I met them with The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay and I quickly saw that here was a very special study. Not only did Starbreeze make good games, they made them with a lot of personality. They were unlike anything you had ever played before. Yes, they could have shooter elements, for example, but they were always mixed with other very original ones, such as extravagant weapons, special powers or semi-open levels in which to chat with colorful characters and discover the next step to advance.
All this without mentioning, of course, that his games were more than showy. Both Riddick and The Darknessand even that Syndicate which was not so lucky, they were games that mixed ambitious technology with something more difficult to achieve: style. All this without mentioning one of his best-known games: payday 2. But, in recent years, the Swedish study has hardly published anything. What exactly has become of them? Why did they stop making great games that marked several generations?
The Rise and Fall: What Outstanding Games Has Starbreeze Made?
Although I didn’t meet them until Riddick, the studio already had three works to its credit before adapting the character of Vin Diesel: The Outforce, Enclave and Knights of the Temple. Perhaps Enclave was the one I read the most at the time: a game of medieval fantastic action that already pointed out ways in the technical and that reminds me of the Rune of Human Head.
then came The Chronicles of Riddick and its mix of adventure and action surprised on PC and Xbox. I loved the mix that did not abuse the combat and that knew how to spice up its levels with moments of exploration, dialogue and a set of cameras that alternated between first and third person perspective. But perhaps one of its best assets is that decided not to directly adapt the films Pitch Black or The Chronicles of Riddick, they chose to tell how this anti-hero escaped from the maximum security prison of Butcher Bay.
Therefore, it is considered one of the best adaptations that have been made from movies to video games, and I think it still holds the honor. Furthermore, it was technically so advanced that it would still look good today, especially in its revised version of Assault on Dark Athenawhere this new quite different chapter was added and graphics were improved. Now comes the bad news: Buying it officially is currently practically impossible. For a while it was on digital stores like Steam or GOG, but it’s one of those titles that disappeared and was never released again.
His next game was one of my first great Xbox 360 experiences and I still treasure it: The Darkness. I didn’t know the comics Top Cow, but its setting fascinated me. The story of Jackie Estacado, a boy associated with the mafia who has the bad (or good, depending on how you look at it) fortune of being possessed by The Darkness, an entity that whispers sinister thoughts to him and gives him his powers, in the form of two faithful and monstrous snakes.
Again, same approach as Riddick: a game that looks like a shooter, but is much more inside. We could walk the night streets and talk to its (few) inhabitants, while we carried out our revenge. A very heartfelt one, and that is that the beginning of the game was quite hard. but i also had scenes that, in their time, went deep and shaped me as a player. The scene where you go to see Jenny and you can sit on the couch next to her for a while, just watching TV (the opening credits of To Kill a Mockingbird, by the way). It seemed to me one of those moments that I had never experienced before in a video game.
by the time it arrived SyndicateI was almost a fan of starbreeze. With this one it was mixed feelings, because Syndicate was one of those very unique fishbowl series and what EA seemed to be doing here was turning it into a shooter and that’s it. In something salable that I had in the drawer. By this distant 2012, we were already beginning to have declarations of workers laid off and who had left the company, commenting harsh conditions and tight development times that they had
There was a lot of division of opinion with Syndicate, but the truth is that on a commercial level it did not work very well.
And although Syndicate is a little hidden gem, because with it the pattern is repeated: a shooting game that is something else, we did already see a more preponderant philosophy of action. Of course, with a fantastic Visual Design, that conveyed the cyberpunk atmosphere with bold colors and a story that focused more on the brain implants than in traditional implants in the body. Like every Starbreeze game, it had unique mechanics like Remote controlled bullets, time slowdown, seeing enemies through walls… But it also adapted commercial hobbies, being a more linear, scripted game, full of cinematic sequences and the occasional quick-time event.
There was a lot of division of opinion with Syndicate, but the truth is that on a commercial level it didn’t work very well. However, the following year was to be another great year for Starbreeze, in which two completely opposite works saw the light of day: payday 2 and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. I have not given Payday 2 enough, but to the point of valuing its proposal, creating a multidisciplinary game that could be completed alone, with AI or in multiplayer, and focused on heists that could be completed in multiple ways. And yet, it is possible that it was the game that gave the company the most benefits. We’ll come back to it because here is the key to unlocking the future of Starbreeze.
His other game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, It is perhaps its most improbable game, since it moves away from its action standard to create a less ambitious and more authorial title. Not surprisingly, his director was unknown at the time Joseph Fares, that he came from being a small Swedish celebrity in the world of cinema, and that he decided to try his luck with video games. The result? It’s hard for me to write it without getting emotional. Brothers is one of those games where I felt like the game really was able to convey his story to me not only through images or words (words it does not have, by the way, it is a silent game), but with mechanical.
The way to control the two brothers in the adventure, each with a stick, is strange, because the relationship between the brothers is strange. And as time goes by, you get used to handling both characters at the same time, and they get used to working together. As if that were not enough, its ending is tearful and very emotional. Well, it is not that Fares pointed out ways that he would later collect with the prize to game of the year with It Takes Two, It is that for me with this game he was already a relevant author to keep track of.
What has become of Starbreeze today?
From the player’s point of view, from 2013 to 2018… nothing happened. I remember wanting to see something from this company that had given me so many good experiences in the new generation. But there was only bad news financially and angry workers, piling up year after year. In 2018 it would arrive Overkill’s The Walking Dead, a game based on the famous zombie franchise, with a strong cooperative component, which not only went unnoticed, but took the company in the process, piling up delays, problems, and more burnt out and angry developers. His gaming-as-a-service ambition soon faded, and when his license was withdrawn, not only its console ports were cancelled, but (again) the game disappeared from Steam.
This was undoubtedly one of the great nails of a coffin that has not yet been completely closed. After the hell that was developing this game for so long, the company ran into financial problems added to the already great creative casualties it was suffering. That is why many have seen in MachineGamesthe studio behind wolfenstein, as the heir to Starbreeze, as many developers have continued their career there. This was followed by a series of corporate decisions, such as the division of the company in two, to separate its publisher and developer branch, as well as a number of resignations of several of its CEOs and CFOs.
And that’s how we come back to Payday. In March 2021, the company signed an agreement with Koch Media of 50 million dollars for the publication of payday 3, a game that, technically, would have to reach us this 2023 in which we find ourselves. The game will be led by the same group of thieves from the first installment and, for now, we only have a small teaser as a presentation of the game engine.
It’s good news that in an article like this, we don’t end up with something along the lines of “and that’s how Starbreeze closed its doors.” But the truth is that the Starbreeze that I knew and loved is not the one that exists today. Many of its developers, who are the true soul of the company more than the name, left to look for a better future outside of the complicated decisions that the studio made in the last decade. It would be easy to condemn her, and accuse her of giving in to the commercial, siding with EA or trying to cash in on a brand like The Walking Dead. But the truth is that Games like Riddick or The Darkness weren’t big hits. We players remember them because they are good and had a unique personality. Unfortunately, our industry has shown us on countless occasions that this is not enough to succeed. Yes indeed, history will remember them forever.