In Defence of Reboots, Spin Offs and Evolution.

SPOILER WARNING: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.

We gamers are by and large a very protective bunch; we tend to hold certain games and franchises as entirely sacrosanct. In and of itself there’s nothing wrong with that idea- after all, why change what’s perfect? Why fix what isn’t broken? Sadly that attitude does tend to lead to considerable anger, resentment and a string of F-bombs. Point in case is the immediate knee jerk response which many people have to news that a videogame franchise is going to change- typically to report to the forums, don the flame retardant outfits and cut loose with the burning heat of ten thousand suns, often before the game has even been released, let alone played.

Today’s piece is an attempt to look at this culture of cainotophobia, examine the effects and highlight why it is a problem. Especially in light of three controversial changes which we have coming up: X-Com, Devil May Cry and Metal Gear Rising.

As anyone who has read my work before knows, I love Metal Gear Solid. One day I will actually get around to writing my review of Guns of the Patriots, if I can ever write it without sounding like a screaming fanboy. So when news broke that Kojima was ditching the familiar stealth based game mechanics in favour of a third person action game staring the much hated Raiden, I was less than happy. I was not alone. Many fans of the series threw their toys out of the pram and had less than positive things to say on the subject.


After a while though I sat down and thought about it. And you know what? I came to the conclusion that this was a good thing. Snake’s story is done. Not only Snake’s, but we also got the origins of Big Boss too. Ocelot’s tale was also wound and packaged with a neat little bow (admittedly held together with retcons and hope). Even secondary characters like Otacon and Meryl had completed their arcs. Metal Gear Solid 4 was essentially the death of the series- in a good way.

Where do you go from there? If you keep trying to create more and more games of the same ilk you end with the videogame equivalent of the Simpsons, I.E an endless drudge through the same jokes, same characters, same set ups and same situations as the writers desperately try to find new material.

I’d rather Kojima tried to do something new and fresh rather than keep on recycling the same plot and characters. Could Kojima tell a new story with new characters but keep the gameplay mechanics? Quite possibly, but why not experiment a little? It’s not like it precludes the possibility of more classic Metal Gear games in the future.

As an example of a recent series that has fallen into such a trap, look no further than Assassin’s Creed. By the end of Brotherhood it was apparent that the development of the meta-plot had slowed considerably, but there was still movement and depth to it. Revelations however, is a game that is totally and utterly unnecessary. It does virtually nothing to change the gameplay mechanics, bar adding a couple of pointless new items of kit (mustn’t go off on a rant about the wrist mounted crow bar... mustn’t do it... stay focused...), a horrible, no brainer tower defence game and a poorly executed overly intricate replacement to the sleek and fast assassin management/mission system from Brotherhood. The meta plot is literally nonexistent. The ‘Revelation’ is the exact same shocker ending from AC2, the Ezio plot achieves nothing compared with the wonderful story telling in AC2 and AC:B, and I found Altair’s sections to be nonsensical torture with little point or substance. Brotherhood ended on a cliff hanger and the writers didn’t even have the decency to resolve that properly, opting instead for a few wishy washy lines to write off what should have been a hugely important character point. Talk about women in fridges.

I love the look on Desmond's face here. It's like he's trying to read the small print prices on a menu.

Long story short, Revelations is the prime example of what happens when you spin a good idea out for too long- it gets stale, repetitive and pointless. It’s better to end on a triumphant note and try something new- even if it fails. That way at least you don’t mar your genuine achievements.

So please take from this the idea that a new direction for a series is not a bad thing. It’s better than watching something you deeply enjoy slowly degenerate into beige mush. And don’t forget- it’s very unlikely that the new direction will the final word on your favourite franchise. Publishers don’t like to lose revenue, and if there is still demand for a ‘classic’ version of the game, then they will probably push developers to make one- as we shall discuss near the end of this piece.

So, that covers changes in direction, but what about reboots? Our case in point here will be one that I am really looking forward to, but many other people seem to have decided to hate- Devil May Cry.

This title has proven extremely divisive and it hasn’t even been released yet. To be fair though it’s not hard to see why people are worried. Devil May Cry is widely regarded as one of the best spectacle fighters around; if it has any competition then it’s probably other Capcom games of the same ilk (notably Bayonetta).

The protagonist, Dante, is in the eyes of many the epitome of cool. We’re talking a slick pimp daddy who makes Fonzie look like Carlton. And of course when you look at the character design, the fighting style, the cocky ‘better than you’ attitude and the laid back approach to being menaced by demons from hell the size of a house- it’s not hard to see why people love this guy. He’s like Batman, John Wayne, Blade and James Bond rolled into an Adonis of manliness on the thighs of Chuck Norris. Even if he does have the depth of an aristocratic gene pool.

One of Sony's most iconic heroes.

So when Ninja Theory announced they were working with Capcom on a reboot and revealed the following picture, people flipped their lids:

Does anyone else think of Hellblazer when they see this?

I’m not kidding here. Ninja Theory received fucking death threats about this. I’d like you to think about this for a moment. A studio received death threats for rebooting a videogame. If you want to see humanity at some of its most cruel and base, over something so... first world problem, just Google ‘Devil May Cry Reboot’ and read some of the comments. Or if you’re feeling really masochistic, search for it on YouTube. Take some anti depressants first.

You know what the hell of it is? Capcom are not giving Ninja Theory free reign over this. They are working together very closely on every aspect of the game- including character design. Don’t see people sending horse heads to Kenzo Tsujimoto, do you?

But even if we take these extreme examples away, the reaction to the game has still been negative with very little base beyond ‘this isn’t DmC’.

And they’re right- it isn’t. Capcom and Ninja Theory have taken great pains to ensure that people are aware that this reboot is NOT in canon with the other games. It is an alternative universe prequel. Sit down and think about this for a moment. They’ve not ‘killed the character’. They’ve not made him into an emo kid. They’ve not pissed all over Hideki Kamiya’s legacy. It is a completely separate, stand alone universe. Just like my case with Metal Gear, this also means that there is still scope for ‘Dante Classic’ to make more appearances, and do so unsullied by this reboot. DmC 5 is not off the cards.

Hideki Kamiya specified that the original Dante didn't smoke. This one does. Therefore, this game is complete and total crap in every way. This is the logic I'm trying to deal with here people.

With that most of the reason for the hate vanishes. Now you can argue that you just don’t like how the game is looking- and that’s fine. However I fail to see why you should act as if it’s been fucking your family dog just because of that. How can it be a betrayal of something that it isn’t even supposed to be directly connected to? That’s the entire point of a reboot.

DC Comics run a publication imprint called ‘Esleworlds’. Its sole purpose is to house stories that have a lot of potential, but simply can’t fit into the DC Universe Canon. Put simply, it is a publishing imprint dedicated to the idea of remakes and re imaginings. They house some pretty cool stuff, such as the excellent ‘Superman: Red Son’, in which Superman crash lands in Russia as opposed to the United States and is raised as a cold war communist. How about Gotham by Gaslight, which takes place in a Victorian Gotham with Batman hunting down Not Jack the Ripper? Still not awesome enough for you? How about Batman: Leatherwing where the caped crusader is a Blackbeared-esque pirate? Even Marvel have a similar line of comics such as Marvel 1602, in which we see the same heroes in an Elizabethan setting.

There's an 'In Soviet Russia' joke here somewhere... damnit.

All of these are fantastic stories which would never have gone to print if this conservative hate mentality was involved in the decision- and frankly Superman: Red Son alone justifies the existence of the reboot idea.

Oh, and it’s not like the DmC series itself hasn’t shot itself in the foot on a couple of occasions. DmC2 perhaps? And don’t forget Nero ‘I’m not Raiden guv’ from DmC4. Don’t get me wrong, I love DmC but you have to admit it’s had its low points without interference from another party.

The only real argument is that Ninja Theory’s games have thus far been middling. I personally love their emphasis of characterization, narrative and writing. While Heavenly sword was mediocre it took its story telling very seriously and that made it a fun experience. Enslaved was likewise an excellent title which improved on the gameplay while maintaining a very high standard of narrative polish.

Remember though that Capcom are also heavily involved in development! Just imagine this for me- the gameplay and combat quality of Capcom’s spectacle fighters, with the character presentation and writing ability of Ninja Theory, each complementing the other. If you seriously don’t think that combination has massive potential well... fair’s fair I suppose.

So when it comes to reboots and remakes, all I’m asking is that you remember these items are supposed to be separate, and as such need to be judged on their own merits. Give them a chance. Being completely independent spin offs also means that they in no way impede on, or prevent the creation of the original ‘core’ franchise you love, and often a reboot allows a series to go places and explore ideas that would otherwise not be possible.

My third and final point before we close up shop for the day is that of change in general. The focus of this article is to try and impart the idea that change is needed in order to keep the games we love fresh and interesting, and that fans should endeavour to separate their fear of change from how they judge the quality of any other game in the series. But of course, if developers change too much then these games cease to be the thing we love, and become something else entirely.

Publishers and developers need to know that while progress is change, change is not always progress. Final Fantasy XIII received a very lukewarm reception from many fans of the series, as many of the changes were perceived as mostly negative. X-Com’s move from its classic Turn Based Strategy/management roots to the realms of ‘Tactical FPS’ met with outright hostility- so much so that 2K caved to fan pressure and agreed to also produce a ‘classic’ X-Com game alongside it. See what I mean when I say new directions and reboots do not necessarily become the future of a franchise?

X-Com is an example of change really going too far. It has no connection at all to the series that it is supposed to be a part of. Even if you are doing a complete series reboot, you need to keep some element in place or else you are just making any old game and slapping a franchise sticker on it in order to try and make it sell better. The X-Com shooter is not the same genre, not the same setting, not the same time period, it doesn’t even use the same enemies and is... well, completely different. Thus it represents far more change than any fan could be reasonably expected to tolerate. There’s a reboot, and then there’s just making an entirely new game.

Metal Gear Rising and DmC though keep at least some ties. MGR keeps the same setting and a familiar character, just changing gameplay. DmC has a different version of an established character and a new setting- but by all accounts so far keeps the same core gameplay style. X-Com kept nothing. Even X-Com: Interceptor didn’t drop the ball that badly. It may well turn out to be a really good game in its own right- but is simply won’t be X-Com. As such you can’t expect existing fans to relate to it or get excited about it. It’s like expecting a Brit who enjoys football to enjoy American football just because they both have the same name.

So much as I’m trying to appeal to ravening haters with this post, I need to acknowledge that they have a point. Publishers can’t expect fans to accept just any change that is thrown at a series, but at the same time fans need to realise that change is not an inherently bad thing. It’s often better to chance it rather than to allow a series to grow stale.

Basically all I’m asking is that when change comes-a-knockin’, you give it a chance. Without it, even your most loved series will eventually become stale and old. While change certainly has produced some really bad results, without it gaming would not have evolved and shifted to give us these titles which we so fiercely defend today.

0 Response to "In Defence of Reboots, Spin Offs and Evolution."

Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger