Friday, April 16, 2010

Everything Old is New Again

A lot of times it seems like people would rather dig up the past then try and do something new. Bands release covers of well known songs to guarantee themselves a hit, and movie makers seem hell-bent on remaking every old film and TV show in the hopes that people who loved the original will feel compelled to watch the new version, regardless of its quality. Usually, I'm against this sort of thing, even in the games industry, I'd rather see developers take a chance with new IP. However, two items of news which caught my eye this week made me feel differently.

First up was news of EA and Starbreeze registering "Syndicate" trademarks. It had been rumoured for a while that EA (who own the Syndicate IP since they bought and destroyed Bullfrog) and The Darkness / Chronicles of Riddick developer Starbreeze were working on a new Syndicate game, but I feared when reports surfaced that a game they were developing was cancelled that it was going to be stillborn. Now it appears that they actually canned a Bourne Identity game (which nobody cares about), in another case of EA making good now that ActiBlizz has replaced them as the evil empire of the gaming industry. For those of you too young to remember, Syndicate was one of Bullfrog's many groundbreaking games, an isometric action-strategy game set in a surprisingly fully realised (for 1993) cyberpunk environment. Looking at the screenshots does provide a bit of a reminder as to how long ago 1993 was, though.

The other item of news involved 2K Games announcing that Bioshock 2 developers 2K Marin were making a new X-Com game (it has now been explained that it is actually 2K Australia developing the game, but this doesn't mean much to me. 2K Games really needs to let its studios have more interesting names). Released 1994, the first X-Com game (you'd probably be more familiar with the European title of UFO: Enemy Unknown) was a landmark title of the late DOS gaming era, combining base building, research and resource management, a real-time global map and a turn based, tactical combat system for individual battles. It wasn't much to look at (even by 1994 standards), and the individual mechanics weren't always that well resolved (the tactical elements of the turn based combat, for example, were notably inferior to the first Jagged Alliance game), but it had such breadth of ambition, and so many good ideas that it felt massively ahead of its time.

While I'm excited to see these classic names return to gaming, I am a little concerned that the rebirths (they're doubtlessly going to be too different to be called remakes) of these series might not retain much of the spirit of the old games, the things which made them so great when they were first released. Chief amongst these worries is the fact that both games, where both original versions were viewed from an isometric third person perspective, are likely to be remade as first person shooters. This is merely speculation for the new Syndicate game, based on the nature of Starbreeze's recent releases, but has been confirmed for the new X-Com game. Hopefully the game will still include the macro-level strategy of the original, but I think that putting the player in charge of an individual soldier, even with some tactical controls, will change the feel of the game quite a lot, as will the shift to real-time from turn-based combat. Similarly, I think making the new Syndicate game a first person shooter will also lose something, and make it feel far more generic. Still, at least it doesn't sound like they're going to make it a team-based online FPS, like how Microsoft squandered the Shadowrun IP.

It's far too early for anything but conjecture on these games, neither of which have even had a release window announced, but hearing that these two classics were coming back certainly gave me a brief flash of nostalgic joy.


  1. Thanks for the emails, it does make it a lot easier to keep track of your updates.

    I'm a big X-Com fan, and I even own (legally!! horror!) the UFO: After series (aftermath, aftershock, and the third one based on mars that I hate). If they follow the After motif, which preserved the original form but enhanced it with a much more refined interface, combat system, etc then I can't wait. FPS format would just totally destroy the "feel" of the XCOM series for me.

    I'm quite keen on a next-gen syndicate, there's just way too few cyberpunk themed games out there, and the last one I played, entitled "shadowrun" (nothing to do with FASA, RIP), was a massive let-down. Of all the areas of scientific development I think we're closest to cyberware, and so I think the cyberpunk genre is really due for some exploration... but minus the "punk" element since huge spikey pink mohawks are so 1980s.

  2. When I wrote that X-Com was coming back, I had actually forgotten that there have been a whole lot of unofficial sequels and homages to the game, including Cenega's UFO: After series, which you seem to have, and a blatant rip-off called UFO: Extraterrestrials which I remember reading a review of.

    When you say the last "Shadowrun" game you played had nothing to do with FASA, was it an awful team-based first person shooter? Because if so, that was FASA, or at least what remained of it after the pen and paper RPG side of it folded. They were bought by Microsoft (primarily for the strength of the MechWarrior license used in the MechAssault games), but after the dismal failure of the Shadowrun game, surely the most inept use of a great license ever, they have disappeared altogether.