[Disclaimer: This is entirely a personal list, based on my favorite franchises, and I'm sure there are great franchises I just haven't played that should also be on the list, like Tenchu and Homeworld, so consider them Honorable Mentions.]
I’m fairly certain there’s never been more room for creativity in gaming than there is right now. Indie gaming is growing at a fast pace, thanks to digital distribution and an explosion of popular indie titles like Cave Story, World of Goo, and The Binding of Isaac. And there’s a surprising amount of free game creation tools available to anyone who’s got a great idea and the desire and dedication to see it through.
And I believe at least PART of indie gaming’s recent successes has been due to a relative creative bankruptcy in AAA gaming. Make no mistake, AAA publishers are only interested in what sells, and what are the biggest selling games? Military first-person shooters. Let’s all jump on that bandwagon, kiddies! I still want to see if I can cash in with my knockoff FPS, Call of Shooty: Thin Penis Meta IV.
The only concession to originality they might make would be to set it in future, or space, or both. But even then, you’re still a marine, you still have a gun, you’re still trying to get it in their eye.
But there is a possibility of making something with an established name, a franchise that’s already known – hell, it worked for Spec Ops: The Line, and that game was brilliant. So, AAA publishers, instead of continuing to give some franchises more attention than they deserve, how about some attention for some great franchises that deserve to make a comeback? Because, really, I don’t think you could ask for a better time.
4. FEAR EFFECT
This is a personal favorite, so I put it lowest on the list, but I feel it could definitely work. A lot of games are sexualized nowadays, and Fear Effect pretty much pushed that to its limits. Hana’s over-large bosom could easily hide a whole mess of weapons and ammunition, all of which, Hana was all too eager to spill. True, they used sexuality and controversy to sell more games, but if the game is worth buying – and it was – I don’t have an issue with that.
The difference between Fear Effect and today’s over-sexualized games is that once you got past the heaving breasts and double entendres, there was a tightly-written story heavily influenced by Chinese folklore. Fear Effect is one of the few games I can legitimately claim to have gotten me interested enough in a subject to research it on my own after the game was done.
Having said that, I was not a fan of using lesbianism to generate controversy and sales for the sequel. I’m all for LGBT characters in games, and Rain really is central to the game’s story, but sexualizing this was a step too far. They were pandering to teenage boys, appealing to the lowest common denominator, and it made me ashamed to want to buy the game, or even tell people they should buy it. Because it really is a great game, but the crass marketing tarnished it somewhat.
Aside from that, Fear Effect was constantly surprising – multiple “what the hell just happened” moments in both games. They also had great puzzles that really made you think, although the first one’s puzzles tended to be mostly observational puzzles, with the answer to one early puzzle found in a set of flashing lights on a wall for absolutely no rational reason.
There was a third game planned for the PS2 that sadly languished in development hell until Eidos pulled the plug. Uwe Boll snared the rights to make a Fear Effect movie, and Fear Effect fans thanked their lucky stars that it never actually got made.
The Comeback: Modernize the gameplay, over-the-shoulder gunplay, keep the design cartoonish and colorful so it stands out from the boring modern make-everything-brown-and-gray aesthetic. Keep the story tight and the writing tighter, it can still be steeped in Chinese folklore or history, or something else, as long as it’s still something Americans are not often exposed to. Like Belgium. Seriously, all I know about them is that they like waffles.
Space combat simulators’ heyday came and went in the 90’s with incredible games like X-Wing, Tie Fighter, Wing Commander, and Privateer. Sadly, Wing Commander shit itself inside out when Chris Roberts forgot that he was a video game creator and not a film-maker. Wing Commander 3 was an awesome game, but Wing Commander 4 was just a decent movie – and Wing Commander the ACTUAL movie was a terrible movie.
X-Wing fared much better. X-Wing and Tie Fighter both gave you a ton of control over your starfighter, allowing you to manage everything from shields to weapons to engines to tractor beams, and the iMUSE music system was ahead of its time. Tie Fighter in particular is regarded as the best in the series, with improvements across the board in both gameplay and story, and of course, the ability to fight for the Empire probably didn’t hurt.
X-Wing VS. Tie Fighter was technically superior to both, but Totally Games dropped the ball somewhat when they forgot to even include a single-player campaign with any story at all. You could still play single-player, but it was pretty much just practice for the multiplayer, which, while good, wasn’t what the fans had been after. X-Wing Alliance was a return to form, with a full story campaign, multiplayer, and even a custom mission builder feature, but even that wasn’t enough to save it – space combat games were dying, and the X-Wing series was being taken down with them.
There were a couple of console gems, Rogue Squadron was fun, even if it was confusingly entirely ‘air’ combat as opposed to ‘space’ combat – every single mission took place on a planet for some reason. Rogue Leader finally got it mostly right, but left out the co-op and multiplayer gamers had loved from the PC games. Rebel Strike added co-op to the Rogue Leader missions, but fouled its own missions by having you play some of them on foot.
There have been other decent space combat games since, Freelancer and Darkstar One come to mind, but they’ve never been as enjoyable to me as the X-Wing games were – perhaps I’m too much of a Star Wars geek, but being able to fly an X-Wing in combat feels familiar and comfortable, and there’s already a full mythology and history to work with, and new games will always be disadvantaged thanks to this.
The Comeback: Ensure the story is strong – there are 9 X-Wing novels you can pull from, and the comics besides. And I don’t see a reason why the story campaign couldn’t be co-operative – a squadron is twelve fighters, so why not a twelve-player co-op story campaign? You could still have solo missions, or missions involving only one wing – four fighters – just leave those missions out if there are twelve people playing. Include robust multiplayer – you might be able to work in a rank/leveling system akin to Call of Duty – and custom missions/campaigns will seal the deal.
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