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The Capcom Gamble

Dante's a mouthy prick tackling a news broadcaster in a social commentary on media interference. Planet Eden's turned into a mixture of The Thing and Dune. Interesting new spins on pre-existing franchises. Yet by some accounts you'd think Capcom have crucified their classic IPs.

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The Japanese publisher may have the most passionate fan base in the industry. And that means warts and all.

Where you'll find acclaim for Street Fighter IV, you'll also find strong opposition to the company's DLC practices. New Resident Evil games are decried as shifting the series even further away from what made it originally so great. Dead Rising's save system: either the sign of true gaming or the apocalypse.

That's not to say any of the arguments are without merit. Outsourcing classic IP to third party developers is yet another hot topic for industry and fan alike. It's familiar territory for Capcom, and one littered with excellence (Bionic Commando Rearmed) teething problems (Bionic Commando 2009) and abrasive results (Operation Raccoon City).

And while even the new takes of IP internally already get forums buzzing (discussion on Resident Evil 6's direction could fill a phone book) it's a relative storm in a tea cup when compared to development outsourcing.

The Capcom Gamble

And now we have two new games from two established franchises. Two new studios, two new takes.

For Cambridge's Ninja Theory (Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Journey into the West) it's been given the job of rebooting the company's cocky demon hunter Dante for DmC, while California's Spark Unlimited (Turning Point: Fall of Liberty, Legendary) has been handed prequel duties for Lost Planet 3.

The problem is that for some quarters the question has never been how amazing could fresh new takes on the franchises could be, or how interesting a fresh pair of eyes could be: but just how badly can they screw up? Can either game convince critics and fans?

It's a dismissal weighed by bone-deep scepticism. But also because of a quandary, due to the fact that Capcom finds itself in the increasingly rare position of a catalogue that stretches back multiple generations: gamers have grown up with these characters and names. Only Nintendo, possibly Sega, would find fans so passionate to defend and guard the handling of much-loved franchises - and even they've had to simmer down and accept multiple Mario offshoots of varying quality over the years.

Hence the awkwardness of finding out Capcom were starting to share its wares with others: come last year's announcement that the four game-strong Devil May Cry series was being rebooted and handled by Ninja Theory, fan feathers were ruffled. To put it mildly.

Lost Planet 3's announcement and its trade to Spark Entertainment didn't quite have the same impact. Currently a single generation franchise, its been one of the black sheep of the herd. There was a running joke at E3 that EA had snatched the franchise in all but name only with its snow-white demo for Dead Space 3. Odder still, Lost Planet 3's protagonist is your average joe worker working a wage: paralleling Issac Clarke's original concept before he turned monster hunter, and a turn towards a slower, horror-tinged pace.

The Capcom Gamble

Capcom's space oddity had a strong opening with the original - snow-encased planet, slow pace, emphasis on mech suits to survive the freezing conditions and hazardous wildlife. The second had equally strong ideas, but troubled execution: multiplayer boss rush campaign with newly varied terrain and specialist mech classes. The control scheme that was wonderfully unique but unloved carried over between releases and hampered the focus on fast-paced tactical combat. It's still got its fans, but it left the sales charts cold.

Yet the new game is a retrofit, a prequel that returns Eden to its snowy wastelands. Visually bland perhaps, but fitting in with the isolation of the situation and story. We're immediately hit with the parallel of Red Faction: visually the game's taken a different slant than its predecessors, more gritty and rough compared to the glow and smoothness of before.

DmC actually goes the opposite way: the elaborate gothic wildernesses of the original foursome now replaced with a hefty glow and warm colour that's dogged Ninja Theory's work thus far. But even with a patchy output (much loved original, crap sequel, hardcore third and a fan-splitting fourth) Devil May Cry's fans - or at least those opposed to the change - are all the more vocal.

Ninja Theory has also attempted to nail the franchise's tone, only to miss and hammer a take of its own creation: we've seen a boss fight for a two-part demo this past E3 that opens with a F-bomb heavy heated exchange between Dante and a pulsating slug giant - Wonderland's Caterpillar by way of Clive Barker, proving memorable creature design is still in vogue for DmC - that's funny, but lacking the confident but loveable personality of the previous Dante.

The Capcom Gamble

But that's the point of the reboot/prequel - trying to map the path to which troubled but brilliant teenager matures into confident and stylish demon hunter. With only seeing artwork, brief gameplay slices, we're not getting the fuller picture. Lost Planet is both different and the same - trying to show us something we haven't seen before to give us a fresh approach that still touches upon those core values that made the original so iconic.

Both teams have taken criticisms on the chin, both wanting gamers to replace keyboard and complaint with controller and silence. To just sit down with the titles - proof is in the playing after all. And with narrative-driven adventures such as these, we won't get the full story until we've played from title screen to end credits sequence.

I know I was unsure when I first heard the news of the new approaches. The more I see though, and knowing marketing plays a very heavy hand in holding back the majority of a game's secrets until near launch, the more I'm intrigued by what's to come.

I'd have loved to another Devil May Cry like DMC3, but that's no longer sustainable in today's market. Lost Planet was always an oddity, and in embracing the b-movie sci-fi mystery that's quintessentially western intrigues.

We've got the right to bitch and moan about the titles we love, but equally developers have the right to ignore us and do what they feel is right for their game. For those that worry, and stress: perhaps the titles aren't going to match what went before, but different doesn't have to mean worse. And think on this - something that assures me that these two companies will at least try their best: does any studio ever set out to make a bad game?

The Capcom Gamble
The Capcom GambleThe Capcom Gamble


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