With the resurrection of the XCOM franchise by Take Two Interactive and Electronic Arts revival of the Syndicate series, gamers have become divided in their view of this new trend. While there were similar rumblings towards Bethesda’s development of Fallout 3, they were largely confined to smaller sites like No Mutants Allowed. Yet the new Syndicate and XCOM seem to be subject to even more criticism or at least opposition that is more spread out and harder to ignore.
Ironically the majority of complaints seems to be one of viewpoint, the shift of focus from a ‘bird’s eye’ isometric view to a first person perspective. A subtle change in view led to the belief that XCOM and Syndicate were not ‘true’ successors to their parentage, somehow seeing events unfold through the eyes of a named character turned these franchises into ‘just another shooter.’
While EA and developer Starbreeze have been relatively stingy with information at the time of writing, Take Two has repeatedly stressed in interviews and previews that they are incorporating many elements of the original series. Research into alien technologies, base construction, and squad management, elements that XCOM was built upon are still present in Take Two’s revival of the setting. The only changes to the original formula were in player perspective and the shift from the near future to the 1950’s. With that, what really makes a game? Is it all in how we perceive it or is it the sum of parts beyond player perspective?
Personally, I am of the opinion that this trend of reviving old franchises is a good thing. Not necessarily making carbon copies of the originals so much as seeing how they would look if the original developers had the opportunity to push today’s software tools. While it is too early to tell for XCOM or Syndicate, Bethesda’s relative success with Interplay’s post-apocalyptic role-playing series shows this new movement is not without merit. Despite its flaws, Fallout 3 successfully captured the game’s retro-future aesthetics and darkly humorous world; complete with a story every bit as worthy of its predecessors.
In general, while Syndicate and XCOM were marvels of their time, defining the tactical shooter genre, they became the classics they are today by pushing the technical limitations of the day and working around them. While there are benefits to tried formulas, why remake the original when the original set itself up by pushing the envelope? Why retread old ground when there are new avenues to explore?
To be fair, I understand the reasons some gamers believe publishers are merely trying to capitalize on the legacy of proven franchises. Electronic Arts possesses a mixed track record over the last few years, particularly with their handling of the Command and Conquer franchise. Yet at the same time I have to question how these complaints hold up in the case of XCOM. Take Two Interactive is the same company that brought us Bioshock, a game that went on to win multiple game of the year awards, and is working on Bioshock Infinite, which promises to improve on the few shortcomings of its predecessor. In conclusion, if anyone were capable of successfully resurrecting XCOM and pit players against the Sectoids one more time, Take Two definitely has the potential to be that company.
This is not to say that I do not believe either company could fail. There is always a chance a game can fall short regardless of pedigree or the talent behind it. Whether the revivals pass muster and honor their legacy or crumble beneath the weight of expectations is something we will see when both games are released in the first business quarter of 2012. Syndicate will be released in February 2012 while Take Two plans to ship XCOM sometime in March 2012. Then we will see whether or not these new games honor the legacy of their forebears or if the originals trump the remakes.