Monday, October 31, 2011

Threequel is the new sequel

As we dive headfirst into the upcoming release schedule of games, it becomes abundantly clear: there are a lot of games ending with three. Several big franchises of the current generation are hitting the end of the fabled trilogy. Generally after three the story ends, but as evident with the announcement of Halo 4 earlier this year, some franchises are too big to stop there. Is it possible we’ll see the continuation of some of this year’s big releases or will they take on new forms and explore different avenues? Perhaps the end of a franchise marks the beginning of a new one. With fewer heavy-hitters on the calendar, it could leave the door open for the introduction of new IPs next year.

Resistance 3

The Resistance series, developed by Insomniac Games, started on the PlayStation 3 when Resistance: Fall of Man released in 2006. It has since become a staple first-person shooter franchise for Sony’s brand of consoles. The game spawned a spin-off for each PlayStation handheld, along with a novel and comic book series.

Rumors of Resistance 3 started in 2009 when a billboard for the game appeared on set for the movie Battle: Los Angeles. Sony and Insomniac Games both declined to comment on the billboard until Gamescom 2010 when at their press conference, Sony officially announced the game alongside a live-action trailer. Resistance 3 released for the PlayStation 3 on September 6, but the series isn't be done after that. Sony is working with Nihilistic Software on a spin-off called Resistance: Burning Skies for their new handheld, the PlayStation Vita, which will launch on February 22, 2012.

Gears of War 3

Gears of War released a year after the launch of the Xbox 360 in 2005, but the series remains one of Microsoft’s best-selling franchises. Gears of War 3 pre-orders surpassed 1.3 million, making it the fastest pre-ordered Xbox 360 exclusive game in the history of the console.

Developed by Epic Games and published by Microsoft Game Studios, the Gears of War series follows Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad on the planet Sera in a war against aliens called Locust. Gears of War 2 released to a shaky multi-player game, but Creative Director of the franchise Cliff Bleszinski is confident that Epic took all the precautions necessary to ensure a smooth launch for Gears of War 3 when it released on September 20 for the Xbox 360.

The Gears series goes beyond just games, though, with four novels written by science fiction author Karen Traviss, and a fifth coming in May next year. An ongoing comic series began in 2008 titled "Gears of War: Hollow," and in 2007, New Line Cinema purchased the rights for a Gears of War movie with Bleszinski serving as an executive producer. The film now awaits a rewrite as New Line brings more writing talent onto the project. A Gears of War board game is already in production and expected to release sometime later this year.

A rumor surfaced last November claiming Gears of War 3 would support the Xbox 360 Kinect, but Bleszinski quickly it shot down on Twitter by simply stating, “No Kinect in Gears of War 3.” However, a trademark filed last January for Gears of War: Exile could hint at a Gears of War Kinect game coming. The trademark registered for “Video game software,” “Series of computer game hint books and instruction manuals,” and “T-shirts.”

Battlefield 3

The Battlefield series started in the golden age of World War II shooters. Battlefield 1942, released in 2002 for the PC, introduced the world to Conquest mode, where players capture points on a large map using team-based ground and vehicle combat. The developer, Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment, or DICE for short, moved the series to the modern-age with the release of Battlefield 2 in 2005. The title sold over 2.5 million copies, despite its plagued-by-bugs launch.

After Battlefield 2, the series took many turns including the future-set Battlefield 2142, and the spin-off series Battlefield: Bad Company. Using its new Frostbite engine, Bad Company introduced new gameplay mechanics to the Battlefield series including destructible environments and a fully fleshed out single-player storyline.

Battlefield 3, announced in 2009, looks to continue the series’ tradition with the return of jets, prone position, and 64 player battles. It’s also introducing co-op mode, a first for the series. Battlefield 3 released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on October 25. It’s unlikely we’ll see talk of Battlefield 4 in the near future, as the series may explore spin-offs similar to those after Battlefield 2.

Uncharted 3

A year after the launch of the PlayStation 3, developer Naughty Dog released their first PlayStation 3 exclusive game, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Along with its sequel, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, the two games received multiple awards and commendations for both their cinematic action sequences and their take on female characters. Along with Killzone, Resistance, God of War, and LittleBigPlanet, Uncharted is a series often touted by Sony in its commercials and advertisements. The third game, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception releases on November 1 for the PlayStation 3. Spike TV recently put out a casting call for a special to celebrate the release of the game.

An Uncharted film is also in development by Colombia Pictures, a division of Sony. Avi Arad of Spider-Man, Charles Roven of The Dark Knight, and Alex Gartner are set to produce. David O. Russell, who directed Three Kings and The Fighter, was originally set to direct the film, but dropped out as of last May. Russell’s vision for the film cast Mark Wahlberg as protagonist Nathan Drake in a family of treasure hunters with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci as father and uncle. In July, Neil Burger, who directed the movie Limitless, signed on to the project and at the moment is in rewrites.

Looking ahead, another Uncharted game, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, is in development for the PlayStation Vita, but Naughty Dog’s pattern with previous franchises is what’s most curious. The Crash Bandicoot series on the PlayStation 1 released three games, and capped off the series with a kart-racing game titled Crash Team Racing. The Jak and Daxter series on the PlayStation 2 released three games before ending the series with a kart-racing game titled Jak X: Combat Racing. Are we going to see an Uncharted kart-racing game in the future? As ridiculous as it sounds, it can’t be ruled out.

Modern Warfare 3

Though Call of Duty came out in 2003, it wasn’t until 2007 when the Modern Warfare series began. As implied by its name, the series takes place during modern times and features locations all over the world including the Middle East, Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, English, France, Germany, and the United States. The multi-player component Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare made it stand out among other shooters of the era. The introduction of a persistent leveling system gave players a reason to keep playing: unlock a new weapon, perk, or killstreak. The option to Prestige allowed dedicated players to customize their class and continue playing even a year later. The leveling system appeared in every Modern Warfare since, including Call of Duty games outside the Modern Warfare series, each with new twists and customization options. Modern Warfare 3 has its own twist on the system introducing strike packages for different playstyles instead of the traditional killstreak system. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 will be available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on November 8.

It’s a forgone conclusion we’ll see more Call of Duty next year. The series is an annual title for Activision, releasing a new game every since 2006. However, it’s up in the air whether we’ll see more Modern Warfare. Every other year since Modern Warfare, Treyarch took the Call of Duty reigns developing both World at War and Black Ops. It’s possible we could see Black Ops 2 given its success.

Sledgehammer Games was six-months into development on a third-person shooter game in the Call of Duty franchise before they shelved it to help Infinity Ward with Modern Warfare 3. “There are a lot of fans out there who enjoy games like Uncharted, so you can imagine that genre meeting a world-class franchise,” said Michael Condrey, COO and VP of development for Sledgehammer Games. A shift in perspective might be a great move for the Call of Duty franchise.

Saints Row: The Third

The first series to introduce open world sandbox gameplay to the current generation of consoles was Saints Row in 2006 for the Xbox 360. The game tells the story of an unnamed character, created by the player, after the 3rd Street Saints rescue him from a gang war on the streets of Stilwater, Michigan. The Saints recruit the player to help them gain control over the city as they take down rival gangs.

The third-person view, control scheme, and mission layout borrow heavily from the GTA series, which released its latest release Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas just two years prior. Though they looked and played similar, Saints Row offered features such as online multi-player and character creation. Saints Row also had a more cartoonish attitude to it, using humor throughout its story more often than the Grand Theft Auto. Saints Row threw out the serious tone and instead went for a fun mix of over-the-top and whimsical action in a realistic setting.

Despite their similar playstyle, it wasn’t until Saints Row 2 when the comparison took center stage. Grand Theft Auto IV and Saints Row 2 released within six months of each other in 2008. Lead Producer for Saints Row 2 Greg Donovan addressed the release proximity saying, “We wouldn't be releasing this year if we didn't think we could be competitive.” He also talked about the features that set Saints Row 2 apart, “We've got to remember that open-world is a genre and so there's room for more than just one game in that genre. Saints Row 2 is offering a much different experience than the competition. It’s all about over-the-top memorable moments and hyper-realism.” That hyper-realism included combos, charge-up attacks, finishing moves, groin attacks, and using human shields. An advertisement for Saints Row 2 discernibly compared the two games, noting that Saints Row 2 allowed you to spill sewage on the public and throw people in front of trains, where as other games had you go bowling or to a party with a friend.

Saints Row: The Third already established it has even more over-the-top combat and gameplay as seen in developer diary videos showing dildo swords and human cannonballs. Saints Row: The Third will release for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on November 15. Where Saints Row will go after The Third is an open playing field. A new Grand Theft Auto will be announced soon, but it's possible it won't release until 2013, so it’s possible we could see Saints Row 4 or an spin-off similar to Vice City or San Andreas.

Mass Effect 3

BioWare planned for the Mass Effect franchise to be a trilogy from the beginning. When the first game released on the Xbox 360 in 2007, critics praised its narrative, characters, voice work, and the vastness of its universe. Mass Effect 2 released in 2010 and garnered critical acclaim for its polished combat, branching narrative, and ability to import a character from the first game. BioWare raked over feedback from the first Mass Effect, keeping what worked and throwing out what didn’t. Though Mass Effect 2 released in January, it earned many Game of the Year awards. Reviewers regard the franchise for having a deep story with well-developed characters that have their own personalities. GamesRadar called the series the best new franchise of the current generation citing it as “a high water mark for games as a storytelling medium.”

Thus far, the Mass Effect franchise spawned three novels, an on-going comic series with Dark Horse, and a movie in the works with Legendary Pictures. A fourth novel written by William C. Dietz is releasing next year before the release of Mass Effect 3 on March 6, 2012.

While originally planned to be a trilogy, Executive Producer Casey Hudson speculated that more Mass Effect might come after Mass Effect 3. In an interview with Game Informer, Hudson said, “We’ve been trying to think of a way that makes sense for people to experience Mass Effect with their friends... A lot of people say that they want to see an MMO – that kind of makes sense for this universe. If you get rid of the Reapers and win that, wouldn’t it be amazing to just live on the Citadel or just take a ship to Omega? That makes sense.” We know Mass Effect 3 will be the end of Commander Shepard’s story, but after that, it’s anybody’s game.

Max Payne 3

Bullet time can be traced back all the way to the original opening sequence for Speed Racer, but for videogames, only two words should come to mind: Max Payne.

Released to a post-Matrix world in 2001 for the PC, Max Payne told the story of an ex New York detective out to avenge his murdered wife and child. The game was set against a gritty noir backdrop where mob bosses are fighting over turf in a drug war and painkillers act as health kits. Though some cutscenes were present, the game told most of its story in the vein of a graphic novel with comic panels narrated by Max himself, voiced by James McCaffrey. The game played similar to a John Woo movie with cinematic action sequences and gun-orientated stunts. Critics praised its innovative gameplay and graphics, and it received the 2001 Reader Game of the Year award from both IGN and GameSpot.

In 2003, a sequel released titled Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. The sequel introduced Mona Sax, who appeared in the first game, as a playable character for a level, and ramped up her stake in the story as a conflicting love interest for Max.

A film version of the first game released in 2008 starring Mark Wahlberg as Max Payne and Mila Kunis as Mona Sax. The movie loosely followed the story of the first game with some changes. In the film, BB Hensley kills Jack Lupino where in the game Max does it himself. Max also takes the drug Valkyr to survive hypothermia in the film, but in the game, Nicole Horne forces him to take the drug and leave him to die due to overdose.

RockStar Games first announced Max Payne 3 in 2009, but after several delays, is now schedule for a March 2012 release for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Max, now older and wearier, left New York and took a job in Sao Paulo, Brazil as private security for a wealthy family. When the wife of the family is kidnapped, Max is forced to take charge and get her back his own way.

Several screenshots released showing Max with a shaved head wearing a white tank top. The change in character design and the move from New York to Brazil left many fans disappointed about the potential of the game, but on September 14 RockStar Games released a trailer for Max Payne 3 consisting of entirely in-game footage. The trailer highlighted the use of the RAGE engine, the same one used for L.A. Noire, and the implementation of Euphoria technology, allowing characters to react naturally and in real-time.

The trailer also used the same music from Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne while James McCaffrey narrated as the voice of Max Payne, instantly connecting it with the previous two games.

It’s unlikely we’ll see the release of a Max Payne 4. It will have taken three years of development for Max Payne 3, and that’s four years after the prior game released. Fans may like the character of Max Payne, but releases beyond Max Payne 3 will highly depend on the success of Max Payne 3.

Diablo 3

The first Diablo game released in 1996 to rave reviews, praising its dark theme, modern graphics, musical score, and massive replayability. A year later Sierra On-line, instead of Blizzard North, who created the original game, released an expansion titled Diablo: Hellfire, adding three new classes, Monk, Bard, and Barbarian, two additional dungeons, new items, and two quests only accessible through file configuration. Because Sierra On-line released Hellfire, it is not officially part of Diablo lore, and coincidently, does not appear on Blizzard’s website at all.

In 2000, Blizzard released Diablo II. Within the first two weeks, the game sold more than 1 million copies becoming, at the time, the fastest selling computer game ever. Following the first game, an expansion for Diablo II released titled Lord of Destruction adding two new classes, Assassin and Druid, a new story act, new items, and minions. The most recent patch for the game came in 2009, showing Blizzard still support their produced even nine years after its release.

The release of Diablo III, however, is a mystery. Announced at Blizzard’s 2008 Worldwide Invitational in Paris, France, Diablo III features five classes, the return of minions, and PvP combat, and a real-money Auction House. Reaction to the announcement of an Auction House left players divided, but Blizzard hopes its inclusion will severely limit the rampant black market trading that occurred for Diablo II.

With at least a decade between the release of Diablo II and Diablo III, it’s anyone’s guess what is next for the Diablo series, let alone when it will come.

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