EA’s Reboot on my Neck
In a statement released yesterday, EA’s Frank Gibeau discussed the commercial performance of two of the company’s recent franchise reboots, namely SSX and Syndicate. Apparently, only one of the two actually turned out to be “the success [EA was] hoping for.” Now, before I go ahead and spoil the surprise for anyone who missed this bit of gaming news, let’s just take a brief little look-see at each game individually and compare it to its predecessors.
First, we have SSX. Now, this is a series that holds a special place in my heart, if only because it served as one of the only pieces of quality software amidst the initial, fledgling days of Sony’s PlayStation 2. It was an absurdly over-the-top take on the snowboarding genre, with goofy characters, ridiculous moves and a solid sense of speed. The formula really wasn’t any more complicated than that, as evidenced by the game’s three sequels (yes, three… the Wii-exclusive title doesn’t count, because no third-party Wii-exclusive sequel to a popular franchise should be remembered by man or beast), which only tweaked the original’s gameplay in favor of expanding the game’s scope in terms of characters and tracks.
So, when EA finally revealed a current-gen reboot of the series, subtitled Deadly Descent, that looked like it had more in common with Modern Warfare than the colorful, zany games that made the series a success, fans were understandably worried. The reveal trailer showed a gritty, grim take on snowboarding that involved helicopters, flying-suits and a gameplay hook that revolved around surviving the harsh realities of Mother Nature. The same series that had featured Jewfro’d stoners doing handstands on their snowboards while Run-DMC’s “Tricky” blared in the background now looked like the love-child of Shaun White and Frank Miller.
Fans cried foul, and EA eventually toned back the more dire elements of the game, even going so far as to drop the words “Deadly Descent” from the title. While the survival elements initially shown did, in fact, make their way into the final project, their focus was lessened in favor of what the series has always done best – wacky downhill racing. As a fan of the series, I was rather pleased with the EA’s reboot, and I wasn’t the only one, as the game holds an accumulative score of 82 on Metacritic.
Which brings us to Syndicate, EA’s other 2012 franchise re-launch. Unlike the SSX series, which was conceived but a mere console generation ago, Syndicate was the early-nineties brainchild of Peter Molyneux’s Bullfrog Productions, back before Molyneux had absolutely lost his fucking mind. For the heathens that never experienced its glory, the original Syndicate was a delightfully devious strategy title that took place in a dystopian future where governments have been replaced by multni-national corporations. Ironically, this was the same premise of the classic Jame Caan film Rollerball, which received its own shitty reboot that totally missed the point.
As a dutiful employee for one of these corporations, the player must utilize four syndicate agents who all engage in the heart-warming magic of kidnapping, murder and thievery in order to secure territories and, in turn, their employer’s place as “industry leader.” Often times it was more beneficial to take your finger off the trigger in order to achieve your goals, and I, for one, have very fond memories of using my Persuader-tron to convince my competitors’ best scientists to switch teams. It was a game that required tactical thinking in how to solve problems, and how best to micromanage your four little agents.
Naturally, when EA decided it was high time to resurrect the franchise, they made the brilliant decision to throw everything I just mentioned right the fuck out the window in order to make another goddamned FPS. It begged the question, “who exactly is this reboot for?” Modern audiences, who eat up these sort of dime-a-dozen shooters, don’t even remember Syndicate, and fans of the original game wanted a follow-up that continued the franchise’s signature strategy gameplay. It was a move that served nobody. It was utterly baffling.
It was like having your mother over to make your favorite home-cooked meal, one that you haven’t had in years… only for her to slap a plate of grey, slimy mush in front of you. “Yeah,” she mutters. “I make it out of dickmeat, now.”
Now, I’m sure that there are people out there who actually enjoy the taste of dickmeat casserole, but goddamn it, Mom… I thought you were here to bring back some memories.
This new bastardized Syndicate was developed by Starbreeze, the developers behind the not-that-terrible The Darkness and the surprisingly decent Chronicle of Riddick games, and while there are a few nods to the original, this game was clearly its own beast. Sure, the future is still run by corporations, and you’re still a CHIP-enabled employee of one of these corporations, but that’s where the similarities end. There’s no micromanagement or strategy required. In fact, a non-linear structure got the chop, as well, leading to eight hours of going from point A to point B and murdering everyone in-between.
Oh, and non-stop lens flare. Actually, that’s not even accurate, as it wasn’t so much, but LENS FLARE. Apparently, someone in the art department had spent the entirety of the game’s development gargling J.J. Abrams’ balls, because you can’t take three steps in the new Syndicate without having EVERY LENS WITHIN A FIVE MILE RADIUS FLARING AT MAXIMUM FLARE LEVELS. I kept trying to line up headshots, only to constantly be blinded by lens flare so intense that I was convinced I had just found Jesus.
Needless to say, this was the reboot that was a commercial disappointment for EA, and I couldn’t be happier to hear it. I like to think that Frank Gibeau, and all of EA’s upper-management, take this as an important lesson – if you’re going to reboot a series, keep it true to its roots or don’t reboot it at all. Maybe I wouldn’t have hated on the new Syndicate quite as hard if it wasn’t, you know, called Syndicate. If it was called “Holy Shit, Somebody Get Me a Pair of Sunglasses So I Can Actually Manage to Shoot This Guy in the Dick,” I think it would’ve gone over a little better than it did.
Because, when you reboot something, you’re essentially banking on people’s expectations. You’re presumably invoking the name of an established franchise in order to tap into an existing fanbase… so why turn around and shit all over that fanbase by shitting all over the franchise? There’s a reason that Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins was about Bruce Wayne fighting crime in a batsuit as opposed to an alcoholic circus clown who robs banks in order to pay for his sex-change operation.
It’s the same reason why Michael Bay is getting death threats in regards to his hilariously retarded Ninja Turtles reboot. People expect to get what it says on the tin, and if you’re not willing to provide that, why bother in the first place?
2K Games went through this exact scenario when they announced a reboot of the classic sci-fi tactical game X-COM. Once again, a major publisher decided to take a cerebral strategy game and shoehorn it into the trappings of a modern-day FPS. The franchise’s original fanbase went nuts, and luckily, someone at 2K came to their senses. Though the FPS X-COM reboot is still supposedly coming out (it’s only been delayed about twelve times, now), legendary developer Firaxis has now been tasked with creating another, far more faithful game in the series. This fall we’ll all be treated to X-COM: Enemy Unknown, which looks and plays just like you remember.
So please, Mr. Gibeau, take notes. I get incredibly nervous when you start threatening “to go look in the library and see what we have and maybe bring back some IPs for the next-generation.”
Because, like dickmeat, there may be a handful of people who want to play a Theme Park FPS. But the vast majority of us are just going to throw up at the dinner table.