February 18 will mark a sad but all too common end to a solid game production studio. Bizarre Creations, the Liverpool, U.K. based studio responsible for the creation of hits Project Gotham Racing and Geometry Wars, will shutter its doors after a disappointing run with Activision that failed to capture the originality and challenge the studio had become known for.When the original Xbox launched in the United States back in late 2001, I purchased three games to go along with my black and green monstrosity. One of those games was the original Project Gotham Racing. It featured slick race courses charted across the world’s landmark cities, tight racing controls, an absolutely unrelenting A.I., and the famed Kudos system (which was originally created in Bizarre’s Dreamcast title, Metropolis Street Racer) awarded points to drivers who could win races with style utilizing drifts, drafts and stunts. I would devote hours into mastering each turn and finding the perfect balance of Kudos earning drifts and racing winning speed.
Joining Project Gotham was a quirky bonus game, with a style similar to the original Asteroids, was Geometry Wars. A game that had the player utilizing the twin analog sticks in a seemingly never-ending war with flying shapes (get it? Geometry Wars).
Bizarre Creations, working with Microsoft Game Studios, earned critical and retail success with four Project Gotham Racing titles on both Xbox platforms and saw Geometry Wars become the gold standard for retro-style arcade games to come with Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2 becoming one of the hallmark titles of the Xbox Live Arcade.
2007 saw what would be the beginning of Bizarre Creations’ demise. The studio was acquired by Activision effectively killing any exclusive development with Microsoft Game Studios. Project Gotham Racing 4, the second PGR to grace the Xbox 360 would be their last work on the series. Fans of the racing game were saddened but hopeful that Microsoft would be able to continue the series with another studio.
However, Microsoft has not had a strong rate of turning around franchises to new development houses. Another racing title in their first generation Xbox line was the rally game RalliSport Challenge, developed by the studio DICE. When DICE was purchased by Electronic Arts, and subsequently gained even greater success with the Battlefield series, RalliSport Challenge went the way of the dinosaur.
Activision had high expectations for their newly acquired studio. Bizarre Creations released Geometry Wars Galaxies to the Wii and the DS to positive results, hinting that they would maintain their creative direction under Activision.
But a string of mediocre titles over the next three years would eventually cement the studio’s fate. After the poorly made Sega shooter The Club, critics began to wonder if Bizarre Creations had lost its way, especially by making a third person shooter. The trend continued with Bizarre Creations being tapped to develop the mediocre James Bond 007: Blood Stone.
The only thing that could save the floundering studio was a return to what they did best. Racing.
When their modern day Mario Kart like racer Blur was released, it came out to fairly strong buzz. Unfortunately, good reviews don’t necessarily mean sales. Blur was received by audiences as a good game, but lacking polish and possessing an absolutely brutal A.I. However, with the lofty expectations not met and only three major releases in three years, Activision had seen enough and put Bizarre Creations on the market.
So tonight, I will remember fondly my days of drifting up and down San Francisco’s financial district and the dozens of Geometry Wars sessions that left me tearing from not wanting to blink. Project Gotham Racing and Geometry Wars were two of my favorite things to emerge from the original Xbox, and I hope that somebody will step up to the challenge to continue these landmark franchises.