Does the name sound interesting? Does it ring a bell? Does it conjure images of black, tan, and gray tactical camouflaged characters launching through windows and taking out nameless, faceless bad guys?
If it does, you understand at least a small part of why this game’s announcement has got fans disgruntled. Tom Clancy, for those of you who don’t know, was an extremely prolific novelist with a focus on military fiction. His work isn’t for everybody – military fiction, even written as ‘wins’, can feel bleak – but he’s certainly well-known and well-liked. He’s credited on an awful lot of productions, too, as his books translate pretty well to the big screen and the gaming console. Getting to work with Tom Clancy meant that whatever you were making would turn out at least okay, and probably pretty good.
Tom Clancy prided himself on realism. His characters are never throwing cars around, and actively dodge bullets like any normal person would. Military officials praised his work and technical accuracy, while book reviewers praised his witty, natural dialogue and story structure. He was a force to be reckoned with.
However, while his style usually translates cleanly to military-themed games, not every military theme works. Tom Clancy’s style would clash with games like Overwatch. It would also clash with a lot of Call-of-Duty style action-shooters, where the main character can get absolutely riddled with bullets. Tom Clancy games often ask you to use a little stealth, a little finesse – you can get shot, but you often can’t Leroy Jenkins yourself and survive.
The Trailer: XDefiant
As you can see here, the trailer has more dislikes than likes. That’s bad.
The color palette and character design from this still image should also tell you some things about what kind of game they’ve slapped Tom Clancy’s name on. Look at it! It looks like the halfway point between Overwatch and CoD!!
Comments under that video have all sorts of responses, but most are outcry.
Primarily because Tom Clancy is no longer with us. He passed in 2013. We don’t know if he would have approved of this game or not; people are complex, multi-faceted beings, and had he lived to see 2021 he might have slackened his grip on realism. Emphasis on “might” because we have no way of knowing. We do know that Tom Clancy usually leaned towards the side of realism over fantasy. Given historical data, it’s unlikely that he would have wanted to put his name to this, a game that features both forcefields and “character classes” instead of ‘equipment loadouts’. “To be a great shooter, the gunplay has to be our top priority,” one of the announcers says.
Sure, that’s sort of like Tom Clancy.
But someone’s using a flamethrower, and another is using what some commenters call “a sonic leafblower”. Not five seconds earlier, a character in a plague mask healed another character with green sparkles. Thirty seconds later, a character throws some kind of delayed-life suctioning device into two other characters, who continue to shoot for a moment before dying in sparkles. No explosions, just shiny, sparkly effects circling the characters. Is that not magic? What is that? Even having some explanation that it was nanobots or something would still feel wrong. It looks like Overwatch!
Criticisms also include the fact that it’s an online multiplayer shooter with the same tired mechanics and character tropes as a number of other, better games, so even if you have no issue with Tom Clancy’s legacy being used like this, you may take issue with the lack of original content. It’s so heavily focused on “real” guns that it lacks the flavor of fantasy shooters, and yet it’s got magic, and so many other weird weapons being used like guns that it can’t be Tom Clancy.
Concern for the Future
Tom Clancy’s XDefiant is a symptom of a bigger issue – Ubisoft is ticking boxes, not innovating. Many of the complaints in forums like Reddit are all about how this game has been done before.
And yet, this is still profitable. For the same reasons there are dozens or hundreds of Candy Crush clones, there are dozens of online multi-player FPS shooters. It’s a winning format.
Ubisoft sees other studios cranking out online multi-player FPSs with recurring revenue and plenty of sales, and thinks they can get in on it. The worst part is that they’re probably right. Despite how vocal Reddit is, the odds are that some of them will still buy it. The cycle has repeated for a number of multiplayer FPS games in the past couple of years alone:
1) This looks bad
2) We have enough of these
3) This game is actually not as bad as I pictured
4) I spent money on it
Chances are that XDefiant will do just fine after Ubisoft launches, as long as it launches without major game-breaking bugs. And yet, like Candy Crush, it’s not really doing anything new. Just because a format is a cash cow doesn’t mean it’s good, or enjoyable. It just means it’s addictive. While XDefiant is still pretty far from release, it will be interesting to see how the gaming community reacts when it’s finished. Honestly, if they hadn’t used Tom Clancy’s name on it, it might have just scooted right under the radar. Maybe they’re hoping to capture folks who signed up for the Beta to hate on it and convert them into positive reviews.
Or maybe they knew the game was going to have a hard time getting footing from market research, and so slapped Tom Clancy’s name on it in an attempt to rally some reaction. The release trailer’s script makes me feel like they waited until the game was nearly complete to add Tom Clancy to it, and as such they’re forced to try and make it sound Tom-Clancy-ish in promotional materials even though the game itself doesn’t look anything like their previous releases with Tom Clancy in the title.
As it is, it’s bland – it looks like someone put a bunch of other games in the same genre in a blender. Of course it’s going to be at least mediocre. It’s a safe bet aside from the naming choice. Ubisoft has many other titles that gamers want sequels for, and yet they continue to focus on safe bets. That’s what’s most disappointing. Big companies can afford to take risks and make games that could be duds, or could be revolutionary.
Instead they end up creating the gaming equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich, while indie developers are regularly reinventing the deli. Everyone likes grilled cheese, some even love it – but even with high quality cheese and bread, it’s not new. It’s comfortable, but not new. Innovation falls by the wayside as a company reevaluates it’s goals and decides it’s okay with producing grilled cheeses, over and over, until the fans stop consuming them. Disappointing from a studio that has so many ingredients right at it’s fingertips.