Far Cry Primal is out in a week on PC (it’s already out for console fans), and it represents Ubisoft’s continued readiness to mess with the formula in the Far Cry space. While Blood Dragon was a bit more mental than the usual madness of the Far Cry series, at least as far as spin-offs go, Primal is taking the franchise formula back into the Stone Age. It’s a surprising and welcome shift for a franchise that’s historically been concerned with contemporary settings, vehicular components and good ol’-fashion gunplay.
Given Ubisoft’s willingness to shift a popular franchise to a drastically unfamiliar time period, I thought it’d be interesting to explore what could happen with other big-name IPs if they received a similar treatment. Instead of simply restricting it to transporting contemporary series back in time, though, I’ve collated a list of titles that might benefit from winding the clock backwards or forwards.
The Battlefield series has already explored World War II, the Vietnam War, contemporary warfare and the distant future. Instead of trying to shift the series sideways with the cops-and-robbers framing of Hardline, perhaps DICE should consider moving the series back to ancient times, or even to a fantasy setting. Bows, spears, slings and catapults could help cover the ballistic-weapons category, while mounts (elephants, anyone?) and chariots could be offered as vehicles. Throw in a fantasy element, or a Warhammer crossover, and the potential for flying mounts (read: dragons) and the use of magic to round out classes presents a real possibility, with the promise of more than a couple of symmetrical factions squaring off. The core mechanics could remain, but the setting would necessitate formula departures that would create new gameplay possibilities.
Speaking of Warhammer, Creative Assembly has shown a willingness to step into the fantasy realm with Total War: Warhammer, which is slated for release in a couple of months, but I’d be really interested in seeing a sci-fi Total War game. The obvious choice is for Creative Assembly to explore this by creating a game that adds 40K to the end of a Total War: Warhammer sequel. While Relic Entertainment has already explored the 40K strategy space in its Dawn of War series, the idea of a grand-strategy take on the Warhammer 40,000 IP has fantastic appeal, and also has the potential to lift the Total War franchise to new heights, literally, by including space battles alongside planetary conflict (and multiple planets, at that). If that’s not a possibility, a sci-fi Total War game that’s not affiliated with another IP works, too. That said, it’s difficult to not geek out over the concept of a Total War: Star Wars game. It’s worth a shot, SEGA, once EA’s 10-year deal for Star Wars games expires.
Left 4 Dead
We know that Valve has trouble counting to three, but it can still maintain its frustrating devotion to self-determined dyscalculia with its IP if it lets go of trying to make a true Left 4 Dead sequel, and tosses the series in a time machine. Zombie games are still big business, but they all seem to have a contemporary focus, instead of going back to a time when guns and ammunition weren’t so readily available. Valve could easily do a revisionist take on the bubonic plague, wherein its victims become undead instead of plain dead, as players have to fight their way through hordes of reimagined zombie archetypes. Oh, and they’d have to do that without relying on guns, so bows, crossbows and slings would be the best hope for keeping zombies outside of biting range, and there would be a much bigger emphasis on melee weapons. It’s not so easy to stand and deliver against a horde of brain-eaters when you don’t have fully automatic rifles.
Grand Theft Auto
We’ve already seen what a GTA game would look like in an earlier setting, thanks to the Mafia series, but future iterations of Grand Theft Auto might benefit from winding the clock backwards. Or forwards. Seriously, Rockstar has the open-world action formula down pat to the point where the greatest advancement might be the logical design choices that would follow a trip down memory lane. Winding back to a Peaky Blinders-like era is an exciting proposition, but going back beyond that does present a challenge of not being able to embrace the whole ‘Auto[mobile]’ part of its title. The more logical solution, then, is to wind the clock forward, into a futuristic take on the existing cities. It doesn’t have to be done in the kind of ridiculous way that Saints Row took it, but a sci-fi GTA could be an easy way to keep things fresh in future iterations of the long-running series.
Given that Rainbow Six Siege already boasts some pretty cutting-edge tech, taking the series too far into the future might make it a nightmare to balance in terms of futuristic gadgets. Take it back into the past, though, and that’s a different story. While I personally like the idea of elite soldiery and tactics in the time period of Ancient Rome, firearms are pretty key to the Rainbow Six formula (then again, they were integral in Far Cry prior to Primal). Rewind to the 18th century, though, and there’s plenty of room for Industrial Revolution-era tech to round out the gadget category, alongside an interesting array of firearms. The single-shot guns of the time would be well suited to the high lethality of Rainbow Six games, while tactics such as pre-firing or spraying form the hip would be next to impossible. A group of international elite soldiers taking on some global conspiracy of ne’er-do-wells with borderline steampunk tech has all kinds of appeal.
While Lara Croft’s adventures were recently rebooted in 2013, it might be an interesting spin on the franchise to transport a spin-off series back into the days when the tombs that contemporary Lara is raiding have just been built. Instead of dilapidated, time-eroded places, each tomb would be at the height of its deadly efficiency, with potential for an exciting new tomb-robbing protagonist. If you want to keep them related, just follow the logic of reincarnated selves from The Mummy Returns. Understandably, it wouldn’t be as easy for said thief to freely travel the globe in ancient times as Lara does in contemporary days, which opens up the possibility for a single-nation setting, or further exploration of supernatural elements that facilitate teleporting between ancient deadly crypts. Additionally, such a ‘backstory’ could be created to coincide with contemporary-set Lady Croft adventures, in the kind of way that Wilbur Smith did with his contemporary Seventh Scroll sequel to his Ancient Egypt-set River God novel.
At first my brain said, “Oh, a futuristic BioShock would be great!” Then I realised it already exists and it’s called System Shock. Considering System Shock 3 is already in development, the last thing spiritual successor BioShock needs is to compete in the same futuristic space. Instead, BioShock should travel way, way back into the past. Given that multiple dimensions that were established in BioShock Infinite, there’s no reason why a BioShock sequel couldn’t exist far into the past and be part of the same timeline. Infinite already wound back the clock 50 years, but a game set hundreds or even thousands of years in the past could still be a fascinating place to explore. The first two games explored an underwater city, Infinite ascended that idea into the clouds, so a no-brainer location would be to split the difference. There’s plenty of sci-fi-like mythology surrounding the city of Atlantis, for instance, which was talked about Ancient Greek philosopher Plato. Splicing old-school philosophy with technology ahead of its time slots neatly into the realm of a BioShock game, as far as I’m concerned.
Age of Empires
It seemed an inevitability, had Ensemble Studios not met the unfortunate fate it did after the release of Halo Wars, that the acclaimed strategy developer would eventually push the Age of Empires franchise into the future. The original game started in the Stone Age (with advancements through to the Iron Age), while Age of Empires III explored advancements between the 15th and 19th centuries. It’s safe to assume that Ensemble most likely would have explored a contemporary setting after that. Microsoft still owns the rights to the Age of Empires franchise, and given that November last year saw the release of an expansion for Age of Empires II—The African Kingdoms, co-developed by SkyBox Labs and Forgotten Empires—it’s clear that Microsoft still sees value in the franchise. I can think of no better way to bring the franchise back into the gaming world than by relaunching the series as a contemporary or futuristic strategy title.
That’s my pick of eight franchises that could benefit from a drastic change in time period, with honourable shout-outs to a sci-fi Need for Speed, a futuristic Star Wars game (remember it’s set a long time ago), and an ancient Hitman game that errs more towards Agent 47 than Altaïr.