The year of 2010 is coming to an end. Overall, it's been a fine year for gaming, I would say. Now, with the end of the year approaching, game developers everywhere are scrambling to notify their potential customers of what's on the horizon. Generally, the lion's share of these notifications tend to be announcements of Big Name Sequels, and the round of such announcements for 2011 onwards is a sizeable one. Concordantly, it is the time of year when certain publications and writers inevitably start moaning about the apparent lack of innovation in the game industry. "Ugh, whatever happened to innovation? Is originality dead?", and similar phrases abound, delivered in the most snooty voice they can muster in print.
These hit-bait articles are a dime a dozen, and thrive on the common phenomenon of people perceiving negative criticism as being inherently more valid than positive criticism (Essentially thinking "this guy says something I like is bad. Could he have better tastes than me? I must investigate!"), a trick which we fall for time and again. Now, far be it from me to describe the writers who employ this technique as a bunch of turtleneck-wearing, pipe-smoking ivory-tower dwellers, but... well, I guess I just did. But I digress;
I won't go into the whole spiel about how there's a thriving independent game development scene, or that downloadable services such as Steam, XBL, and the Playstation Store have made smaller games, devteams and risky projects viable again, after years of being pummeled in stores by big developers, and being unable to fight for shelf space among the larger titles. I won't go into the whole argument of why it's difficult to get worked up about original titles, as opposed to getting worked up about sequels, either. Those are op-eds for another day. Today, I want to talk about sequels. Specifically, why sequels are great.
Unlike their next of kin, movies, video games are an iterative form of entertainment. Certainly no film director is rushing off to make 'Lawrence of Arabia 2: Arabian Knights', just so they can shoot the desert in Super-IMAX 3D. And no-one would want them to, anyway. But video games are a different story. Being that they rely so heavily upon technological improvement, in terms of both software and hardware, as well as the input of players in order to be games, it is not surprising that they have a tendency to improve over time, as their creators refine their technique in conjunction with the rise in technology that gradually becomes available to them.
The following is a list of sequels that were just as good if not flat out better than the game that preceded them. I'll highlight a few of them, though there's not enough time or space to comment on each and every one. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, by any means. Just a little reminder that sequels, when done right, are awesome.
- Silent Hill 2 -
The first game may have been one of the scariest experiences of all time, but the laconic and morose Silent Hill 2 furthered the horror genre's descent into uncharted depths of psychological terror.
- Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast -
You could feel this game going from first to fifth gear when you picked up Kyle's lightsaber a few levels into the game. The previous games and levels might have contained enough blasters to arm you and your neighbor's teeth, but carving your way through an entire army of stormtroopers, sand people, rancors, sith, cyborgs and whatever else the developers cared to throw at you using only a lightsaber and force powers was pure, unbridled Jedi power-trip joy.
(Also, "g_saberrealisticcombat 1", anyone?)
- Dune II -
It's not often that a sequel spawns a whole new genre, but Westwood's Dune II both popularized and codified the modern RTS. Not bad for a follow-up act. Which leads us to the next entry..
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert -
Apparently, it turns out that taking Hitler out of the equation wasn't such a good idea, as the Allies now found themselves under siege by those wacky Commies. Fortunately for us, this translated into exciting tactical encounters, great music and zapping guard dogs with giant Tesla coils. Classic.
- DooM 2 -
DooM 2 was essentially more of the same. More monsters, more levels and one new gun. But it was it was effing DooM, and that was a good enough excuse to dive into the fray again, double-barreled shotgun in hand. Eat leaden death, demon-spawn. (Also, yes, that is the correct way to spell DooM).
- Super Mario Bros. 3. -
With Doki Doki Panic being America and Europe's substitute, and the "Lost Levels" of Japan essentially being a harder Super Mario Bros. 1, SMB arguably never received a proper sequel until Super Mario Bros. 3 came around. And it was glorious.
- Rebelstar -
The sequel to Julian Gollop's Rebelstar Raiders, back on the Spectrum. An excellent turn-based strategy game in its own right, but would also go on to sire Laser Squad, and perhaps best known out of Gollop's titles, a little game called UFO: Enemy Unknown (a.k.a. X-com).
- Street Fighter 2 -
Does anyone even remember the first one?
(Was there even a first one?)
- Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake -
The follow-up to the groundbreaking Metal Gear on the MSX was leaps and bounds better than the game that inspired it. Much improved gameplay, larger areas to explore, a radar and map feature, lots of weapons and spy gadgets to play with, and even a decent story. The series would lay dormant until revived by Konami in the Playstation era, where its sequel (!), Metal Gear Solid arrived to further tactical espionage action and cinematic direction in gaming.
And of course, this list wouldn't be complete without some current-generation examples:
- Super Scribblenauts -
Scribblenauts is the sort of idea that gets shot down early on during brainstorming sessions for games, on the grounds of being too difficult to implement. It is fortuitous for us, then, that 5th Cell had the courage to press on with their bold idea of letting players solve puzzles through the use of objects summoned by typing in just about anything they could think of. When Scribblenauts came out in late 2009, it was deemed flawed, but ambitious. Several complaints were lodged against its fiddly control scheme, in particular. Its sequel, Super Scribblenauts removed many of the irritations from the first one, offered players regular d-pad controls, added the ability to appent adjectives to your nouns, and bolstered the game's already robust vocabulary with more than 10,000 new words. With the sequel, 5th Cell had finally delivered the game they had wanted to make in the first place.
Also, name me one other game where you can summon a giant, hairy rainbow-coloured radioactive invincible friendly fire-breathing robot Cthulhu, and then ride it to victory.
- Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty -
Sometimes we gamers have to wait for ages for a sequel to come out. And sometimes the wait is totally worth it, as demonstrated by Blizzard's belated but smashing follow-up to their 1998 RTS classic.
- Uncharted 2: Among Thieves -
Admittedly, I haven't played this title yet, but I hear it's alright, you know. It's not TOO awful or anything.
- Mass Effect 2 -
Bioware made a vast improvement over their already-classic original title, by stripping Mass Effect 2 of the elements that so often bog down RPG titles and relegate them to the status of forgettable dungeon crawlers, i.e. cumbersome inventory management, sifting through vendor trash and plodding through forgettable side-quests, replacing them with a greater emphasis on story and character, as well as gameplay that isn't merely "sort of good", but actually really bloody good.
- Rock Band 3 -
If Rock Band 2 was a small step forward for the rhythm game genre, then Rock Band 3 was a massive leap, proving that sequels need not be merely iterative. Two new instruments (keyboards and real guitar), Pro Mode, which further blurs the boundaries between virtual escapism and the advancement of real-life skill, as well as a slew of improvements to the UI and overall game design contribute to Rock Band 3 being more than just another sequel. It also rocks in the literal sense, not just the figurative one.
More sequels that rock:
Resident Evil 2, Monkey Island 2, Mega Man 2, Baldur's Gate 2, Zone of the Enders 2, Civilization 2, Dark Cloud 2, Burnout 2: Point of Impact, Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly, Double Dragon 2, Tekken 2, Mortal Kombat 2, Sonic 2, Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within, Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals, Streets of Rage 2, TMNT2: The Arcade Game, Shenmue 2, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, Devil May Cry 3, Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising, Soul Calibur 2, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Jak & Daxter 2, Parasite Eve 2, Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness, Shinobi 3, Gran Turismo 2, Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror, Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix, Lost Vikings 2, Marathon 2: Durandal, Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, Little Big Adventure 2, Golden Axe 2, Rayman 2, Fallout 2, Micro Machines 2: Turbo Tournament, Phantasy Star 2, Road Rash 2, Shining Force 2, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins, Twisted Metal 2, System Shock 2, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne..
You get the idea. The lesson here is a simple one. Don't roll your eyes at a game just because it's got a '2' or a '3' in the title. And remember that every good game is a stepping stone towards a better one.
And in conclusion, some upcoming sequels that will undoubtedly rock:
Mass Effect 3, Dead Space 2, Batman: Arkham City, Gears of War 3, Assassin's Creed 3, Deus Ex 3.
Well, commentators, what are some of your favorite sequels?