Essays, Not Rants! 291: On Visceral’s Closure
I like Star Wars. I also like video games. So naturally I was very excited back in 2014 when it was announced that Amy Hennig, Creative Director of the first three Uncharted games was heading up a new Star Wars game. And not just any Star Wars game, this was gonna be a big single-player action adventure, the likes of which we hadn't had since 2010’s lackluster The Force Unleashed II. We’d been teased years ago with the announcement of 1313 but that was canceled when Disney bought Lucasfilm and shuttered LucasArts, so this new game seemed like them making up for that. And again, this was gonna be a narrative-driven action-adventure game by the woman who directed Uncharted – a series that codified what a good narrative-driven action-adventure game is.
And it's been cancelled.
News broke on Tuesday that publisher EA was shuttering Visceral Games, the studio working on the game. The assets were going to be repurposed for a new project and the creative team are in limbo at best. EA’s given reason was that it wanted to focus instead on games that “keep players coming back” which, given the publisher’s recent output, sounds like multiplayer games with plenty of space for moneymaking microtransactions.
In any case, Amy Hennig’s Star Wars game, which it turns out was codenamed “Ragtag,” is dead in the water.
Which bums me out and ticks me off.
Because we're not getting a Star Wars game. And because this is another point in the trend away from my beloved linear, narrative, single-player games.
There aren't a lot of major single-player games being made. Sure, Call of Duty may have its campaign, but that's really just a thinly veiled vehicle for the far more popular multiplayer. And the games that do feature robust single player, Mass Effect Andromeda, the Assassin’s Creed series, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Grand Theft Auto, to name a few, all feature open worlds with space for the player to explore. Catered, intentional single-player experiences are few and far between, with Uncharted 4, BioShock Infinite, and Dishonored 2 being the few that come to mind. These are games that aren't open world, but rather games with a deliberate structure designed for the player to experience a particular narrative. But it seems like major studios aren't willing to take a chance on these games, even with a fantastic creative team behind it.
It’s frustrating, because the same thing happened a couple years ago. Via a terrifying demo, it was announced that there was going to be a new Silent Hill. Not only was this established horror franchise getting a new (and long awaited) game, but it was being headed up by frickin’ Guillermo del Toro and Hideo Kojima, the man behind Metal Gear Solid and a developer that deserves to be called an auteur. But partway through production, publisher Konami decided it wanted to shift focus to mobile games that were cheaper to make and had higher profit margins. Kojima, with his elaborate single player games, was laid off, Silent Hills was canned, and now there will be no horror game headed up by del Toro and Kojima.
That “Ragtag” was canceled is not reassuring for me and my love of these catered experiences. It's hard to overstate how much of a sure thing the game seemed: you had a proven director working with a proven studio to make a game based on one of the most iconic franchises of all time. That EA has decided that the game is not bankable enough and wants to instead use the assets on another project is a mindbogglingly huge vote of no confidence. Again, this is EA, a company who hasn't before let a game being bug ridden or devoid of much content prevent it from being published. “Ragtag” was in production for three-and-a-half years when EA pulled the plug, a decision that by all accounts seems to have caught Amy Hennig and everyone at Visceral as off-guard as we were. It’s disappointing, and honestly kinda heartbreaking, that EA doesn't want to follow through with a game that had so much going for it.
But then, EA is a company, and one of the biggest video game publishers at that. Based on their recent output, they want cash cows they can milk through micro-transactions and buyable add-ons. A solidly paced game, where encounters flow into another and finally reach an absolute resolution with little room for later made content or padded sidequests? Who needs that when you have loot boxes that let players pay more money to be more powerful?
Maybe whatever “Ragtag” morphs into will end up being a good game. Maybe other studios like Naughty Dog and directors like Ken Levine will continue to show that these linear, narrative-focused single-player games still have a place. But no matter what, we won't be getting this Star Wars game headed by Amy Hennig.
And that really sucks.