Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gaming Makeovers:The Good,Bad And Ugly

Ever since Sonic and Grand Theft Auto went 3D, games have been reinventing themselves to howls of discontent from faithful fans. But while some games make missteps simply from their desire to keep up with the times, others cast off tried and tested mechanics simply to ape whatever is in fashion at the moment. This time next year we’ll be playing a version of Syndicate that replaces isometric brainwashing with first person shooting. Until then, here are some well established gaming properties that cast off their familiar duds in favour of some sharp new threads - in some cases the clothes made the man, and in others the emperor was starkers.

Fallout 3
Immensely popular, enormous, deep and hugely rewarding, Fallout 3 is one of the games that really blossomed in its reworking. Few people thought that would be the case when it was originally announced that Bethesda would be taking over the franchise, however. Moving from an isometric layout and turn-based RPG set up into a real time, third- or first-person action story had the entire internet disgustedly yelling ‘Oblivion with guns!’ As it turned out, they were right, but it was nothing to be disgusted about. Still, there's part of us that fondly remembers it in its original form.

Red Faction Guerrilla
Volition’s long standing wall-boring, floor-digging FPS underwent a massive change with it’s third installment, Red Faction Guerrilla. While previous versions used Geo-Mod to allow some basic tunnelling, Guerrilla upped the ante with Geo-Mod 2, which combined realistic physics with unexpectedly flimsy building materials in a way that let you destroy just about every item on the map. Of course, with those sort of toys on offer, a point-to-point first person shooter was never going to cut it: you needed to be able to go forth and destroy, hence the game’s retooling as a sandbox style 3rd person cars-and-guns adventure - a sort of Just Cause 2 on Mars. Unlike many of the games on this list, the change was extremely successful, reinvigorating a declining series. Which makes it all the more surprising that they went back to linear shooting for the latest disappointing installment, Red Faction Armageddon.

Command & Conquer: Renegade
After Dune II, Westwood Studios decided to move from Frank Herbert/David Lynch’s sandworms and spice harvesting and turn its hand to Tiberium, terrorism and world domination. The result was Command & Conquer, the first of 12 top games that sold by the bucketload. There were still rival factions, all similarly powered and fighting for land, resources and victory. Nevertheless, the powers that be decided that the winning formula needed an overhaul and in 2002, Command & Conquer: Renegade was born. The black sheep of the series, Renegade was like the antithesis of Halo Wars, taking the trappings of Command & Conquer’s top down real time strategy game and turning them into a mediocre first/third person shooter. Suffice to say, the dalliance with the new style didn’t last and the follow up returned to the format we all know and love.

Back in 1993, Bullfrog’s isometric shooter brought cyberpunk gaming to the masses. A cult hit, it spawned several sequels and successfully made the leap from home computer to consoles including the Mega Drive and PlayStation - the controller proving as adept as a mouse at causing carnage and controlling your enhanced cyborg agents. Many of us were pinning our hopes on rumours of its return. Starbreeze Studios were said to be behind the project and confirmed the news. We’ll have to wait until next year to pass judgement but the revelation that its revival will be in FPS form has left me numb.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

To be fair, no one could have expected Castlevania to remain a side-scrolling adventure in these modern days, but of it’s many attempts to reinvent itself, few rankle more than Lords of Shadow. It was gorgeous to look at, and lengthy enough to be great value for money, but Castlevania’s name was so distinctive it had become a byword for a certain type of gameplay. To see it jack all that in to become a pale imitation of God of War with a touch of Shadow of the Collossus thrown in was shameful. When little studios with unknown IPs jump on bandwagons it’s enterprising, but a series that’s 26 years old should be a leader, not a follower.