Eurocom | Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Last month veteran British developer Eurocom was sadly forced to lay of 75% of its staff due to poor sales & a largely negative reaction to its latest offering 007 Legends.  So how did one of the UK’s oldest independent studios go from working on so many global licences to a lean outfit focused on purely mobile gaming? infinite robots takes a look at the storied history of one of gaming’s most wayward developers…

Back in the Day

Back in 1988 when everyone was walking the dinosaur & John McClane was shooting his away around the Nakatomi Plaza, a group of British games developers came together with the aim of making games that would stand out in an industry on the brink of mainstream breakthrough. Two years later and with the nineties in full swing they released Magician (NES, 1991), a side-scrolling adventure with many of the hallmarks of RPG gaming such as item management & spell-casting. And whilst it was no A Link to the Past, for such a small team it showed a desire to tread new ground in an industry ruled by the mighty platformer.

Disney’s Hercules managed to be faithful to its source material and offer hours of intuitive platforming shenanigans.

By the mid to late nineties the Derby-based studio had established itself as a jack-of-all-trades with everything from a ports of Sensible Soccer (Game Gear, 1993) & Dino Dini’s Soccer (SNES, 1994) to straight-up tie-ins such as James Bond Jr. (NES/SNES, 1991) & quiz game Family Feud (PC/3DO/Mega Drive/Genesis, 1994). By never really focusing on one genre or style for more than a single release everything from their arcade ports of Mortal Kombat 3 (PlayStation One/Saturn, 1996) to their version of Duke Nukem on the N64 (1997) all felt devoid of any true sense of self.

Diamonds in the Rough

And whilst it’s sadly churned its fair share of forgettable duds over the last twenty five years, Eurocom has also given us some of gaming’s most balanced & well remembered contributions. Disney’s Action Game Featuring Hercules (PlayStation One/PC, 1997) may have one of the worst titles you’ve ever heard but it’s still a fine homage to 2D scrolling platformers at a time where Tomb Raider & Spyro were riding high in 3D. Embracing the beautiful 2D animation that Disney has sadly forgotten in recent years, Hercules managed to be faithful to its source material and offer hours of intuitive platforming shenanigans.

Even their arcade port of Mortal Kombat 4 to the N64 (1998) was faithfully identical to the coin-up version (no mean feat considering the amount of raw data squeezed into 16 megabytes of cartridge).

When the millennium swung round it gave us the third Pierce Brosnan Bond outing The World Is Not Enough and with it the latest video game tie-in. Eurocom were given development duties on Nintendo’s powerful N64 console whilst the development of the PS1 version fell to the now defunct Black Ops Entertainment. And whilst the PlayStation version ended up as a bug-ridden mess that took a critical mauling, Eurocom gave us a well-rounded shooter that took full advantage of the N64s extra horsepower. It didn’t quite have Goldeneye 007’s sense of character but it boasted competent enemy AI & a decent multiplayer mode. It impressed enough in sales & scores to bag Eurocom an affiliation with the franchise for another twelve years. Even their arcade port of Mortal Kombat 4 to the N64 (1998) was faithfully identical to the coin-up version (no mean feat considering the amount of raw data squeezed into 16 megabytes of cartridge).

New IP vs. Established Franchise

Arguably one of Eurocoms biggest failings has been its lack of original IPs. Over the sixty odd games it’s produced on twenty separate platforms staggeringly only three have been IPs originally developed by Eurocom itself. Everything else has been a franchise tie-in or a console/handheld port of an existing game code. From Earthworm Jim (Game Boy/Game Gear, 1995) & Super Street Fighter II Turbo (PC, 1995) to Predator: Concrete Jungle (PlayStation 2/Xbox, 2005) & Dead Space: Extraction (Wii, 2009), Eurocom hardly endeared itself to critics by rarely breaking new ground or risking a new IP.  Eurocom simply became the go-to developer for licenced titles turned around in enough time to dual launch with another medium. Unlike other British developers/publishers such as Rare or Eidos, Eurocom has never managed to create a style or level of quality that was ever uniquely their own.

The Occasional Risk

When Eurocom did step out of the shadows with something new it showed us glimpses of brilliance that was sadly mired by poor sales or negative reviews. Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy (GameCube/PlayStation 2/Xbox, 2003) was a release that clearly showed Eurocom had learnt from its mistakes with 40 Winks (PlayStation One/N64, 1999). Embracing the principles that had seen the platformer take something of a revival on the sixth generation of consoles, Sphinx was a brand new character with original environments, interesting characters and a solid core of gameplay.

On the GameCube Mario was always destined to remain king & Sphinx, like so many other ‘mascots’, failed to find a proper fit on Mircosoft’s Halo-centric first console.

The Egyptian setting & detailed textures made for a genuinely great platformer. Even critically it faired positively with scores ranging from high-80s to low-90s. But even with Crash Bandicoot & Spyro relegated to a bygone era, other franchises such as Ratchet & Clank and Jak & Daxter had already rooted themselves into the PlayStation 2 brand. On the GameCube Mario was always destined to remain king & Sphinx, like so many other ‘mascots’, failed to find a proper fit on Mircosoft’s Halo-centric first console. Sphinx, for all its quality, was simply buried alive in a crowd of louder competitors.  And with its “sluggish sales” it put paid to any future plans Eurocom had outside established franchises.

The Future for Eurocom

So what does the future now hold for Eurocom as it heads through its third decade? Well with 75% of its staff forced into redundancy it seems a focus on the mobile market will be Eurocom’s new battleground. With considerably smaller budgets, shorter development cycles & the ease of digital downloads, moving into this lucrative market will be their smartest option bar folding completely. In a recent statement Director Hugh Binns expressed his frustration at the downsizing and his new direction for the company: “We’ve fought to try & save as many jobs as possible, but the steep decline in demand for console games, culminating in a number of console projects falling through in the last week, left us with no option.”

He added “Eurocom has retained a core staff of just under 50 employees and will be focusing mainly on mobile opportunities going forward”. With the shadow of 007 Legends’ spectacular failure – a game we mercilessly reviewed back in October – firmly behind them, perhaps the time is nigh for Eurocom to find its true voice & rise from its own ashes triumphant.

[Sources: Games Industry International, IGN]

Dom Reseigh-Lincoln is the Content Editor for infinite robots. You can find him muttering in his own little corner of Twitter @furianreseigh.

What We Want To See | 007 Legends

October is the month of Bond! This month not only sees the return of the cinematic superspy to cinemas in Skyfall, but Bond’s first video game outing in almost a year – 007 Legends. To get you in the mood for a little cinematic FPS action 007-style we lay down what we want to see from the latest pixelated exploits of Britain’s suavest psychopath…

Don’t Overdo the Nostalgia

One of the main reasons 007 Legends even exists is to celebrate 2012 as the 50th anniversary of James Bond’s debut on the silver screen, and this key to the kingdom could be 007 Legends biggest failing. The game is split up into six mini-campaigns based on six iconic outings in those fifty years as a filmic icon, with a seventh – based on the new Skyfall flick – arriving as DLC two weeks later.

Expect Eurocom’s mix of classic & modern design styles to make a return…

 

If 007 Legends simply goes for video game versions of classic scenes with no innovation or originality it will kill the game dead. 2011’s Goldeneye Reloaded showed some genuinely fresh takes on the classic Goldeneye framework & with Bond scribe Bruce Fernstein returning to pen this title 007 Legends could surprise us all.

Avoid the Call

We have enough games like Call of Duty, hell we have enough Call of Duties so we don’t need another addition to that locker room. Games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution & Dishonored have proved that stealth gameplay can work in an FPS environment so embracing the covert world of MI6 is the surest way for this new Bond game to find its own flavour.

Let’s hope this scene isnt too much like Modern Warfare 2…

Developer Eurocom have proven that they can replicate the set piece theatrics of Infinity Ward & Treyarch, so expect some big firefights & even bigger explosions. We just hope Eurocom can find a balance that’s uniquely different to survive in a very crowded genre.

A Multiplayer Experience with Teeth

If you’re an FPS in the modern era having a single-player campaign is all well and good but it’s in your online arena that the real metal is shown. If Goldeneye Reloaded’s multiplayer had one fault – and sadly it had many – it was its lag. Soul-destroying, game breaking lag. The big hitters like COD & Halo are always going to attract & hold a consistent community of cycling players but the issues with the demon of lag thinned lobbies like a wildfire. If 007 Legends can provide a smooth & consist experience it can at least overcome the failings of its predecessor.

The Moonraker missions sees the return of some familiar villians…

We want to see dynamic character models that clearly shift between stealth & full-on animations, none of this stiff-backed rubbish from back in the day. The character models from Goldeneye Reloaded were practically lifted from Counter Strike everything needs to be new, shiny & aware of the progress of others in the genre. Keep in the mixture of game types & the great arsenal of weapons & the lobbies will fill up again. At least until November 13 anyhow.

Embrace the Bond

This a game set in the 007 universe so let’s see all the hallmarks of the series. Gadgets, chase sequences (sadly, we don’t hold much hope on this one), feisty female leads & malice-filled villians. We want to see bags of action from the off with all the intensity & character we’ve seen from this licence. With Daniel Craig providing voice talent once again as well as fan favourites like Jaws & Hug Drax returning this could be a refreshing mix of old icons & the Bourne-esque gritty realism of the Craig era. If Eurocom embrace the rich canon of James Bond then this licence with a global brand could be the x-factor 007 Legends needs to be a legitimate success.

So there you have it, just a few of the things 007 Legends needs to do right to keep its head above the water in the shark pool that is the FPS genre. Will you be picking up 007 Legends or is this one James Bond game too far? Comment & let us know, you know the drill!

Will 007 Legends be the forgotten FPS of 2012?

Will 007 Legends be the forgotten FPS of 2012?

In an FPS-heavy 2012, not every shooter will be able to dominate the limelight in the way their respective developers & publishers would hope. With Halo & Call of Duty both looming on the horizon with new releases, we take a look at Eurocom’s upcoming James Bond shooter 007 Legends and discuss what could be one of this year’s most unique but overshadowed FPS experiences.

This year, the gaming industry is set to unleash a huge roster of upcoming shooters upon the world. Twenty-twelve sees the first chronological sequel in the Halo series for five years in the form of 343 Industries’ Halo 4, as well as the much anticipated ‘role-playing shooter’ sequel Borderlands 2 from developer Gearbox. We’ve got the obligatory annual Call of Duty instalment in the guise of Black Ops 2 and the much hyped new IP Dishonored from Arkane Studios. These four titles alone have fans frothing at the lips with glee, but will their dominant presence overshadow the release of other fellow shooters?

One such title that’s struggling for air against this tide of AAA behemoths is Eurocom’s new instalment to its Daniel Craig-centric James Bond FPS franchise 007 Legends. The sequel to 2010s Goldeneye 007 (and it’s much prettier HD version Goldeneye: Reloaded released on Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3 a year later) will combine six classic adventures from Bond’s fifty years on the silver screen as well as seventh mission based on the new Bond flick Skyfall. Like its predecessor, 007 Legends will drop the original versions of 007 in favour of a modern reimagining with Daniel Craig as the iconic superspy.

A History of Espionage

Since Rare’s fondly remembered Goldeneye 64, James Bond appearance in video games has been something of a downward spiral. After the ultimately broken third-person shooter Tomorrow Never Dies & the mixed versions of The World Is Not Enough on PlayStation One, EA revived the licence back on the PlayStation 2 with Agent Under Fire & Nightfire; both of which kept the FPS format but opted for new, original stories rather than adapting a current or classic film. With 007: Everything & Nothing in 2004 developer EA Redwood Shores managed to surprise everyone with an authentic, well balanced third-person action adventure that not only had a full voice cast but was a fun & engaging original story for the franchise.

Sadly the licence took a turn for the worst when EA decided to cash in on the nostalgic popularity of the Goldeneye name. Dropping everything but the name, Goldeneye: Rogue Agent let you play as a mercenary with a ‘golden eye’ (geddit?) who is drafted into a mini war between the classic 007 villains such as Auric Goldfinger and Dr No. Whilst the actual gameplay was actually pretty sound, the clear bastardisation of the licence and the significant lack of James Bond himself made this an aborted bad taste in the mouth of FPS gamers and Bond fans alike.

“Deciding to bravely (read: somewhat crazily) attempt a remake of the now thirteen year-old Goldeneye 64, publisher Activision hoped to recapture some of the magic surrounding that much-revered name”

On the current gen of consoles things have been a little brighter. Treyarch’s Quantum of Solace may have boasted a broken multiplayer experience but its full voice cast, use of third-person cover mechanics and intense FPS action made the single player campaign a genuinely fun Bond escapade. James Bond Bloodstone 007 may have done the usual third-person switcharooney in 2010, but it gave players a competent mix of melee attacks and shoot-out mechanics. Coming from the late great Bizarre Creations the driving sections were also a break-neck thrill ride but were sadly few and far between in the story. Again based on an original story, Bloodstone was a clear attempt to emulate the success of ultra-violent titles such as Splinter Cell Conviction and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Sadly whilst it was a slick looking package, the games cover and shooting mechanics were nothing special and it performed woefully in sales.

The Eurocom Years

With MGM in financial meltdown and the Bond franchise itself now in forced hiatus, Activision decided to still use Daniel Craig’s contractual obligations to the franchise to develop another Bond-based video game adventure. Deciding to bravely (read: somewhat crazily) attempt a remake of the now thirteen year-old Goldeneye 64, publisher Activision hoped to recapture some of the magic surrounding that much-revered name.

“The slick game engine from Goldeneye Reloaded returns with a tune up and in places 007 Legends looks better than Activision’s upcoming cash cow Call of Duty Black Ops 2″

To set themselves apart, Eurocom decided to a) reimagine the storyline in a modern setting and b) release it as a Wii exclusive. Despite releasing on a non-HD console the game was still a fun shooter with a decent enough update of the original narrative to create a nostalgic mix of classic set-pieces and new locales. Even with a ‘gold’ controller to boot the Wii version sold respectfully enough to warrant a HD rez-up onto the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. On these FPS-heavy consoles Eurocom’s Goldeneye Reloaded (as it was fashioned) was a great looking shooter with a recognisable franchise. But with the presence of Battlefield 3, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 & Halo Reach, Goldeneye Reloaded was a decent shooter lost to a crowded genre of louder and more refined comrades.

History Repeating for 007?

So after over two years of development can Eurocom & Activision do enough to stand out in a genre thick with established franchises and powerful new comers? 007 Legends looks and feels like a real step forward for Eurocom and its vision for a modern James Bond shooter. Splitting the game into separate missions with distinctive feels, tones and environments will help 007 Legends avoid the common mid-campaign slump that affects every shooter from Halo to Mirrors Edge. The slick game engine from Goldeneye Reloaded returns with a tune up and in places this game looks better than Activision’s upcoming cash cow Call of Duty Black Ops 2.

Whilst Eurocom have kept details and access to 007 Legends multiplayer under wraps, it will need to be a solid and more importantly fun experience. The multiplayer modes for Goldeneye Reloaded were competent but the maps had a serious last gen look whilst the character models were stiff and characterless, looking and handling more like Counter Strike Source than Call of Duty 4.

To ensure it doesn’t disappear into the background this winter, Eurocom need to deliver an FPS experience that doesn’t use the James Bond licence like an excuse for uncreative or mediocre gameplay. If 007 Legends can sync its single-player campaigns and its multiplayer component into one cohesive package that entices and rewards gamers in the right way then it might just rise out of the ashes of its predecessors and give its fellow 2012 shooters a run for their money.

Will you be picking up Eurocom’s new Bond shooter or are your preorders for Halo 4 & Medal of Honor: Warfighter already ready & waiting? Let us know in the comments!