How do you make a great sequel? It seems these days you get a majority of developers simply using an existing formula and running with it. To be fair why wouldn't you? A fan of a certain franchise would expect the next installment to have the same feel as the previous games. For example... Uncharted, Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3 all feel the same. It isn't a bad thing because the games are so brilliant and not thrown out every year. The gameplay changes seem to be more like fine tuning a formula than completely pushing it forward. It is completely fine and in no way is it a negative criticism. I know what I am getting with Uncharted and it is nice to know I can blindly spend my money on the games. Call of Duty pumps out games every single year and it seems people are complaining about the formula (I love the franchise, but I love a wide range of games and this is a discussion for another topic). Resident Evil had many of its first titles feeling very samey and that franchise was also loved. Now they have changed the whole game completely and it has alienated the original fanbase.
So, how do you make a sequel that feels different from the previous game yet retains the core fundamentals that the fans love? Well, I for one could not pull off such a difficult task, but it seems the Metal Gear Solid franchise have this skill down to perfection. Let me back up my claim.
Now there are features that make a sequel better. Example... Uncharted 3 improved the melee over the previous game. It was a step up. However, Metal Gear Solid games seem to include features that totally change the way you play the game. The changes from MGS1 to MGS2 were so significant. The whole first person aspect totally changed how you could play. Of course there were lesser features that tied up the gameplay too such as looking round corners. MGS2 has a whole different vibe to it than the first game yet it feels like a MGS game. This obviously could be down to a technical leap. The PS2 was capable of much more than PS1. When MGS3 was announced you probably thought initially it would play like MGS2. The game is completely different. I don't want to list every feature the game changes, but the upgrades to existing features and the completely new features changed the way you approached the game. The biggest change was the environment and it was perfectly implemented. Open areas, a stamina bar and camo. I mean, something as simple as crawling through grass was COMPLETELY new to the series and yet it felt natural.
I find it odd how one franchise can include so many core changing elements to its game and have it feel familiar to the games that came before it. Even the transition to MGS4 (a game that I don't particularly like... worst in the series, but I won't bore you with my opinion) went as smooth as previous titles. Aiming over the shoulder again changed the feel of the game. The Drebin store and gun attachments again changed the rules of the series. Heck, even the crouching felt like it was there from the start. So many little changes that fine tune the gameplay and the more in depth changes for the core still don't make this game feel any less of a MGS game. I don't know how they managed it. This is the first MGS game I played with a full 3D camera (I didn't buy subsistence). Now you don't have to pop in to First Person to check for guards or rely on pressing to walls.
At its core the franchise still feels like MGS1. Hints of the character movement, jokes and menu system are all pretty much included in today's games. I just don't understand how they managed to strike such an amazing balance of changing their game and yet keeping it the same. I don't think any other franchise in history has come close to updating their sequels quite like MGS. Final Fantasy may be a nice mention, but since every sequel is like a brand new fresh start nullifies the points I am trying to make.
If you can think of any game franchise that has managed to last as well as MGS I would like to see it in the comment section. I am by no means a MGS fanboy and definitely not a Sony fanboy, but as far as creating the perfect sequel I think MGS has it covered.
MGS Ground Zeroes again looks to shake things up... we will have to see if it retains the classic MGS style. I am quite confident we will.