During the height of the PS2 and original Xbox era, you simply couldn’t move for video games to play. This is because in addition to huge, block-bustering first party franchises such as Halo, Ratchet & Clank, and God of War, there was a slew of licensed and third party published games that all saw the benefit in putting their games on home consoles. Platforms such as these were big money for the likes of EA and Activision, with the sales profits of a mid-tier game often outweighing the initial cost of development.
This utopia of game releases suddenly died down when consoles became more powerful and the investment required to fund such high quality and power-pushing experiences only increased higher and higher. Game franchises like TimeSplitters and Red Faction began to disappear, leaving it to the indie development scene to try and fill the gap, with innovative interactive experiences that didn’t take the shape of an open world game or polished first person shooter. For the most part, this has had a positive impact. After all, if gaming audiences were only concerned with the flashiest and most expensive AAA developed games, we wouldn’t be so accustomed to delving into the unknown.
This past week saw the release of two notable games, both great-looking and fully-featured, and yet were developed not by indies or first party, but something in between. Hellblade a third-person journey into psychosis with some light action elements made waves when dabbling with the prospect of a permanent save deletion mechanic, that would punish players who continually died too often. While this eventually ended up being little more than a mind game itself, such an experimental approach to game design would rarely be seen from either Sony or Microsoft directly.
The second game came from Cliff Bleszinski’s new studio Boss Key Productions, in the form of Lawbreakers. A dedicated hero shooter that quite explicitly lets players fool around and break typical FPS conventions, when going head to head with others it’s possible to pull off such tricks as reverse headshots and defy gravity. For a new studio’s first game the production value is off the charts, and this and Hellblade make a good case for seeing a return of mid-tier video games.
That’s not to say that games developed in between a AAA and indie budget are of any less quality, if anything it’s even more impressive that experiences such as this are possible without the type of investment GTA V must have required. Rather, it’s to suggest that we’re seeing that return to playfulness originally made prevalent throughout the PS2 and Xbox era, as developers are finding alternative ways to experiment on the scene without vast amounts of cash.
Both Hellblade and Lawbreakers retail at a notably lower price point for consumers, meaning that they’re able to maintain a niche style of play without the need to only appeal to those who are willing to drop $60 on a game. Providing we don’t reach a saturation point, the addition of mid-tier games in the current console an PC gaming space can only be considered a good thing, and one that will result in more diverse experiences.