It was pretty amusing hearing die-hard Fallout fans whine that Fallout 3 was too much like another award-winning RPG. You don't know how good you've got it, guys. There's been a lot of other well-regarded game franchises that have become completely derailed by publishers/developers through neglect, incompetence, greed, or some combination of the three. As a result of these mistakes, a hit game never becomes a hit series and a hit series becomes a shadow of its former self. Below are five of the worst examples:
As the saying goes, "You're only as good as your last hit" - but that works both ways. You're only as bad as your last flop and it's possible that these five franchises could be turned around. We're not holding our breath, though.
There's definitely been some decent Star Wars games as of late - The Force Unleashed, Battlefront II, Knights of the Old Republic 1-2 - but the brand has been diluted by a wave of poor quality games. Demolition, Racer Revenge, Flight of the Falcon, Super Bombad Racing, Lethal Alliance, Masters of Teräs Käsi, and Battle for Naboo are just some of the clunkers that Star Wars fans have had to endure. What adds insult to injury is the fact that LucasArts abandoned its beloved adventure games (Monkey Island, Full Throttle, etc.) in order to devote itself to strip-mining every aspect of the Star Wars movies and haphazardly porting these games to as many platforms as possible.
Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, as they say, and earlier this year Force Unleashed producer Cameron Suey stated that "Star Wars is one of the greatest licenses for a video game you could have and in the past we got a little excited about that and we put out games that probably weren't up to the quality bar that we would have liked." Hopefully they'll concentrate on making fewer but better Star Wars games in the future. The Knights of the Old Republic MMO they're publishing (with development by BioWare) does seem promising, at least.
Like Star Wars, the Sonic franchise has had some good games but they've been drowned in a tidal wave of licensed shovelware. The series had some success lately on the DS with Sonic Rush and Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood but for every decent game, there's two or three other pieces of crap like Shadow the Hedgehog (Sonic is not a goddamn shooter, Sega) and Sonic the Hedgehog for PS3/Xbox 360. The franchise has been inconsistent ever since the 16-bit era ended, really. The reason the Sonic franchise is so disappointing is because, well, it was supposed to be Sega's Mario. It was the mascot, the character that would endure as new consoles came and went. Unlike Mario, though, the Sonic games just didn't have the same strong design backing them up. It just seemed like no one knew what to do with the character when its side-scrolling days were over. Granted, the Italian plumber's been in quite a few stinkers also but Nintendo still manages to churn out Game of the Year-type stuff like Super Mario Galaxy. It's been a long time since anyone's ever looked at a Sonic game like that.
Is it unfair to compare the Sonic franchise to Mario? I don't think so. Sega created Sonic the Hedgehog in the first place as an answer to Mario. Furthermore, during the days that Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo competed for supremacy, Sonic was arguably on equal footing with Mario. It seems laughable now to compare the two characters but back then, those two were viewed as competitors. It's like when two college quarterbacks with comparable reputations enter the NFL in the same year - throughout their career, they're ultimately going to be measured against each other. If one quarterback ends up winning Super Bowls and the other doesn't, you're going to consider the second quarterback a disappointment even if he had a decent career. Sega just never figured out how to build upon Sonic's initial promise.
The premise of Rampage is simple yet awesome: players control large mutated monsters who travel the globe destroying cities and decimating whatever armies try to stop you. The original version was extremely repetitive, with players just climbing up a building, and then punching holes in it until it collapsed, and then repeating this process until every building in the level was destroyed. Still, back in late 1980's, that was enough. Like Sonic, however, no one knew what to do with Rampage once the 2D side-scrolling era ended. The mediocre sequels (the most recent being Rampage: Total Destruction for Wii, PS2, and GameCube) spit out over the past two decades just haven't made full use of new technology or added any innovation to the gameplay. Total Destruction was basically fake 3D - all of the characters were 3D but it was still a side-scroller.
Now that we're in the era of sandbox gameplay, isn't it about time someone made a proper next-gen Rampage game where you could storm through a three-dimensional city, wreaking havoc? Midway is in bad shape right now so they might not be the ones to revive the franchise. Hopefully some other company will swoop in and buy up the rights.
Duke Nukem Forever, the fourth installment in a series that included the FPS Duke Nukem 3D and a couple side-scrollers, was announced back in April 1997. Since then, the game has become a punch line, the ultimate example of a game stuck in development hell. "Starcraft: Ghost? Yeah, I hear it's coming out about the same time as Duke Nukem Forever!" Too Human and Team Fortress 2, two games that also took forever to be completed, were announced after and released before Duke Nukem Forever. That's right, there's a developer out there who's actually slower than Valve. We'd all like to think they're taking so long because they want the game to be perfect but they crossed the line between "perfection" and "slow as balls" long ago. I'm not sure what 3DRealms has been doing for the past decade but let's hope it was a lot of fun.
Earlier this year, 3D Realms finally released a teaser trailer which was maddeningly slim on details or gameplay footage. All it proved was that 3D Realms employed at least one dude who knew how to make cut scenes. However, then a video of actual in-game footage was shown on the first episode of The Jace Hall Show so apparently they actually did make a game after all. Allegedly this game could come out next year but it's been delayed so many times that many fans' enthusiasm has long since been drained.
If you get into a conversation with an older gaming snob about the best games of all time, the name X-Com will usually come up. The first game in the franchise, UFO Defense had players controlling an agency that defended the Earth against extraterrestrial invaders. You set up bases across the world, hired staff, equipped them, researched new technologies, and killed a lot of Martians. When a UFO appeared, you'd scramble a fighter jet to take it down. Once the UFO crashed to the surface or landed on its own, you'd have to send in your troops, at which point the game became a turn-based strategy with your grunts facing off against a variety of aliens. Successfully defeating the aliens would allow you to recover alien equipment and reverse-engineer it to unlock new technologies for your forces. Eventually you'd discover where the home planet of the aliens is and go kick the crap out of them. Good stuff. The series used more or less the same formula with the second game Terror from the Deep (except it was set underwater) and was similarly solid. Apocalypse changed things up a bit, introducing an option to perform combat in real-time and limiting the game to one city but still more or less stuck to the series' strategy roots.
However, about that time, some alien invaders zapped X-Com creator Microprose with a Retard-O-Beam. The next X-Com game, Interceptor, was a terrible, campy flight sim. Microprose was then gobbled up by Infogrames, who made Enforcer, a (sigh) first-person shooter - not a good one, either. There's been plenty of franchises that have gone stagnant, with developers playing it safe in order to make the easy buck, but I've never seen a franchise run away from its own success quite like X-Com. It's like Jimi Hendrix showing up to a gig and saying, "You know what? Fuck the guitar. Hand me that washboard."
Still, there's reason for hope. 2K now has the rights to the series and supposedly a new entry in the series is being made by Ken Levine and the gang at 2K Boston. Hopefully they'll be able to create an X-Com sequel good enough to make youngsters understand why older gamers are always yammering about this series.