There’s something I’ve been noticing as I slowly descend into a life that is mostly dominated by watching things or playing things. There is a pattern to sequels or, more specifically, how sequels have to work for them to have any chance of success. For a change, it isn’t actually the fault of the developers/publishers here, though – they don’t have a choice.
After a good/successful game (or movie or TV series), there is a reasonably good chance of a sequel. Hell, the game doesn’t even need to be that good/successful sometimes, for reasons about which we can only speculate, and still get a sequel. The thing is, if this game is successful, a sequel has to stay true to it’s prequel but also manage to innovate and change as it does so. This, as you might imagine/have noticed, is a difficult thing to do in something that has achieved huge success and a lot of praise from gamers/movie-goers and critics.
Take, for example, Modern Warfare (I am aware that I keep using Modern Warfare as an example, I’ll do my best not to in future, honest). MW was received with huge amounts of praise from everywhere. It was credited with revolutionising both single player and multiplayer in the FPS genre (and, to be fair, it did), people even went so far as to claim it had perfected the multiplayer FPS. Sales exploded, money just rained down on Activision’s face and suddenly something far greater in number than just a fanbase sprung up. The game practically created the term ‘spectacle’ as far as FPS’ go and demolished all competition for a long time.[drop]So, where were they going to go after that? Treyarch didn’t stand a chance. Already deep into World at War’s development, they must’ve known that taking the CoD series away from its sudden modern setting was going to upset a huge chunk of this new following but there wasn’t really much they could do about that. Whilst they added a cooperative zombie mode and vehicles in multiplayer, they couldn’t quite match the sudden leap that had occurred with the previous game in the series.
However, Infinity Ward could have done something. But they didn’t. They’d already reached what was often considered twitch-shooting perfection – the controls were responsive, the graphics stood up reasonably well for the time, the multiplayer was superb – there was nowhere to go. And so we get to that rule when it comes to sequels: more.
Instead of innovating with Modern Warfare 2, they just added more of their previous innovations. Suddenly it’s difficult to play too much single player without a slow motion assault on a room cropping up twice, the reasonably good storyline in Modern Warfare was suddenly ramped-up to a storyline so convoluted and ineptly told that people were no longer playing the storyline as they were just the levels. Multiplayer was given customisatable killstreaks, which was probably the best innovation in the game but still just amounted to adding more killstreaks.
This more rule is present in a great many other games, too. Take God of War, for example. The first game was an excellent story – a Greek tragedy is in amongst all the limb ripping and head crushing, and this game, again, is often credited with getting the hack ‘n’ slash genre down perfectly. It’s difficult to find a big game in the same genre that doesn’t feel like God of War and isn’t compared to God of War ever since. So from this, where could the series move on to? More. Not a single person I’ve met thinks the story through the rest of the trilogy is as strong as the storyline of the first game, but everyone is pretty much in agreement that the game got gorier, the scale got even bigger and the action got more and more insane. An easy example is to compare the first boss in the first game (three-headed hydra) with the first boss in the third game (the God, Poseidon).
The theme is not limited to games, either. Heroes’ (the American TV programme) first series was huge, with a good storyline full of genuine intrigue and, whilst the following series were still good, they generally just got more convoluted, bigger in scale and more new people with fancy powers. Take any film series and I’ll bet its sequels just amount to ‘more’. Both the Lord of the Rings books and films do the same thing; the Two Towers has a huge amount more conflict than the Fellowship of the Ring, with more battles that feature more troops being an obvious example.[drop2]Is this bad? When I get a God of War game I expect more God of War, and when I get Call of Duty I expect Call of Duty, so no, it’s not always a bad thing. I buy a sequel to a game because I want more from that series. However, it isn’t always good. Modern Warfare (again) is a prime example (again). It’s almost universally agreed that the series is stagnating, that there hasn’t really been any meaningful changes to Call of Duty since Modern Warfare 2, perhaps even Modern Warfare depending on how you define meaningful.
It’s pretty easy to pinpoint why, even ignoring the things mentioned above it’s probably not ideal for a new game in a series to release every year. It has to be difficult to make any meaningful changes in time frames as short as the CoD developers have between releases – though I could be wrong considering that they seem to be using the same engine every damn time. Another reason could be that it’s just far too risky to really change the formula. A big change going wrong in a series that is as wildly successful as Call of Duty could possibly have some very negative repercussions. Personally, I would imagine that Activision wouldn’t be too crazy about changing the game too much.
So all this boils down to there being a right way and a wrong way to make sequels. The wrong way would be to just offer more of what you already had and do nothing else, whilst the right way – the way that, if you remember, brought Call of Duty to the world-conquering behemoth it is today – is to mix things up. Make changes, innovate whilst finding a way to keep true to the series. Good luck with that, the fanboys await your decisions, frothing at the mouth.