lundi 24 septembre 2012

Sequels, hype and disappointment

In exactly 5 days*, Gearbox Software's Borderlands 2 will be released, and masses of gamers will flock game shops and websites to get their hands on a copy. In a way, I'll be one of them, since I've pre-ordered it back in June, when Canadian electronic store Future Shop had a E3 sale (4 E3-showcased games for the price of 3). However, as much hype as I have for Borderlands 2 - and I have a lot, since I love Borderlands so much it has a spot deeper in my gamer heart than any game this generation, even better ones - I couldn't help but think about the other over-hyped sequels of the past few years and get worried a bit.

Why? Because developers know sequels usually have a lot to live up to, and often try very hard (too hard?) to live up to their expectations and, even worse, gamers' expectations. And even when the critics applaud the sequel, giving it the same grade - or better - than the prequel, I usually find the original better.

The usual route for a sequel is "Bigger is better" where more explosions/guns/missions/treachery/quests/bigger boss fights/maps/powers/monsters/characters/fights/etc. means the game will likely be better. It is clearly not that simple.

Take, for example, inFamous, the 2009 PS3-exclusive open-world title where you play Cole McGrath, riddled with electric superpowers and has to choose whether he'll be good or evil towards citizens of Empire City while completing his missions. When inFamous 2 hit in 2011, with huge bosses, more powers, allies with other types of power (Ice & Fire), more varied enemies and less repetitive missions, most people thought it was a LOT better than the original. I didn't. Of course it had objectively more to offer, but more isn't necessarily better. I felt somewhat connected to the dark, unenthusiastic Cole of the first game, clearly not happy with the situation he was stuck in. The enemy, Kesler, was also a lot more interesting than "The Beast".

The same thing could be said of a lot of sequels. Only this generation, I thought Modern Warfare was vastly superior to both its sequels and Assassin's Creed II a lot better than Brotherhood (haven't tried Revelations). I also liked Arkham Asylum more than Arkham City (although City is objectively a superior game that I loved), enjoyed LittleBigPlanet more than LBP2 (still excellent though), Bioshock more than Bioshock 2 (superb as well), etc. And in some cases the sequel impossibly proved equal to the original, as we have seen with Portal 2 or Super Mario Galaxy 2. But in most cases, the original retains the new-IP "naïve" and "true" feeling of the game.

Why? I think it's because the first game usually has a LOT less expectations, and developers work almost without pressure (from the publisher, from the fans, from the critics and journalists, etc.) and put together a product closer to what they actually wanted to make. It will sound clichéd, but the original game seemingly comes from the heart and not the brain. Whereas there's too much "brain" in the sequels, and the final product often looks like an uneven mix of players' expectations and media pressure.

And I'm pretty sure that, in some cases, the sequel wasn't planned when the first game hit the shelves. And it shows. A lot more than what the developers were probably hoping. It seems like many of them decided to make a second game just because the first one worked, and not because the story or universe was meant to be continued or otherwise exploited.

*NOTE : This was actually written - almost all of it - 5 days before BL2 came out. It has been out for a week, I've played it for a few hours and really enjoyed it. More on that soon!

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