Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Suquels: Newer Isn’t Always Better

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Okay so the title (pronounced “suck-wells”) is a tad unsophisticated as is the concept it implies, but frankly I’ve had it up to my ears in recent sequels that don’t even remember what made their predecessors great.  Congratulations gaming, you’ve now entered into the same dangerous realm Hollywood has where production budgets are so great that the slightest tweak can result in a hit or miss product.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a new problem – ask anyone who was around for the crankfest that was the Mega Man series on the NES and they will tell you that it peaked at either Mega Man 2 or 3 and then tapered into oblivion.  Don’t misunderstand me, though, these games aren’t bad by any stretch, they just can’t live up to the quality of the previous game.  I know what you’re thinking, you’re wondering how one goes about topping Uncharted 2 within the same series or competing with the achievement of Legend of Zelda.  In short, perhaps you don’t.  Maybe its high time that publishers, because they are the boss, understand that some games run their course.  On the other hand God of War 2 was definitely the apex of that series  but thanks to a console generation between the second and the third, it was refreshing to receive a sequel that looked so much better.  There’s a formula that works, so stop worrying about your own personal issues or listening to too many focus groups and do your best to capture the magic of the property.  Please keep in mind that like the mantra of Scream 2, trilogies are not considered sequels in my eyes and thus are awarded certain liberties as a result.  That doesn’t mean I’m not going to rip into the entire trilogy once the third releases if obvious oversights weren’t dealt with.

Lately I feel that no developer out there understands this.  It may be because they’re too busy trying to trump the previous title that they make unnecessary changes and break the formula.  It may also be that the new title is way too similar to the previous title and thus leans on story to get through, but for whatever reason those writers don’t deliver.  Perhaps the developer is no longer interested in making a sequel, but thanks to the long arm of the publisher that holds all the money, they have no choice but to make yet another title in the same series.  The reason is irrelevant, there’s no excuse for creating a game that isn’t self-aware of the issues found within.  It’s not rocket science, these issues are apparent to every fan of the series so there’s no reason to believe that the developer doesn’t also notice it.  Here are some examples of sequels I’ve recently played this year that either felt too rushed or missing the point of what that series is all about.

What Happened to the Rest of the Game?

You will become extremely familiar with this level in Force Unleashed II

Sequels are a great thing, especially when they are for games that didn’t celebrate the commercial or critical success its fans hoped it would.  Perfect examples of this are The Darkness, Alan Wake and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.  Whether you’re trying to get better review scores or prove that your game has merit, why in the world would you cut corners?  Each of these games have caveats, or rather excuses, that developers and publishers alike can make for the stripped feel of the second title.  That’s great when they’re trying to back simple decisions or cover their own ass, but as a gamer I feel like they don’t even care about my beloved franchise.  For starters, the second game of all of these is not only shorter, but feels incomplete.  I won’t go into spoilers, but The Darkness II is a 4-6 hour campaign on a good day, strips multiplayer (not that it should have ever had it in the first place) and gives you almost no reason to justify the $60 purchase.  Are you trying to fail 2K?  The fact we even got a sequel is a good thing but not at the expense of giving the message that 4-6 hours is worth $60 in the market that offers Skyrim and Call of Duty for the same price.  Oh and mild side note, don’t offer a choice at the end if one of them offers no ending, no achievement and strips out the final level.  The Force Unleashed II didn’t even feel finished.  It was about the same length as Darkness II and half of the game was one single location; at least the lackluster original title had different worlds to visit.  I’m guessing the publisher figured that all Star Wars fans are mindless robots that will purchase anything in the series, after all they did move 3 million+ copies of the so-so original.  American Wasteland, the follow-up to Alan Wake, made a little more sense as a download title and a 3-5 hour campaign, but my big issue is that of the nine stages/levels, it’s really only 3 environments recycled three times each.  For an original game that was criticized for its lack of unique enemy encounters, the fact that the next game doesn’t learn this lesson and instead largely recycles environments is just disappointing.  So basically these publishers/developers have decided that my weekend is worth about $135 plus tax (that’s what all 3 games would cost at MSRP and with a total completion time of 11-15 hours the average gamer could easily do this in a weekend).

Why in the World Did They Do That?

Worst place to start a brawl…ever…

By the time a game is on the third or later installment of the series, especially if I’ve enjoyed the others, there’s this calm anticipation for the next title.  You’ve seen the original and an improved sequel helps reassure you the developer has a firm grasp on the property, then a late addition comes out and it’s got some jarring flaws.  This was the case for me with Uncharted 3 and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.  Assassin’s Creed is the easier series to pick on, so I’ll start there first.  AC had everything – an amazing character (Ezio) that didn’t come until the second game, a three-game side story that we all accepted (and coughed up the cash for) and muliplayer additions that were a benefit instead of a detriment.  Why, then, did certain decisions in Revelations happen?  It added a horrendous tower defense that could be so easily avoided it seemed the developers themselves understood no one was going to play it.  The campaign was short and half of the missions had you dashing all over a city, retracing your steps and uncovering almost no new plot.  Furthermore, Ubisoft was too busy killing some of the only likeable characters and giving a half-hearted easy end to the best character the IP has spawned.  It’s almost ironic that we were staring down all speculative at Brotherhood and once that was a strong title we allowed the scant next iteration of Revelations to skate by with critical and commercial success.  Uncharted 3 is a bit more subtle about its lack of quality.  First off, the writing was still rock solid and although I have some minor qualms with how it wrapped up, which to me felt a bit like a story rushed into production to meet a holiday release schedule, I was pleased.  For some reason they decided to go back to the combat function of the first game, but now they made it so that you can be shot when you enter a combat scenario.  This is a big no-no for a game that has brawling and shooting – either you make the character invulnerable to random bullets while they battle in a quicktime event (QTE) or you allow them to run from the combat in order to avoid the bullet fire.  In Uncharted 3 not only would you die cheap deaths because of this, but the developers actually programmed scenarios based around getting you into a battle sequence while the distant gunmen easily picked you off.  Not only that, the stealth was nearly impossible for me, and I’m a hardcore stealth player, to the point that I just gave up.  Not only that, these guys could pick off a specific hair on your head from 500 yards once you’re spotted.  Tsk Tsk Naughty Dog.  It also had epic events where you would be running to or from crumbling buildings and cliff tops with no idea where to specifically go.  Sure, you might get lucky enough to pick the right path, but essentially it was all trial and error.

Getting it Right

I can’t believe that after all was said and done, my favorite sequel from last year was actually Resistance 3.  With the massive amount of sequels to solid titles I hoped for sure something would resonate – mind you, I never got the chance to play Arkham City or inFamous 2 – but this was clearly the year to rush a holiday release.  This may just be the mindless rant of a guy who made too much out of the little tweaks of new games, but for all the complaints about Call of Duty never offering something new I sure seem to be more pleased with those annual releases than what I saw last year.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 28, 2012 at 12:27 pm

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