When good games go bad

Published 3:39 pm Sunday, March 8, 2015

While reviewing “The Order: 1886” last week, I was struck with a feeling of deja vu.

It was hard for me not to compare this game to last year’s “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2.” They’re different games in different genres, but I was struck by how, the more I thought about it, the more similar these two titles became. Ultimately, to me they both represent what happens when developers try and fail to meet the video game industry’s strenuous expectations.

Think about it: both games are, on the surface, supernatural games focused on drama, a little revenge and what happens when good people do bad things.

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“The Order: 1886” is the first game in a series dedicated to the immortal Knights of the Round Table locked in a centuries-old battle against, what is in essence werewolves, and the events that come to fruition in Victorian London.

“Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2” is the culmination of a series where knights combat the forces of evil, led by Satan himself, in which a lone knight who defeated the Prince of Darkness has turned into Dracula. The baddest vampire of them all must now face events that come to fruition in modern-day Romania.

Both are silly popcorn games, which are some of the best kind of games to play.

But they both went astray from fan expectations in odd ways. “The Order: 1886” didn’t quite deliver on an incredibly fun universe where you can shoot were-people with magic guns. The game featured some wonky controls, questionable quick-time events and an almost complete replica of a boss fight.

“Castlevania” failed to live up to expectations with a hackneyed plot, questionable quick-time events, and uninspired design choices.

Both games also had terrible stealth sections. Both sets of developers should have known better.

What’s interesting to me is the story behind the games. Developer Ready at Dawn had the concept for “The Order: 1886” since 2010, but didn’t get to work on the game until 2013 when they received Playstation 4 developer kits.

The Sony-owned studio made its name on great Playstation Portable games for the “God of War” series, among other things. MercurySteam, the developers behind “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2” was behind the cult hit “Clive Barker’s Jericho.”

MercurySteam’s last “Castlevania” title reportedly suffered from an overbearing director, which caused many key staff behind the hit “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow”to leave. That game became a huge success for Konami, which had tried several times to revive the “Castlevania” brand, which obviously meant a sequel was due.

A sequel isn’t always a good idea, especially when MercurySteam had no plans to produce another “Castlevania” game after the first “Lords of Shadow.” So they did the best they could to create an engaging game.

Ready at Dawn had great success with its previous Sony-owned properties and got a short amount of time to turn around its own original idea. So they did the best they could to create an engaging game.

Both studios faced a huge amount of pressure to deliver, as every studio does when designing games. What could have been huge big-budget home runs got middling reviews and felt underwhelming in spite of the massive amount of work that pours into them.

Producing video games is a well-documented stressful occupation, and no one ever wants to fail. But both of these titles feel like they didn’t achieve their full potential, likely due to industry expectations.