November is here at last, and besides the next generation of consoles, it also brings the typical holiday releases. With gems like Grand Theft Auto V, Pokémon X/Y, and Puppeteer already in the hands of gamers by mid-October, the rest of the year will be plagued by an onslaught of FPS titles and the yearly installment of other series. While I will be side-stepping yet another Call of Duty release, not to mention Battlefield 4 and the quick-time-event laden Ryse: Son of Rome, I did take a bit of a chance and spent some time playing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Batman: Arkham Origins.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Batman: Arkham Origins are two third-person adventure games that are coming at different points in their respective series. Arkham Origins comes two years after the highly regarded Arkham City, while Black Flag is the follow-up to the disappointing Assassin’s Creed III. Both of these titles demonstrate something that the industry is notorious for these days, rehashing the previous entry. This rehashing is a trademark for the Assassin’s Creed series, where much of the gameplay is lifted from the previous entry, and a new setting and cast of characters are slapped on. Sometimes the result is something that still works, but many times it leaves an air stagnation to a game.
With Assassin’s Creed 2 being the last game in the series I played, I initially had no desire to play Black Flag, but after reading a few reviews, my interest in the game rose enough that I decided to rent the game. At ten hours in, I have been pleasantly surprised by the game, but also shocked that much of the main gameplay is nearly identical to Assassin’s Creed 2. I thought that after four years there would be some evolution, but Ubisoft has decided that the best way forward is to avoid straying too far from the path that they created. Apart from the main gameplay, the rest of the game breathes a bit of life back into the series, but most of this has to do with aspects from the pirate setting and the naval exploration and combat that the era brings. I have enjoyed Black Flag much more than I thought I would, so much that I intend to finish and review the game next week.
Arkham Origins is a game that my initial anticipation faded away a bit as I learned more about it. I thoroughly enjoyed the previous two entries in the series, but prequel stories are usually terrible, and Arkham Origins is no exception. Arkham Origins attempts to use the Assassin’s Creed technique and recycle the gameplay from Arkham City, all the way down to the gadgets that Batman obtains. The entire game screams that killing the Joker at the end of Arkham City was a mistake, and rather than utilizing a new villain, the developers went the prequel route so that they were able to use the Joker for a third time. The overall feeling from the game is that it was churned out in the easiest way possible. Even the city is reused from Arkham City but it is bereft of civilians, which is strange considering that Arkham Origins takes place before the city was locked down. Arkham Origins has disappointed me enough that I am not even sure if I will finish it.
Most game companies today seem to believe the best way to utilize their existing series is to inundate gamers with releases until they drive the series into a grave. By reusing the previous game’s assets, costs are kept low, allowing for larger profits. I would be lying if I said that every sequel is terrible, but the desire to take risks with a sequel or series is fading away. One thing that discourages developers from messing with a tested formula is the fear of change that the public has. Developers know that consumers will have an expectation for the content of a game merely by it being a part of an established series. Changing too many things may turn away fans, so instead developers leave things the way they were, and the masses lap it up. This strategy has paid off unfortunately, Call of Duty: Ghosts hit one billion dollars on its first day of release, even though the Call of Duty series has churned out carbon-copy games since 2007.
Sequels and series make up a large part of the games that are released today, and yearly releases are hardly a new thing, Donkey Kong Country, for example, had a release in 1994, 1995, and 1996. Perhaps it is just nostalgia goggles, but each installment of Donkey Kong Country felt like it had more substantial changes than any FPS installment. The sad truth is that Brogamers outnumber the hardcore crowd, and companies will happily exploit that. If Activision can make a billion dollars by re-releasing a six-year-old game, where is the incentive for other companies to not follow suit? Rockstar spent over four years developing Grand Theft Auto V, a title that surpasses its predecessor in nearly every way, yet its sales numbers will likely be mirrored by Call of Duty: Ghosts. In the end, the quality of a game depends on the developer’s commitment to excellence, but greed reigns supreme, and most companies will cut as many corners as possible to maximize profits. The video game industry of our youth is nearly dead, but at least we have Pokémon X/Y to console us.