Maverick Hunter is quite the scoop. Over at Polygon today, Michael McWhertor and Wes Fenlon wrote up what they managed to uncover about a preliminary, unreleased version of a Mega Man reboot from Capcom. It explains (or at least informs) what Armature Studios has been up to for the past few years, how Capcom could let the 25th anniversary of the blue buster come and go with such little ado, and the dire mess it has been left to stew in.
Armature, for those of you that don’t know or simply can’t recall, is the Austin-based studio that was formed by three leads from Retro Studios, the developers behind the Metroid Prime series. Director Mark Pencil, lead art director Todd Keller, and lead technical engineer Jack Matthews managed to secure a few other Retro alums to join them and, well, long story short: they’ve got only one released game (Metal Gear Solid HD for the PlayStation Vita) and several unreleased, unnamed titles under their belt.
One of those unreleased, unnamed titles was Maverick Hunter, a “gritty reboot” of the Mega Man franchise. It would follow the Mega Man X storyline where a very Blade Runner-esque situation has arisen involving robots named Reploids living amongst humans and a special force called Maverick Hunters tasked with taking down rogue synthetics. It’s an established world that’s rife with possibilities, so overall that was a pretty smart decision.
The problem, however, is where they equate “gritty” with “realistic.” That is a fallacious equivalency as not all gritty things are realistic or vice versa. If you take a look at the videos that McWhertor and Fenlon have up alongside their write-up, you can see a very humanoid Mega Man rumbling about, his appearance somewhere between Isaac Clarke of Dead Space and Iron Man from the Marvel film franchise. The latter comparison isn’t all that surprising given it was designed by Adi Granov, the same man who designed said Iron Man suit.
The question, then, is why is he so realistic? Justin McElroy, managing editor over at Polygon, made an interesting point via Twitter soon after the news went up:
Hate for the Mega Man FPS illustrates the core problem with the franchise: Divorced from its aesthetics, it’s the most generic thing ever.
— Justin McElroy (@JustinMcElroy) April 9, 2013
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the aesthetics of Mega Man (and especially the Mega Man X series) was one of the strong points for the franchise. It just looked slick in its later iterations. Sticking with the core of the franchise is something sources said was important and they would hew close to throughout development—weapon weaknesses and swapping, hidden energy tanks, classic moves—but what about the aesthetics?
The write-up brings up the successful reboot of Metroid via Retro Studios and the Prime series, and for good reason. They nailed down the specifics of what makes a Metroid game a Metroid game mechanically, and with the updated visuals, still managed to properly translate old, 2D looks to a 3D perspective without losing any of what made it visually and thematically distinct.
Based on the videos, I would say all that distinction went out the window. It looks like a cross between a dozen other modern first-person shooters and a few third-person action games (I really get a Vanquish feel from it all. Anyone else?), but worse than that, the gameplay has shifted to a modernization template as well. Mega Man’s original Buster cannon was relatively slow, as were most of his armaments. Even in later releases on the SNES, Zero’s sword slash was probably the fastest attack there was. The time for you to dodge enemy attacks was commensurate with what enemies had to dodge yours, pending their intelligence and willingness. This slower, more deliberate pace played into the need for precise movements and strategy to even beat a level.
Now he has an M16 attached to his arm and dumps on fools. I’m not saying that can’t be an equally compelling turn on shooter combat, but it definitely seems to stretch far from where Mega Man used to call home.
Granted, this was all unreleased and unannounced for a reason. Being severely early in development, this wasn’t even what you could call a vertical slice, said a source. But it definitely informs you as to why it was eventually scrapped, even so early on. Sure, dive deep into perhaps the more compelling side of the Mega Man narrative, and sure, play on some of the platforming in this new perspective, but to equate grittiness with realism is folly. Adherence to the truth, to an extent, negates the gritty.
It’s a fine dichotomy, though, in terms of what you are calling realistic or scrappy. The setting can look as authentic as it wants, but the interactions don’t necessarily have to be grounded. It seems, though, that Maverick Hunter has both stuck in the same space we navigate every day in real life. Clambering around, shooting, smashing up robots, and free falling through the air all seem to be pinned to a world we know all too well to not house such things.
Noir films are a great example of this. They live in a place that looks a lot like the world we live in but it’s hardly what anyone would call realistic. People speak in a very particular way and are motivated in strange ways. Life and death are treated like currency and the actions in between are oblivious to the earthly framework surrounding them. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, for instance, is so far removed from reality that it partially takes place in a cartoon world and yet it is a super gritty film.
Grounding Mega Man in both aspects holds it back doubly hard. There is no contrast and without contrast, we become numb. It’s like how without dynamics, music just kind of becomes noise. Given what Armature managed as Retro with Metroid Prime, I’m sure they could have pulled something out in the end, but this hot scoop from Polygon kind of made me glad Maverick Hunter never saw the light of day.
And who thought that falling action sequence was a good idea? Come on.