George R.R. Martin’s mega hit Game of Thrones has been breaking ratings records left and right. Last Sunday’s episode left fans on the edge of their seats. Fans of the books and the show that are also gamers have been waiting for this intellectual property to get another go at the video game treatment to tide them over between episodes.
Developer Cyanide and publisher Focus Home Interactive’s first attempt was a real-time strategy game subtitled Genesis, released in 2011. The reception was lukewarm at best, with critics citing lackluster graphics, voice acting, pacing and combat. It ended up with a Metacritic score of 53.
The production team tried again in August 2012 with an RPG for the Sony and Microsoft systems of the time, as well as for PC. The RPG was panned for the graphics and voice acting, but reviewers seemed to like the story, which seemed to be a positive common theme with the Game of Thrones license. Still, story along does not a visual experience make, and the PC version of the game is struck with a 58 Metacritic rating. The PS3 and Xbox 360 versions scored even lower as a result of the usual stripping of features that console ports usually suffer, with a 53 and a 52 respectively.
The general consensus on all these games has been that they are built on the backs of Martin’s license. The real-time strategy Genesis had competitors like Total War, Starcraft and Civilization, all established franchises with the polish Game of Thrones lacked. Further, those who never read the Song of Ice and Fire series on which the show is based may miss out on some of the more subtle points in the game design as the story meanders across Westeros.
People gave up hoping for good games based on Martin’s works and made their own mods. The five ones to play are For Crusader Kings 2, Medieval 2, Skyrim, Mount and Blade: Warband, and of course Minecraft. Articles have been written specifically about how much better these mods are than the games Cyanide developed.
Telltale Games’ effort may be a different story. The company has a unique brand of story-telling that does well expanding on preexisting universes. Instead of typical free roam or beat-’em-up scenarios, Telltale’s games actually tell tales. The tension comes from the choices players make in a series of conversations or left-right decisions in rail-like action sequences. Issued in a series of episodes and seasons like a TV show, the games retail for less than $30, a great bargain when console games can cost as much as $60. Sam and Max made them famous in gaming circles, but their “season one” of the Walking Dead catapulted them into the limelight with superb voice acting and gripping action scenes.
The company seems adept and playing with familiar video game tropes, like a main character’s relationship with dogs. If you’ve played season 2 of the Walking Dead, you know what I mean. Telltale is also producing a series of games based on the Fable comic universe created by Bill Willingham that has received positive reviews. The good news is HBO struck a deal with the company in December of 2013 to give Game of Thrones the Telltale treatment. Ty Corey Franck, Martin’s assistant will work with the development team, though this may be the first group that will not butcher the franchise.
If players want an action-adventure or RPG game set in Westeros and the surrounding world, they may have to settle for the mods, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Telltale has an excellent record when it comes to licensed games, a status very few companies can boast. With luck their effort will set the bar high for other game developers hoping to use the IP in the future. HBO will not stop trying to make Game of Thrones into a video game, so players can only hope their latest blessing has gone to the right company. The game should be available in the Q4 2014.
By Aliya Tyus-Barnwell