Ten Franchises Saved by Sequels
You know, all our talk about “Metro: Last Light” got me thinking: many franchises stumble in their original form, only to find their footing and definition through perceptive hindsight and a polished sequel. I’m not saying “Metro” is necessarily destined to be one, that’s still anyone’s call at this point, but I thought it’d be fun to list the top ten franchises that needed a sequel to really get off the ground. In order, of course, from least miraculous reinvention to most.
Hit the jump to see it.
10. Uncharted. The original “Uncharted” was a fun, involving game that created some buzz. The sequel, “Among Thieves,” absolutely set Xbox owners’ teeth a-chattering. In this case, the prestige bump came not from any one thing, but a general polish that brought out the core strengths of the series to be more plainly seen. Adding a workable multiplayer component didn’t hurt, but I wouldn’t say Nathan Drake has ever seriously challenged Master Chief in the realm of deathmatch. This victory was won with a stellar, Hollywood-action-flick campaign carried off with outstanding writing and acting. For my money, “Uncharted 2″ remains the crown jewel of the exclusive PS3 titles.
9. Mass Effect. The original “Mass Effect” was a very good game, haunted by the prospect of being a great one. Technological limitations and excess RPG baggage forced the title short of the greatness it seemed destined for. With “Mass Effect 2,” Bioware came back with a vengeance and delivered a stone-cold stunner. At first some (myself included) balked at the over-simplification of the RPG elements, but this ballsy approach proved the right one. “Mass Effect,” as a franchise, is about choice and consequence, not inventory management.
8. Silent Hill. The original “Silent Hill” was certainly a frightening and effective horror game, but much like “Uncharted,” the sequel launched the franchise into a different stratosphere by sharpening the fundamentals. The biggest development was in the area of story: the original was dominated by a fairly standard demon possession tale, but the sequel ventured off into a truly existential nightmare. The incredibly unnerving Pyramid Head became an iconic villain, with good reason, and the franchise became known as the first horror series to set its mind on something deeper than Satanic cults.
7. Just Cause. The original “Just Cause” was, by all accounts, a forgettable attempt to capitalize on the sandbox frenzy of the early 00′s. “Just Cause 2,” whose very existence was something of a surprise, decided to mark out its turf by going balls-to-the-wall, and against all odds, it worked. By embracing the B-movie at the heart of the franchise, Avalanche Studios resurrected a seemingly worthless IP and made something of it. GTA would never dare to give its protagonist an all-powerful grappling hook, or let them straddle a fighter jet in mid-air, so that’s exactly what they did. “Just Cause 2″ succeeded by willfully reinventing itself as the nutcase cousin to Rockstar. Smart move.
6. Killzone. It’s hard to start on a worse foot than “Killzone.” Unfairly hyped by Sony as its “Halo” killer, the original title floundered under monumental expectations and Microsoft fan-boys who loved to hate it. Undaunted, Guerilla Studios ate their peas and came back for seconds, delivering a surprisingly muscular, fun sequel that silenced even the most hardened critics and earned them a seat at the big boy table. “Killzone” may never win any awards for originality, but the franchise has iron in its veins, and it’s got the graphical horsepower to put “Halo” to shame and make “Gears of War” sweat bullets.
5. Battlefield: Bad Company. It seemed brilliant at first: a “Battlefield” title made with the consoles in mind. Unfortunately, miscalculations like an all-powerful, life-restoring syringe neutered the campaign, and the multiplayer never took off in its own right. DICE wisely learned from their mistakes, and with “Bad Company 2,” delivered the pedigreed, sophisticated answer to “Call of Duty’s” crass populism. Destructible environments, challenging vehicular combat, and class-based gameplay made “Battlefield” the choice of the discerning gamer. Let the frat boys keep their “Modern Warfare.”
4. Hitman. The original “Hitman” was a success of art direction, and little else. IO Interactive found a look, a tone, and a winning protagonist, but they failed to master the tricky landscape of stealth gameplay. Going forward, they must have known they needed to rise to the greatness of their material, and put off the clumsy mistakes of their first attempt. “Hitman 2: Silent Assassin” featured a deeper story, better thought-out gameplay, and the confident grace of an author who had found their voice. It became not only their flagship series, but a high water mark for game design with more on its mind than mindless slaughter.
3. Burnout. The original “Burnout” barely made itself known; the sequel could not possibly be ignored. Criterion’s first entry was like an aimless rough draft: they knew they wanted cars to go fast and look pretty, but the punishing and ultimately bland gameplay left many out in the cold. For “Burnout 2: Point of Impact,” they decided to up the mayhem by adding a new “Crash Mode” that incentivized the player for wrecking their ride, even fetishizing the disastrous results in slow-motion replays. Aside from being wickedly fun, Crash Mode was a symbolic gesture: it told the world what “Burnout” was and why they should care about it. In a world of self-serious “Forza”s and “Gran Turismo”s, “Burnout” is the blazing-fast giggle fest that brings out your inner maniac. The franchise went from 0 to 60 in one title, paving the way for “Burnout 3: Takedown,” which would solidify Criterion’s place in the upper echelon of racing titles.
2. Assassin’s Creed. Few games have ever failed more spectacularly than “Assassin’s Creed.” After building an almost mythical amount of buzz before release, the game itself was a surprisingly deflating and mundane experience, full of repetitive missions and a clumsy story. Ubisoft took the reaction seriously, and came back with “Assassin’s Creed II,” which largely succeeded in wiping away the bitter taste of the original. Although AC remains quirky and somewhat flawed to this day, AC2 showed that Ubisoft listened to criticism and took it seriously. As a result, “Assassin’s Creed” continues to thrive today.
1. Red Dead. Rockstar inherited “Red Dead Revolver” half-finished, and bravely attempted to see it across the finish line. The result was a rare miss for the studio, politely ignored by their customers while they eagerly awaited a new GTA. Apparently chagrinned and dissatisfied, Rockstar dived right back into the Western genre, hell-bent on producing the first masterpiece of the form. Although many scratched their heads at first, the resulting “Red Dead Redemption” was a flat-out classic that put its brethren in Liberty City to shame. In story, gameplay, graphics and presentation, RDR trumps any other competitor in the sandbox genre and stands alone as a modern masterpiece. Oddly, “Redemption” shares no link, either in gameplay or story, with the original, and one cannot help but wonder why Rockstar persisted in keeping the name. Perhaps it was a matter of pride: they wore their failure proudly, as a reminder to themselves and others of the tenacity with which they pursue excellence.