New and refreshing ideas for games are hard to come by. To design a playable and engaging title that stands up on its own is a tough thing to do for any game developer. As a result, game creators are often forced to play it safe, boxing up re-hashed existing concepts and charging 60 bucks a pop to suckers across the nation. This is grade-A bullshit. Whenever I stumble across a truly new and unique game that plays well, the inner-cynic in the back of my mind always wonders, “How are they going to butcher this one”? Well, the answer usually ends up being, “With a rushed, sub-par sequel of course.”
There’s this pervasive idea within our society that every piece of entertainment that does somewhat well must have a sequel or spinoff. But … why? Not to get on a soapbox, but it’s because most (though not all) game developers want to milk every penny out of a decent game premise until it’s nothing but a pitiable shell of what it once was. Money talks, and when it comes down to cash vs. creativity, cash is king.
Not all sequels are a bad idea, of course. There are plenty of examples of sequels done right. “Half Life Two,” often considered one of the greatest shooters of all time, is a prime example of how to capitalize on a successful title and at the same time, introduce new and refreshing game content. Its groundbreaking visuals and game physics made it a template for all games to come. The game scored perfect reviews across the board.
So, how was “Half Life Two” different from other failed sequels? For one, Valve took their time with it. Six years to be exact. If a developer isn’t spending more than three years on a sequel, chances are it’s going to blow. Development time aside, one of the best things that Valve did for the “Half Life” series is … let it be. No, I’m not quoting the heart-warming Paul McCartney ballad. Valve simply stopped making “Half Life’s,” preserving the series’ greatness for all eternity. To this day there are no plans for any future sequels, and that’s just fine with me.
Sure, “Half Life” was a great example how to make a series that successfully preserved its dignity, but let’s look at the far more popular route of approaching the concept of “sequel making.”
Years ago, “Call of Duty” was the “game to have.” The original “Modern Warfare” was the best thing since sliced bread when it came out. I’ll admit that after experiencing the genius that was “COD’s” groundbreaking multiplayer, I wanted more, and Infinity Ward delivered, with one of the greatest console shooters of this decade, “Modern Warfare 2.” Whilst calling in airstrikes and helicopters to rain down hell upon my enemies, I was certain that there was nothing anyone could do to make such an unbelievable series “bad.” I was wrong.
What happened next was nothing short of a travesty. Instead of quitting while they were a head, Infinity Ward sold out, selling their game rights to gaming behemoth Activision, making “Call of Duty” the newest “assembly line” game. The most recent re-hashed and uninspired “Call of Duty” titles have literally ruined the series’ good name.
Now, logging on to a game of “Modern Warfare 3″ is like checking into a daycare with guns. Most of the original fans have abandoned ship, leaving you playing with a bunch of 10-year-olds with no short supply of racial slurs and pre-pubescent screams to fully ruin your multiplayer experience. Activision cashed in though, and they couldn’t care less about the fact that they ravaged the Mona Lisa of multiplayer shooters for a quick buck.
It’s the same story for “Halo.” Remember when it was a cool game? Yea, it’s been a while – since “Halo 2″ to be exact. Now, three half-assed jokes of a game later, the “Halo” series has lost all of its magic. I laughed my ass off when I heard that “Halo 4″ was in production under a different developer. Apparently Bungie knew that they had finally siphoned all of the “soul” that they could out of that game, and passed the leavings off to another company.
With “Diablo 3″ coming out in just four short days, I’m confronted with the prospect of a botched sequel, one which may tarnish one of the greatest games of all time. I’m keeping positive though. The game’s been in production for 10 years … how could you screw up a game in that amount of time? (Insert Duke Nukem argument here.) Regardless, the destructive power of the sequel is something that people really don’t seem to put enough thought into. See your lawmakers, march on the streets. Together, let’s make game sub-standard game sequels a thing of the past.
Andrew Lahr is a creative writing major by day, gamer by night. Email questions, comments and column ideas to [email protected]