In 1977, sci-fi received an earth-shaking boost in popularity and respectability that still echoes on onward even to this day. At the same time, video games technology was emerging as a new favorite pastime fueling a new sector of the economy and industry. These two titans fused together to fulfill the wishes and dreams of sci-fi fans and moviegoers: living the events of their beloved films. By the mid-1980's, fans of Star Wars
could embark on the iconic trench run at the Battle of Yavin IV at the joystick of an X-Wing. This is still being recreating to this day with modern computer technology. However, the once promising relationship of sci-fi and video games has fallen on hard times with the failures of Destiny, HALO: 5 Guardians, TitanFall 2, COD: Infinite Warfare, COD: Black Ops III
, and the mixed reception of Space Hulk: Deathwing,
We fans of military sci-fi are left with a painful question: Are Military Sci-Fi video games in trouble? Let us review the evidence.
The Failure of Destiny 1 and the Rebooted via Destiny 2
There is little doubt that Bungie redeveloped the video game and Military SF landscape with the release of 2001's HALO: Combat Evolved
. For a decade, Bungie released HALO
games to celebration and massive profit. Then around time of HALO 3
, Bungie decided to move on, spin off HALO
, and developed an new game/universe to usher in a new era for the company. That game was Destiny
and hints of its existence were easter egg'ed in HALO 3: ODST
. For years, Bungie and her business partner, Activision, poured half-a-billion dollars into this new game...and then results were mixed at the time of release in 2015 with most scores falling the "6 out of 10" category. HALO
it was not in both gameplay, setting, and generating the same like of response among fans and critics. This is did not hurt sales though due to a lack of pre-release reviews by the company's orders and actions. Millions of players and dollars flowed in with Destiny
becoming of the biggest games of all time in terms of preorders and sales, especially on the new generation of consoles. But, mere sales figures did not fully tell the tale of Destiny
and its bloody, dark, development.
Prior to the release of the DLC packs, "vanilla Destiny
", as it has become known, was a short campaign of a muddled story, and new multiplayer that excited many. If you wanted to know more about the space fantasy-post-apocalypse world of Destiny
, you had to dig via in-game cards, videos, and internet sites. For a long-term player of HALO
like me, Destiny
was a welcomed change and I rather liked it, and I played it continuously for nearly a year on my Xbox One. That is longest I've ever played a game continuously without switching games. After The Taken King
, the game became stale and unless you wanted to form a team or battle online, you were basically done until the next DLC save for grinding and random reviews. My involvement in Destiny
faded and so did the public. While still profitable, fans and critics lashed out against the lack of in-game explanation, short vanilla Destiny
campaign, and need for continued investment by the player to use the game to its full potential.
While it was a success technically, it was bloody one, and Bungie knew that they needed to make a change for the incoming sequel. Now, we know the level of surgery that Bungie performed and it looks like the world of Destiny 1
has been burned to the ground, the lore altered or forgotten, and a new Destiny
is being formed right before our eyes. But, is that a good thing? Certainly. Destiny 1
was a mixed bag to us fans of military science fiction, but there was an interesting world to be explored and now many online feel like answers we were promised about the Exo Stranger, the Darkness, and the 9 will not come because Bungie wants to distance their new game and themselves from the issues of Destiny 1
This means the abandonment, on the surface, of the extensive lore. To me, this is a sign of serious trouble for the company and the long-term future of Destiny
. If the second full game fails to solve the issues of the first and attract old and new fans, this universe and its lobbies will grow dark and cold. To me, witnessing the most expensive game in the history be rebooted is cause for concern and is another sign of the trouble that Military SF video games are having.
The Mishandling of the TitanFall Games
Combat Mecha is one of the bedrock technologies and symbols of military science fiction, serving has an instant indicator that "this is the future". Anime and Manga have full realized this connection with works like ROBOTECH, Gundam
, Armored Trooper VOTOM
, and Fang of the Sun Dougram
. In the West, works like Battletech
would reinforce this concept, that it fueled our imaginations of future warfare. For decades, we fans of Military SF with badass mecha have waited for a video game that would allow us to suit up and fight like we were metal gods of war.
It was hoped by EA and Respawn that TitanFall
would capitalize on both the long-term love affair with mecha and online shooters. It helped that the developer had Call of Duty
experience. However, there was one fatal flaw sown into the very DNA of the original game: multiplayer only. No single-player campaign at all. This, while fine at the time of launch for some players and the current climate of gaming, would artificially limit the longevity of the game. Much like what the Tyrell Corporation did to the NEXUS-6 Replicants, a limited lifespan to deflate the risk of another off-world revolt, Respawn and EA did to their new IP. Without the benefit of an single-player campaign or even some sort of shared experience like Destiny
was sentenced to a limited lifespan, Very limited.
The story of TitanFall
could not be effectively total, even as a COD game, and this would limit player involvement and relationship between the game and the players. This hurt sales as well. For players like me that bought their Xbox Ones later and were not on Xbox Live most of the time, TitanFall
was not a worthy investment even at 1/2 off. By the time I could have bought the game, the lobbies were becoming empty and I would have to invest in Xbox Live to even play the damn thing. Despite this, the game sold very well, 10 million units, and was a fun mecha-based shooter that generated great reviews.
The success empowered EA to greenlit Respawn to forge a sequel. Building on the good elements of the original 2014 game and would correct the mistakes, namely constructing an single-player campaign that would allow TitanFall 2 to have a life outside the lobbies and being on the PlayStation 4 as well as the Xbox One and PC. It was hoped by all that TitanFall 2
would be a even bigger success than the first game. But it wasn't. TitanFall 2
was not the success the original game either in terms of day one sales, secondary merchandise, or in the population of the lobbies despite the general good reviews.
Unlike the original game, EA did not invest the same amount of money in advertising/promotion, poor communication that TitanFall 2
would be on the PS4, EA released the game into a feeding frenzy. At around the dame time, Battlefield 1, Skyrim, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
(another future shooter) were all released causing gamers to have to pick-and-choose what shooter to invest in. While firm sales figures were never released by EA, there were bad enough neither Respawn nor EA will comment directly on them, only stating that success can be measured over time and by different standards.
The poor decisions by EA (surprise!) as placed the future of TitanFall
into jeopardy with the planned for 3rd game being now in question and the mobile was outright cancelled. The TF2
DLC is said to be incoming...we shall see. All of this is such a pity for such a promising MSF game franchise. TitanFall
looked like, in 2014/2015, that it would spawn an live-action TV show, a possible movie, books, toys, comics. Those have not materialized or have been curtailed. The worst part of the "failure" of the TitanFall
franchise is that the entire genre of Military SF was impacted via being robbed of an new IP that could have generated a wider experience for us fans of the genre, similar to HALO. Time will tell if TitanFall
will survive this storm and EA...hopefully it turns out better than it did for the rebooted Medal of Honor
Call of Duty Goes Back to World War II
There is no doubting the juggernaut that Call of Duty is with $15 billions in sales and 250 million games sold. However, at one time, COD was just another World War II shooter that had not yet unseated the king of the WWII shooters: Medal of Honor.
In 2003, when the original game was released on PC, no one had any idea that COD would become a cultural touchstone. In fact, its first shooter on the original Xbox and PS2 was a terrible piece of dog shit. However, by the time of COD III release, the brand was established as well as their domination over MoH. However, in the year that the 3rd WWII themed game was released, 2006, that setting had been exhausted.
There were rumors floating around that Activision would be setting the next COD in Vietnam or Korea or even World War One. None of those came to reality with the next game. Instead, COD would be going into the modern setting with the global War on Terror and the conflicts in the Middle East. It was a earthshaking event in the world of shooter video games. The bar has been rest by COD 4: Modern Warfare and everyone else had to play catchup. Modern Warfare propelled the COD franchise and popularity at a rockets pace with the online lobbies packed with hunters and victims. That only increased with the release of MW2, which many have said was the apex of these games.
The next game was developed by another studio and set new characters into a Cold War/Vietnam world of Black Operations. It was yet another massive success and Black Ops would became a standard of online play (Tomahawk'ed across the map!) However, the stage was set for another issue. With the released of MW3
in 2011, that storyline came to an natural conclusion and developer Infinity Ward to look elsewhere for another world to set the chaos of COD into. That became Ghosts. Treyarch would be the first to set the COD universe into a near-future setting with the release of Black Ops II
in 2012. For many, including myself, Black Ops: II would be the apex of the online shooting enviroment of COD with gameplay that kept you returning for more and more digital bloodshed. There was a period of an year that I drank Jack&Coke on Fridays and Saturdays and played Black Ops: II online until the wee hours. Those were good times. With the future setting ventured into by Treyarch, the other studios attached to COD games would follow. This would signal the end of COD as we know it. Then came Ghosts in 2013 by Infinity Ward...and it was the first of the COD games to fail in everything but sales. While the plot was a break from the world set up by Modern Warfare and Black Ops, it was still "America under invasion" scenario with uneven online play that could not hold a candle to Black Ops: II
or MW: 3
. The game was panned and the lobbies dried up with players leaving for other games and even returning to Black Ops: II
This was the first blow to the COD franchise and given the "wash-and-repeat" formula of the games and their yearly release schedule, gamers became jagged and burned out. The futuristic setting of the COD games would be pushed by Advanced Warfare
, Black Ops: III
, and then lastly with Infinite Warfare
. That last game has the "honor" of being one of the most disliked videos on the whole of Youtube.com and it was a sure sign that the entire COD
empire was heading the wrong direction. With their rival Battlefield going back into the past to World War One, it was clear that it was time to travel back to the past to save the future of COD. This might that the long-held dream of some of us Military Sci-Fi gamers to see COD in the far-future was DOA with the failure of Infinite Warfare
. Be careful what you wish for I guess. With it clear that the COD
games set in the future a losing venture, the wider world of Military SF games has taken a serious blow in terms of overall popularity and further investment of future warfare games by other developers/publishers.
The Nosedive of Mass Effect: Andromeda
In 2007, BioWare released the first game in the best Military SF RPG video game series of all time. Mass Effect
forged a new, unique universe packed with beloved characters. For three games and a number of DLCs, the universe of Mass Effect
was explored (and probed) that apexed in an end to the galactic cycle of the Reapers that was met by heated fan reaction that forced changes and was a black eye to the 3rd game and the whole series. After the end of the original trilogy in 2013, we fans wondered what, if anything, would happen to the Mass Effect
franchise after the end of the galaxy as we know it?
BioWare conducted a poll asking what direction Mass Effect
should take with the next game: the past or the future? The past path was to show the First Contact War or go forwards. The fans chose forwards as the path of the future of Mass Effect
and the more exploration-centered mission to the Andromeda galaxy was told...with very mixed results that are still being patched. We all know that the latest and possible last Mass Effect
video game is a half-baked mess with creepy facial animation that could be enjoyed if these were overlooked and with a cold six-pack. The game is a result of a internal war at BioWare with studios fighting one another. People left, the planetary generation mechanic was scrapped, but the deadline was not. Most of what we got in ME:A
was completed in the final nine months prior to release, allowing for little time to test and correct. For such an Triple-A title as this to suffer and stumble via mismanagement, too hard of deadlines, and nosebleed high expectations is heartbreaking and may have cost Mass Effect
its life and its status among us players (I am playing ME:A
at the moment for the record).
The Uncertain Future of Killzone
Back in 2004, the video game industry was still under the shadow of the success of HALO
. With the game being exclusive to the original Xbox console, PlayStation needed their own military SF shooter or "HALO
Killer" as the gaming press titled it. This was a common title and theme in the industry at the time and it was challenge to game developers. One such HALO
Killer game for the Sony PlayStation came from a Dutch company: Guerrilla Games. Their Military SF first-person shooter featured the arresting imagery of a gas masked black stormtrooper that channeled an "space nazi" feel. This became the cornerstone of the marketing for the game, which excited the gaming public and the gaming press. When the first Killzone
was released on the PS2 in winter of 2004 it was not the HALO
killer that it reported to be. Instead we got a good MSF shooter that was rough around the edges and with a storyline that was buried. Still, the foundation was there and with the success of the first game, Guerrilla Games got on the sequel.
Released on the PS3 in 2009, Killzone 2
would see the ISA invade Halghan to put an end to the threat. It was the high mark for the entire franchise with the best sales and ratings along with a damn cool teaser trailer. After this, the entire franchise entered into a plateau with the 3rd game in the original trilogy being well received...but, Guerrilla Games had written themselves into a corner with the end of the planet Halghast and it showed in Cold War Berlin setting of the fourth game: Killzone: Shadow Fall.
While the game was praised for its beauty, it failed to excite beyond the base nor create anything new. The game sold 2.1 million copies, making it one of the best selling games on the PS4, but for some reason, the passion for the Killzone
franchise was simply not there and there was not the generation of an secondary market of goods as we have seen with other gaming franchises. The developer, Guerrilla Games, moved on to develop the PS4 exclusive Horizon Zero Dawn,
but they stated in early 2017, that they will indeed return to the Killzone
universe soon. We shall see if the fifth major game in the series will finally break through to be the wider success of other military sci-fi shooters.
The Shit Show that was ALIENS: Colonial Marines
With 1986's ALIENS
being the best military SF movie of all time and having one of the best hostile alien enemies, translating the dark sci-fi world of the ALIENS
universe into a video game has been a goal of 20th Century Fox and the video game industry. Despite many attempts, all of fans of MSF and ALIENS
still wanted an solid military sci-fi shooter based on the United States Colonial Marine Corps. Since 2001, Sega has been attempting to develop just that: an shooter based in the ALIENS
universe using the Colonial Marines as characters. After a bloody long development we finally got an impressive demo at E3 with the Gearbox CEO that took us back to the colony site on LV426 in 2011.
We had high hope...we were fools. When the "game" was released in 2013, it was a half-baked mess that completely shit the bed and broken all of the promises it made. It was so bad that day one reviews prevented people like me from buying it. While there have been some improvements made via patches and some fun to be had in the multiplayer and the "Status Interrupted" DLC, it is still a black mark on the world of Military SF games and the collective memory of us fans. After all, these studios and the publishers soiled the good name of ALIENS
and the Colonial Marines in the same game and that level of emotional trauma will take time to heal. This is all in conjunction with the box office failure of ALIEN: Covenant
means that the ALIENS
might be put back into hyper-sleep. Maybe in 57 years...maybe.
So...Are They in Trouble?
Yes, I do believe that the wider world of military science fiction games are in trouble if things do not change. It seems that every major Military SF video game franchise has been battered and bruised in the last few years with the release of games that were not ready to leave the nest. But, that is not just limited to our beloved specific genre of sci-fi...the inflection has spread much deeper. It is also concerning the entire video game industry as a whole. Some believe that we are the edge of another video game crash as we were in 1982. Will 2018 be the same as 1983, where the whole of the video game industry crashed only to be rebuilt again in 1986 with the NES? We can only hope that the video game community and industry are aware of the similar conditions that this pothole can be avoided...it is not too late...yet.
The Real Enemy: Video Game Companies Themselves
After reading over the common failures of these Military Sci-Fi games, I've arrived a one major underlying issues: the video game publishers and the studios themselves. Most of the games on this list had all of the right pieces in place, but they are assembled in a such hurry and rushed out to meet some deadline imposed by the publisher for the game to generate a profile that were broken, unpolished, or cut to create a DLC pack to finish the original game for more cash. However, that business strategy has badly backfired to the point that it could jeopardize the entire industry and bring about another Video Game Crash. What the video game companies have done is break the bonds of trust. Trust is at the heart of business, not greed. We, the customers, have to trust that the products being advertised is worth of our money and time. When they release a half-baked game that could have been great, these companies erode the trust that we the consumers have placed in their brand and this has led to the shelving of Mass Effect
by EA and Call of Duty
going back to World War II. There is no better example that HALO 5: Guardians
and the recent COD
When a video game franchise has forged a foundation based on solid games that were worthy of our invest in time and money, it has dutifully earned our love and trust. That love and trust can be used against us, as we have seen with the recent HALO
games. These companies traded on the good name of their franchise to push out an product that is NOT of the same caliber as the others, and while they got their money from us, they crack the bedrock of trust. There comes a time when those half-baked games cause us to hesitate at the time of release when prior we would have gladly forked over our money. Pain is always a good reminder. These are some of the most trusted, profitable, and respected video game franchises of the 21st century, and via the mismanagement of the recent games, many of us will not pre-order the game or buy it on day one. We will wait to see if the game has earned our hard earned money. It doesn't fucking help that these companies milk the consumers with DLCs and in-game purchases more than Thufir Hawat had to do to that creepy pasta Harkonnen cat-and-in-mouse-in-a-box (I'm looking at you Destiny
!). Video game companies and developers need to understand that our patience is running thin and time is running out. Video games cannot be viewed as a vehicle for short-term monetary gain, they are important to us and if that fact is not respected by the companies creating and releasing them, we will be a crisis point.
Next Time on FWS...
For many years, FWS was a smooth operation with blogposts leaving the nest often and my life was relatively stable and okay. Over the last few years, my life has grown more complex and painful...and 2017 is some of the most bloody. With the selling of my house, my family will be moving into a rental house in the next three weeks, coupled with trying to find another job in the middle of this latest storm. Thus, making the next blogpost a bottom priority. I am hoping to get the next blogpost about the 10 most influential Military SF works out quickly before the chaos. Fingers crossed!