Raven Software: 1990 – whenever Activision kills them

January 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

This is the first of my “Legacy” attempts at blogging, things I’ve written long ago, that, due to laziness over the last 24 hours are being posted so that I could make my schedule.  This particular one was written near the end of August, 2011, if my memory serves, it was written at around the same time that Blue Tongue Entertainment was closed, though I can’t remember if it was before or after the official shuttering.  I still fear for Raven Software, but maybe less so than I did before.  Though probably only because I’ve become even more jaded to the world in general.
It’s a well known event in the video game industry.  Someone with authority, or someone who thinks they have authority makes a controversial statement, and fanatics burst out of the woodwork, desperate to prove them wrong.“I’m going to go on the record and say that I believe the middle class game is dead.” -Clifford Michael Bleszinski

But with this comment, I didn’t really see that happen.  Looking at the industry as it currently stands, only two styles really seem to work.  It’s all or nothing.  The Triple A games, backed by multi-million dollar advertising campaigns, teams of over a hundred people, powered by massive brands and from the biggest publishers.  Or an independently developed title, a small group of people pouring their love into a project, hoping they’ll become popular enough to continue supporting themselves so they can move out of their parents basement.  Now, ignoring the extreme generalisations (not to mention the difference between indie and garage developers) of my examples, it’s becoming increasingly clear that these two options really are the only valid choices, and as the industry adopts that stance, it seems to be becoming increasingly true.

With the recent closure of Blue Tongue and THQ Studio Australia I figured it was time to show some love to an old studio who I feel is doomed by the industry’s view of itself.  So, Raven Software, you had a good run.  Let me tell you a story.

My love affair began many years ago.  I sat at a friend’s house, watching as he sliced some merc’s apart.  Watching as a lightsaber cut through a stormtrooper’s hand, and sniggering as he writhed with pain before lying still.  Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast.  I needed this game myself, but I had to wait, agonising months before the Mac version was released.  Mac gaming, the only way to game.  But there it was.  I had never felt so powerful as a Jedi.  I had never had such graphical fidelity as a Jedi (The Quake 3 engine in all its glory).  And I’d never had to deal with bartender’s with such bad grammar.  Or bartender’s in general, but I digress.

Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast.  Metascore – 89

The year is 2006.  I’m at a different friend’s house.  We sit there, cringing as our humanity is removed.  Our legs are sawn off, we have chips implanted into us, and then, at the last moment, before all hope is lost, our friend’s rescue us.  The war against the Strogg had just begun.  Yet again I find myself unable to play this game, as not even the hardware wizardry of id Tech 4 could run on my cardboard-reinforced hamster powered machine, so I had to wait.  And wait.  And then suddenly I could see the game as it was.  Hideously ugly in that special “id Tech” way (secondary prize going to Bethesda for their work on Oblivion).  Still I played it.  I dealt with the ai whose scripted events made them seem almost smart (when they weren’t running into walls), I dealt with the claustrophobia, and then I stopped.  After years of hyping this up in my mind, I had to face that it felt dated.  My secret shame.  I never finished Quake 4, and I never intend to.  I played it until I did not want to any more, and for that, it remains untarnished in my mind.  The perfect length for a game.  This game solidified my respect for Raven as a developer.  I had been too young to appreciate their early works, and there was no way my teenagered self could look past all their flaws(mostly the dated graphics), but from here I considered myself a fan.  If only a minor one.

Quake 4.  Metascore – 81

It’s 2009.  Xmen Origins: Wolverine is hitting theatres, and being panned.  My man-love for Hugh Jackman standing as the only reason I sat through the early leaked build.  But a game is coming.  A movie tie-in, and with a cynical heart I decided to have a quick squiz at reviews.  My god.  The game isn’t being panned.  So I picked it up.  And Wow.  This game was GREAT.  Who cares that it ignores the mish-mash that is Marvel continuity, and that it ties itself plotwise vaguely to the movies hideous representations of characters?  Not me, I was too busy ripping people in half as Wolverine.  This game was satisfying.  It had beautiful pre-rendered cutscenes, and the in game graphics had moments of brilliance.  I have played few games that have beaten the joyous feel of running up to an explosive barrel, slicing it so that it explodes in your face, and then watching as your flesh knits itself back together.  That isn’t to say that the game was without flaws, but it sits in my mind with Batman:AA and Uncharted 2 as the games of 2009 that I had the most fun with.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Uncaged Edition – Metascore 75

Which brings us to Singularity.  This game was amazing.  As seems to be a trend with Raven it was flawed, and it did absolutely nothing new.  But it did it well.  There’s not a lot I can really say about it, just, if you like shooters, then you really should play this.  The biggest flaw I can really pick with it was its marketing campaign.  That didn’t exist.

Singularity.  Metascore – 76

Which brings us back to the start.  Raven Software is owned by Activision.  After the under performance of Wolverine and Wolfenstein, the studio faced lay-offs, as it did during the development of Singularity.  Since then they have worked on DLC for CoD:BlOps, and Modern Warfare 3, as well as having control over a Bond game as Activision milks its franchise to death.  And here is the final kiss of death.  A Bond game given to an under-performing studio?  Reminds me of Bizarre Creations.

And I could tell you a story about them…

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