It seems to me that after suffering decades of ‘sequelitis’, the games industry wants us to believe it has found a cure – the reboot. To be clear, I’m not talking about the kind of reboots that are essentially retro remakes, so forget about XCOM, Bionic Commando, Splatterhouse etc. for now, I mean the ones that come along at about the time a sequel would normally be due and have the same name as the first, or at least a much earlier, iteration of the series.
The list so far includes Prince Of Persia, Medal Of Honor, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, Mortal Kombat, DmC Devil May Cry and Tomb Raider but I’m sure it will grow over the next few years before game publisher marketing teams come up with some other new way of thinly veiling their lack of new ideas.
I’m not knocking the games themselves – I thought Medal Of Honor was underrated and Hot Pursuit is clearly an excellent game – I just have a bit of a bugbear with pretentious marketing trends. To me, it looks like the last thirty years of game marketing have gone something like this…
“We have no new ideas, and even if we did, no one would want them. Let’s just make that game that sold well last year again and put a ‘2’ on the end of the name.”
It worked for a while, but…
“We still have no new ideas, and the consumer is starting to figure out that the games with 2, 3 and 4 at the end are much the same as each other. They’ve even cottoned on to II, III and IV. Let’s start putting punchy subtitles after the number…”
So we started getting sequels with names like Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty. Before long the numbers started getting dropped altogether, and the titles got longer and longer as desperate marketing teams just started piling brands on top of each other willy-nilly. As games journalists, we knew something was wrong when it became impossible to punctuate certain game titles properly. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel Of Darkness, International Superstar Soccer Pro Evolution 2, WWF Smackdown! 2: Know Your Role… aaargh! At one point, so legend has it, Ubisoft issued a blanket e-mail to all games journalists stating that there were to be no colons used in the titles of any Ubisoft games.
“It’s not Tom Clancy’s: Rainbow Six: Take-Down: Missions In Korea. It’s Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Take-Down Missions In Korea, damnit!”
This was clearly getting out of hand, and things started to calm down for a while, with the industry entering an era I like to call the Unleashed Period. To date there have been a staggering 31 games announced or released with the word ‘Unleashed’ in their title, a great many of which have emerged in the last five years. Tired of numbers and long, meaningless punctuation-free sentences, those plucky marketing innovators have just started sticking ‘Unleashed’ on the end of existing game names. It’s sad to think of how much money they probably earn for thinking up this crap, isn’t it? But I think Shift 2: Unleashed – or Need For Speed: Shift 2: Unleashed, to give it the ludicrous title it deserves – could be the Unleashed period’s last hurrah (unless maybe there’s a Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 3: Unleashed in the pipeline). It’s already being ushered out by the ‘Reboots Phase’, which came about because…
“Guys, we’ve had no new ideas for games for some time, but now we have no new ideas for game names either. The consumer now realises that numbers, numerals, subtitles, brands within brands within brands, unnecessarily long sentences (with or without punctuation) and ‘Unleashed’ all amount to exactly the same lazy re-hashing of old ideas, yet still refuses to buy games bearing new and unfamiliar names. So what are we supposed to do now?”
“Um… how about we just use exactly the same names again? It’s like… everything you loved about the original game. Including its title!”
“Good God! That’s so immensely stupid it might just work…”
I realise of course that a good game is a good game regardless of its name. But when a publisher announces a new iteration of a long-standing series that has exactly the same name as a previous iteration and actually presents this re-used name as some sort of evidence that this is the freshest, newest iteration yet…
…I can’t help but feel like my intelligence is being a little insulted.
So please, let’s try not to be quite as stupid as they think we are.