A month ago, Marty Sliva wrote about Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number in IGN, stating that while the game was practically identical to its predecessor, it was not necessarily a bad thing at all, before asking his readers to contemplate what makes a good sequel.
Similar things were said of the recent Call of Duty games, with many people saying that Modern Warfare 3 was practically a done-up version of Modern Warfare 2, but they stated again that it was not a bad thing at all, as Modern Warfare 2 was very well received.
Yet, while some gamers complain about the lack of risk-taking involved with the sequels of today, it can be assumed that those very same gamers would be furious if they saw a sequel to their franchise go in an entirely different direction.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was cited by reviewers such as IGN as a game that, while was fresh and good, did not ‘feel like a Castlevania game.’ Deus Ex: Invisible War, in addition to having a really hard act to follow, was lambasted for trying to simplify the gameplay. While still a major success, gamers felt like the rug was pulled from under their feet when they learned that Raiden, not Solid Snake from the first game as they were lead to believe, would be the main character in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.
It seems like for developers, a balance must be struck between creating a sequel that stays true to the spirit of its predecessors, while still breaking new ground. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time took people by surprise because it took a two-dimensional adventure and transposed it into a three-dimensional world, one that was living and breathing and all the more realistic than its predecessors.
There was still the tradition of using discovering key items in dungeons and collecting parts of a MacGuffin to fight Ganon, but it was done in such a manner that was still fresh. Similar things have been said about Metroid Prime, where the player could finally experience Samus’ adventures through her visor, while still maintaining traditions such as an emphasis on exploration and finding power-ups.
Mass Effect 2 introduced an entirely new engine and interface, and had a much darker story than its predecessor, but did not forget that it was still a space opera adventure, maintaining and even expanding upon the depth of its universe introduced in the first game, retaining a hacking element that was regrettably, in this writer’s opinion, removed from the third instalment.
What made Modern Warfare 2 so successful was that it took the things that made Call of Duty 4 great and not only retained them, but greatly expanded upon them, introducing customisable killstreaks, more attachments, more perks, and so on and so forth.
It does not sound like much, but upon further inspection, the variety of killstreaks, from a standard UAV to a harrier to a devastating AC-130 gunship, along with the extremely diverse slew of attachments and perks, such as heartbeat sensors, detachable shotguns, and unlimited sprint, made it a memorable game.
What also makes a good sequel is the inspiration, and by that, this writer means the passion and drive to take the sequel in the new direction that they want it to. What made the reaction to Call of Duty: Ghosts so lukewarm was the fact that it just felt entirely uninspired, such as the widely publicised cut-and-paste job from Modern Warfare 2’s single player campaign and the fact that its multiplayer is essentially a rehash of Black Ops 1.
Infinity Ward kept trying to market the not-so-new engine and the fact that you have a dog in the single player campaign; upon actually playing the single player campaign, the player realises that said dog’s role is only explored in one level. There was nothing exciting to bring to the table, so perhaps the developers had only these minute features to promote the game.
It might have to do with the fact that, until recently, Infinity Ward and Treyarch only have two years to develop their games, leaving very little time to experiment and brainstorm new ideas. Time will only tell if the addition of Sledgehammer Games to the cycle will give all three developers the time they so desperately need.
Dragon Age II, following the highly acclaimed Dragon Age: Origins, tried to be more action packed, heavily marketed with buzz-phrases such as ‘one button push per slash/cast’ and ‘think like a general, fight like a Spartan,’ which led to a much worse reception than its predecessor. It certainly did not help that a few maps were recycled for different dungeons and areas, giving the player the awkward feeling of déjà vu later in the game.
What might have added to the game’s cheapness was the fact that it was said to be rushed out the door, Electronic Arts imposing a deadline on Bioware. Whether or not that is for certain, it is not a far-fetched assumption; the game was released only 18 months after its predecessor, with soundtrack composer Inon Zur admitting that the score was rushed.
However, Activision and Electronic Arts force sequels out the door at breakneck pace with the understanding that people want their sequels and they want them now. Therefore, they impose these strict development cycles that leave no time to really think about what would make a good sequel. After all, people always groan and complain when a sequel gets delayed.
Perhaps that is it. Maybe we, the players are the ones the blame. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, people have gotten used to getting what they want instantly. While not exactly a gaming example, George R. R. Martin, who is known for taking a notorious amount of time to finish his books, said in an interview that today’s generation has grown accustomed to instant gratification.
Some of last generation’s greatest sequels needed time. Half Life 2 was delayed in 2003 when it turned out that their source code was leaked, but it still went on to be released a year later to critical acclaim, some even claiming that it was the greatest game of the decade. Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty was released 12 years after the first game, facing delays after it was announced in 2008 before finally releasing in 2010 to universal acclaim.
Of course, one must also consider Duke Nukem Forever, a game that was on the cards since 1997 before finally releasing in 2011, with a reception that was not as welcoming. Then again, there was so much pressure for that game to finally be released, not to mention, this writer postulates, Gearbox’s adoption of the game was simply to get it done and over with, instead rehashing elements of the Duke Nukem series that were way past their time.
In conclusion, it seems that a good sequel needs all of the aforementioned: fresh thinking, inspiration, and the time needed to provide both while maintaining a convincing continuity with its predecessors. This writer hopes that for this generation, developers will take more risks, and gamers will be more patient.