Despite the financial woes afflicting Vivendi Universal, it’s been a good year for the company’s games division and an early look at its upcoming titles reveals excellent prospects for the future.
Although 2002 has played host to massive success stories like WarCraft III, which shipped approximately four million units worldwide on day one according to the publisher’s figures, Vivendi has endured a rocky ride elsewhere, falling foul of financial fiddlings far outside of the gaming arm’s reach.
Fortunately, Vivendi is looking forward to a strong winter season across its six labels: Sierra, Universal Interactive, NDA Productions, PPGI and the newly formed Black Label Games. Amongst the highlights; Argonaut’s long, long-awaited Xbox and PS2 title, Malice, the returns of both Spyro and Crash across many platforms, film licenses like The Thing and Die Hard Vendetta, and even a quasi-film license in the shape of Lord of the Rings. Which reminds me isn’t it funny how Vivendi’s take on the book is so close to Hollywood’s?
Vivendi is indiscriminate, targeting every platform and covering every base, and the PC is no exception. No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M’s Way signals the triumphant return of British superspy Cate Archer, whose antics in the original game came as a breath of fresh air to reviewers bored of familiar first person environments and so-called drama. Tongue-in-cheek comedy and gadget-stuffed gameplay should endear this to the same crowd and ensure its success expect the critics to fall over themselves to cover it at any rate.
Vivendi’s strong showing continues into 2003 in a line-up championed by Rebellion’s Judge Dredd versus Judge Death. Not, oddly enough though, by Counter-Strike Condition Zero or the Xbox version of the team-based multiplayer game from whence it spawned. Or at least, that’s the impression that their absence from the Winter Fair left on us. Still, a trailer for Dredd versus Death lacking any real gameplay footage still managed to create a stir during the presentation, and with Rebellion behind it this can’t go too far wrong.
Like so many other publishers, Vivendi is trying to nurture a selection of brands, from NDA Productions and its line-up of license-based British titles to PPGI and its various Empire and Majesco imports ala BloodRayne. Our only concern is that the punters are going to get lost in the varnish and forget about it quickly, not to mention the pundits, who now have to cope with a stream of identity crises, but as long as the likes of Black Label Games churn out top titles within a familiar set of boundaries, there should be little or no confusion before long.
After the presentation, playable demos of the various games drew large crowds to the various rooms at the Winter Fair in particular the likes of Malice on Xbox, which looked stunning. Although we couldn’t see or play everything (games like Tribes: Aerial Assault were video-only, for example), as the man in charge said, it’s business as usual, whether there are changes to the structure of Vivendi games division or not, and if 2002 has been a success story so far, things can only improve with this line-up.