My Sentiments Exactly: Should a leopard change its spots?
At some point in our lives, we’ve all heard the phrase coined ‘a leopard never changes its spots’; the phrase is used in such an abject way it always gives us the impression that there’s something wrong and unchanging. From my perspective, quite the opposite occurs in the video games industry; a functional, working formula is changed at its core to something intrinsically wrong to the IP. What does this mean for the consumer? Let’s look at two examples of the pendulum swung too far in either direction: Call of Duty and Dead Space.
Call of Duty does what Call of Duty does best; it’s a rollercoaster experience that rakes in millions for Activision. Whether it’s the Black Ops series from Treyarch, or the Modern Warfare franchise developed by Infinity Ward – you’re getting an intrinsically similar experience. Sure, the interface may have sucked on some of them, and others have more vehicle sections – but the core idea and the experience they want to deliver on stays consistent throughout.
You’re getting what I can only conceive as the modern interpretation of an on-rails shooter with hours of multiplayer fun. That’s been the same formula, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it (if you didn’t pick up on my facetious tone toward the game, I’m not a fan). The expression ‘you can never please everyone’ fits into the status quo nature of the Call of Duty franchise; they’ve found their working formula and while everyone has a problem with it, they have the core base that will continue to buy these games because they enjoy them, in some cases this is the only game they buy!
In terms of outcries you generally have two very loud groups on the matter: those that bash Call of Duty as being casual, repetitive, too much of the same game, or those that love the game so much even the slightest flaw in gun stats or function will be made into a mountain-out-of-a-mole-hill. What you can be thankful for is that the developers are trying to give you a reasonably diverse set of experiences in the game (although Black Ops II’s campaign might’ve been a little bizarre as a result of their attempts at this) giving you a familiar ride through new scenarios.
I can appreciate the issues people have with balancing and wanting a perfectly honed game as unrealistic as it may be, even though it comes to my horror, it’s because a vast number of the players buy these games for the multiplayer. Even though many of these issues are easily circumvented in single player campaigns, they’re far harder to avoid where arguably the heart of the game resides in the multiplayer. You have that conscious choice not to use the oh so fittingly branded noob tube in the single player campaign, but it’s not your choice to make in the multiplayer; if someone else is using a gun you don’t like, screaming all of the obscenities in the dictionary won’t change that.
For those of you reading this that are fans of Call of Duty’s multiplayer – those that dare, suffice to say it’s a regular activity for them – imagine if it wasn’t just one or two guns that were inconvenient in some places? Heck, what if they toned down the multiplayer in favour of a more comprehensive and engaging single player experience that borrowed features from Sim-like games allowing you to customize your character’s hair! Don’t even lie. That’s an experience killer.
These are the sentiments of many of the fans of the fervour-filled Dead Space series. Dead Space is, at its core, a survival horror game – it gives you a gun just to scream how powerless you as the player in comparison with the ubiquitous Necromorphs. It’s akin to running from slender, or trying to stay in the light in Amnesia; it’s only delaying the inevitable, and no matter what, to beat it you have to transcend your comfort zone. Dead Space is supposed to make you feel terrified.
It becomes increasingly apparent to fans of the franchise that they are godless in their desire to keep the game intrinsically the same. Slowly but surely, we’ve crept away from the once beloved survival-horror to somewhat more of an action-third-person-shooter hybrid; and it’s wrong. That’s not to say Dead Space 2 and 3 are bad games, as stand-alone pieces they’re fantastic with strong narrative, intuitive controls and design, and are dare I say fun. But, and this is a big but; the changes to the way ammo is handled (making it far less sparse than in the first game), changes to the way enemies approach you and the AI in general, plus dozens slight tweaks over time have deprecated the atmosphere – the most potent tool in Dead Space’s arsenal as a game.
When you make ammo less sparse, it gives you the option to fight – you aren’t backed into a corner. Much like the hyperbole of tacked on character customisation in Call of Duty (and that was an exaggeration, there are no concepts of character customisation for a new CoD game as far as I’m aware) is very much the same with a broader gun arsenal in Dead Space 2 and 3. The changes draw the player away from the key experience, they’re supposed to be terrified and praying they can overcome the challenges in their path, rather than going full Rambo.
EA’s reasoning for this is sound; other games have these designs and they sell well. Their objective is to make money and when that falls short we get ludicrous projections like the need to sell 5 million copies (yes, that’s really how many copies EA wanted Dead Space 3 to sell). Unfortunately for the core fans, sometimes this means there have to be changes to the game they know and love in the sequels; what I can only speculate on, is if a company makes more money through sticking to its guns than willing and knowingly homogenising a game to fit market trends.
All in all I sit in the Call of Duty corner; I’m not an enormous fan of either franchise, but I believe sticking to the intent of the game and its genre are what’s going to sell a game. The player knows what to expect, has a good idea of what they’ll get, and evades a whole lot of ‘they changed my game’ upset. If you want a different game, it’s simple: you buy something else. Nobody forces you to play Call of Duty, but you’d be pretty upset if you got it home and found you were playing The Sims: Black Ops II. A leopard should keep being a leopard rather than trying to don an antelope costume to frolic gaily in the meadows; and those, are my sentiments exactly.
Before you even type that comment to tell me how droll I am for using the Sims as a depreciating ideal for one of Activision’s games, I assure you I’m perfectly aware of their development teams!