The Cancelled Single-Player Apex Legends Game Sounded Great

The Cancelled Single-Player Apex Legends Game Sounded Great

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Josh Wise

Effect and cause. The effect is that, one month in, the number of exciting games to have come out in 2023 has been met, and marred, by the number of games that have been cancelled. Ubisoft has unceremoniously slashed three projects, of which we knew nothing. The Coalition has, apparently, had two unknown games wiped off its books (one of which is supposedly a new IP), and is now focussing on Gears 6. And EA has reportedly pulled the plug on something codenamed Titanfall Legends – a solo adventure intended to be dropped into Apex Legends. And the cause? Money, of course. Ubisoft didn’t hit its sales targets over the festive period; Microsoft has rung in the new year with a round of company-wide layoffs; and EA is allegedly responding to a withered financial quarter.

Why should the knowledge that you are not getting a game whose existence you had no idea of be so galling? For one thing, these stories lay a little too bare what we all already know: that money, not love, conquers all. They also raise a compelling What-If before instantly shooting it down; it feels like the diametric opposite of a shadow drop. What’s more, the games always seem (though this may have something to do with the knowledge that we are no longer going to play them) to be far more interesting than the games that we have. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing The Coalition making something other than Gears of War. The studio has kept the chainsaws of that series oiled and stropped since 2016; but, played again earlier this month, Gears of War 4 felt a little like the Locust in their dormant snooze – hardened into a glittering crust, without a clear direction.

As for Ubisoft, that company’s obsession with so-called mega-brands – three or four franchises so blusteringly vast that they have all blurred into one bland soup of seasonal content – has led it into drab territory. The notion that three fresh games were on the way would have been a relief. And so to EA, which has, despite the cliché about its scorn for single-player games, given us a string of good ones in recent years. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Star Wars: Squadrons were both welcome romps; they didn’t break with the series tradition of taking well-worn genre templates (the Uncharted-style action adventure, the aerial dogfighter) and lacquering them with a Lucas gloss – call it the attack of the clones – but who cares? They both succeeded with the underrated strategy of being fun, linear, and not too long.

Likewise, Need for Speed Unbound was a breath of fresh air – or at least a breath of neon smog, tinged with nitrous. It was the best entry in that saga for years, in part due to its simplicity and focus, and in part due to the fact that EA treated its release as though it were trying to avoid the attention of the cops; the marketing cycle was as brisk and bracing as one of those drag races from the old Underground games, conducted under cover of darkness. The remake of Dead Space came out last month, and awaiting us this month is Wild Hearts, made by Koei Tecmo and published on the EA Originals label. All of which means that the cancellation of a single-player campaign, due to be plugged into Apex Legends, is doubly strange. More than that, however, it’s a drag.

Apex Legends, for those who managed to find sufficient shelter when it landed, in 2019, is a battle royale. The boom of that genre, since the release of PUBG: Battlegrounds in 2017, actually resembles the pattern of its play: more and more games enter the melee, but the grounds for success, for innovation, get smaller and smaller. Apex Legends, despite the spirit-sagging blandness of its title, managed to carve a space of its own by virtue of being (a) free to play, (b) made by Respawn Entertainment, and thus displaying a fluent command of the pleasures of great gunplay, rich in recoil and crunch, and (c) thronged with characters who resembled bad cartoons and had names like Caustic, Lifeline, and Wraith.

These weirdos, while brimming with visual kookiness, could do with the binding of a good story. Titanfall 2 (which shares the world of Apex Legends) boasted one of the better shooter campaigns around; it rested on the bond between a man and his pet mech, and it managed – against the odds, and against the grain of the blockbuster first-person shooter – to pull at the heartstrings. Its gameplay director was Mohammed Alavi, who is lauded for his work on Call of Duty. He is responsible for two of that series’ most famous missions, “All Ghillied Up” and “No Russian.” Alavi was, according to a Bloomberg report, the director of Titanfall Legends, until he left Respawn in 2022.

Whether the game would have lived up to the promise of Alavi’s previous work we will never know. The point is that it’s doubly disheartening to have a single-player adventure culled when EA has been on something of a hot streak with them. More than that, though, it’s a pain that the smaller, more intriguing projects (the team for the game reportedly comprised fifty people, who will now be either moved to other projects within EA or given severance and let go) are often the ones that get scrapped in the name of consolidation. In the name of comfort, I’ve plunged back into the campaign of Titanfall 2, with its bright and weather-beaten vistas. It’s like being in the same place in two different times. 2017, when you felt as if this was the start of something unexpected and gripping, that its story could go anywhere. And 2023, when you know that it didn’t, but you’re still waiting.

Comments
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  • EA has said 'single player games are dead'
    Yet it them themselves cancelling them, so no wonder.... oh yeah one of their studios called them out for that, which sold better than most of their Microtransaction Payed games

    Yes i did MP with those words, pun
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