Standalone Prologues, Epilogue DLC, Are These Really Necessary In Our Games?
It’s the week of release of the next title in one of the gaming world’s biggest franchises; Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is the standalone prologue for next year’s Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain and you would be excused for asking yourself exactly why Ground Zeroes exists in standalone format.
Fans of course won’t care; it’s been a long while now since Guns of the Patriots and after the far-more-action-infused Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance last year, they are positively itching at the genitalia for more of the old-school, traditional stealth elements of Metal Gear Solid — and it is here that I must confess to never having enjoyed the series. I’ll give you all a moment to wipe the foam from your mouths, and let’s move on.
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Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes isn’t the first standalone prologue mini-title to release to the world, of course. Most recently, we have become accustomed to Gran Turismo Prologue mini-titles which tease the bigger full releases. However, and quite alarmingly, it is the first time that this sort of ‘sampler platter’ model has directly affected the triple-A gaming market.
Consider if you will that you’re not a super-fan of the Metal Gear series. It’s a few years from now and you see The Phantom Pain on shelves and recall all the perfect scores it got — totally not because of bias or any form of hyped prejudice towards the game, totally — and you purchase it and play it. The story is great enough but you’ve not really played most other Metal Gear games so you’re confused as to why it’s set in the eighties, before certain other Metal Gear games according to your learned gaming friend whom you totally actually really have in your life. Further, you have no context for the beginning of the game because you’ve never played Ground Zeroes, and you don’t actually even know that Ground Zeroes exists, presumably because your learned gaming friend is an idiot who reads Wikipedia.
Unless! And work with me here… Unless the game tells you that you need not have played Ground Zeroes, and simply fills in the blanks for you. So then I must ask: What point is it having Ground Zeroes in the first place? As a fan service, I suppose? As a tease ahead of next year? Perhaps, but let’s leave this for the moment and go elsewhere.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are games that present you with a story and then ask you for money in order to show you how that story concludes. These games typically play out with a strong narrative and end in dramatic fashion, with some ambiguity and a credit-roll before dropping the words, “The End” with a question mark suffixed so as to leave you completely perplexed and stewing in a pool of frustration, and not in that cool way that the first (and second) Assassin’s Creed did it.
Prince of Persia (the 2008 one) is the earliest I can recall, of such an action. Other recent notable titles include Dead Space 3 and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. All of these are equally frustrating although the latter is perhaps most relevant now that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 has released and fans are wondering just how the all-powerful Gabriel Belmont went from defeating Satan at the end of the first game, to being Dracula at the beginning of the second. For your answer you’ll need to check out the DLC packs for the first game which play out like an epilogue and conclude the story for the game.
Likewise for Prince of Persia and Dead Space 3, the real ending is hidden inside downloadable content that must be purchased and downloaded in order to play through and experience the true ending. These ‘Epilogue DLC’ packs, as I’ve said, are not free. And so what you end up with is a game you’ve paid money for, asking you for more money in order to conclude its story.
In what world is this okay?
Now I’m not saying I mind story DLC as a whole, because that’s not the case at all. I quite adore story DLC and the likes of Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Borderlands and Alan Wake have done story DLC, even post-campaign DLC, splendidly. But I am referring specifically to DLC that was planned to conclude a narrative that was originally presented to players of the main game.
Take a page out of BioWare’s book and offer such content for free, or don’t at all. Because this sort of thing is insulting and I cannot fathom, for the life of me, how developers are allowed to get away with charging for it.
To come back to standalone prologue content, sure it’s great for the fans to get a taste of Metal Gear while they eagerly await The Phantom Pain but ask yourselves: What exactly are you encouraging with this? Because if this game does well and achieves massive successes then you can be damn sure that the likes of EA and Activision will notice, and soon we’ll be getting prologues to all our games. Or perhaps that’s too hyperbolic. I sure hope so.
In any case, do you think there is a place in gaming for standalone prologue / epilogue content? Let us know in the comments.