How A Name Can Work Against A Game Series
Lately I’ve found that when playing a video game from a long running series, I usually don’t care what type of game it is or how it’s designed as long as it’s fun. Though many have expressed their clear hatred for it, Resident Evil 6 was very enjoyable for my friends and I, and I personally think it has the best Mercenaries co-op mode. That said, I can understand why many people were displeased by what RE6 did, with how it built from RE5’s example of action mixed with lite survival horror to completely bucking the survival horror part in favor of cinematic action horror. Though, Leon’s campaign did have some genuinely good survival horror moments.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that a lot of these criticisms came from the fact that Resident Evil long-established itself as a survival horror series and even the bombastic Resident Evil 4 had its fair share of scary moments and survival horror elements. I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with RE6, as it has amazing production values, excellent voice acting, ambitious co-op play and an easy to follow story that intertwines between the multiple campaigns. However, a part of me agrees with the echoed sentiment that it would be better if it wasn’t called ‘Resident Evil’.
This sentiment had been previously expressed for Operation Racoon City, another game that placed more emphasis on action than traditional survival horror. While criticisms are subjective and game series are free to expand in whichever way they want, it doesn’t appeal to fans very well when a game series known for one thing suddenly starts doing something else entirely. In other cases, it might not even be that the gameplay changed much at all, but rather the aesthetic or characterization received an overhaul. Think of the new DmC: Devil May Cry compared to the previous Devil May Cry games. Many would have you believe that what annoyed fans was merely the hair color of Dante no longer being white, but it actually goes much deeper than that. How Dante was characterized, the change in art style and level design, the Hollywood-style storyline; people had a variety of reasons to dislike DmC. I personally enjoyed the game regardless and I warmed up to the new Dante in the end, even managing to enjoy the gameplay for its very deep combat. Regardless, many believe that they would have been happier with this game overall if it wasn’t called ‘Devil May Cry’ and it was instead a new IP based on or inspired by Devil May Cry.
People often feel that new game mechanics, changed characters or an overall massive change ruin what made original games in the series good, or even defined the series in the first place. Even when a new game is received a lot better than the games I’ve already mentioned, there’s still that problem as a byproduct of people feeling like it’s not the same series anymore. Hitman: Absolution and Splinter Cell Conviction are both excellent, fun games which streamlined the series gameplay and upped the spectacle in many good ways. However, long time fans of the series believed that these games had betrayed them and departed from their roots in favor of over-the-top action which isn’t as good as what it used to be. Many say that Conviction is a great video game but just not a ‘great Splinter Cell game’, which you can take however you want. To cite a recent example, think of the Tomb Raider reboot in 2013; it was critically acclaimed and received well by fans and newcomers alike but many still called it an ‘Uncharted clone’ and proceeded to dislike it based on its altered gameplay.
It’s important to note that often gamers, not all but some, don’t seem to know what they want. They cry and moan whenever series like Call of Duty of FIFA ‘never change’ but then they also complain just as much when a series changes too much. There’s a belief that ‘innovation’ is what’s needed for games yet it’s not exactly ‘innovation’ that’s selling the most copies of popular games. That’s a point that’s not necessarily gospel truth but it does have something to do with complaints about series changing. A game series that’s years old will eventually have to try to branch out, think of new ideas or incorporate new mechanics. Sticking like glue to tradition for its own sake may appeal to fans for a while but it runs the danger of growing stale. So eventually, developers will want to take a leap of faith and do something different with their IP that has never been done before, and this is often met with relative success.
In a way, a series’ name can sometimes hold the game back when the developer tries to be innovative or change the game entirely. Gears of War is known for its fast paced third person shooter gameplay and cover system, with its very unique control scheme that players have grown into over the course of 3 games. That’s why when Gears of War: Judgement was released, many fans were not happy at all with what had been done to many core aspects of the gameplay. Let’s imagine for a moment that the game wasn’t called ‘Gears of War’ and instead it was a different IP based on Gears and developed by Epic Games, it would have probably been seen in a better light. Probably.
In the end, I’m not here to debate whether or not certain sequels of games are better or worse than their predecessors since in the end it’s all subjective. I have my own opinions of games like Final Fantasy XIII which are dynamically different from the games in the series’ past, and I have my own likes and dislikes about them. But what I have definitely noticed is how the brand name can actually work to a series’ detriment when it tries to be too different from its original gameplay and sometimes it might be better to abandon the name altogether if developers want to try something new. For all the complaints about COD’s ‘sameness’, I imagine people will be more concerned if the series suddenly starting adding fantasy and magical elements or played like a card game. Then again, there are always those out there who welcome change no matter what it is, and won’t begrudge a game for doing something completely outlandish. Iconic games can gain attention through prestige alone and this is a good thing, but it can also be a double-edged sword when they try to change anything.