Banner by ERICVOLTAGE
One of the greatest joys as an avid gamer is the discovery of a brand new IP that delivers the right mix of charm, character, gameplay, and atmosphere to mark it as an instant classic. Like Watch Dogs...or maybe wait for something more promising perhaps.
It also helps if the game ends up a success financially, because that tends to show publishers that there's money to be made off of these new IPs, because a sequel, with its various graphical and mechanical improvements, would make this already great experience even more awesome, right? You can see fine examples of this working with sequels such as Uncharted 2, Sonic 2, Resident Evil 2 and Silent Hill 2, but some follow ups get it terribly wrong and they shatter your heart by changing too much, or perhaps not changing enough. They aren't always even bad games, just a steip step down from the game you fell in love with.
Below are my top five sinful sequels that offended my personal tastes, though they are certainly not the only ones I've encountered...
To make this list a bit simpler, only the first direct sequels of original games are eligible for my list. So, for example, I didn't 'forget' how rubbish Resident Evil 5 or 6 are - I could only pick Resident Evil 2 (and anyone who thinks that was subpar deserves a lifetime of mandatory micro-transaction payments to Capcom).
The Original: was a tense, violent game, where convict James Earl Cash was forced to murder his way out of a snuff film director's psycho-riddled obstacle course in order to save himself and his loved ones from grisly death.
Along the way, Cash killed the nutjobs roaming the 'sets' in various brutal and graphic ways for the director's perverse pleasure - something which caused massive controversy in the mainstream media, who largely failed to see the game as anything but a 'death simulator'. Truth is it was a fine exploration of morality by Rockstar; you were given the simple choice of fighting or dying, and that was ramped up as you progressed. Not only that, but Manhunt also had decent stealth, a perfect soundtrack and audio design, and atmosphere in spades.
The Successor: took away much of the morality that made its predecessor work, and just let you kill because the game's protagonist wasn't right in the head, thus vindicating all those uptight damp cardigans who bleated about the first game's senseless violence. The shift in premise also removed a lot of the tension and impact (thanks to copious amounts of censoring), creating a watered-down version of the original that somehow stepped backward in level design and A.I., plus it has one of the most feeble names for a protagonist I can remember - Danny Lamb (!?). Pfft, might as well have called him Crap Bag.
Still a better name for a main character than Danny Lamb
Far Cry 2
The Original: was an expansive island playground FPS that pitted you against soldiers and genetic experiments. Think Island Of Doctor Moreau meets Commando and you are halfway there.
Far Cry was immensely fun and quite replayable, as you could choose to take on enemies using various methods - something quite normal to see nowadays, but exciting and fresh a decade ago. It also happened to be the first game to use Crytek's powerful CryEngine -an engine that lay the foundation for future iterations that ultimately led to the graphical powerhouse Crysis.
The Successor: put an arm round the mutanty, jungley madness of Far Cry and politely informed it that its services were no longer required, but that as a leaving present and apology they'd give it Instincts to go a bit daft with.
In its place came the fresh-faced intern with a penchant for contracting malaria, jamming weapons, and shunning the use of mutants. Sure, it had the basics of Far Cry down, and the map maker was complex but engrossing; it was just that it sadly traded in the lush jungle and sparkling sea for a very brown, mostly barren, African landscape with an implemented Malaria mechanic that forced you to take medicine sporadically just so your vision didn't become that of a short-sighted man with a migraine, having lemon curd slathered on his eyeballs. Or it stopped you dying. I was never entirely sure.
Luckily, it didn't kill the franchise. Far Cry 3 swooped in on a hang-glider of hope a few years later to re-install the daft joy into the series.
Deadlier than guns and Lions.
Devil May Cry 2
The Original: started life as a Resident Evil game that never was. The mighty team of Shinji Mikami and Hideki Kamiya (and the rest at Team Little Devils) turned that into a frantic slash-em-up, with a delicious layer of melted narrative cheese covering it.
Epic boss battles were complimented by a high-tempo soundtrack; the fast paced sword n' guns combat was made compelling thanks to a great style ranking system, and the one liners that were so bad they were actually brilliant (''Flock off feather face'' being a personal all-time favourite) gave it a cult appeal. Also, Dante was coolness personified.
It cried out for a sequel to continue down the path of ludicrous melodrama, and puppet-destroying.
The Successor: set off alarms immediately once it became clear that Mikami, Kamiya and Team Little Devils weren't involved with the project (much to the surprise of Kamiya, who was annoyed he hadn't been asked). It was already going to be a tough job to surpass the greatness of the first game, let alone match it, but Devil May Cry 2 ultimately failed to reach even its predecessor's ankles.
The winning gameplay formula regressed, creating a sub-par imitation that was heavy and uninspiring; the personality and creativity found in the previous characters, boss fights, and level design was drained.
Then there was the story, which was forgettable and seemed to pretend the first game hadn't existed, and the addition of a second playable character which added no real variety, effectively making you play the same levels twice.
Most importantly, it just didn't feel fun. You could argue the series has never really recovered, despite two further sequels and a reboot, but there can be no argument that this was the lowest point for the franchise. At least they didn't offend fans again after that...
Oh, that's right. They totally did...
The Original: was created by Naughty Dog, the makers of hit platformer Crash Bandic... hang on, I did this bit before. Bugger. Anyway, they decided to venture into proper 3D platforming for their PlayStation 2 debut, and produced a vibrant and charming world, and a pair of characters who get wheeled out to this day, despite the fact that neither have starred in a true sequel for nearly a decade.
Despite being riddled with the usual tropes of the platform genre, Naughty Dog's imagination and design had fashioned a fresh take on them, and installed the green-haired, pointy-eared boy and his wise-cracking/irritating Otsel friend as PlayStation heroes (and later in Playstation Heroes, but we try to forget that). It had a fine set of collectables, too - I never got tired of picking up these bad boys .
The Successor: was a poster-boy for sequels that are actually quite good but still manage to be massively disappointing. Jak II carried on from the proper ending of the original where they open up a portal and get thrust into a grim future. Jak gets captured, tortured, and experimented on, until that darned Otsel, Daxter, finally decides to save him.
So by that point, it seemed a bit darker in tone, but still like it'd be an expansion of the previous game and... Oh, Jak's got special Dark Eco powers that turn him into a 'roided-up, electric albino? Okay then. Well, there's still platforming i suppo- Ah, guns. A bit like Ratchet And Cla-... Oh come on! Stealing cars? Police? This is Grand Theft Jak! Only you can't find any pointy eared hookers or Jan Hammer on the soundtrack...
Jak II disappointed me because it felt like they shoehorned in all the wonderful things Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City had brought to the table (Naughty Dog implemented them well, to be fair), and left out what made The Precursor Legacy a great game.
For another example of a similarly excessive, gruff n' tuff darkening of a previously charming platformer, see Prince of Persia: Warrior Within.
The Original: was a game that featured heavily in Top 10 lists for the last console generation. BioShock was a title rightly applauded for its well-designed, underwater city of Rapture, twisty-turny plot, and its iconic Big Daddy and Little Sister characters. It asked interesting questions of its audience, and set a fresh precedent for narrative-driven shooters. I could add more, but the merits of BioShock have been heavily discussed already many times over. A sequel would have to be spectacular to even come close, then...
The Successor: needed something different. So how about a sequel where you play as the first Big Daddy? And it added Big Sisters - female versions of the Big Daddy? Sounds interesting right? It kind of is, but that wasn't really the problem for BioShock 2. The problem was the Shyamalan effect of expecting a new twist to out-twist the twisty twist of the previous outing, and instead damaging the surprise and freshness that made the original so iconic.
Returning to Rapture also proved less exciting now that you knew it, save for some short-but-sweet moments outside the city. If BioShock 2 had been a chunky DLC pack for the first game, then it would probably have been heralded as a fine addition. On its own, it was like going back to last night's pizza it looked the same, and was still palatable, but it didn't quite have the same flavour that you enjoyed yesterday.
Urgh! This doesn't have any fresh gameplay mechanics!
Any second installments that dashed your hopes against the rocky outcrop of disappointment? Leave a comment below. The best one wins a cookie.*
*Cookies not available in all (any) countries.
Why not read the previous entry where I choose five stunning sequels, it's far less cynical, I promise.