Or am I just getting grumpier? It's difficult to broach the subject of whether or not a sequel to a game is of lesser quality than the original: So much is dependent on the very nature of sequels, and how there will always be diminishing returns from those same beats and nuances that were once so powerful in their (relative) originality. When a game's sequel is functionally identical, perhaps excepting a few bells and whistles and a whole new plot, does it not immediately pale in comparison to its forebear? Is it possible that a sequel can be better from a purely mechanical perspective, and were one to play the sequel first instead it would be just as enjoyable an experience, if not more so?
It's these sorts of dilemmas that make it tricky for me (and professional game critics too, I can only imagine) to objectively rate a new game in a franchise with a strong pedigree if it decides to stay the course and make no major changes, lest those changes disturb that winning formula in some way. When a flawed - but still decent enough to be worthy of a sequel - game takes strides to improve everything that was wrong and belt out an amazing sequel that fixes almost everything, such was the case with Dark Cloud 2 or Pikmin 2 for example, it receives well-deserved accolades aplenty for a job well done. There should be no such brownie points for just treading water with a franchise, though, I believe.
So I'm going to talk about a few of the games I've played this year that were direct sequels. There was no shortage of those in 2011, fortunately for this blog post if unfortunate for other reasons. This also raises the question about why I keep setting myself up for disappointment by playing sequels, but I digress.
It's currently perceived as entirely too trendy to underrate the newest adventure of Messrs. Drake and Sullivan, as many publications have been wont to do of late. For the record, setting aside my own issues with this game for a moment, I agree with Brad's 5-star rating for this game. I've always perceived a 5-star rated game as one you could happily recommend to a complete stranger who had never played a video game before. If you'd never played an Uncharted game before, UC3 is entirely capable of rocking you like a hurricane.
My own personal problems with this game are both legion and insignificant, so I won't be going into too much detail in case I sound too much like a complainypants. Generally, I felt the traversal lacked some of its original player-friendly "I'll just fix that slightly off-angle jump for you" accuracy, I missed having that bonus achievement meta-game in the single player where'd you raise cash for multiplayer items and other bonus features, and that the online was completely closed off to me since I was a cheapskate for renting a 10 hour long game instead of buying it new. These are all minor complaints though, and could be countered by how the game cleverly used the character of Cutter in its marketing and later in the game itself, or the many set-pieces that were just as thrilling and cinematic as those in Uncharted 2.
However, the most self-evident and therefore damning thing I could say about this game was that I reached the conclusion of the story and did not want to jump back in on a higher difficulty. That was not the case with UC2, or even many lesser action-adventure games I'd played through twice or more before now. I had simply had my fill of this one. I don't know what that says, exactly, but it's probably not positive.
I'm not just picking on games Brad's given 5 stars to, just to be clear here. But inFamous 2 is, like Uncharted 3, another sequel that didn't really do anything new and ultimately felt like a lesser product as a result. I could list my issues with the game again, but it's largely pointless: Most of them are either subjective (such as my inward sigh whenever large monsters appeared and I had to once again follow the unchanging routines to bring them down) or were evident in the first game (such as the flawed karma system) or both (Zeke).
I don't believe the second game was objectively better. I think there were more than a few missteps here and there, but also there were several balance fixers and an attempt to meet the fans' requests that Cole have more fights with bigger monsters and other supervillains. It might well vary from person to person.
Just so I'm not torturing myself with wondering if these sequels are fine and I'm just being weirdly dismissive of them with crazyperson accusations, I'll move onto a sequel that was unanimously considered worse for many of the same reasons I have for disliking the ones listed above: Simply that they seemed to have been rushed to meet the crushing demands and expectations that the former game's development didn't have to languish under, while it was still a new (or yet unproven) IP. While many confess to liking this game, myself included, it's a mere shadow of its original in almost every aspect: Story, characters, combat (possibly debatable: I could not abide the Gauntlet-style enemy spawning, personally) and the overall diminished level of complexity.
However, and this might undermine the point I've been making so far, Dragon Age 2 was a sequel that did decide to do things markedly different to its ancestor in an attempt to stand out. So maybe treading water is the ideal solution after all, especially if the only other option is drowning.
I'm just going to end with one game that took pains to embrace the gameplay philosophy of a highly regarded but fairly ancient (in terms of how fast game technology seems to age at least) PC game. Human Revolution, I felt, did a spectacular job in bringing Deus Ex to the current generation: It was just as happy to change aspects of the original Deus Ex to bring it up to modern standards as it was to simply ape what endeared the 2000 game to so many. Of all the sequels I played this year, this was probably my favorite. Or Dark Souls.
I've probably not blown anyone's minds with a diatribe about how sequels are kind of bad, but I do wonder why it seemed so much more pronounced this year. Video game sequels frequently surpass their originals, due in part to fixing up mechanical issues and listening/responding to complaints, so this recent spate is a little dispiriting. Maybe I am just imagining it though.
Thanks for reading one duder's 1000-word-long "what is video game" existential crisis, and please feel free to state your opinions on the games I've mentioned and how you believe they stack up against their precursors. No seriously, do that, because I'm feeling like a jaded pessimist at the moment.
EDIT: Okay, taking into account the comments and "this was a good sequel" contributions of many dissenting and (thankfully) polite GBers, I'll briefly go over all the other sequels I played this year:
Dead Space 2 - Fine game, did everything a sequel was supposed to in terms of expanding the world and fixing some of the issues people had with the first game. If I have any reservations, they're about how much of the larger plot is being directed by the various spin-offs and multimedia. I'm wondering how long it'll take for the video games to start directly referencing important events from those sources. Not a real complaint, I'll readily acknowledge.
Portal 2 - Had pacing issues, because it was so much larger, but overall a great game and worthy sequel.
Arkham City - Actually preferred this to the original, but perhaps for the wrong reasons (I enjoyed the highly expanded Riddler/Side-Quest stuff).
Saints Row 3 & Skyrim - I'll be joining a great many of you in playing these games to death when they show up next week and after.
Witcher 2 - Still dying to play this. It'll either involve waiting until I get a PC, or until that 360 port shows up.
I think my chief error (among many, perhaps) was that the phrasing of the name of this blog post made it sound like an incendiary generalization. Of course not every sequel this year was disappointing, and if there were some that--subjectively--failed to deliver, it's only because of the sheer number of them made it statistically probable. I'm just blanking on why these particular ones didn't appeal as much as their originals did, when so many others were as awesome if not better this time around.
So yeah, next week I'm going back to my goofy nonsense topics and knocking it off with my poorly thought out rabble-rousing. Also comics!
(Probably helps if you've seen this first)
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception