Pandemic Studios (What Could Have Been #1)

What Could Have Been is a series of segments about studios whose doors have closed, the games that could’ve and should’ve been made, games that might’ve done them in, and other studios who could fill the void.

RIP

I’ve decided to begin with Pandemic Studios, a subsidiary of Electronic Arts. Radical was just recently shut down, so it’s still a little too painful to discuss. The closing of Pandemic is one of the many reasons why I was pleased to see The Consumerist “award” EA with the title of “The Worst Company in America.”

Pandemic is famous for a few key franchises. The first one is similar to series such as Half-life and Left 4 Dead, in the sense that the third installment does not exist. I’m talking about one of the best third-person shooters of all time, a game that gives me a raging nerd boner, Star Wars: Battlefront. The concept of the first Battlefront was simple: Battlefield with Star Wars. Drop the player into a conflict during Star Wars history as an Imperial stormtrooper, a Rebel soldier, a clone trooper, or a battle droid. The most satisfying feeling came from jumping in an Imperial walker, and blasting away at Rebels on the deserts of Tatooine. Watching a group of Rebels wander too close to the Tusken Raiders, then vaporizing them all in the confusion. Battlefront II brought along a number of excellent changes to the already addicting style of gameplay. As opposed to a campaign that merely strung control point capture battles together, Pandemic created a story arc around the rise of the 501st Legion, an elite unit of Republic clones that would eventually form the group known as Vader’s Fist during the days of the Empire. Battlefront II also saw the introduction of space warfare, which was a welcome change of pace, emphasizing dogfights and starship sabotage. And finally, Battlefront II introduced heroes and villains, giving players the ability to jump into the battle as their favorite Jedi, Sith, or any other notable characters. Heroes vs. Villains mode saw the likes of Chewbacca, Mace Windu, and Luke Skywalker teaming up against Jango Fett, Darth Maul, and the Emperor, among many others.

It’s just so beautiful.

While Pandemic released Renegade Squadron and Elite Squadron for handheld gamers, the world never got the Battlefront III it was hoping for. We could have seen a campaign mode with characters we could connect to and want to look after. There might have been new game modes, worlds and armies from the extended Star Wars universe, like battles that took place during the Old Republic or during the New Jedi Order. A revamp of multiplayer that could introduce rankings, or a Galactic credit system that could be used to purchase rewards. But no. The Force wasn’t strong enough with this franchise.

But let’s look at Pandemic’s other intergalactic franchise, Destroy All Humans! This game was just straight up fun, from beginning to end. The best way I could describe it was an extraterrestrial GTA. The story contained missions that were both hilarious and also diverse. One mission you could be sneaking onto a military base in a human disguise, and the next you could be leveling a town in your spaceship. And if you didn’t want to do the missions, you bloody well didn’t have to, you could just fly around the town causing mayhem and destruction. Come to think of, it’s actually more of an extraterrestrial Saints’ Row, which I think only makes the game sound better. And any game that uses the Havok physics engine for the purposes of hilarious ragdoll effects gets a gold star in my book. Unfortunately, the series went downhill when it reached the current generation of consoles. There were a lot of graphics issues, which was very surprising to see. How could an older game look better on the Gamecube or original Xbox than a newer version does on the 360 or PS3? The fun gameplay that defined the first two games had faded away.

Just like all the humans that Crypto slaughtered throughout Destroy All Humans!, that series should remain dead. It was fun while it lasted, but a fifth installment would be an insult to those like me who enjoyed the first two so much. Also, one of Pandemic’s other franchises, the Mercenaries series, should remain in its grave as well. Mercenaries 3 was canned for a reason. Mercenaries 2 was a game with so much promise that turned into a game with an insultingly low degree of difficulty, and irritating characters. Jacking vehicles was about as difficult as putting on a hat, as it required a short quicktime event that made the idea of incoming enemy helicopters a pleasant one. And with all the airstrike missiles literally lying on the side of the road, any task could be accomplished with calling in an infinite amount of destructive weapons that would level any and all enemies in site.

But why did the plans for Battlefront III blow up like Alderaan? I have a theory that I’m not proud of. I’m also a big Tolkien fan, but I think Lord of the Rings: Conquest ruined everything. I had had such high hopes for that game, but everything was wrong with it. Except the soundtrack and the scenery, but both were essentially copy-pasted from the movies, so of course they’re going to be awesome. There were extreme class balance issues, the combat turned into clusterfucks, and all the suspense and drama that went into the beautiful movies washed away like Boromir at the end of Fellowship. Oh come on, that wasn’t too much, we’re all over it. And multiplayer was a disgrace. There was more lag in a half-filled LOTR: Conquest server, then there would be on a 64-player Counter-Strike match using the wi-fi from Starbucks. It was just awful.

It’s funny how this was supposed to be a short segment. I promise the future ones will be shorter, I just have a lot of feelings and opinions when it comes to Pandemic. I think Conquest is one of the reasons Pandemic went under, costing the world Battlefront III. And Pandemic’s final release, The Saboteur, wasn’t enough to keep the studio going. It was good in the sense that it was different from the typical WWII-era games that were available on the market, and it’s emphasis on being artistic was a nice touch, but it just didn’t perform as well as it could have. EA, if you’re reading this from your fortress of evil made out of money, you have a chance to redeem yourself. Battlefront III. It’s not like George Lucas and Lucasarts have taken a break from beating the dead horse that is the Star Wars franchise. But you can turn that horse-beating into something beautiful.

No horses were harmed during this review or during the production of any Pandemic game. That I know of.

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