Year in Review: Videogame sequels continued to push boundariesWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Sequels, by and large, suck. Except in video games.
I’ve discussed this strange contrast in this column before — in any other form of media, a sequel is typically looked on as a blatant and shallow cash grab, trying to capitalize on the success of a previous title by hoping fans will shell out money to experience the same thing all over again. There are well-made and worthwhile follow-ups, of course, but they typically are the exception, not the rule.
Not so in gaming. For fans of interactive media, gaming sequels are something to be savored and embraced. Game sequels are expected to surpass their originals. As technology and programming skills evolve, designers cannot rest on their laurels if they expect players to continue to embrace their work. The end result is an ever-changing, growing, improving landscape.
2011 saw that landscape hit by a perfect storm. One classic sequel after another found its way to shelves during the year, giving gamers a chance to play some of the greatest games ever. So then, there was little doubt in my mind that Game Sequels were 2011′s Best Thing, Period in pop culture. Here are just a few of the experiences lucky players got to have in the space of just twelve months.
-Little Big Planet 2. The year began with one of the greatest platform experiences ever, coupled with one of the most impressive sets of player-creation tools ever. Players not only got to experience old-school side-scrolling action with a modern twist, they then got the chance to contribute to an ever-growing collection of user-generated content in an amazing variety of genres.
-Dead Space 2. One of the greatest horror games of all time, the follow-up to Visceral’s epic space thrill ride saw players get deeper insight into main protagonist Isaac Clarke as he battled both horrific monsters and his own growing madness. Containing some of the most intense battle sequences ever devised, truly disturbing imagery and first-rate production, the game set a high bar for both action and fear.
-Portal 2. The pressure for Valve Software to follow their classic-yet-short 2007 game with a new and fuller experience was tremendous. To say they rose to the challenge is like saying Michelangelo did “okay” with the Sistine Chapel. The end result was a title that felt like a full evolution of all the gaming concepts the first title introduced, with a more expansive world and narrative, wildly entertaining characters, devilishly clever puzzles and a cooperative mode that gave the franchise a whole new dimension.
-Infamous 2. One of gaming’s most criminally underrated franchises finally began to grab the attention it deserved in 2011 — first, Sony offered the original Infamous as a freebie to make amends to fans burned by the PlayStation Network debacle, then it released Sucker Punch’s tremendous sequel, which not only followed up on the original’s genre-bending storyline, it enhanced it with improved combat mechanics and great integration of user-generated levels.
-Batman: Arkham City. The first Arkham game gave players a sense of being Batman. The second completely put them in the Dark Knight’s shoes. Rocksteady’s superhero sequel set aside confining players to a single institution and instead opened up the world of Gotham City while still preserving the feel of a confined, desperate situation. Players experienced a richly realized universe filled with memorable moments, and even got to step into the leather-clad stilettos of Catwoman in the bargain.
-Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. The Game of the Year, VGAs be damned. Naughty Dog’s developers have consistently improved upon and pushed themselves in the creation of the greatest action series of all time, and this third installment only solidified their reputation further. More than any other series, the Uncharted games give gamers a sense of time, place and personality — who doesn’t want to be a globe-trotting, wise-ass hero like Nathan Drake? The game’s intense multiplayer is just gravy.
-The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. One of the most richly observed and rewarding worlds ever crafted, Bathesda’s fantasy follow-up has garnered widespread acclaim and adoration from critics and fans alike. Pity that the designer’s less-than-stellar handle of quality control lead to many PS3 owners being left out in the cold with a variety of game-breaking bugs.
-The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. It can be hard to argue that any of the Zelda games are truly “sequels,” per se, as I defy anyone to explain how each of these games actually fit into a continuity with any of the others. But as an ever-growing evolution of gameplay mechanics and epic fantasy, the Zelda series has given Nintendo owners a reason to rejoice for over 20 years. The latest iteration may have been its greatest yet, and the best (maybe only) reason to own a Wii this year.
Gamers were treated to an amazing array of stellar experiences. And, thanks to creators’ grasp on ever-evolving consumer expectations, the best are yet to come. For that reason above all others, it’s clear that Game Sequels were, far and away, 2011′s Best Thing, Period.