Sometimes, a slew of games all adhere to a common theme or mechanic. You only need to look at the flood of third-person cover shooters that followed Gears of War, or more recently, 2013: The Year Of The Bow, heralded by Tomb Raider, Far Cry 3, and Crysis 3. I’ve been thinking about what might be the next trend to emerge, and I think there’s a pretty strong case for the Stone Age.
Since Fallout 3, the post-apocalyptic setting has been pretty much omnipresent, represented in Darksiders, Stalker, Metro 2033, The Last of Us, Mad Max, and dozens more series. I think that it’s such a popular scene because, apart from appealing aesthetics and what-if fantasies, it’s kind of a blank slate for humanity. The complexities and stresses of modern society are stripped away, forcing people to revert to more primal needs- fighting for survival.
A game set in the Stone Age, or a similarly early stage of human advancement, is this stripping-away of modern life taken as far as possible. You get to experience a simulation of humans being about as “Step 1” as humans get.
Not to mention that this kind of setting is largely unused outside of strategy games like Age of Empires and Sid Meier’s Civilization. There’s a lot of potential here for vibrant character designs to differentiate between different tribes or clans. It also makes sense to make use of hunting and crafting mechanics which are so in vogue right now.
What would be really interesting would be if these games weren’t presented in English, but were forced to communicate meaning to the player through context and character actions, with a good use of emphasis in the primal tongue used by the characters to impart meaning. This would be quite the task, of course; requiring a delicate balance of writing, acting, and presentation to tell a satisfying story without a language familiar to the player. Still, I think it’s a worthy challenge, and certainly a better option than halting “ME CLUB STUFF” speak.
I wouldn’t be so bold as to suggest an upcoming trend without some concrete evidence. Sony’s E3 conference showcased the upcoming Horizon: Zero Dawn, which the developers Guerrilla Games are touting as a “post-post apocalyptic”. The idea is that following the near-death of humanity, survivors’ ancestors have formed a Stone Age- like society in a world reclaimed by nature, but populated by mechanical wildlife. Part of Horizon’s charm is that it blends primitive human society with futuristic technology; the game turned heads pretty much immediately.
A couple of days ago, the teaser for the new Far Cry game was released, along with the game’s title- Far Cry: Primal. This game seems like it’s going to more closely depict the Stone Age than Horizon; the trailer sees characters hunting a herd of mammoths and fending off rival tribes in a rugged, wild landscape. Interestingly, no characters in the trailer are shown to speak English.
Finally, Rust devs Facepunch Studios have accounted that they’re working on a Stone Age survival sim called Before. Sporting a charmingly simplistic art style, Before is a game about guiding your tribe through a “harsh and unforgivingly pre-historic world”, and features shifting beliefs and rituals as your numbers grow and you settle into more land. While not much about the game is known apart from the art style, we could have a nice, ambitious game on our hands.
I think there are lots of time periods ripe for use. I’d like to see more games focusing on Feudal Japan, or the Celtic clans of Britain, or the ancient Egyptians. More than anything, though, I want some variety. Even Assassin’s Creed, once a shining example of scenic variety, has failed to evoke interesting new environments of late. In an age overpopulated by bland near-futuristic war games and drab urban locales, I’d like to shake things up, and it’s nice to see an underused setting utilised.
Image credits: pcgamer.com