Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The life span of a series

If Sylvester Stallone has taught us anything, unlike wine and whiskey, series' of things do not always improve with age. There are quite a few long running game franchises out there and a lot of them are starting to run out of steam. When a developer tries to breathe new life into it, a lot of people reject the change. On the flipside, if they re-make a similar game, it is seen as a copy and paste job that does nothing new and exciting. It is quite hard to get the balance right.

The first Crash Bandicoot was one of the pioneers of the 3D platforming world. It amazed people with it's level design, quirky humour and decent gameplay that have made it a gem in the Playstation's crown. Then came Crash Bandicoot 2. Not a lot changed, but there were more levels, a new layout to the level selection (meaning you did not have to do each tier of levels in any particular order) and it generally improved a lot of things from the first game. With the arrival of Crash Bandicoot 3, it looked like Naughty Dog could do no wrong. The game itself was alright, but there were quite a few things about it that really did not do Crash any favours. Flying levels were introduced that handled like a very poor flight sim and towards the end of the game, Crash acquires a bazooka meaning that sniping enemies from a far was easier than going in with standard attacks.

It is from this point that the series started to plummet faster than a hammer in the river Thames. It might have had something to do with Traveller's Tales taking over from Naughty Dog, but all of a sudden, there was nothing new and original in the series. Just repetitiveness from the previous games and a gimmick or two that did not work. The latest outing, Crash of the Titans is a complete re-wire of the original Crash Bandicoot that has taken what was a perfect clay model, and moulded it into a disproportionate rabbit. Basically, the series has had its successful run and is now falling over itself, refusing to stop.

An example of a strong series is the Hitman games. Each one has perfected on the last in little ways. The sneaking and disguise system has been getting better and better ever since the original incarnation in 2000. In the latest offering, Hitman: Bloody Money, it all just feels perfect, having gone through the teething pains of it's older siblings, and coming out superior. Even little things, like being able to sedate a sausage to knock out an annoying dog have been implemented making it one of the most flexible and approachable stealth games out there. I am eagerly awaiting the next installment, and am hoping that it follows the, thus far, ever improving trend.

A series that is a bit of a mixed bag is very hard to judge from media reactions. Whenever a Grand Theft Auto game is released, it always seems to score as close to perfect as it can. Whilst I have liked every game in the series, I do think that when compared to each other, the newer outings are not as amazing as they are hyped to be. You could argue that comparing them to each other is similar to comparing Fabergé eggs with one another. They're all covered in sparkly bits and are treasured in your collection. It is in my opinion however, that the last Grand Theft Auto that did anything really amazing and revolutionary for the series was Vice City. San Andreas just gave you a bigger area to roam with a less impressive sound track, and GTA4 just gave everything a nice paint job and slightly improved gunplay.

GTA has been a around for a while, but has it started it's slippery slope? Judging from sales figures, absolutely not. The original games were top down affairs, and GTA3 breathed new life into the series making it a truly revolutionary title that gave birth to the sandbox game on PS2. Knowing Rockstar, they treat their games like their babies, and so want them to have the best in life. GTA probably isn't in danger yet, but it really does beg the question, how long will it last?

How long will any game series last? Mario is proving to be very resilient, but even he has had to fight through a tide of rubbish games that slap the porky plumber on the cover.

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