EA: Sithspawn Scum or a New Hope?

 

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Fool’s Bargain?

Much like the Emperors galactic plan for domination with the New Order, Disney’s acquisition of a galaxy far far away raised more than a few eyebrows.  With LucasArts effectively dead in all but name and Disney themselves retaining the right to create mobile content, a licensing deal with EA now finds the company, which is often regarded as a wretched hive of villainy and scum, to be a new hope for the future of Star Wars games.

With the recent announcement that Amy Hennig, fresh from Naughty Dog stardom is returning to the EA fold to help head up an as yet unannounced title from Visceral Games and also the leaked footage from the cancelled Darth Maul action title, it felt like a great time to revisit past games and also to look towards the future for what is yet to come.

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Spectre of the Past.

As a lifelong Star Wars super nerd, I’ve watched, played and read just about everything in the Star Wars universe. Much like the films themselves, Star Wars games have been a mixed bag. Some worthy of the Kalidor Crescent, and also the truly awful which belong in junk yards of Ord Mantell.

Star Wars accounts for some of my earliest and fondest gaming memories.  In the mid 80’s when I used to be able to pick up the latest games from the corner shop with my pick n mix, I remember saving my pocket money to buy Star Wars for my Amstrad CPC464.  I poured hour after hour into this game.  The graphics seemed amazing, hearing the theme tune play out on the menu screen blew my tiny young mind.  Looking back at game play videos now, it clearly shows it’s age like the 30 year old game it is, but a flutter of excitement still beats in my chest when I see it.

Fast forward a few years and the Super Star Wars series was the sole reason for me badgering my parents for a SNES, even when all my friends had a Megadrive.  To this day, I struggle to think of a better movie tie-in game.  You controlled all your favourite characters, across all the locations of the movie.  The Graphics were great, the soundtrack sublime and it handled as smoothly as Chewbacca’s hair after a grooming session.

A notable chorus of Yub Nub must go to the game that really put Bioware on the map, without which I’m not sure if Mass Effect or Dragon Age would even exist.  Knights of the Old Republic had everything that fans of the original trilogy loves.  An intense twisting storyline, characters that you actually cared about, the lure of the Dark Side hanging over every decision you made. An RPG set along time ago in a Galaxy far far away was millions of geeks dreams and for once, it came true.  The follow up by Obsidian, whilst not a complete idiots array, was still a fun, engaging game.

The list of great Star Wars games is endless, from the seminal X-Wing/Tie-Fighter series, the fantastic Jedi Knight series of which Jedi Outcast really hit the highpoint, Empire at War, Episode 1 Racer, Rogue Squadron and not forgetting Battlefront.  I can’t think of a single other franchise that has hit so many different genres.

Its not all Nerf steak and Bantha Milk though.  With George Lucas’ vision of the prequels making millions of fans cry out in terror, the games unfortunately started to head in the same direction.  The tie-ins to the new films were truly terrible.  From this point on it seemed like LucasArts would push anything out of the door, regardless of quality.  Perhaps a Troydarian had taken over running the shop?

Bombad Racing. Demolition. Masters of Teras Kasi. Lightsaber Duels. Yoda Stories. Galaxies. Star Wars Kinect. Over the years, the list of truly bad games, has started to outweigh the good.

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Visions of the Future

So now EA has stepped up, they’ve taken on a multi-year, multimillion dollar licensing agreement to produce the next generation of Star Wars games.  Although EA are clearly Disney’s Chosen one, I’m hoping they won’t have to betray everyone, cut off the Bioware programmers typing hands, or take years to bring the franchise back into balance.

Only one game has so far been announced, with others confirmed to be in development. A new Battlefront title is currently in the works at DICE.  Although it’s not expected to be released until 2015 expectations are as high for this as the Boonta Eve Classic.

The folks at DICE are definitely the right people to take this on.  Battlefield 4 might well have had its problems but you can’t deny the appeal of the full scale warfare that DICE has become synonymous with.  Imagine the wail of Tie Fighters strafing your last line of defence as AT-ST walkers advance on your position.

The whole proposition of the studio taking on this IP gives me goosebumps.  It’s not being rushed either, and while the Battlefield 4 problems may have delayed development somewhat, I cant wait to see some footage of this, hopefully in the not to distant future.  64 players on land, in atmosphere and hopefully orbit, will be immense.

Little is known about the other game that is currently being worked on at Visceral, but we can have a few guesses. Hennig, who’s now on board with this project has a fantastic background with story led adventure games. Uncharted offered us the modern day Indiana Jones, likeable characters, and a rip roaring tale of danger, intrigue and action. Transposed into the Star Wars universe and the mind boggles as to where this could be heading, there are so many possibilities in such a rich and diverse universe.  The loveable rogue Nathan Drake clearly got some of his cues from both Han Solo and the aforementioned Dr Jones, so could the guy who shot first be starring in his own game?  Or are Visceral reworking the much heralded but stillborn 1313 project?  Maybe will we be finding out at this years E3.

As I mentioned earlier, Bioware might not be where it is today without Knights of the Old Republic.  With development of Dragon Age: Inquisition wrapping up and another entry in the Mass Effect series under way, (rumoured for release in spring 2015), it makes a whole lot of sense that Bioware will soon be returning to its old stomping ground.  Hopefully the internet Probe Droids have been feeding back intelligence to the studio, all we really want them to do is play the same song again and give us a new Knights of the Old Republic.

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So what else might be in development at EA?  Even without a force vision we can have a couple of guesses.   A new Command and Conquer was in development until it was cancelled towards the end of last year.  Whilst that particular studio was shuttered its not too much of a stretch of imagination to think that a Star Wars RTS is in the works. Empire at War was a fantastic game, especially the full scale battles in space.  Who doesn’t want to command a fleet of Star Destroyers?  With the Homeworld remake/reboot getting a lot of traction,  EA might well have decided it wants a slice of that Domit pie.

Few can ignore that vast sums of money that both Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous have made.  Lets face it Chris Roberts probably has enough imperial credits to build his own Death Star.  I’m really hoping that a new X-Wing game is in the works.  This genre has long been dormant in the mainstream but with games like the ones just mentioned, not forgetting Strike Suit Zero, the appetite for a space sim shooter has never been greater.  The X-wing/Tie-Fighter series of games remains my favourite of all time.  If it wasn’t such a pain in the backside to run on modern architecture I’d be playing it now instead of writing this.

 

Balance Point

The announcement of a new Battlefront was a complete no-brainer that even Jar Jar Binks could have come up with. What comes next is the interesting bit.  Impossible to see the future may well be, but I’m hoping that at this years E3 the shroud that has clouded the future of Star Wars games will be lifted.

Dungeon Keeper Review

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Dungeon Keeper
Pub:  Electronic Arts / Dev: Mythic Games
Android/iOS

Approaching this review, you may have heard one or two things about terrible gameplay, predatory business models and a shocking disregard for gamers shown in this title. These things are all true –  Even stuff you might have made up in your head, on the spot, just then. Dungeon Keeper is probably the greatest example of how the mobile game market needs a radical overhaul – and that action needs to start with you, today.

I knew this game was in the pipeline but had forgotten about it around release, so I was surprised to see a couple of YouTubers suddenly coming up with videos about one of my favourite older game franchises. I was not ready for what I saw on screen and – despite their warnings – went ahead and downloaded the game from the Play Store.

Dungeon Keeper does not fail because it is an inherently bad game. The IP of Dungeon Keeper is strong; you play the villain who builds a dastardly dungeon filled with traps and minions and you must defend it against the incursions of pesky ‘heroes’ and other ‘Keepers vying for power. The original concept came from Bullfrog Games who were responsible for many classics in the 90s (that have since been shat all over by EA – I’m looking at you, Syndicate) and was full of character and interesting gameplay mechanics. Essentially a realtime strategy game, you design and dig out your dungeon and interact with monsters to gather resources and fight battles. Playing from the bad guy’s point of view was novel, but the humour was what made the games shine.

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Dungeon Keeper does fail because it treats you, the player, like an idiot. The redesign of the game needs you to be a hyperactive cash-cow, randomly clicking everything and throwing money at the screen – or it requires you to not really enjoy playing games at all, and instead merely check-in once or twice a day to tap a flashing button.

Like the original games, you still dig out your own dungeon. Again, like the original games you send your imps to dig out rock to make space for rooms. What makes it slightly different to the original is that some rocks take 4 hours or dig out.

Or a day.

So if the idea of ponderously digging out a 5×5 room over the course of a month appeals to you, then great. Go ahead and download.

Alternatively you can take what the game itself calls ‘quite the polarizing solution to make the timer disappear’ and pay. The game knows it is being exploitative. The game knows that it is cashing in on what are hopefully the final death-throes of a monetization model designed to mug, and mug heavily, a few people who get caught in its trap.

To put it simply, you can pay quite a lot of money to progress more quickly. Without paying, there is basically no game to speak of. Everything has a timer and nothing is fun. If you want to make the slightest change to your dungeon, the game sticks out its grubby paw and asks for payment – like a drunken busker stumbling his way through some of your favourite tunes and demanding cash in return for silence.

I don’t care that they got the original voice actor back to play the games’ narrator. I don’t care that there are a couple of moderately funny one-liners. Dungeon Keeper 2014 is NOT A GAME. It is a cynical and manipulative title that gives you no reason to play it. Were it to have been released at £15, with  no additional micro-transactions tacked on, it might have been worth a look – but I have neither the time, inclination nor bottomless pockets to discover what the ‘end game’ of this particular title might be.

I’d like that to be the end of it. It would have been nice if we could just turn away from Dungeon Keeper and never speak of it again. This is however, one final aspect that I have to bring up – just in case you come across this title in the app store and get confused by the ratings. Like many other titles, this game will ask you to rate it and – again like many other titles – it will ask you to give it five stars. Here’s the thing about that – if you choose 5 stars from the in-game options it will take you to the store page to rate it. If you choose 1-4 stars it will ask you ‘send feedback’ to them EA instead.

Sneaky. How many people do you think actually follow up, find the game page in the store and rate the title from there? I would suggest a great deal fewer than the ones who just click ‘5 stars’ to get rid of message.

I don’t know how to put it more plainly than this: do not download Dungeon Keeper – it sucks.

Do not tolerate ‘free-to-wait’ games that offer you virtually nothing in return.

Hell, even Flappy Bird offers a complete experience.

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Reviewer: Karlos Morale

Dungeon Keeper is out now for Android and iOS

Dungeon Keeper is ‘free to play/wait’