Critical Hit: Hitting Reboot
Rebooting is such an ugly word. If you're a fan, the news that a series you like is getting the reboot treatment usually translates as 'That thing you like? It's gone now.' If a reboot is successful, you can kiss goodbye to the game that originally won you over ever getting a proper continuation. If it's not, it'll be marked down as the series itself having lost all draw, rather than its hardcore supporters simply drawing the line at Monkey Island vs. Capcom.
(On second thoughts, that sounds awesome. But I digress.)
The problem with bringing old games back is that even amongst a fanbase, everyone disagrees about where the soul was. Take the upcoming XCOM, for example. It's a shooter, and while there's almost certainly more to it than that, there's never going to be enough to appease the people who want it to be a strategy game - ideally a turn-based one. Personally, I sympathise, and I'm not saying it's wrong to want that or complain about the use of the brand...
...but at the same time, I can't work up much anger about it. It's certainly not that I don't have feelings for it either. I got into the series back at the start, when it was UFO: Enemy Unknown, and that game remains one of my favourite strategy games of all time. What hooked me though wasn't the turn-based strategy itself, but what went with it - feeling like I was in absolute charge of this worldwide machine. The satisfaction was in moments like seeing a UFO appear over Europe, deciding that this would not stand
, and with a click of my imaginary fingers and actual mouse-button, sitting back as my Interceptors tore it up. Enemy Unknown was about being beaten senseless by Terror Sites and bad luck, but pushing through in the knowledge that soon enough, I'd have the power to switch the entire Earth from prey to predator and the pyramids of Cydonia would burn.
Will 2K's XCOM reboot live up to expectations?
That's the X-COM experience to me. For other games, my standards are different. My love of the old Ultima RPGs would never carry over to another genre, though I'd probably tolerate a more action-style form of combat as long as there was still plenty of focus on dialogue and exploration. Lord of Ultima? A strategy
Similarly, I don't really mind what they do with the perspective of the new Syndicate game as long as I still feel like I'm playing a corrupt executive type pulling the strings, rather than specifically embodying one of the minigun toting drones who should be under my control. As for the new Tomb Raider game, honestly, it sounds great to me. True to the series, stripped of much of the accumulated stupid... of the bits I've seen, the only things I'd change are the QTEs and the name - which I still think should be Lara Croft: Whatever.
One of the main advantages of the internet for rebooting a series is that before, only focus groups and gut-instinct could tell you what people actually liked about a game. Now, you may have to dig through the slurry of a thousand nerds screaming "RUINED FOREVER!" at the sight of a beloved character's new hat. It's hard, but at least the information is out there. In the case of XCOM specifically, it was notable that after much anger directed at its unveiling, E3 2011 brought much more talk of strategic elements - research and at least some idea of tactical play. It'll never, ever be the game that X-COM fans want, but it still might be a step closer to the experience. Or an unmitigated disaster. We'll find out soon.
The (new) Tomb Raider reboot looks promising, despite a few caveats
Reboots are only likely to get more common, for the simple reason that having a vaguely memorable IP still beats creating one from scratch. Most will be dreadful, like Atari's pointless attempt to revamp the forgotten Haunted House. Many will simply miss the point, and be doomed to ride the coat-tails of whatever happens to be popular at the moment. In a world where a Naked Gun social episodic adventure series was just announced for Facebook, pretty much anything can go, regardless of timing or basic sanity.
Still, we should never rule anything out. The games we love mostly came about because people gave us something different and worth remembering, and even if a reboot looks completely different on the surface, there's always a chance it'll have the right soul underneath. It's not even as if we have anything to lose. If it's terrible, we still have the originals. If it sends the series off in another direction, the odds of getting anything else would usually have been pretty small. We don't really lose anything either way, except the time we spend hammering out impatient rants before moving onto the other games of today...
Critical Hit is a twice-monthly column exploring issues in and around the games industry.