The game industry is a big ocean of title after title, everyone's vying for the Game of the Year these days and it seems that somewhere along the way the big publishers and developers are forgetting simple things like gameplay and storytelling. So far sequel after sequel to various games have appeared on consoles and now there's a disturbing trend to only market games that have 'sequel' potential. This kind of thinking is dangerous is a market that is as picky as it is ruthless. Gamers are constantly bickering over their favourite franchise and console; hardcore gamers shun anything that's not vaguely related to their #1 franchise, Halo for instance.
Take a look at Tomb Raider, now Tomb Raider 1 and 2 were highly successful but pretty much every sequel that's come out of that franchise has been a pale imitation of the previous games. Tomb Raider Underworld is decent enough but it's not quite the game everyone was expecting. I still enjoyed it on some level, just as I enjoyed Ubisoft's latest Prince of Persia outing. In a way I'm glad that Ubisoft left the Sands of Time series at 3 games, it means that it remains a golden example of a trilogy that ended just when the time was right.
The same can't be said regarding Splinter Cell, however. Double Agent was a brave and bold step to try and take the series into a new darker direction, with a lack of coop however I soon found myself bored with the Spy vs. Mercenary game mode since I blew through the single-player fairly quickly. Now I am pleased that ConViction has been taken back to the drawing board but Ubisoft have kind of written themselves into a corner concerning Sam Fisher. I really miss the old spec-ops ninja who snuck around in the dark and had all those cool gadgets.
Again though it's all about sequels and true interesting, innovative/fun projects often get a nail in the coffin because the publisher can't see 'sequel' potential. Here's an open statement to the industry as a whole:
There is going to come a day when people are going to be sick of buying Tony Hawks sequels, Band Game sequels and FPS sequels - just like people eventually got sick of TSR in the old days of Dungeons and Dragons since they flooded the market with remakes/sequels and splatbooks galore. Original thinking is the way forwards and games like Brutal Legend should never have been canned. Tim Schaeffer is a guy who can't seem to catch a break and on the off chance that Tim's reading this or hears about it, hang in there Tim, we really loved Psychonauts.
Brutal Legend was cancelled by Activision because it had no sequel potential. It later found a new home at Electronic Arts (I can hear boos and hisses from here) who seem to see potential of some kind in Tim's work. Double Fine seem to have landed on their feet. Unlike Pandemic AU who were shut down recently along with developer Free Radical. Free Radical were working on a sequel to Star Wars Battlefront 2, the rumour is that particular game has now found its way to Rebellion (Aliens vs. Predator and Rogue Trooper).
Leaked Star Wars Battlefront 3 footage
The game looked as though it was shaping up nicely and whilst the running animations seem a little forced, the actual space combat sequences look extremely fun. Taking off and flying over the planet, into space and landing on a massive ship. The sense of scale in Battlefront 3 looks much bigger than Battlefront 2 and hopefully like Brutal Legend this game will also land on its feet.
Another game that faced the axe of Activision was of course Ghostbusters, yes; there was apparently no potential in that title either. They'd rather stick with Banjo and Kazooie (and we all know how well that did)
Gamespot ran this story at the time:
"Brutal Legend, Ghostbusters, more dropped by Activision
Publisher passes on a slew of Vivendi Games' in-development titles; 50 Cent, World in Conflict: Soviet Assault, Wet also affected.
Earlier today, Activision Publishing announced a streamlining of its Vivendi Games operations, saying it would be bringing into the fold five of that company's franchises: Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Ice Age, Prototype, and one unannounced game.
An Activision representative later confirmed for GameSpot that those would be the only Vivendi Games franchises coming out of the publisher. That leaves a number of high-profile projects in limbo, including Double Fine Productions' Brutal Legend, as well as Wet, Ghostbusters, Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena, World at Conflict: Soviet Assault, 50 Cent Blood on the Sand, Zombie Wranglers, Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust, as well as several Xbox Live Arcade titles."
Ghostbusters fortunately landed safely with a new publisher Atari. Several titles are uncertain at the moment and no amount of digging can discover the information, A2M still lists Wet (a 3rd person action game) to be released in 2009. The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is heading to the 360 via Atari again, who were canny enough to realise that whilst sequel potential might be light, Riddick is a big enough name/game to draw fans of the original back for a second outing and with a total rebuild of the game promised by developer: Starbreeze, we can't wait.
There are at least some happy endings for certain developers, who have been picked up by different publishers and I'm sure the folks from Free Radical will reform somewhere else and filter back into the game industry: much like Black Isle when they became Obsidian Entertainment.
If you can hit the right stride with sequels, I am sure there are plenty of potential buyers who will snap it up as if it were the next best thing to a mountain of chocolate. Franchises like Halo seem to blast on regardless and Gears of War has made a second outing already. I'm sure we'll see a third and perhaps a fourth since Cliff Blezinski seems to still have stories to tell on Serra or in that Universe.
Sequels are very rarely as good as the first, but there are a few that are exceptionally better. Saints Row 2 for instance is a league beyond the original in every single way. Gears 2 builds on Gears 1 and is more like Gears 1.5 in several ways but still an excellent game. Halo 3 was fun but didn't quite hit the impact that the original Halo had. Fable 2 was Fable for the Xbox 360 with a few things added, again though in our opinion it delivered a substantially better game. Fallout 3 was a fantastic jump from isometric 3d and into a full blown first person/third person post apocalyptic nightmare - brilliant and gritty with a massive world to explore. It is a shining example of how a sequel can be better than the first two games by making a radical change to the original game design and implementation.
On the downside, you get endless repetitive clones of the same formula over and over again. Take Lord of the Rings, the hack-slash games across all three movies, these were the perfect example of sequel-itis and they appeared as a license to print cash. Yet somewhere the gamers wised up and said no thanks, we'll go off and buy something else that's more interesting. We'll go and buy something that's not a rehash of the last game with a few more bits of voice acting and an extra level or two.
Original IP's run the risk of failing to take of course, or generating derision from game reviewers/critics alike because they fail to live up to some mythical standard that has been set in their minds, plus it also gives them bigger ratings if they rip on a game other people like. Dead Space is a prime example of a game that's not scary, it's not even frightening. It is however, disturbing, well scored and extremely well paced and if you bother to delve into it provides around 12 to 14 hours of monster blasting fun with the best sound/special effects for spacewalking in a vac-suit yet. I have a feeling that there's a sequel on the horizon and this disturbs me at some level, since I really don't want to see the game turn into another clone fest.
And that's the crux of the matter, when you're playing with sequels you have only so much you can do to make them different. Turning an isometric RPG into a fps/third person RPG was a dangerous move that worked out well for Bethesda and Fallout 3. I wonder what Mass Effect 2 will be like, perhaps they'll stun us and make the Normandy more than just a hub level to port from place to place in with a cut-scene, perhaps it might actually move through space this time and gods forbid we'd be allowed to pilot it. If we could, this would certainly secure my interest in the game - story can take us only so far and after a while I want to see an end to the story and something new.
Eidos, take note: Tomb Raider has run its course, rebooting it might work - it seems to have helped Ubisoft with Prince of Persia and gave the Batman movies a new lease of life.
Until next time, there won't be a sequel to this article!