Activision set to iterate franchise-friendly games this fall

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Activision’s booth at E3 2015 showcased something old and something new, as the company presented their venerable franchises alongside a new take on the legendary “Guitar Hero” and new content coming soon for last year’s divisive hit “Destiny.”

Keeping with the old, there’s “Call of Duty: Black Ops III.” “Call of Duty” has a strong presence every year on the consoles, but this year felt a bit different. While there are still large set pieces and the ability to play all single player missions with up to three other friends, the game does not seem to have a clear focus as to what it wants to be for fans this fall. We know little to nothing about the main story that drives the campaign, with the exception that it has something vaguely to do with humankind losing control of machines and technology. It also feels far more mystical than in the past, with players now using nanotech to mind-control enemies or cause them to spontaneously combust. “Black Ops 3” still looks pretty and presents players with large areas for missions to unfold, and the multiplayer still looks to be as fast and fluid as in years past. It does change the mechanics a bit from the well-received “Advanced Warfare” entry in the “Call of Duty” series, but one does wonder if the developers are starting to feel a bit of fatigue trying to come up with new ideas to explore in their campaign.

Coming in with something new and creative, however, is the team at Freestyle Games and the long dormant “Guitar Hero” franchise. Everything about “Guitar Hero” games of the past was thrown out, making way for a novel new concept of centering the game on a live action stage sequence. From the runway to the stage to the closing of the performance, you are seeing the sights from a first person perspective, as if you are standing on stage with your bandmates. Real footage of crowds will cheer or boo you depending on how well you are performing. Even the game’s plastic guitar has changed up its look and style, going with two rows of three frets each, which you press based on the direction of a pick on the note highway.

Another change is a free subscription service that lets you jump into musically themed channels and play the tracks that are in rotation on that channel. It is similar to tuning into a radio station and just playing along with whatever happens to be on at that time.

With all of these changes, it is easy to be very skeptical as to how the game will be received by fans, but Activision is trying to do something new. This fall “Live” will face off against a new iteration of rival game “Rock Band,” which has changed very little in the years since the previous “Band” release.

Another year means another outing for perennial kid favorite “Skylanders.” The originator of the “toys to life” category of games that generators four billion dollars a year, “Skylanders” will field a fifth game this fall, “Skylanders SuperChargers.” “SuperChargers” adds vehicles into the mix, letting players pop Skylander characters inside cars, planes and boats.

Josh Taub, a senior vice president at Activision, calls “Skylanders” a twenty year franchise, meaning we can expect the company to keep fielding new games for years to come. The secret sauce is the continual evolution of kid-approved characters and a yearly gameplay juice-up. In the case “SuperChargers,” not only is that juice on-screen, but also in the toys themselves. The vehicle toys will feature moving parts to enhance their playability outside of the game itself.

“SuperChargers” also features an unprecedented crossover with Nintendo in the form of two special hybrid toys that are both Skylander and Amiibo. These figures – representing Donkey Kong and Bowser – are primarily built for “SuperChargers” but can also work as Amiibo toys in compatible Nintendo games. Donkey Kong and Bowser will be available in “SuperChargers” starter packs for the Wii U and 3DS versions of the game.

“Skylanders SuperChargers” will be on store shelves on September 20. “Guitar Hero Live” will be released on October 20, while “Call of Duty: Black Ops III” is set for November 6.

Joe Fourhman contributed to this story.

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