Thursday, March 10, 2011

Gaming franchises: are the Halos slipping?

Our consoles are currently graced by a number of what could be described as Triple A titles. Games that have written themselves into the folklore of our gaming World and are as big a part of the fabric of this generation as the consoles that drive them.

From the moment the next installment of one of these eagerly anticipated games is announced the excitement within the gaming community takes hold, and it keeps a vice like grip until, upon release the now deliriously giddy community descend en masse to grab their own piece of gaming's newest Holy Grail.
But, how many, if any, of these gaming giants still warrant the sort of adoration they have bestowed upon them? Well, lets take a look at some of these monster franchises and see how they stand up.

Call of Duty
I’ll get the ball rolling with the phenomenon that is CoD. Big name games don’t come bigger than this hulking beast and you can 100% guarantee that for months after the latest incarnation is released your friends list will be dominated by it. So the big question, is CoD worthy of such devotion? Well, i’d say it probably is…..just. For me the series peaked at CoD4 : Modern Warfare and has been on the decline ever since. The main problem now with the CoD franchise is the wow factor has all but evaporated. Maybe number 4 spoilt us with it’s stunning single player campaign and fresh approach to the multi-player - an approach, I hasten to add, that has kept me personally looking to CoD3 for my multiplayer action, but it seemed to sit well with the majority of players out there.

Now the whole series has become a jaded shadow of it’s former glorious self, the single player campaigns we’ve been dealt since CoD 4 have been forgettable at best and godawful at worst, while the once lauded multiplayer now has the ability to become very old very fast. The maps seem uninspired, and the gameplay can induce deja-vu within seconds. But somehow I think the game is not yet beyond redemption, it’s going to take something special to bring it back to it’s shining best, a single player story that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the epic from CoD4 or a complete overhaul of the multiplayer with an array of big ideas and grand maps to have us drooling over it once more. So Call of Duty 6 is closing on a cliffhanger, our hero is dangling over the precipice on a frayed rope, will they make it or plunge to a, not necessarily, untimely death. Tune in later this year for all the answers.


On November 15, 2001 a game hit the shelves that placed its developers Bungie on a pedestal, and rightly so.
The game was Halo: Combat Evolved, the one true killer app for Microsoft's original Xbox and a benchmark title for all modern day FPS games. Halo raised the bar for the shooter genre with it’s fast fluid gameplay, lush graphics and iconic Hero. Unfortunately for us gamers Bungie also thought Halo: CE was something special. So much so that they decided the best move would be to release Halo:CE again and again and again. In fact, Bungie have given us a virtually identical gaming experience no less than five times now. Halo 2 can be forgiven of course as it offered us a fantastic multiplayer experience, an experience that was still being enjoyed by gamers up to the point the old Xbox servers closed last year.

But in much the same way as when you sit down to watch an episode of Little Britain, with Halo games you know exactly what you’re going to get. The scenes may change ever so slightly or, as in Halo: Reach, the main protagonist may differ but the outcome is always the same. Reach threw us into the action as part of a squad. Wow, now that’s a new direction. How did it play? Erm…exactly the same as the last four Halo games actually. So I hope we’ve seen the last of this franchise, as wonderful as it was when Master Chief first entered our lives he’s now more than ready to spend his retirement pruning the roses and sucking on Werthers Originals.

I want a job on the development team working on FIFA games. Imagine it. Stroll into the office ready to start work on the next thrilling addition to the FIFA stable and stroll out 20 minutes later having decided the best course of action is to release last year's FIFA again. Oh, plus a few minor little additions... you can now be the goalkeeper if you want….great. What will FIFA12 bring? Play the game as the physio? I know let us drive the team coach to the games, wait outside while they play and then drop them back off again. I’m being harsh, I know I am. At it’s core FIFA is still the closest you can get to real football on console. It’s a quite brilliant game, I just question whether we need a whole new full price game where surely an update would have done the job just as well.

So what keeps us buying FIFA games year in year out? Updated squads?…Hmm maybe. Fresh and exciting gameplay changes?…..Not often. Nope, I’d say what keeps us buying FIFA is that all our friends bloody well buy FIFA so if we want to continue to compete against them or alongside them we need the latest incarnation. It’s not that FIFA 11 plays any differently to FIFA 10 or 9, it’s just that it’s there. FIFA does deserve the praise it gets; it’s a superb example of how football games should play and has been king of the football hill for some time now - just please give us gamers £40 worth of new game, rather than the £2.99 we currently get plus a massive chunk of last year's edition. Worthy of our praise?….The game itself, yes. The annual updates, not in the slightest.

Gears of War

One of the Xbox 360's flagship titles, Gears of War made a huge impact.
When Marcus Fenix and his Gears team first came into our lives, all revving chainsaws and kerbstomps, it was a breath of fresh air. Graphically, it gave gamers a glimpse at just how much power was lurking beneath the 360's cool exterior and sonically, it was immense and the gameplay itself was a joy to behold. In Marcus Fenix another iconic figure was born, a character who has become as much a figurehead for Microsoft's console as Halo's Master Chief.

The game brought us some innovation in its cover system and adding a chainsaw to the standard assault rifle was inspired, while the story wasn’t anything to write home about but it still served to drive the game on beautifully. Gears 2 built upon the foundations laid by it’s older brother and raised the bar even further, giving us some utterly wonderful moments of gaming goodness, moments that will live in the memory long after the game is gathering dust on the shelf. The multiplayer side of Gears of War gave us a number of team-based games, that if i’m brutally honest I never really got on with. The problem here for me was that as a latecomer to the original Gears party I’d end up spending 45 minutes of an hour long online session watching other people play, sat miserable in my corner of the ‘Death Room'.

Gears 3 is almost upon us, our senses have already been assaulted by trailers and our anticipation levels have reached 11 with the news of the online beta test, and I must admit I am truly excited about where this franchise is going to take us next. At this moment in time I feel Gears of War is more than worthy of the adulation and praise it reaps from gamers, that could change in the coming months, but Epic would have to really drop the ball for that to happen. I guess time will tell but my optimism is high.


I must be honest here, when it comes to gaming I lean ever so slightly towards my 360. But, when it comes to games, nothing has given me the satisfaction and exhilaration of playing through the first two chapters in the Uncharted franchise. If there is such a thing as a perfect game - and i’m not convinced - then it surely exists within the realms of Nathan Drake's World. Uncharted games take you on a journey that you’ll never forget, capable of captivating an audience from the get go and throwing in a whole Indiana Jones Trilogy worth of excitement, drama, comedy, action and suspense. Couple this with some of the most beautiful graphics yet to have graced console gaming and some perfectly divine gameplay and the recipe for a gaming legend is all in place. Even the online multiplayer that was brought into the franchise via Uncharted 2 is wonderfully addictive, any worries I’d had about it being tacked on were forgotten within a couple of minutes of the action.

If any of the games previous are worthy of the pedestals they currently sit on then Uncharted is beyond all worthiness, it might as well set up home there as it’s in no danger of slipping any time soon. Uncharted is without doubt a game that deserves the hordes massing at midnight outside game stores worldwide to get their mitts on a copy. I know I’ll be there. In fact, I might just start queuing now.

I decided to only cover these five franchises as it began to feel like I was working on a novel. There are others of note though. Killzone still holds its place firmly in the deserved of praise list as do Mass Effect and Battlefield, while the GTA and Fable series I believe have slipped considerably. Only my opinions of course but as my wife keeps telling me…I’m entitled to them…..or did she say I can keep them to myself???