Tuesday, 7 June 2011


During my review of X-Men First Class, I mentioned how Moira McTaggart was not really the Moira we knew of from the comics (or in my case, Saturday morning cartoon show). I wondered (aloud) why they hadn't invented a new character. More recently two games that I know and enjoy are getting remakes/sequels/just continuing the franchise, depending on how you look at it. X-Com and Brothers in Arms were both great games (X-Com was actually superb, but beside the point right now). And now they're getting new games bearing their name.

The thing is, the games themselves have seemingly little to do with the original game. Brothers in Arms was a tactical shooter where you commanded a squad of airborne troopers. It was based upon the exploits of real soldiers, had incredible detail and historical knowledge, and was one of my favourite shooters. Except the third one. I hated the third one. But all of them were about the horror of war and dealing with the loss of your comrades. The new game is, as one commentator put it, "Inglourious Basterds: The Game".

He's not wrong. The E3 trailer showed a completely different tone to the game. It's still based in WW2, and you still fight on the Allied side. That's pretty much the entirety of the similarities. The rest is the Tarantino movie. I've got nothing against that, except the name. Why keep the Brothers in Arms name? What does this new game have to do with the old ones? Is it the psychotic hallucinations of one of the main characters? Because that I could understand. But beyond that, I can't imagine the two living in the same world.

I'm told branding is the cause. But I don't understand this. Branding, as a tool, is supposed to work by associating a proven, good product with a new product. And it's a powerful force, the cause of sequels to great films bringing in incredible profits even if the film itself is bad (see Spiderman 3 vs. Spiderman 2, or the top ten animated movies in the UK by profit, they're almost all sequels). If the previous thing in the series was good, the next thing will make a lot of money.

But is this true if the next thing is completely different? Anyone aware of a brand will be able to see that the next thing is so completely changed from the thing they loved, they'll have to judge it by it's own merits. So maybe by using the brand, they're not catering for those who loved it the most, they're catering to the people who have heard the name but know next to nothing about it. But those guys would have heard the name from the first lot. And the first lot will now be complaining about it.

By taking a brand and producing something nonsensical with it, the publisher is creating bad publicity. The game now has something to prove. It has to be great or it will get eaten alive. Fallout 3 is an example of this. When information about the game first began to trickle in, hardcore Fallout fans were appalled (at least the loud ones were). There were a lot of complaints about the change. But, and this is important, it kept the original setting and feel of the first two games. It still felt like Fallout. And the reviews were very positive. They were plenty of faults with it on a core level (combat's general shittiness is my personal pet peeve), but it was still a good game. And it was still a Fallout game. This new Brothers in Arms game is not that.

For the purposes of clarity, I'm going to refer to XCOM as the 2K game coming out sometime soon and UFO as the original Enemy Unknown. This case is right between the two. XCOM is a brand new take on the UFO IP. It's so different that I don't even recognise it as UFO. It could, to me, be made under a different name and I wouldn't feel any different about it. Actually that's not true. If it were under any other name, I would probably be more excited about it. I'd have no expectations of it, other than it's a good looking game and an interesting premise. Currently it looks like a shooter version of UFO, which is harmful to my soul.

Publishers seemingly fail to realise that branding comes with baggage. They want the good stuff of increased profit margins from goodwill towards that brand without the bad stuff of higher expectations of an evolved version of the previous. X-COM Enforcer was a great way to fuck that up. It's probably too harsh an example, as it was a shit game stapled onto a great brand. Once the new XCOM is released, it'll probably sell well. If it's a good game, it'll probably sell very well. But would it sell better or worse than if it was branded under a new name? The setting is so far removed from the original that they'd have no problems doing this legally. And it's not as if they have serious competition (name another triple A, aliens invade Earth, turn-their-tech-against-them-while-they-infiltrate-the-very-organisations-funding-us game out there). I'd bet that if they had put this together under a different title, UFO fans would be clamouring to them. They'd be creating positive buzz talking about it on forums and in comments. They'd be telling their friends about it. Instead they're complaining to everyone about it. When a brand has been clamouring for a comeback from it's fans, they flock to anything that plays like it. the UFO:Aftermath series of games, the fan based creations, I'm sure they get plenty of support from the Enemy Unknown community. XCOM gets virtually none. And they paid handsomely for the privilege to use that name.

And here I was hoping for, at the very least, the western version of Valkyria Chronicles...

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