Back in February 2018, I wrote a short(ish) piece on four seemingly dead game series that I felt were well worth a reboot. I never put it up for publication though, not least because four items is a clearly unacceptable number for a list article. I was only reminded of it when I saw that a new Perfect Dark game is now in development. That announcement means that almost all of the franchises listed below are being or have been revived in one way or another.
I’m sharing this list now, not simply as an example of my uncanny prescience, but to show that sometimes pessimism is unwarranted. It’s a Christmas miracle, is what I’m saying.
Although it’s not as good as it used to be, nostalgia is a great source of inspiration for all kinds of creative ventures, and video games are no exception. The financial risks associated with launching new titles, as well as the challenge of creating them in the first place, means revisiting proven ideas has obvious benefits for developers and publishers.
While new IPs are often more exciting, I have to admit that there are certain franchises where any new release would immediately grab my attention. Sadly, some of these franchises are deader than disco, victims of changing fashions, studio closures or awkward publishers. Despite all this I maintain hope that the games described below will, in one form or another, feel the warm glow of a new release once more.
Gangsters: Organized Crime
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to pretend to be a gangster. 1998’s Gangsters: Organized Crime was a strategy and management sim for PC from Eidos interactive. Set in the US during the prohibition era, players were tasked with building and running a crime empire. Naturally, the course of true crime never did run smooth, and while you’re building up your organisation, you’re faced with rival gangs trying to do the same, and law enforcement who are trying to keep the peace (unless you bribe them). Essentially, you’re Al Capone but without the syphilis, unless you have syphilis in which case I apologise for bringing it up.
Similarly to the recent XCOM games, Gangsters is split between a strategy/management layer and a section where your plans for domination of the criminal underworld actually play out. As boss, you recruit gangsters with varying abilities (for example, some are better at fighting, driving or explosives), equip them with weapons and vehicles, and assign them to whatever objectives you see fit. You also use the strategy section to overview your finances and consult your lawyer to discuss your legal (and illegal) concerns.
Once you’ve made your plans, the game moves to the streets, where your bad intentions play out. You can also react to the actions of other gangs. For instance, if you spot a rival gang member, you can order your hoods to try to beat them unconscious, which stops them messing with your interests, or attempt to kill them outright – sending a message but risking reprisals.
Victory is achieved by either eliminating all your rival gangs, becoming mayor or leaving crime behind and going straight, which to my mind seems like a waste of a perfectly good crime empire. Of course, if you get killed, arrested, go broke or get deposed as a gang boss, then you lose.
A mediocre sequel, which added a largely unnecessary story to the game, was released in 2001 and was the last instalment in the franchise. The original was re-released in 2012, minus the multiplayer that featured in the original; however, that version has never been patched to run on anything from Windows 8 onwards, so although you can buy it, there’s no guarantee it will actually work.
Probability of revival (in 2018)
Given that Eidos Interactive became part of Square Enix in 2009, and considering the lack of support for the re-release, a new entry in the Gangsters series does not look likely at all. That said, the fundamentals of the game could easily be repurposed into a new IP. People love crime! I’d love to see a deep, crime-focussed strategy game. The success of the XCOM reboot has shown that a genre that was thought to have limited appeal still has plenty of life in it. Just when we were out, we were pulled right back in etc etc.
UPDATE: The recently release Empire of Sin is essentially that new IP I mentioned above! A crime-focussed strategy game, set in the prohibition-era United States. It’s reportedly a bit buggy at this stage, but I’ll definitely be picking it up in due course.
Rare’s follow-up to the classic Goldeneye 64, Perfect Dark for the Nintendo 64 swapped James Bond for Joanna Dark, a corporate agent tasked with saving the world from aliens masquerading as a rival company. Perfect Dark kept everything which Goldeneye 64 did well, but then added single-player co-op and a much expanded multiplayer mode which allowed for the addition of AI bots as both allies and enemies.
While maybe not as fondly remembered as its predecessor, Perfect Dark was met with rave reviews at time of release for its dynamic gameplay, visuals and sound design. The only notable criticism being frame-rate issues during the busier moments. In fact, the game almost comes to a standstill at the more demanding points both in single-player and multiplayer, and while the visuals were good for the time, they are hard to look at retrospectively.
Rare was bought by Microsoft in 2002, and a prequel, Perfect Dark Zero, was an Xbox 360 launch title that met with good reviews but was seen as something of a disappointment when compared to the original. A remaster of the first game which improved on the N64 graphics was released for Xbox 360 in 2010 and was also included in the Rare Replay compilation of 2015.
A new Perfect Dark game could be terrific though. An ambitious, story driven first-person shooter with a strong female protagonist could combine the best bits of the recent Wolfenstein and Tomb Raider reboots – and who doesn’t like a good sci-fi thriller? Add to that a well-balanced multiplayer mode in the mould of Rare’s heyday and you’d be on to a winner.
Probability of revival (in 2018)
Not terrible? Rare actually wanted to make not one but two sequels to Perfect Dark after PD:Zero was released. They spent about a year prototyping what was envisaged to be a grittier and more expansive but still sci-fi focussed two part game (details on those here). Ultimately though Rare was unable to convince Microsoft of its merits, especially as MS already had the Halo and Gears of War franchises covering what they perceived to be similar themes.
These days, Rare is fully occupied with the imminent release of cartoony co-op piracy simulator Sea of Thieves, but at least the death of Kinect means they won’t have to spend any more time churning out the motion-controlled sports games Microsoft have had them working on the past few years. Maybe now they’ll have a chance to revisit Perfect Dark?
UPDATE: It’s happening! A trailer for a new entry in the Perfect Dark series, helmed by developer The Initiative, was revealed at the Game Awards on 10 December 2020.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
A classic example of a rough diamond. Based on a pen and paper game, Bloodlines (as I’ll be referring to it) is a sprawling, narrative-driven exploration of a near-future Los Angeles, where a secretive vampire population thrive just below the surface.
The player is cast in the role of a newly sired vampire who is immediately entangled in a complex web of conspiracy, intrigue and many, many choices. As the player, you have a lot of freedom in how you resolve most quest points, with conversation and combat usually both valid strategies, although it turns out being a charismatic and sexy vampire isn’t much use during one of the infrequent but mandatory stealth sections (not that I’m bitter).
The exact nature of your shiny new vampire is also very much up to you; there are seven vampire clans, each with their own inherent traits from the monstrous looking Nosferatu to the completely bananas Malkavians. The clan you choose, along with your other character traits and the choices you make, affect your abilities and how other characters in the game react to you.
Bloodlines was a hugely ambitious project, a broad, deep RPG built in the then-new Source engine. The intent was to build an immersive world which allowed players to act and interact however they wanted to. Unfortunately, developer Troika found the practicalities of actually putting all this together far more complicated than anticipated. Development overran in terms of both budget and timescales and, while some of the delays were outside of Troika’s control, publisher Activision lost patience and demanded the game’s release in November 2004.
This decision was a problem for two main reasons. Firstly, the game wasn’t quite finished in November 2004, and so launched with a number of bugs. Secondly, it meant Bloodlines released alongside Half Life 2, Metal Gear Solid 3 and Halo 2. Suffice to say that sales didn’t meet with expectations, and although the game reviewed well (especially considering the aforementioned technical issues), Bloodlines left a big hole in the developer’s finances. Unable to secure new work, Troika closed down in February 2005.
That would likely be the end of the story, if it wasn’t for the cult following the game generated. Thanks to the work of some dedicated modders, especially a guy named Werner Spahl, aka Wesp5 (more on him here), the game was later patched up to fix the bugs and restore content cut as the dev team scrambled to meet their deadlines. The version sold on GOG even comes with the latest version of the patch as a free add-on, meaning Bloodlines is now much closer to Troika’s original vision. What a vision it was though; The Witcher 3 is a great example of the kind of ambitious, open-world RPG Troika surely had in mind when creating Bloodlines – more of that would do nicely thanks.
Probability of revival (in 2018)
Pretty good, although nothing concrete. In 2006, CCP, developers of Eve Online, bought the game rights to the Vampire: Masquerade universe and announced they were creating an MMO in that setting. Unfortunately that project was cancelled in 2014, with CCP finally admitting they weren’t able to properly put their ambitions into practice (I’m noticing a theme here). The licence was then acquired by Paradox Interactive in 2015 and as recently as May 2017 they’ve confirmed that “things are coming – that’s no secret”.
I was hopeful that Obsidian Entertainment, who had their recent RPGs Pillars of Eternity and Tyranny published by Paradox, were working on it as they are keeping an unannounced “big RPG” under wraps. However, they’ve recently stated that game will be published by a spin-off label of Take-Two, so that now seems unlikely. Exactly when any successor to Bloodlines will see the light of day (night?) isn’t clear.
UPDATE: As we all know by now, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 was announced in 2019, and is being developed by Hardsuit Labs for Paradox Interactive. But, just like the original, the game has already been subjected to a couple of delays, in addition to several high-profile departures, so we’ll take it’s current vague ‘2021’ release date with a pinch of salt. Meanwhile, Obsidian’s secretive RPG turned out to be The Outer Worlds – and the company ended up being bought by Microsoft.
Hear me out. Yes, the Mass Effect franchise had a brand new instalment just last year [this is 2018, remember], and that might make its inclusion on this list seem a little unnecessary. However, its future looks at least as uncertain as every other title presented here. What’s really baffling is how quickly Mass Effect went from being a trilogy of excellent games with a passionate and dedicated fan base to a series put on indefinite hiatus by publisher EA.
Mass Effect launched in 2007; essentially a follow-up to Bioware’s Star Wars RPG Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect retained the epic story and sci-fi setting and introduced a wholly original universe. Set at a time shortly after Earth has made first contact with alien life and when humanity is still integrating into wider galactic society, the player takes the role of Commander Shepard just before they become the first human member of the elite Spectre military unit.
Over the course of the three games, Shepard and their shifting roster of crewmates/companions/cuddle-buddies do battle with the Reapers, a race of massive robot space prawns who are hell bent on wiping out all sentient life in the galaxy due to ancient programming gone wrong. Or because that’s how they breed. Or they’re trying to preserve life in their own way. I’m still a bit unclear on their exact motivation – some glowing ghost child turns up at the end to explain but that whole bit is a can of worms which I’m not getting into here.
It was with much expectation then that Mass Effect: Andromeda was released in 2017. Set in a different galaxy, Andromeda had little direct connection to the original trilogy, with new protagonists and antagonists, but it set out to mirror the same kind of themes on the same kind of scale as its predecessors. Unfortunately, the game’s launch was overshadowed by well-publicised graphical bugs, particularly relating to wonky character animations. It would emerge that this was a symptom of problems which had dogged the game’s development, and combined with lacklustre side quests and rather empty (albeit beautiful) worlds, Andromeda was a bit of a disappointment.
While not a bad game, being merely average left it a long way behind the Shepard trilogy. Still though, it was a surprise to many when EA announced the Mass Effect dev team had been reassigned to support Bioware’s upcoming Destiny-a-like Anthem and that the Mass Effect franchise was to be shelved indefinitely.
Probability of revival (in 2018)
Probably best not to think about it. Seeing as EA have given plenty of indications that they aren’t much interested in story-driven single-player games these days, the odds aren’t great. A lot might depend on how well Anthem does, which is due out sometime in 2019; if it does well, then once it’s up and running, Bioware might be able to assign a team to a new Mass Effect title. If it does badly though, then I can’t shake the feeling that Bioware might join Visceral and many other former studios in the EA graveyard [I still have yet to shake that feeling].
UPDATE: Two years is a long time in video games. Anthem‘s release turned into an absolute bin fire, and following the unexpected success of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, EA suddenly has interest in making single-player games again. And lo and behold, a remaster of the first three games – called Mass Effect Legendary Edition – has been announced, and is even available to preorder. That’s not all, though: there’s also a new game in the works, and a teaser trailer (see above) shows Liara from the original Mass Effect trilogy. However, as with the Bloodlines sequel, some high-profile departures from the studio offer cause for concern.