Few things in gaming culture make me want to burp a baby using the claw end of a hammer than when I see generally decent publishers and developers make a game licensed from a television show, movie, or comic book. Although not all licensed games hurl luke-warm pork in an ashtray all over the gaming culture, a majority of them do. Take for example, the staple butt-end of a joke game, E.T. Or, if you would prefer:
- Tron Evolution
- Hunt for Red October (originally a book)
- Harry Potter
- Jurassic Park
- Space Jam
- Reservoir Dogs
- The Polar express (based on the film that was based on the book)
- Last Action Hero
- Miami Vice: The Game
- Transformers: Rise of the Fallen
Most licensed games try to expand a 90-minute movie into 6-7 hours of gameplay, which means the writers and developers abuse the term and privilege of ‘artistic license’ in conjuring up ugly gameplay with sub-literate story lines used connect the main plot points of a mediocre movie with the mediocre plot points in the game (if we’re lucky). In short, the games are an ad that generate increased revenue for both the movie publishers and game publishers but all we get as gamers are a couple of lousy trophies or achievements that prompt the question if our achievement board lists also come in “mens.”
With consideration that justification for the development practice manifests in the game culture’s continual consent to theft of their $60 and 7 hours time, it is no great surprise that the games of this nature see the light of day. Otherwise, game publishers would have rightfully told the movie publishers to piss off by now. They have not, so remember to keep your wallets, er, eyes open for Captain America and Thor, the games, and keep believing that every time you don’t support the onslaught of movie-turned-game titles, Uwe Boll further endangers the Panda Bear species with another game-turned-movie.
I have to admit though, the thought is tempting. I have often wondered what it would be like to play as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho: The Game. Would I ask Jared Leto if he likes Genesis or just kill him outright? Would I have tried harder to feed the ATM a stray cat? What would the chainsaw action sequences as I ran naked down the hallway entail, would I have to hurdle annoyed neighbors or could I kill them too? Indeed these questions keep me awake at night.
Not all licensed games are horrible, some turn out pretty damned enjoyable. Games like Ducktales , Golden Eye 007, Batman Arkham Asylum, and Metro 2033 were awesome games to play because despite the unifying core between the game and its original media, they didn’t rely on the original media to script all aspects of the game. Instead, the games were created with scripts independent enough that the original media was a guideline and advertising the original media wasn’t a major objective.
I am surprised however, at the lack of success in the mono-patterns evidenced in this tiny, flawed facet of the industry because other broad facets of the game industry mimic the same mono-patterns with huge, often nauseating success; FPS shooters are generally all the same:
Crysis 2 was Killzone 3 on earth against Aliens instead of in space against humans. Well, and Killzone was compelling in terms of story, Crysis 2 was just a plot rewrite and redirection to keep the franchise alive and an attempt to unify several dated themes in other FPS titles that previous developers shrugged at because they were dated. Mainly buying Crysis 2 is no different from buying and wearing a Tag Heuer watch just because it is a Tag Heuer watch.
Black Ops was Battlefield 2 except set 40-50 years earlier with a crazy person running around the set of factual wars escaping armies controlled by crazy dictators instead of normal people running around trying to stop the same fictitious war and escaping crazy dictators. Well, and Battlefield 2 was not batshit crazy implausible based on the mixture of settings to the level of Black Ops, and BF2’s multiplayer strengths didn’t give advantage based on connection speed or ruin everyone’s game if the host rage-quit. I will say though, I half expected a perpetually spinning top to appear while the credits rolled, that way I could feel the game was in some small way the least bit clever.
Alex Mason, I, Ed Harris, have been chasing your sweaty man-bits through two decades of proxy wars as you’ve killed innumerable people of interest to the U.S. government. I will conveniently forget that this entire fiasco, and nearly all carnage involved, is the result of your delusional schizophrenic sociopathy. The false memories and programming by communist party in-fighters, Gary Oldman and the bad guy from Wishmaster, did contribute yes, but your direct actions ultimately undermine the U.S. government. Now that you’ve spent the better part of three hours wallowing in false memories, confusing players, and killing the wrong people on “accident”, I am going to let you go because we’re being attacked and because the CIA has sudden firm trust in you, it’s what we do – trust people, implicitly even. There will be time later to worry about your mental stability and loyalties, right now take this gun, and kill only the people I tell you. If you do this, I can build a case that proves the false choices I give you mean that you weren't really a schizophrenic sociopath all along but a patriotic schizophrenic sociopath.
(Oh yeah, spoiler alert for the above – guess I should have something sooner).
Dead Space 2 was Resident Evil 5 in outer space that shoved the responsibility of turning otherwise poverty stricken mindless cultists into poverty stricken mindless bio-zombies (which means the change was only physical) on a religion based political faction functioning on corporate agenda, seeking hyper-progressive evolution instead of an evil version of S.C. Johnson Wax that sought weapons grade progressive human evolution on earth for political control. Well, and Dead Space didn’t utilize annoying assistive AI that depleted the same high-value / low appropriation resources as the player controlled counterpart and lacked a superhuman puppeteer with sunglasses grafted to his face, but at least in Dead Space there was the giant Twizzler to destroy (I hate Twizzlers). In addition, Dead Space had a soundstage and user interface on par with the awesomeness of flaming cyborg unicorns, rainbows that drip blood, and maybe a pack of headless Peeps (which are all pretty freaking awesome), while the UI for Resident Evil 5 was on par with itself.
In addition, some non-licensed games exist and “earn” too many accolades to validate ire for only licensed games with the biggest joke toward success and acclaim that comes to mind being Borderlands.
Borderlands was nothing short of a slick remake of Brute Force with the skill growth mechanic from Shadow Watch and Hellgate: London, wrapped neatly in the “new and unique” visual style seen in XIII, Crimson Tears, Fear Effect, and Silverfall, but with the tedious task acquisition of Fallout 3 except with archetype character personalities of a carrot. Seriously, why bother giving a back story and purpose to a character only to abandon it (and them) the moment the player steps from the bus? I would have felt like less a victim of full frontal molestation if the game were upfront and said, “Here, just start killing things and run back and forth like a mentally deficient monkey on crack, in a safety harness.” (oh wait, it sort of did).
Of course there is always the licensing of games that spawn from licensing characters from other games – Super Smash Brothers, Marvel Vs. (insert nostalgic but defunct game franchise here), and Soul Calibur.
Having played and thoroughly enjoyed Soul Edge and Soul Blade, Soul Calibur was initially great until the release of Soul Calibur III at which time the story fell apart and tertiary characters appeared to serve as both marketing presence figures and as the game handicap character. Likewise, Marvel vs. Capcom and Super Smash Brothers were initially great because they evidenced a market for people that have a markedly surprising disinterest in the story sequencing and relevance between featured fighters that beleaguered other fighting games. These games were for people who simply wanted to punch and kick anything for absolutely no reason at all, never had the opportunity to play Rival Schools, and further hone the skills of timed, sequential button mashing – especially if it meant a match-up of scantily clad gravity affected busty women and egocentric musclemen with guns or tiny unitards with underwear on the outside. Well, to be fair – that is truer for Capcom Vs. whatever than Super Smash brothers, which basically took Nintendo first party headline characters and put them in a 2.5D sno-globe arena of multi-tier platforms with camera angles discernible to only a flounder fish as a profitable reminder that Nintendo didn’t forget Mario, Metroid, Pokémon, Kirby, Star Fox, and Zelda titles have a zombie following that have an orgasm when they hear any of the aforementioned in a more expensive re-release on a new platform. I do have to seriously wonder though, who sat down and pondered, “If Pikachu got in a fight with Samus Aran, who would win?” Regardless, that person needs a chastity belt made of exposed fiberglass and steel wool. I can only imagine some developer created the idea as a kid in the early 90’s, thumbing through Nintendo Power on the bed impersonating a one-armed bandit while in the middle of some furry fantasy.
There's nothing wrong with the games I apparently just slammed and simplified; they were all great games in their own rights. I loved Dead Space and actually enjoyed Resident Evil 5. Admittedly I sort of enjoyed Black Ops for more than 15 minutes before the multiplayer exposed itself as total garbage, and Killzone maintained my interest and I found it enjoyable. Through it all though, when we strip away the nuances and the visual styles, they're carbon copies of one another. Both licensed and non-licensed games have equal opportunity to be great or to suck. The major differences between the two types lie in frequency and modulation.
With some help from science, we can see that non-licensed games suck in pattern similar to licensed games, but with less frequency or modulation. Licensed games look more like an irregular heartbeat right before someone dies but non-licensed games look nauseatingly predictable and constant. Likewise, licensed games tend at least fire warning shots in the box office before maiming their victims, while media hype and PR spinsters propel non-licensed games to stardom, science proves it.
As seen above, licensed games suck harder than non-licensed games less often than the worst non-licensed games, but are more consistent in sucking. People expect licensed games to blow, so when they do it is no great shock; the expectations lessen the impact. Conversely non-licensed games carry greater expectations and when they're horrible it is proportionately devastating to the gamer. Both situations evolved over time to serve as counter balances for one another.
The result is a still an inexcusable void of suckage that if given life, would destroy North Dakota and possibly a noticeable chunk of Canada (or maybe no one would notice, sounds like a job for science). When someone has already experienced the original concept and presentation on the intended media, any divergence feels like Rachel Black sounds; these games become an ends to a mean. So, for as long as developers belittle themselves by churning out quick buck marketing products ad nauseam, I’ll continue to hate an abhor a majority of the licensed games more than shittiest of non-licensed games because production of such games are a choice and not a requirement. What then, should happen with regard to licensed titles? Well I'm not going to do a thing about it because I'm thinking of the kids. I'm a giver and if there's anything I enjoy, it's the look on their little faces as the feeling of disappointment sets in. Why strip them of that?