The Kids Are Alright?

I’ve got a confession. For my turn in the warm yet comfortable leathery goodness of the swivel chair in the Editor’s Blog this week, I was originally going to write a comedic piece about the upcoming Doctor Who game. Then today, 2K Australia announced they were reviving the much loved X-COM franchise with a brand new FPS entitled XCOM. Of course, other than a singular screenshot, the press release didn’t contain an awful amount of explanation, yet cue the screaming of a thousand Angry Internet Men decrying the announcement.

“It’s going to be crap!”
“It’s not turn based, FAIL”
“They’ve spit on the memory of a great franchise.”

If you press your ear to the monitor these are just some of the comments you can probably hear through the internet. It’s obviously not the first time – and it certainly won’t be the last – but whenever change is in the air, whether it’s a from an old franchise being resurrected, or an existing one being thrust into new hands it seems many people are ready to burn it at the stake before the developers have had chance to set the bonfire.

It’s not just remakes mind. Doctor Who, as I mentioned at the top of this piece, was also confirmed to be getting the video game treatment. Despite being free and the first ‘proper’ Who game in years there are many who are already decrying it for several reasons. Whether it’s because it’s not got a huge budget – being free and all that – or because it’s from the team who made the lacklustre entry in the Broken Sword series with number 4, the wounds are all too ready to be picked at by vocal internet commentators with seemingly limitless amounts of vitriol. Syndicate – another well loved game – has also been trademarked today by EA and Starbreeze, and I dare say we’ll be seeing disparaging comments before I manage to hit publish on this very post.

The past, yesterday.

Bless us, but it seems gamers are a passionate bunch. On the one hand, it’s admirable that we care so much about our favourite franchises that we’d hate to see anything bad happen to them. But at the same time it really highlights why many studios tend to play it safe with their games and franchises. Sure, people may complain about Modern Warfare 2’s lack of originality length, storyline and questionable practices, but -aside from the obvious controversy – it’s a very safe game. It sold terribly well. Many sports games come around every year with very little changes and still manage to sell by the bucketload. Of course, there’d be a massive outcry if they changed the football to a trapezoid but that’s completely missing the point.

Change isn’t always a bad thing. Fallout 3, Team Fortress 2, Tales of Monkey Island. These are all examples of Good Things that can happen when a franchise is resurrected. But we as gamers have to be prepared if the game isn’t like what the originals used to be. All those mentioned have their faults and it would be, ironically, dismissive of me to ignore those. It would also be foolish of me to try and pretend we’ve not had good examples of franchises that have had ill-fated resurrections or changes to established franchises: Speedball 2, Leisure Suit Larry, Command and Conquer: Renegade (and to some extent, 4) are all examples, yet still were they bad games more because they were bad games, rather than because they weren’t their predecessors. With all the worry the internet at large appears to throw around at the announcement of many titles, you’d think we were living in the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse, where good games are forgotten dusty relics only confined to tombs that “THE KIDS MUST NEVER TOUCH”. It’s vital to remember that these days, the developers no doubt were fans of these relics too. Surely it would hurt them as much as it would you to screw up something they feel similar to you about?

Within a medium that allows for so much scope and creativity, why are we so afraid of change and willing to nip the slightest sign of the possibility to create whole new fond memories of what could be exceptional games? Is it wrong to have the slightest hint of optimism early in a games development? Yes, it may turn out to be rubbish before release, as more information gets released and the press and indeed others actually get the chance to play with it. But there’s a massive difference between punishing a game for being bad, and punishing a game because it’s not something it never tried to be. Let’s at least get to know a game before we cast it aside, after all – to use an admittedly flimsy analogy – if you named your child William after the playwright Shakespeare, would you punish him if he became an Astronaut?

And if the news of a new XCOM alone really does make you wretch with uncontrollable rage, here’s something to help you express your feelings.

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