Activision bucks trend of crappy video games based on movies and comics

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      “Video games based on comics and movies usually suck” is conventional wisdom among gamers.

      But today, the old adage might need a tune-up: Beware of video games based on licensed properties, except those published by Activision.

      Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (Activision; PS3, Xbox 360; rated teen) continues the prominent publisher’s track record of strong console games based on popular media franchises. They haven’t published a licensed crap-fest for the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 in recent memory, and have even delivered a few great ones.

      It’s increasingly tough for game publishers to profit, should they decide shovel crap pressed into the shape of a disc stuck inside in a box bearing the name of a beloved character or trusted brand. Consumers of electronics are among the most likely to consult on-line reviews before making a purchase. Eighty-six percent do so, according to a 2008 study by Synovate on behalf of Microsoft.

      Yet lousy movie-licence games pervade. Did you, or anyone you care about, after enjoying the film, feel compelled to spend money on Sega’s Iron Man 2 game? Metacritic, which distills the opinions of a large number of critics to a single number, reports a Metascore of 41 out of 100 for the title. Harsh.

      History lesson: In 1982, Stephen Spielberg asked the designer of Raiders of the Lost Ark for the Atari 2600 to deliver a video-game version of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, to coincide with the movie’s theatrical release.

      Atari went full bore on the tie-in, and though the game sold 1.5 million units, no brand power could compensate for the unambiguous shittiness of the game itself—apparently, even pre-Internet, word got around. The publisher reportedly destroyed 2.5 million unsold cartridges, and lost $100 million, cementing E.T. the video game’s place in epic fail folklore.

      We like to think we’ve progressed. If so, then what happened this past year, with Namco Bandai’s Clash of the Titans, and Ubisoft’s Avatar (Metascores of 41 and 60 respectively)? Why does the adaptation process so frequently result in a finished product that universally disappoints?

      The phenomenon can probably be attributed to a multitude of things: beyond basic laziness and greed, there’s your textbook creative interference from above, and hurried development and release schedules (designer Howard Scott Warshaw was reportedly given only six weeks to deliver E.T.), for starters.

      Whether through deliberate intervention or just by good fortune, Activision simply seems better immune to the condition than other publishers. Most recently, Transformers: War for Cybertron universally garnered respectable review scores (Metascore: 77) with more than a few seasoned reviewers even raving about it. In the past year or so, Activision has released X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Metascore: 75) and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 (Metascore: 74), and though neither were “game of the year” candidates, both were solid products.

      Shattered Dimensions (Metascore: 77) gives gamers four unique universes to explore, each featuring authentic and unique art styles. Players control four versions of the web-slinging superhero—Amazing, Ultimate, 2099, and Noir, each with unique abilities—in four different, colliding universes.

      The 360 and PS3 versions (which are virtually identical) are $59 and could have used some more finish, but they’re good-looking, nicely paced, and a genuine blast to swing through—must-haves for Spider-Man fanboys.

      Looking ahead, I’m keyed up to try James Bond 007: Blood Stone. Were the upcoming stealth/driving licensed title in the hands of a publisher other than Activision, however, I’d probably feel about as excited as I felt when I first saw the reveal for Electronic Arts’ G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (Metascore 41).

      Chris Vandergaag is a Vancouver-based freelancer. When he's not gaming, writing, or forwarding links of questionable moral repute, he's asleep.



      Jeffery K Simpson

      Sep 30, 2010 at 3:01pm

      Batman: Arkham Asylum was really good. I think the problem that happens is when a video game is developed along with a film there's too much rushing and no chance to go back to the drawing board. A game like Batman: Arkham Asylum or this new Spider-Man game (which is really good) isn't locked into a time table.


      Oct 1, 2010 at 2:41pm

      @Jeffery agreed... though I don't understand why timetables have to be so rigid. I'd be more inclined to buy a licensed game a few months after the film release, if that extra time meant it would probably be a better game. But then I'm a gamer, not a studio bean counter :P