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April 2016

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CALLING OUT HATERS: The Problem with Licensed Games

If you can imagine the reason I have made this particular blog is in response to Aliens: Colonial Marines getting nuked from orbit by critics. A game that was promised to be a direct sequel to the James Cameron classic Aliens, approved as canon by 20th Century Fox, and an authentic experience akin to the movies, turns out to be a broken, unpolished, badly written, and horrendously thrill-free generic shooter making a beloved franchise into a chickenshit outfit. The last Aliens Vs Predator game wasn’t met with high marks but in hindsight to some like Jim Sterling, is considered a golden goose compared to this travesty. The problems the game is said to have are too numerous to say, but this won’t be completely about that, instead reflecting on the ongoing thing about licensed video games, and that is there is a big problem.

Infamous since the pitfalls of E.T.: Extra Terrestrial for the Atari 2600, licensed video games have been associated with mediocrity. A way by which companies try to extend a brand by making it interactive, usually with little to no care put into them whatsoever. It isn’t just movies, but also TV shows, comic books, novels, wrestling, music, toys, people, even food products like candy or restaurant chains. Why put polish or effort into something which its name can sell on its own? While there are a few diamonds in the rough, they go against a whole lot of shit. For every Batman: Arkham City, Ghostbusters: The Video Game, the Transformers Cybertron games by High Moon Studios, The Chronicles of Riddick, X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Uncaged Edition and The Walking Dead: The Game there are still a dozen or so Aliens: Colonial Marines, Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime, Superman Returns, Battleship, X-Men Destiny, Terminator: Salvation, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Iron Man, 007 Legends, any game based on a Disney or Pixar moviewell I think you get the point, not even counting the countless game show based stuff that gets shoveled out.

The startling reality used to be that licensed games were likely going to sell well no matter how bad they were, these days however, people are kind of getting sick of this shit. Games are costing upwards of $60, so there is more selection on the choice of the consumer. Part of the reason THQ went under was they kept pushing mediocre licensed games (The other major factor being their misguided UDraw tablet). 007 Legends was such a failure that it destroyed Eurocom, who actually did a decent job with their last Bond game.

The already apparent failure of Aliens: Colonial Marines can only do more damage for Gearbox, who other than making the successful Borderlands games, also released Duke Nukem Forever (Something I have touched upon before) which shares another distinction of being a long-delayed game that turned out to be a big fail on release. With reports of Colonial Marines supposedly been outsourced to another company as well as changed drastically and gameplay demos that in no way represent the final product, this is only going to do more damage to the reputation of the company who had a chance of making a great follow-up to a beloved franchise, but couldn’t find competence to do so.

Point is, publishers are spending a whole lot of money on licensed games that they don’t realize that people just want them to be good. Things don’t seem to be changing much for the future as there are potential stinkers on the horizon: The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct (Based on the TV show, not the comics like the Telltale games) looking like a rushed FPS cash-in, and the Star Trek game, a bridging game to both Abrams films, looks like it’s trying to be more Mass Effect than Star Trek, full-circle maybe but not really putting out its own voice.

To me the best licensed game adaptations are able to take advantage of the property, being able to make a game befitting of the name around that franchise, rather than slap it onto some sort of uninspired crap-fest. Take Ghostbusters: The Video Game for example, Terminal Reality made a third-person action game but didn’t make it a complete copy-paste of an existing game, it made the vital element of ghost-busting into something a little unique. The Chronicles of Riddick, and the main character’s love of sticking to shadows, developed as a stealth first person action game. Batman’s intimidation and combat skills translate to the Arkham games well, even if a bit simplistic, I mean how many damn buildings have gargoyles in them?

Just several ideas I have to help licensed games get out of the rut they’ve been in:

-A Star Trek adventure game akin to the ones developed on the PC by Interplay. The problem with developing Trek as a shooter is that it kind of diminishes the importance of Trekking if you will, when it’s what the franchise has been built on. TellTale would definitely be ideal, and their model of episodic content would definitely fit the Trek mold. Though if there would be space combat involved, I don’t know what would be ideal to meet the tone.

-A James Bond game where it feels like you are a spy. They did touch on spy elements in the past, but nothing completely simulated to a Bond esque experience, and the recent crop have definitely felt a little too action heavy, especially the generic looking Legends. I’d also love to see the mission model of Goldeneye to return where it is multiple objectives that you can tackle in about any order, or maybe Bond game with open world sandbox elements, that would be pretty neat.

-Bring X-Men back to the Legends model, and for that matter any major Marvel superheroes mash-ups. In retrospect, it would have been neat to have seen The Avengers licensed game in vein of those, but instead got a crappy Kinect fighting game based on the comics.

These are just a few ideas that immediately came to mind, but I really think the beatings that licensed games have been getting should be more a call for effort, for those who don’t take the licenses seriously to start to get sincere on their investment. The best progression is to give it to developers who would actually know what the hell they are doing, and the proper time to do it in. Rushed out and half-assed licensed games should not be acceptable to anyone anymore.

Oh and Aliens: Colonial Marines is a top seller in the UK right now. GAME OVER MAN!

End of Rant