Black Panther is NOT a Science Experiment

Contributed by DJMMT

I have many thoughts on the upcoming Wakanda Forever sequel to Black Panther, but I don’t really want to talk about that today. What I want to discuss is this recent announcement that EA is currently planning to publish a new open world Black Panther game developed by a new studio with no previous titles under their belt. I have all kinds of problems with that. Note that currently nothing being reported about this game is confirmed, so I’m hoping that many of these details end up being untrue. I’m stating my opinions on what has been reported/rumored about this game so far.

First of all, open world? Why? Who in their right mind thinks that Black Panther is the right character for an open world game? His move set and powers are not conducive to a good open world experience. He can’t fly, he doesn’t rope swing, and at best he runs at the speed of Captain America. Sure, he can climb buildings; but not with the speed and agility of Spider-Man. So an open world setting like Marvel’s Spider-Man will essentially be running up and down streets and slowly climbing buildings so you can jump from roof to roof. Essentially the game Prototype, which wasn’t bad for its time, I guess. Then when you inevitably miss a jump, you’ll have to slowly climb another building. Or just hoof it down the block in traffic. Really gonna put that fast travel to work in a game like that. But let’s not even assume that an open world Black Panther game would be set in New York City. This could be set in Wakanda. Meaning a city and lots of surrounding farmlands. That sounds even worse for Black Panther.

An open world Black Panther game set in a more natural landscape sounds like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. No that is not a good thing. I do not want to manually run around deserts and ride the occasional horse, Vibranium motorcycle, or glider while I slowly cross an unnecessarily large map to spend five minutes at the location of my actual objective. It’s unnecessary and annoying. A Black Panther game should not be open world . . . at all. A Black Panther game should be a plot and combat focused on rails adventure with stealth approach customization elements. It should essentially be Arkham Asylum but with multiple settings. Black Panther travels to a reasonably sized base, via cutscene, and then infiltrates that base to complete a small list of objectives culminating with an epic boss fight against a known Marvel villain. It shouldn’t be overly complicated. It shouldn’t be convoluted. And the traversal from one important location to another absolutely shouldn’t be a repetitive slog.

These aren’t my opinions on game design in general. This is my opinion on how a Black Panther game, specifically, should feel based on how the character actually works in the content about the character the public is familiar with. There is literally no justification for a Black Panther open world game that’s actually based on anything 90% of Black Panther fans are familiar with. If you had said Thor, Iron Man, or even Hulk open world game, I’d have said OK. Black Panther? No. That’s just more publisher nonsense pushing open world games because they’re trendy right now. For God knows what reason.

Let’s also talk about the studio. Oh wait. We can’t because they don’t even have a name yet. All we know is that one of the people involved in the game is the “ex-Monolith Productions VP, Kevin Stephens.” For those who don’t know, because let’s be honest you don’t know who that is, he worked on the Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor series. You know. The games that invented a cool system of enemy AI, patented it so that no one else could do it better, and then mucked up the sequel with ridiculous bullshit that no one liked. Yeah, someone from that team. I liked Shadow of Mordor a lot by the way. I’m just making a point about the fact that this specific name is not cause for celebration when tied to the announcement of an open world Black Panther project.

Black Panther has the potential to make for a great game. It could be a whole franchise with multiple installments. If done well enough, it could even help everyone accept the fact that Chadwick Boseman, may he rest in peace, isn’t T’Challa anymore. Given the way Wakanda Forever looks, I think that would be a really good thing. We do need to move forward and let the character continue to grow and develop as part of mainstream entertainment. Locking the character away because of the untimely death of an actor does a disservice to both the character and Black representation as a whole. But that’s exactly why it’s really important not to screw up a Black Panther game right now. So letting an untested studio with veterans of questionable past projects handle such a game is really worrying for me. As an African American and a fan of the character, I am not comfortable with this kind of risk taking. It’s very telling that the current rumors say that the game won’t even star T’Challa. Supposedly, he’ll be dead at the beginning of the game and you’ll be playing as his successor. To me, that’s already a huge red flag.

I want to be clear in saying that I wholeheartedly would love to see a well-made, single-player, story focused, AAA Black Panther game. I also want it to star T’Challa. That sounds awesome. But this bullshit does not sound awesome. It sounds like EA is trying to build a new studio, probably because they still haven’t distanced themselves from the public’s opinion that they’re the publisher that kills off studios, by handing them what should be an easy cash cow. Marvel games sell. Even the shitty ones make money. And they’re hoping it turns out well, because that would give the studio credibility and public trust out of the gate. Plus it keeps their rocky relationship with Disney afloat with another win. If it does poorly, they just kill the studio, blame the Black protagonist, and still don’t lose any money, because a Marvel game will at least make its money back if nothing else. It’s a science experiment with an insurance plan attached to it. That’s exactly what needs to stop happening in the games industry.

Horizon Zero Dawn was/is successful because there was nothing particularly risky about the gameplay. It’s just a solid third person action game that’s well written and happens to star a female protagonist. Not everyone loves the combat, but no one can say it’s broken, odd, or inaccessible. It’s an objectively safe game to make as far as gameplay design. The perfect opportunity to use a female protagonist. That’s what I want for all protagonists that fall under the diversity umbrella until they no longer fall under the diversity umbrella. Grand Theft Auto 6 will have a female protagonist. Perfect! Thank you, Rockstar, for taking zero risks with female representation in video games. No, that is not sarcasm. They know the game is going to sell a ton of copies. They know people are going to enjoy it. They know it’s going to get high scores from the media. It's the perfect opportunity for a female protagonist because it can’t fail. GTA 6 will not fail. All the whiny sexists on the internet can kick and scream from their keyboards all day, threatening not to buy the game. But as soon as they see that trailer, they’re gonna preorder it.

That’s what I want for a Black Panther game. A guaranteed success where the biggest controversy will be the fact that the game has a Black protagonist. Otherwise, it should be a stellar 10/10 experience that is so undebatably good that even members of the KKK will preorder when they see the trailer. I was not a fan of Guerilla Games when Horizon Zero Dawn released. I had played exactly one Killzone game (Killzone: Shadow Fall) for an hour and hated it so much that I had basically sworn off the studio. But HZD looked so good and then reviewed so well that I had to play it. And I loved it. I absolutely loved it. That is what a Black Panther game should look like. A game so good that the developer goes from being on someone’s shit list to highly praised. From what I’m hearing so far, we’re not gonna get that. We’re gonna get something mediocre, at best, from an untested studio and then when it fails they’re going to blame the Black protagonist. It’s not right, it’s not fair, and it needs to stop. You want to sacrifice a Marvel character by taking massive risks, use Iron Man. He’ll be fine at this point; and even if he isn’t, he’s had a good run. Black Panther is not an appropriate character to use for making test games.

XPG Terrence

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Damien ,18 Aug, 2022

I agree with what you're saying, and I think before a Black Panther game is even considered, the sequel to the movie should be released. Ease us into the transition of a successor, don't let that story be told via a game which appears to serve no other purpose than to provide EA with revenue.