Tristan GreeneEditor, Neural by TNW
Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him
Remakes, remasters, and retreads are all the rage these days. But don’t let the publishers fool you, they’re not taking many chances.
From the Mass Effect franchise remasters to the outstanding Tony Hawks Pro Skater 1 & 2 remake, most of the game revivals we’re seeing are for titles that were beloved by the masses, critically acclaimed, and profitable in their heyday.
But what if we could convince the secret underground cabal of diabolical game publishers to wield the power of the remake for good and justice? What if we could avenge some of gaming’s greatest misses by turning them into modern day hits?
Here are five games that deserve another shot at greatness. Whether they missed the mark due to ambition, bad business, or simply being ahead of their time, each of these games are a testament to unrealized potential.
Black & White (2001)
Oh Peter Molyneux. Has there ever been a bigger dreamer in the gaming industry? Black & White is one of the original god games. The big sell, when it was launched, was that you could influence an entire planet’s civilization and growth – its tagline was “The world is what you make it.”
When it was released, people loved it so much that some players spontaneously exploded into flames of all-consuming joy upon playing it for the first time. Okay, that part’s not true. But, inexplicably, it did receive critical acclaim when it was released.
Let’s watch the trailer. I’d like to draw special attention to the 1:35 mark where a disembodied hand (that’s you, in the game) sexually assaults a giant furry creature who responds with ambiguity. That’s a game play mechanic.
Wondering what you’ve just watched? Allow me to summarize: In B&W you’re a god (read: a big hand) that has the power to slap, tickle, and molest a giant creature. You can also cast spells by tracing shapes (which seems a bit silly in a “what does god need with a starship?” kind of way) and pick up villagers to either terrify or help them.
But, for the most part, the game’s about you constantly interacting with a big emotional avatar that seemingly exists just so players don’t realize they’re essentially playing an adventure-clicker RPG where their character is a skinned mouse pointer.
It’s worth pointing out that this game came out the same year as Grand Theft Auto III, Halo, Baldur’s Gate 2, and Diablo II: Lords of Destruction.
Black & White sucked. It was infinitely more fun to read the game previews and drool over every single gorgeous quote from Molyneux. Prior to the game’s launch, EA and Lionhead Studios made it sound as though this game was going to be something MIT physicists and Harvard sociologists would use to uncover the secret mechanisms behind quantum physics and human interaction.
But it was just this goofy game where you slapped a panda bear or a weird looking monkey around until you got bored doing that and decided to rub its tummy or genitals instead.
What would a remake do differently? Everything. The open-world gaming genre has exploded since 2001. Imagine Skyrim or Red Dead Redemption 2, only you’re a god who shapes the game world by influencing NPCs. It could be a nifty take on game-modding as a storyline and it would work well with the same high quality humor and storytelling the original B&W games had.
Tom Clancy’s EndWar (2008)
EndWar was meant to capitalize on the general feeling of horror and hopelessness that lingered around the 2008 stock market crash and on the rise of relatively robust voice controls for software.
You played a commander who ordered troops around in the ultimate Tom Clancy war to end all Tom Clancy wars. Interestingly, the game was set during a future nuclear apocalypse in the year 2020.
If you go back and read reviews, you’ll see this one got a lot of love too. Unfortunately, game reviewers of the time seemed to be completely gobsmacked by the idea of voice command.
They seemingly gave the game full marks just because it brought some much-needed innovation to the strategy genre – it’d be another two years yet before Blizzard launched StarCraft 2.
Tom Clancy’s EndWar sucked though. It was a pretty game and it did a lot of things right – for example, the voice control worked nearly perfectly. But the one thing it did wrong was dumb down a strategy game so much that players could execute commands via voice control.
Sure, it’s cool that I can shout something like “unit seven, engage target alpha,” and unit seven will scamper across the map looking to get into a fight with target alpha. But in practice, it gets boring really fast.
It turns out that strategy games are more fun when you can use… what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh yeah: strategy. Whodathunkit, but strategy games are better when there’s actual strategy.
EndWar is basically a game that takes something as simple as clicking your left mouse button twice (once to select an object, once to select a location on a map) and turns it into a complex, time-consuming game mechanic for a game that otherwise might have been fun.
The game’s marketing said players could command at the speed of thought, thanks to voice control.
But here’s an experiment you can try at home: click on the word “unit” in this sentence and then click on the period at the end of it. Once you’ve done that, read the following statement out loud: unit seven, engage hostiles in sector four.
Which was faster? I rest my case.
A remake, however, could employ modern natural language processing (NLP).
It’s super boring and moderately frustrating to sit in front of your TV trying to remember the exact key phrases to operate a game mechanic that would otherwise be mindlessly simple with a mouse and keyboard. But, if I could shout whatever I wanted, and a NLP system sorted out what I meant… that could be infinitely fun.
“Holy crap! Unit seven, you’re about to get mowed down. Run away! Run away!” Yes sir, unit seven engaging retreat protocols.
Or maybe “Unit seven, engage hostiles in sector four but make sure you stay in the shadows and avoid roving patrols. Don’t screw it up like you did last time.” You got it boss, unit seven observing stealth protocols.
Alpha Protocol (2010)
This much-hyped espionage RPG from Obsidian Entertainment and Sega was the second greatest gaming disappointment I ever experienced. We’ll get to the first later.
I wanted Alpha Protocol to be good so bad it hurt. And it was. A little. The story and dialogue options in the game, coupled with a very intriguing progression system made it an instant cult classic among RPG fans.
But the game sucked.
The combat was not only clunky and boring, but it sucked the life out of player progression. We were told AP was going to be a serious RPG for spy fans and we had every reason to expect Obsidian – whose previous efforts included the sequel to Knights of the Old Republic, would pull it off with aplomb.
But Alpha Protocol was buggy and, for a game that launched in 2010, its combat was flat-out awful.
For a little perspective, Obsidian also put out Fallout: New Vegas in 2010. And other RPG hits of the year included Mass Effect 2, Red Dead Redemption, and Bioshock 2.
2010 was the wrong year to put forth a middling effort in the action RPG genre.
To this day, my dreams of making my own unique espionage agent in an Obsidian-esque gaming world remain unrealized. I really did think Alpha Protocol was going to be like a video game version of Palladium Books’ Ninjas and Superspies TTRPG.
Various RPG games have come at espionage from different angles – Deus Ex and Hitman come to mind – but Alpha Protocol was supposed to be special. It was supposed to be Dungeons and Dragons for espionage. Unfortunately it just wasn’t fun and did little to encourage diversity in playstyle.
Sadly, Sega owns the rights to AP and Obsidian’s a Microsoft company now. It’s unlikely we’ll see a remake, but wouldn’t it be awesome?
Imagine a next-gen Bethesda-style RPG, but with good melee combat, corporate espionage, and covert military ops.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (2012)
This one’s special because it actually got a remaster in 2020 (not a remake). Too bad the remaster sucked too.
Here’s the original:
And here’s Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning (2020):
A remaster only works if the original game is good, and Kingdoms of Amalur sucked.
It was one of those games that’s too awesome to fail, and so it failed awesomely.
First, the company responsible for Kingdoms, 38 Studios, was created by former baseball superstar Curt Schilling. Then the game world was created by world-famous fantasy author RA Salvatore. And, finally, rounding out the awesomeness was Ken Rolston, a designer who’d previously worked on The Elder Scrolls franchise.
You’d think all that would come together to redefine the western RPG and you’d be dead wrong. What ended up happening was something with 10,000 years of elegant backstory, fantastic graphics (for its time) and a gameplay cycle that basically boiled down to Fable arcade-style combat mixed with meaningless progression.
There were some seriously weirdly-pandering design decisions too. At any point you can just remake your character. Are you a badass wizard? Nah, be a bold warrior instead. Suddenly feeling like a rogue? That’s cool, rearrange your points. Nothing matters!
Today though, this game could seriously work if it were entirely remade (not remastered) to play a bit more like a Warner Bros action RPG. Think Batman Arkham City and Shadows of War.
And that just brings us to Spore. The single most disappointing game in the history of games.
Let me tell you what I thought Spore was going to be based on everything I’d read about the game in the years leading up to its launch.
This was a game that would allow you to create an entire advanced civilization from scratch starting with determining the evolution of a single-celled organism and leading all the way up to colonizing space.
It was supposed to give you control over what your species looked like, how it acted, whether it was a predator or a peaceful species and how it evolved at every stage of its development. Wow! It sounded amazing.
Here’s what we got instead:
Let me break that down for you. Spore is basically an arcade-style mini-game wrapped in a UI very reminiscent of The Sims character creator.
That part about creating your own single-celled organism and then guiding it through evolution? It’s just Feeding Frenzy. The whole game is pretty much just Feeding Frenzy.
You know, the game where you’re a little fish who has to eat littler fish while not getting eaten by bigger fish so you can grow and become a bigger fish? Yeah, that’s Spore.
You swim around eating stuff until you evolve enough to go on land. And that’s when Spore changes slightly.
Instead of swimming around eating stuff until you’re big enough to evolve, you’ll walk around eating stuff until you’re ready to mate. And then you just keep doing that for awhile until you’re ready to build a spaceship.
That’s pretty much how Spore works. You eat, fight, mate, and then go to space. It’s like you’re Jeff Bezos, but there’s no embarrassing divorce stage.
Oh and space in Spore is just as dumb as the rest of the game. Instead of walking around eating things until you’re ready to mate with things, you’ll fly around shooting things until the game ends and you start to realize that Spore has about as much depth as a mud puddle in Las Vegas.
For crying out loud, it came out the same year as Grand Theft Auto IV, Little Big Planet, and Fallout 3. It’s not like developers were incapable of deep, compelling game play experiences.
I believe Spore was the most promising game of all time. I truly thought it would be a mainstream game that actually respected science, but it was just a well-packaged, overhyped arcade-style cash grab.
Yet, it could still be so much more. Imagine if someone got the rights and decided to marry Spore with artificial intelligence systems capable of simulating cellular growth and social structure. Instead of a goofy game you’d expect to find pre-installed on a Fire TV stick, it could be a robust science game that challenges people to think about evolution at the species level.
I’d play the crap out of that game. In fact, I’ve been waiting 23 years to play that game.
Comments? Thoughts? Feel like I missed your favorite could-have-been-great video game? Hit me up on Twitter.
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