Note: WriOps is the intersection of writing and opinions on controversial topics in the gaming industry. The opinion of this article does not necessarily reflect the official opinions of NextLevel Gaming Online as an organization.
Note: This review features the communal opinions of NextLevel staff members Evan Macintosh and Travis Northern.
A lot of games have sequels.
Some games have a large number of sequels.
Some games have sequels upon sequels.
And some games don’t have any sequels.
Why is that? And what makes sequels, generally, a success versus failure?
I feel the definition of a sequel game has changed a significant amount this past five years at the very least. Comparing modern day to farther back, it has changed in an even more drastic fashion. Looking at many of the sequels that come out today, with one predominant example being the Call of Duty games, it just seems silly that they put out a “brand new” game annually. I don’t play Call of Duty frequently for that very reason, but from what I’ve heard the franchise is growing stale and becoming a very cookie-cutter game, especially with their many futuristic iterations. Their previous future games have all been described to me as “The Title Before This One: Now With More Robots”. This baffles me. It makes me wonder why you wouldn’t just save numerous resources to make it an expansion or DLC for a game that currently exists.
A sequel to a game should not just be the same old game with a different title, larger number, or better graphics. A sequel should be something familiar, yet different. Something that adds to a current story, or completely branches off , maybe even a back story, but not something like “Game 2, Part 2: Picking up Where you Left Off But With Not Enough Content To Make A Full Game”. For instance, Halo 2 was largely different than Halo CE primarily with regards to its visual effects, departing from the definite early 2000’s look to a sleek, new-decade look. I distinctly remember when Halo 2 came out, and after playing much Combat Evolved, that Halo 2 looked and felt so different, so much better, yet still the same. The same in that it was surely a Halo game, but different enough to make it a true sequel. The second one offered a rich new story that complimented the one laid out by the first one, it added a whole new cosmetic appeal to the franchise, it added new game play features such as dual-wielding and stealing vehicles, it added thrilling and emotional new music to the soundtrack, and it brought in whole new opportunities for fun and entertaining moments. The multiplayer was also ground-breaking as it pioneered online multiplayer with Xbox Live. Though it wasn’t the first game to be Xbox Live compatible, it was an addicting challenge that took the gaming community by storm with its unique and memorable maps alongside a collection of new weapons. Many hours of my childhood and high school years were spent around a TV with friends playing Halo 2.
Now, let’s compare this to something more recent like Battlefield 3 to 4.
What’s different about the story? Battlefield 4 takes place seven years after Battlefield 3 in the same conflict, but now the Chinese are joining the fight, making it a three-way war.
What’s different about the atmosphere? Battlefield 4’s graphics seem to have improved in texture quality, but the color palette seems to be a little more drab than Battlefield 3. While they did relinquish the series from the dreaded Blue Tint™ that plagued Battlefield 3, but the actual battle environment is much the same as its predecessor.
What’s new about the mechanics? For Battlefield 4 they implemented a new generation of their game engine that is still in use 4 years later. Granted this was a new engine generation, it did not vastly improve on the environment of the game. One of the most notable updates it brought to the franchise was the “Levolution” events in varying maps where large scale events such as a collapsing skyscraper or exploding gas pipeline could be triggered to alter the field of play.
A Second Opinion–Reliving the Glory Days
In addition to all of the criticisms about stunted sequels outlined thus far, I also would like to recognize one specific situation that seems to plague the creative industry in the age of the Internet. This is when a franchise becomes a victim of its own success. The Call of Duty franchise was already mentioned, so that’s worth using as an example.
In 2007, Call of Duty had a breakout premise on their hands with Modern Warfare. Subsequently, the studio built upon its success to create one of the most famous sequels ever made: Modern Warfare 2. The game was a vast expansion upon the original game’s ideas. The story was immersive, the controls were sharp, and the game play was riveting. However, the following years were a struggle for developer Infinity Ward. One of its founders left the company to join Activision. The other two founders were terminated. Without the same directors at the helm, 2011’s Modern Warfare 3 did nothing to push the boundaries of game design. Instead, the title was a copycat of its predecessor, providing essentially the same content the second time around. While it was still enjoyable, the growth series ground to a halt. The developers at Infinity Ward settled for safe over sorry in an emergency situation, and it resulted in a game without risks. Even the highest quality sequel must take risks, for better or for worse. True progress is always a form of unfamiliarity.
Nevertheless, it’s understandable to see why games might prefer to avoid risks in this era. In the age of the Internet, criticism is everywhere. Anyone with a computer can tell a developer where they think a franchise should go. More than likely, their ideas will conflict with the rest of the fan base, or with the needs of the developer. Thus, when developers take risks that lead to under-performing games, they’re constantly berated for it. Some members of the community feel they didn’t get the sequel they deserved, so they shame the new title by comparing it to its predecessor.
In short, I believe it’s our responsibility–whether we’re fans, critics, or fellow creators–to encourage risk-taking in video game development. We should applaud efforts to experiment, even if they don’t end well. None of this is implying that we should allow poor quality to slip by, but we should be mindful of how we express our opinions when a developer has made a bold choice. We can analyze games and point out faults without begging for them to return to an older formula. Even if it’s the objectively correct decision, we can still be emotionally neutral about the situation, using logic to support our arguments instead of capital letters and bolded words. If the gaming community is too vindictive, developers can feel threatened. They can easily become more and more motivated to produce remasters, copycats, and weak sequels in order to relive their glory days.
One thing that producers of creative media, from books to games to movies, seem to be shooting for is the “Trilogy”. What I mean by this is many studios don’t put out content with the intent of making it a really solid standalone piece of work. Especially with video game titles, it seems they try to aim for a trilogy of games by default and therefore lessen the content and its quality in the titles they publish, and if not a trilogy then just a constant pouring out of titles. This is annoying to me because what if the first game of an unannounced trilogy is published and it’s a total flop? What if the lack of quality results in a bad game? The studio then trying to put out the second game alone would be a challenge, since the community was disheartened by the disappointment that was the first game. Instead, they should write a story and create a universe that can fit into one game but leave it open to expansion. Then depending on the success of that game and its praise by critics you can move to develop its sequel. This can save a lot of backlash from disgruntled fans who are upset said rushed/incomplete title and could prevent nasty tarnishes to a developers reputation. Then when development of the sequel rolls around again the focus should be on the one game, not gimping its content to force a third or fourth installment.
Money can be enticing, but stigmas and track records in the gaming world spread fast. If a publisher is pumping out half-baked sequels, we as fans should take it upon ourselves to tell the developers and publishers how we feel. If we don’t like these shoddy attempts at successive games they need to know to do better, whether its with words or a lack in sales. Do they want to be known as that studio that is known for aggressively par games on an annual basis, or a superior stand alone game with ratings exceeding 90?
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