Welcome to this week’s, “Sequel, Spin Off, Start Over or Stay Dead?”Â Each week we’re going to look at a dormant franchise that was once pretty popular, but for some reason has disappeared into the sands of time. Diehard GameFAN staffers will have four options for what they want to have happen to the series and you can see them in the title of this piece. For a little more detailed description see below:
Sequel – A direct sequel to the franchise. This means if it used sprites and was in 2-D, that’s how you want the next game to be as well. This might involve putting the game on a handheld system instead of a console, but it keeps the nostalgia and classic feel alive.
Spin Off – This is where you take the characters or a specific character is a totally different direction from the established franchise. Examples include Luigi’s Mansion, Hey You, Pikachu!, Shadow Hearts (From Koudelka), and so on.
Start Over – This is a reimagining of the series from the ground up. Perhaps it’s time to bring the series into 3-D. Perhaps you want a totally different control scheme or to throw away the old continuity. In a nutshell, this is taking the brand name from the old series and that’s about it. Everything else is new and re-envisioned.
Stay Dead – This is pretty obvious. This is a toxic franchise that you don’t want to see return in any way shape or form. Let the dead rest.
Ever since the first person shooter genre exploded into popularity with Doom, people have been trying to improve and refine the experience in various ways. This process usually involves refining the mechanics in some way by changing the way the games are played or the rules of the experience, or refining the multiplayer mechanics by adding more people to deathmatch games or adding new play modes or what have you. Doom gave us deathmatch and multi-leveled maps, Quake gave us up and down aiming and 3D visuals, Halo gave us more realistic weaponry capacities and regenerating health, Half-Life 2 gave us the gravity gun, and so on. The Battlefield and Call of Duty franchises have made serious strides forward in multiplayer gaming, so much so that most other multiplayer FPS franchises are liberally borrowing from them on some level or another. Incorporating RPG elements has become more commonplace as well, as games like Borderlands have begun adding level up systems and upgrading tiers of weaponry to the experience and games like Oblivion and Fallout 3 have begun to openly embrace FPS elements into their design. It wasn’t too long ago, however, that FPS titles were mostly brainless experiences devoted more toward learning appropriate circle-strafing techniques and key collection than any sort of coherent narratives, involved mechanics or branching plotlines, and it took the efforts of several developers to change the expectations of what an FPS title could be when compared to what one, at that point, was.
Warren Spector was one such person, and chances are good that, whether or not you know who he is, you’ve heard of the games he’s been involved in.
Spector, through numerous development companies, has been involved in the evolution of the single player FPS experience more than most developers, and his most notable achievements include producing, among other things, Thief: The Dark Project and the Deus Ex franchise, both of which helped to show what could be done with a first person title. Back in 1994, several years before those games came into existence, Spector and his team had spent the past few years working on various games in the Ultima and Wing Commander series, and they were looking to do something different. Combining first person elements with fully three dimensional graphics and a heavy science fiction storyline, they created System Shock, an FPS/adventure/RPG sort of thing that was massively influential and very well regarded, despite its abysmal sales. The game inspired an equally interesting and influential yet poorly received sequel, System Shock 2, though this was developed sans Spector, who had since moved on to greener pastures at that point. Afterward, various staff members moved on to create Bioshock, the ‘spiritual successor’ to the System Shock series, which went on to sell millions of copies and generally justify a sequel, Spector moved on to create a bunch of less than successful but innovative first person titles, and System Shock basically faded into obscurity outside of its fanbase. Today we take a look and see if the world is ready for another System Shock, or if the series is best served staying at rest.
A.J. Hess- Start Over
As much as I love Bioshock, I grew tired of hearing it referred to as “the spiritual sequel to System Shock.”Â Let’s see an actual, honest to god sequel to System Shock. We have the technology. We have the appreciation for the role a story – and especially a morally ambiguous story – plays in video games. We have a love for games that really mess with our minds. Also, there’s the fact that, excusing Deus Ex, we haven’t had a great cyberpunk game in forever. The craze for surfing the net as an avatar and manipulating the dataspehere might be on the wane, but I still love the idea. Anything that gets me closer to a Ghost in the Shell video game is going to get approval from me. The net is vast and infinite.
Chris Bowen – Stay Dead
Here’s the problem: System Shock was great, and System Shock 2 was absolutely amazing, especially for its time. But I don’t even know why we’re talking about this game, considering System Shock 4 came out very recently. The difference is that they called that one Bioshock 2. Yes, there’s a difference between cyberpunk and steampunk, but in execution, there’s not really a difference in how the games are structured.
Furthermore, the franchise is owned by Electronic Arts. They have shown through the years that they are disinterested in it, and if they’re going to remake it, they won’t put their resources into it. I think it would be better to let System Shock’s legacy live on as it is instead of watching people fumble with it and turn it into another Zork. Think you hate what 2K is doing to X-Com? Imagine EA’s grubby hands mangling this classic.
System Shock was incredible. Let it rest.
Mark B. – Sequel
On the one hand, System Shock was a pretty outstanding series. SHODAN was a compelling villain, the games featured some interesting mechanics, and the first person shooter meets action RPG concept was well designed and executed. The game was everything Marathon wanted to be, only better, and the man in charge of the whole concept, Warren Spector, pretty much made this thing happen. As Thief and Deus Ex have shown, Spector has by no means run out of steam post System Shock, so lining him up to make a sequel would not only be awesome, but pretty much mandatory, and in an era where first person shooters have by no means lost steam popularity-wise and western RPG’s have become somewhat popular, a sequel could easily be a big seller if designed and marketed correctly.
On the other hand, I’ve never been a big fan of Bioshock as a franchise, and while it’s considered to be the spiritual successor to System Shock, the only thing it nails from its predecessor is the ambiance. Bioshock is fine for what it is (its sequel, somewhat less so), but it’s essentially a dumbed-down System Shock that trades on its atmosphere and does nothing to improve on the formula. While there will inevitably be a third Bioshock, if the corporate suits have anything to say about it, I would sooner see a third System Shock, not only because it would be equally interesting and less contrived as a sequel, but also because it would more than likely end up being an overall better game.
Stay Dead – 1
Sequel – 1
Start Over – 1
Spin-Off – 0
We’ve got a split decision this week, with the staff each having different ideas of how System Shock should be handled, though there’s a definite concensus on the fact that the game is a classic. Whether the staff wants the game redone, revived or left to rest, it’s apparent that there’s a distinct amount of appreciation for the series, if nothing else.