Unlike movie sequels, videogame sequels are superior to their predecessors much more often than not. Even a game like Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – which was released just one year after its predecessor – went on to become regarded by many as the resplendent pinnacle of the series, and our brief hands-on time with Uncharted 3’s multiplayer component (at this year’s E3) demonstrated that many of today’s top-tier developers are commendably uninterested in simply giving us all more of the same old thing. Despite those stellar odds, there have been quite a few recent occasions in which the warm glow of the original IP was simply too blinding, and below is a short list of some of the most notable. They were all widely touted (at the time of release) as being largely superior, but nothing boots hype in the groin like retrospect…
5. Dead Rising 2
With its ramped-up emphasis on both humour and story, Dead Rising 2 was better than its predecessor in so very many ways. The addition of two extra save-slots was a godsend – as was the inclusion of intermittent auto-saves after the tent-pole missions – the ability to create hybrid weapons was a masterstroke and the co-op mode was a right-on blast. But those smart alterations aside, the game suffered somewhat from sticking far too rigidly to the formula of the first game, and from not having the loveable, enigmatic idiot Frank West as its hero. Chuck Green was a far more sympathetic (and more conventional) protagonist, but in ditching Frank West the sequel lost a significant measure of its predecessor’s mischievous pizzazz. Dead Rising 2: Off The Record (due in October) remains eagerly awaited, as much for its new content as for the return of that inimitable doofus.
4. Devil May Cry 3
The original Devil May Cry was one of the best games on the PS2. The first sequel’s primary misjudgement – alongside a simplified control scheme and an over-reliance on precision jumping – was that it inexplicably dulled the difficulty down to a near-elementary tier. Following that calamitous misfire, Devil May Cry 3 felt like an invigorating, energized apology, and it’s a sequel that’s better than the first game in almost every department… until you get to (roughly) the game’s halfway point, and the difficulty skyrockets into thumb-knackering sadism. It was already a difficult game to begin with, but the level of punishment that you’re dealt in the second half frankly beggars belief. This is because for some baffling reason – especially given Japan’s fondness for absurdly precise ‘Bullet Hell’ shmups – Capcom made the Eastern ‘Hard’ mode the Western ‘Normal’ one. This was remedied when a Special Edition was released a few months later, but it was a fruitless gesture; the damage was done.
3. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
When you return to Metal Gear Solid 2 today, even though the element of surprise is gone (dismantling the power of its plot twists) the game’s story remains as thrillingly bold and unusual as it did at the time. But its bounty of clever-clever narrative knots and wrinkles make the gameplay feel somehow more lightweight and throwaway than it did in the seminal original, and although it’s far more adventurous than most big-budget sequels would ever dare to be, it occasionally feels more like an experiment than a fully-rounded proposition. Those thoughtful tinkerings definitely paid off though; parts 3 and 4 were both stunning. Backside-paralysing cutscenes and all.
2. Halo 2
Halo: Combat Evolved may have revolutionised the first-person shooter forever, and it may have played an integral part in ensuring that Microsoft’s original Xbox stayed above water after its somewhat shaky launch, but Halo 2’s impact on the world of the online multiplayer shooter can’t possibly be underestimated either. That breathtaking multiplayer aside, Halo 2’s campaign was an enjoyable romp that became (in much the same fashion as Metal Gears Solid 2) bogged down by its own off-kilter ideas. The levels which saw you controlling the Arbiter rather than Master Chief were more enjoyable in theory than in practice, and the half-baked cliffhanger ending – which was a result of stringent time constraints – was pronounced unsatisfying even by Bungie themselves. On balance Halo 2 was probably more important and influential than almost every other game on the Xbox; but it still wasn’t quite Combat Evolved.
1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Modern Warfare 2 is the prime example of a terrific videogame that was also an inferior sequel. It may have brought in a few new features, a bigger budget and it may have ended up making a lot more money than its predecessor did, but for many fans the comparably sober (and much less bombastic) premier offering remains the untouchable zenith of the Call of Duty franchise. However enjoyable Modern Warfare 2 was – and it most certainly was that – it was shorter, it was easier and its plot was considerably more mindless and daft. The decision to include so many sky-based killstreak rewards also made the online multiplayer component both intimidating and confusing on occasion, and particularly for newcomers. Those Spec Ops missions were an utter joy though, and Part 3 remains eagerly awaited.
Watch the Modern Warfare 3 ‘Spec Ops’ trailer here: