When Activision (of “Guitar Hero” and “Call of Duty” fame) bought up Vivendi Games (owner of “World of Warcraft” powerhouse and cash cow Blizzard Entertainment, as well as the struggling Sierra), the combined company, Activision Blizzard toppled Electronic Arts as the world’s largest video game manufacturer.
More importantly, the move allowed the moneymaking Activision the opportunity to evaluate all of Sierra’s gaming properties and decide what to keep. Unsurprisingly, Activision held onto several established licenses, albeit ones that have fallen by the wayside a bit, qualitywise. Kept were the “Ice Age,” “Spyro” and “Crash Bandicoot” franchises. The only new intellectual property to remain in Activision’s fold was “Prototype,” a superhero, sandbox-style game that looks to be one of next year’s blockbusters.
Left by the wayside, along with the sure-to-be-execrable “50 Cent: Blood on the Sand,” were the much-anticipated “Ghostbusters” game, “Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena” (the follow-up to one of the few good movie-based video games) and “Brütal Legend,” one of my most anticipated titles for next year.
Well, within the past few weeks, the three good-looking games left in limbo have all found homes. “Ghostbusters,” which’ll feature a story written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, as well as voice work from Bill Murray and and Ernie Hudson. The story, which Aykroyd has described as essentially “Ghostbusters III,” will reprise several battles from the two movies, as well as move the plot forward. With a heavy roster of Hollywood talent, the game seems like a surefire hit, making Activision’s decision to dump it puzzling.
No matter. Atari, which itself has struggled lately, has stepped in to publish the title in Activision’s stead. It’ll also make sure we get our hands on “Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena,” which is both a revision and expansion of the well-received “Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay” game that appeared on the Xbox in 2004. It’s perhaps the only instance of a simultaneous movie-video game release in which the game was better than the film.
The title I’m most excited for, though, is “Brütal Legend,” the next game from Tim Schafer. Schafer, who’d be at least mildly famous if video game creative types got billing equal to movie directors, made several adventure games at LucasArts, most notably “The Secret of Monkey Island” and “Grim Fandango,” before moving on to start his own, San Francisco-based studio, Double Fine Productions. Double Fine’s first game was 2005’s platforming adventure game “Psychonauts” for the Xbox. (It hit the PlayStation 2 in 2006.) Set at a summer camp for psychic children ” with game worlds set inside the minds of many of the camp’s inhabitants ” “Psychonauts” appealed to gamers fond of inventive world design and sharp, witty dialogue. It was marketed terribly and sold poorly, but it got great reviews. If you’re an Xbox 360 owner, you should look at downloading it as an Xbox Original.
“Brütal Legend” is looking like a mashup between Jack Black’s “Tenacious D” and Bruce Campbell’s “Evil Dead” movies. The game’s main character, Eddie (voiced by Black) is a heavy-metal roadie who finds himself transported to an alternate universe where humans have been enslaved by demons. The only way to free them, of course, is through the power of Metal. The third-person action/adventure game’s said to be full of references to heavy metal legends, with several of them reportedly slated to lend their music or voices to the cause.
Clearly, I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Anyhow, Electronic Arts announced a few days prior to last week’s Spike Video Game Awards that it would publish “Brütal Legend,” with the game slated for a fall 2009 release. Here’s a YouTube version of a trailer that aired during the VGAs: