to everything. But by the time Resident Evil 0 rolled around, lots of people as well as the original creator, Shinji Mikami, had moved on from the old games. Capcom reworked what would become Resident Evil 4 not fewer than four times before settling on the released version. I still wish some of the original versions shown in trailers would be picked up and used in some way, but the end result for me was both amazing and sad. It was amazing because Resident Evil 4 is an amazing game, and it was sad because it moved away from what it offered before — something that few other games were offering. It stepped away from the slower pace and puzzles of the past entries and toward a more action oriented gun game with enemy kill counts in the triple digits. Despite this, I still enjoyed my time with Resident Evil 4 as it remains a favorite of mine from the Gamecube era. But my expectations of it before release meant I had to distance myself from the title as a Resident Evil title, and more as a great action game in its own right.

But I don't care if that's different because that's awesome!
You don’t drive around and shoot people in Saints Row IV as much as fly around and launch them into the sky with your mind.

Not all games that broke expectations became favorites of mine. The critically acclaimed Burnout Paradise made several key changes to another series I grew fond of during the Gamecube era. The originals were very simple games that did not feature too much aside from racing, an easy to understand boost system, and – because the racing takes place on normal roads – a heavy emphasis on car crash physics. This original attention to detail became a major aspect of the game, as crashing into cars to cause the most damage would become a separate mode in the following entries in the series. By the fifth entry, Paradise, released in the following generation, developer Criterion decided to make some big changes. With the ease of internet connectivity that the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 brought with them, Criterion decided to emphasize multiplayer races with a seamless drop-in drop-out set up. In order to do so they made a major change to the game: they made the Burnout world an open and connected world. In keeping with the theme of being set in a real singular location, Criterion also decided to ditch a common tool in street racing games: the chevron. Chevrons, V-shaped symbols, would ordinarily point the player in the proper direction, sometimes also acting as impassible walls. In favor of believability, Criterion removed these and instead encouraged the player to find their own way to the finish line. All of these developments turned me completely off from the game, and despite the development choices the game still received quite positively among most critics. Complaints were levied about the lack of direction in races, but most seemed willing to overlook this issue. For me, however, it was a deal breaker. I felt Burnout was more about insane crashes and instanced racing events and not about driving around in an open world where failure meant having to drive all the way back to the starting point to retry. That last problem was addressed in a very late patch, but by then I had other games to play. Perhaps my notions of what a Burnout game should be meant I missed out on a good game. Perhaps I was too taken by what the game was not to take a chance on what the game was.

Finally, and more pleasantly, I have been playing Saints Row IV. This is a game that deliberately takes everything it used to be, essentially a wackier version of Grand Theft Auto, and unapologetically blows it out of the water. Though still pretty wacky and still featuring a similar mission and open world structure as before, what this game becomes shortly after the start is a super powered techno fantasy where the player character can easily perform most of the same abilities that Superman has in his repertoire. As a result I spent hardly any time hijacking cars and shooting up my enemies because I was too busy jumping and gliding over skyscrapers while hurling elemental blasts out of my hands. In this way the game is more akin to InFamous or Prototype. I had few expectations of what a Saints Row game should be, though I realize this is a big departure in many ways and it has likely irritated older fans of the series. And if they should skip on this game for only these reasons then I can say with certainty that they would be skipping on a hilarious purely fun game. It is just not the game they were expecting.

What games did you skip because it was not what you expected? What games did you enjoy despite being unexpected? How, exactly, did I go this whole time without once mentioning Final Fantasy?

5 comments

  1. Earth Defense Force 2017 for Xbox 360. A friend of mine bought that game and practically begged me to play it. Judging from the shoddy packaging, inane title, and Nintendo 64 quality graphics I expected to not only hate the game but have my friend committed to an asylum after playing it. Since then I’ve dumped hundreds of hours into gleefully laying waste to giant insects across two platforms. EDF proved to me that you cannot judge a game by its cover, and while it really could be the dumbest game I’ve ever encountered it also stands as one of my all-time favorites.

  2. That’s another interesting aspect of expectations. Judging a new game by its appearances is a big part of the success and failure of games. I’d like to think that the current uptick of lower budget indie titles is doing something positive about this.

  3. LOL, the Final Fantasy conversation has been so played out at this point…

  4. Metroid: Other M was a huge disappointment, Metal Arms: Glitch in the System was a pleasant surprise.

  5. Metal Arms WAS good, wasn’t it? I might just revisit that game soon.

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