As the end of this generation draws near we’re seeing an increase in the amount of franchises that are taking a stab at faster release cycles. Call of Duty has been pulling this trick for a while but even titles with a bigger scope like Assassin’s Creed and Dead Rising are trying to give us a new game every year.
The term “new game” may be a bit of a stretch because in the rush to meet the deadlines a lot of these titles are getting flak for not adding enough to previous iterations. While waiting years for a game may be painful, is it preferable to basically buying what equates to an expansion pack?
I’ve been playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 for the past week and I’ve really stated to notice how much that game is showing its age. Back in 2007 the kind of visuals it was pulling (at 60 frames per second, no less!) were stunning, but as time has gone on Call of Duty’s visual style has become noticeably long in the tooth. Compared to Battlefield 3, which has such a strong visual style, CoD felt laughably old in some parts. There’s a raid on an African village mid-way through the game where you can actually see the low polygon count of the background, stuff so bad it looks like it was ripped out of a PlayStation One game.
That’s not even taking into account just how robotic and old fashioned controlling your character feels. The shooting is still as competent as ever, but you really do feel like you’re controlling a gun with a camera and locked legs attached to it. Instead of vaulting smoothly over obstacles like in Battlefield 3, MW3 instead has you awkwardly mount them and jerk over, every indication that you’re controlling a real person disappearing from the screen. Actual discernible kinetic movement has been one of my favorite innovations of this genre, and having one of the biggest titles in gaming lack (and many other things) is starting to get noticeable.
This isn’t really supposed to be a BF3/MW3 comparison rant, but you can really tell that years of work went into the Frostbite 2 engine and the tech behind Call of Duty is struggling to stay relevant. Imagine if Halo: Reach had used the exact same engine as Halo 3 or ODST? ODST felt very outdated when it came out in 2009 so an engine that was old back in 2007 (albeit with some appealing coats of paint) is doing more harm than good. True, this generation is coming to a close, but how much longer will Activision keep using the same technology to power Call of Duty? That franchise needs to be taken out of its yearly rotation if Activsion doesn’t want to run it right into the ground before they find their next big thing (not that they’re not trying).
Assassin’s Creed was not a franchise I expected to be seeing every year, but I guess the game is making quite the bank for UbiSoft, so here we are with our third adventure with Ezio Auditore in as many years. Now, I haven’t had time to play Revelations personally, but I’ve watched a friend of mine play through pretty much the entire game. I acknowledge that that doesn’t give me carte blanche to make judgements about the game (in fact you should take this entire section with a huge grain of salt), but aside from the freakish Uncanny Valley eyes of the cast and the new locale, there’s little to distinguish Revelations from Brotherhood or Two. You go around, buy shops, kill Templars and hunt for hidden items in tombs. It’s hard to believe that additions that were called revolutionary for the franchise only three years ago have now become formulaic and predictable.
When you look at a game like Skyrim, which offers hours upon hours of fresh, exciting content in a beautiful world, or Saint’s Row the Third, which tries so hard to get away from all the tropes we’ve come to expect from gameing, it’s hard to believe that titles that don’t bother to add anything or deviate from their release cycles continue to sell so well.
It’s a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but even the most high-performance car needs a tune-up after a while. I like Assassin’s Creed a lot, but can I stomach one of these every year? I tried the multiplayer and co-op of Modern Warefare 3 and even that failed to engage me. The Spec Ops missions were less creative than those of Modern Warfare 2, and the ridiculous amount of leveling hooks added to multiplayer (your gun ranks up in addition to you, your perks and whatever else they can attach experience points to) made me roll my eyes. That isn’t innovation or reinventing yourself, that’s adding more glitter to distract from the fact that there’s nothing different from last year.
That’s not even counting the fact that these titles are still being sold for full price. Microsoft and Campcom at least had the decency to sell their smaller scale titles at a discounted price. Heck, Sonic Generations, which I’ve enjoyed immensely, wasn’t even a full priced game.
The games industry is in kind of a holding pattern right now. We probably won’t see new things until the next generation and that bums me out a little bit. I still buy Assassin’s Creed and CoD games, so I’m part of the problem, but eventually this policy is going to come back and bite publishers in the ass.
What do you guys think? What are your thoughts on annualization?