Watching THQ

Gaming companies are definitely losing steam. In particular, Radical Entertainment has lost out on what it once was. And Kaos Studios closed its doors. Ben Kuchera over at The PA Report covered this with more detail. While I’m not about to make claims about doom and gloom, the fact is that something is wrong when companies are folding.

In my mind, I can see a good half a dozen reasons why games are suffering.

First, there’s the ongoing economic situation. There seems to be some remaining back-and-forthery about whether or not it’s still a recession. But while people can drown their sorrows in games for a while (better than booze), they cannot continue to shell out $50 to $60 for every great title that comes along.

The second aspect that is changing this is the available of SmartPhone and indie games. Most of these games are free or very cheap, and although aren’t as hardcore as console/PC games, are still quite fun especially among friends.

A third thing to consider is the ease of DRM software like Steam, which allows players to purchase old, classic titles for extremely low prices. Why play new games when you have a catalogue of older classics you need to catch up on? I know this very well as I have been downloading games I never got around to trying, like Bioshock.

Then there are the usual factors. A dash of piracy, people can’t afford to be shelling out money, so on. Perhaps the thing to consider here is that the gaming industry isn’t as immune to the recession as we were first led to believe. It certainly lasted far longer than most industries in the midst of rough economic times, but sooner or later you have to pay the piper. The field is shrinking.

Which brings us to the central focus of this blog. THQ.

THQ Inc. has actually been around since 1989. When I was a kid, I played their interesting Home Alone games back on the old 8-bit NES. Today, they’re responsible for the Red Faction series, Saints Row and especially the Warhammer 40,000 line up of games. Recently, THQ made news twice over, first by turning their UFC series to EA. And then a strange, reverse split restructuring of their stocks, consolidating shares at a rate of 10 to 1.

As an owner of some of THQ’s stock, I take considerable interest in this turn of events.

And as a guy who someday would like to make games, I find the whole set of news troubling. It is not an immediate dream I’d like to realize, but something I’d like to do in a few years. And I am working in that direction, bit by bit. But right now the industry is changing, adapting to a combination of new markets, fighting the effects of the recession and taking on riskier projections.

Times a changin’. Keep watching the future, folks.

SPESS MEHREN!

So let’s talk about what’s cool. Specifically, let’s talk about Space Marine. Or better yet, let’s watch the bloody, bloody trailer…

With the exception of Soulstorm and Fire Warrior, THQ has done a fine job of translating the table top game into the PC world. Soulstorm came at the butt end of a growing list of Dawn of War expansions shortly before Dawn of War 2, and seemed to lack the innovation and quality they put into the other expansions. Meanwhile, Fire Warrior felt like it just rehashed the Red Faction game engine without tweaking or improving it.

Yes, it’s true that both these games got solid reviews, but I’m also used to other 40k fan boys pumping up the ratings far more than they deserve. You can see it on Amazon when you look up the reviews of new Black Library books. And while most of the novels the Black Library publishes are good quality, some have fallen short of my expectations.

But I’ve seen little about Space Marine thus far that is cause for alarm. The graphics look tight, they’ve invested some effort in developing at least a decent story from the cut scenes. The varieties of weapons to use and enemies to kill are solid.

I get a touch confused because the game seems more focused on melee over ranged combat, but the list of available ranged weapons seems larger than the close combat choices. What’s worse is that I’m actually not sure what weapons will be available and what won’t be. For example, the online site gives us this small list of weapons. But one trailer gave us a brief glimpse of the autocannon, while another shows a laser cannon, a heavy bolter and a power axe. I have not seen a flamer, power fist nor a missile launcher. At least not yet.

I suspect that the developers are probably having a long, last minute debate over what will be put in the game and what will be held back to either purchase later or thrown into expansions. From the start, earlier trailers seemed to have a different vision for the game involving a team of mixed combat styles. Something obviously changed between now and then.

One cause of concern for me is going to be game play variety. So far, about 95% of what I’ve seen consisted of hacking, slashing and shooting through huge mobs of Orks or mowing down Chaos Marines. The other 5% consisted of some sort of vehicular mid air shoot out.

The environment looks spectacular.

The environment is so spectacular, even Captain Titus has to pause in awe of it.

Combat is wonderful, but most gamers these days need more. A tight combat system makes the game a lot of fun, as it did for God of War. But Kratos’ tale was also mixed with puzzle solving on the side to work the mind and not just the fingers. I’m not exactly sure that puzzles would really fit into a game like this.  However, I also fear that the game will suffer from this pattern:

  1. Notice large mob of bad guys coming over to kindly make your acquaintance. And then kill you.
  2. Engage said group of green gentlemen, smashing buttons to find some combination of moves that relieves them of their lives.
  3. Proceed to next area before the stench of the fresh cadavers’ relaxed bowels becomes overpowering.

Maybe there is some variety mixed in there. Perhaps driving vehicles. Or skulking about as a scout, planting bombs, sniping, knifing and keeping out of sight. Still, a lot of details have been held back. So it’s really wait and see at this point.

But I find myself really looking forward to the multiplayer. THQ decided to give us the option of being either Space Marines or Chaos Marines, and unbelievable customization options to boot. Here’s a parting video for you to see:

Sadly, I suspect there will be no sandvich.