2015 is a year filled with big sequels such as Metal Gear Solid 5, Halo 5: Guardians and Fallout 4, just to name a few.
These could be the definitive entires of their series, but there are still many others being churned out each year for a quick buck. This wasn’t always the case, though. This past month we looked at the sequels that mattered, specifically those which evolved franchises by building upon their predecessors to deliver vastly superior gaming experiences.
Following on from our recent competition, below you will find our team’s personal picks for gaming’s greatest sequels!
While Resident Evil paved the way for the Survival Horror genre and laid an excellent foundation to build upon, it was Silent Hill which took psychological horror to an entirely different level. This wasn’t just a scary adventure filled with zombies and other monsters to overcome. Oh no, the enemy you’re faced with the town itself; or rather, a place that physically manifests the deepest, darkest emotions of those within. Everything terrible that occurs is personally driven by its inhabitants: there’s no heroes, just poor souls caught in a place where people can’t even hide from themselves.
For as much as I adored the first game, its lingering focus on occultists felt a bit cliche. It wasn’t until Silent Hill 2 that the real horror of Silent Hill was truly realised. Not only was the game improved in every way mechanically, but the psychology behind it was also masterfully crafted to tell one of the greatest narratives in gaming history. Instead of cults, conspiracies and demonic children, the horror was turned back onto the lead protagonist who is questionably a protagonist at all. There is no connection to the original apart from passing references and the nightmarish town itself.
Silent Hill 2 was essentially a blank slate which took everything incredible about the original to craft a horror experience well ahead of its time. James Sunderland returns to Silent Hill after receiving a message from his dead wife telling him to meet her at their ‘special place.’ However, once arriving he is faced with a persistent nightmare driven only by his refusal to accept reality. While playing, you never truly know what is real and what is not; or more importantly, who is real and who is not. Using the town as a tool, the game takes players deep within this tormented man’s soul. It’s surreal, it’s terrifying and it realised the potential of the plot device better than the original and any sequel that followed.
Unreal Tournament was, and still is, one of the greatest games ever made by human fingertips. You could run around as an alien cow and shoot people with buzzsaw guns in a spaceship mid-hyperspace, just to give you an idea of its excellence. To say it was a highlight of my childhood would be doing it a disservice because it was more than just a highlight, it was a god damned reel of excellent memories. While many consider it to be the best, UT2004 is better in almost every way.
UT2004 took what made the original frakkin’ sweet, from the hectic gameplay to the open maps, and just added onto it. Did you like the redeemer? Have an ion cannon! Fans of big maps? How about some more, and let’s throw some vehicles in there too! Let’s not forget the translocator, that’s still in there (telefrags included)! God, even the soundtrack was improved while keeping the original melodies intact. And let’s not forget, the key element to any good Unreal Tournament game was still very much present: Double jumping.
It was the good ol’ UT we knew and loved, but with some bitchin’ additions in there as well. Add to that the insanely good AI – so good that you never needed human players – and UT2004 wasn’t just a notable sequel, it was a worthy successor. In my mind, it improved on the original in so many ways that it almost made the original forgettable. Obviously, the original is still awesome, but it never had a map involving getting back the beer while “Pub With No Beer” played in the background. Best sequel ever? I think so.
I’m a creature of habit and the games that I love, I love to death. Borderlands is a franchise that makes me go all fuzzy inside, and if you’re a long-time reader of the site, then you’ve probably read my gushings about the games before. The first game was a fantastic FPS shoot’n’looter that was a bit skint on story, which gambled a lot on a disappointing ending, but had a lot of great humor and style. It had a lot of untapped potential and room to grow while still being a fun game to play despite those flaws. Borderlands 2 didn’t try to change what was already fun about the first game; shooting and looting were still the core concepts, with a few additions and tweaks to keep things fresh. Instead, it did what all great sequels should do by changing up the story in a totally unexpected, yet wholly welcome way, and even retroactively enhanced the story of the first game. I’m talking, of course, about the introduction of Handsome Jack.
I’ve posted before about how Handsome Jack is both the greatest hero and the greatest villain, but now I’m going to tell you about how he’s the greatest plot device. See, the first game didn’t really have a single antagonist to focus on for most of the game. It was more of a collection of antagonists from various walks of life, really, and they didn’t serve the normal purpose of villains. They were just obstacles to your goal, a representation of the lawlessness of the planet that held unimaginable treasure that you were going to claim. Enter Handsome Jack in Borderlands 2, a character who encapsulates the charm of the original game and is a villain for the pure fact that you’re still pursuing the core mechanic: Shooting’n’looting. (Also: The Movie? Will be a colossal failure. Jesus Christ, Randy, why?)
The first Uncharted game is nothing too special. The cinematic quality and (at the time) interesting traversal mechanics did little to hide the fact that Drake’s Fortune mostly just spat waves of enemies at you and gave you plenty of crouching height walls. Uncharted 2 built on the sweet points of its predecessor, irrevocably evolving not just Uncharted, not just 3rd person action games, but games all over. It certainly wasn’t the first game to go for a huge cinematic style, but games like MGS4 before it were criticised for being ‘less of a game,’ while few others dove in deep enough to make a significant impact. Uncharted 2’s gameplay and presentation balance seemed to sit right with people – maybe the explosively extravagant set-pieces had something to do with that.
Moments that would typically have been played out in a cutscene, or maybe just in quick time events, were fully playable here. The thrill of Drake hanging from a train toppling over a cliff-side was exciting not just in premise, but in action. We didn’t just see the exhilaration of fleeing from an attack helicopter, we felt it ourselves. Sure, we’d played through epic scenes plenty of times before, but never with this level of cinematographic quality. It wasn’t long before every triple A game was trying their hand at this style, but few (if any) outside of Naughty Dog themselves have managed to nail it. That won’t stop them trying, though. How many E3 demos or gameplay trailers these days show off the hero franticly running as a structure falls from beneath them or leaping to a gap just barely within their reach? (Don’t get so scared Lara, you’ve done it 800 times before). The influence of Uncharted 2 was, and is, a definitive branch of modern game design.
Metal Gear 1 and 2 were relatively obscure titles released on the MSX2, games many were unaware of upon the release of the PS1 classic Metal Gear Solid in 1998 (myself included). Here’s something crazy: the Metal Gear series is nearly 30 years old. Thanks to the ground-breaking efforts of Hideo Kojima with Metal Gear Solid, we’re now blessed with a whole pile of excellent stealth games and one wholly unnavigable plot.
MGS felt like more than just another game – it was a blockbuster. A game that felt like a fully fledged James Bond movie, and one that took stealth as a core mechanic and made it fun. Cinematic cut scenes paired with fully voiced dialogue made the experience whole and vivid while the story was mature yet entertaining. We’re introduced to Solid Snake, an expert in infiltration who has been tasked with stopping terrorists from launching a nuclear weapon from a remote US disposal site called Shadow Moses. The story unfurls into a vast web of politics, genome soldiers, nuclear proliferation, and, of course, a giant bipedal mech called Metal Gear.
The boss fights are memorable and unique (the Psycho Mantis controller swap trick is genius), and the gameplay itself is masterfully crafted. MGS’s approach to stealth worked a lot like a puzzle. You’re presented with areas to cross and objectives to complete without being seen, as Snake’s not built for a frontal assault. Guards react to sound, call for backup and will search the area if they lose sight of you. It all works through rules that are slowly introduced to the player, which the game then allows you to exploit. The biggest surprise was how replayable MGS is. After the first completion, you discover that you were ranked and that killing counts against you! With the release of MGS V: The Phantom Pain to close out the series, it’s definitely worth going back to see where it all started.
When I think of great sequels, it’s hard to overlook the spinning marsupial’s third and finest outing, Crash Bandicoot: Warped! While the first two games were instant classics, many fans of the series hold Naughty Dog’s last Crash adventure as one of the best 3D linear platformers ever made. Reason being it vastly improved the series in every aspect, packed full of colourful visuals, entertaining storytelling, addictive gameplay, fun stage designs and multiple gameplay styles.
As you progress through the levels, you learn new abilities; such as a double-jump and tornado spin, which help in later levels while providing players with new elements of play. This sequel also threw in more than just new levels and environments. It has a great variety of gameplay types that feature motorbike racing, jet skiing, deep-sea diving and an endless runner stage where you ride a baby tiger on the Great Wall of China. The personalities in this game also shine as every character, minor enemy and boss battle is filled with charm and are a lot of fun to find throughout the levels. Furthermore, there is a lot of replay value on offer and a satisfying challenge to earn 100% completion. After gathering all the crystals, you can replay the levels to find each gem or participate in the time trial stages to collect relics. Crash Bandicoot: Warped is the pinnacle of the entire series as well as a blueprint for a sequel done the right way.
The beauty of Command and Conquer Generals and its expansion Zero Hour is how much intricacy lies beneath the accessibility of its simple appearance. A supply truck isn’t just a resource collector; it’s also able to crush infantry or destroy a Humvee by driving next to it, which can cause friendly splash damage. Every unit and ability has so much of this hidden utility which creates constant interaction and counter play. Even base defences can be microed! The EMP Patriot fires a volley of rockets that disables a vehicle, but it’s possible to manually retarget the rockets during the volley to disable multiple tanks. No other RTS game gives you such a thorough amount of control.
These cute micro tricks aren’t just for show, they actually matter. The army sizes are small, your attention isn’t exhausted through menial tasks of production and base building, and economy is very simple and quickly gated. This brings the interesting unit control right to the front, and games are decided by utilising the quirks and techniques that each unit provides. With every unit, there’s so much potential for finesse micro, without having to rely on frantic APM, but rather through knowledge of how the units handle and how they should be controlled. Each unit feels completely unique and has plenty of nuance which keeps unit control diverse and satisfying.
On top of its fantastic gameplay, the design of Generals is incredibly elegant. The factions and units are all oozing personality and style, yet everything is thematic, visually intuitive and distinct. Though poorly balanced and lacking in proper post-release support, modern RTS has much to learn from this timeless classic.
My personal favorite of the Mass Effect series, Commander Shepard is back and is out to get the old gang back together as well as meet some excellent new characters along the way. Armed with a new cybernetic body courtesy of a shady company called Cerberus, Shepherd ventures out to build a team and an arsenal in order to address a new alien threat known as “The Collectors” whilst the imminent threat of the Reapers still lingers in the background.
Although the first title in this series is an excellent game its own right; in true RPG fashion, it also had its share of technical faults and a somewhat awkward combat system. With the sequel maintaining the RPG elements that made the original great, Mass Effect 2 addresses most of the issues found its predecessor and greatly improves upon the gameplay. With the combat now being an absolute blast, the story and the world were able to remain intact as the epic Mass Effect saga pushed forward. It was a bold step, but Mass Effect 2 was a lot faster and more enjoyable as a result; focusing more on solid combat mechanics rather than complicated RPG systems. In doing so, Bioware managed to strike an excellent balance between shooter and RPG, leading the franchise to massive critical acclaim.
Assassin’s Creed 2 had one of my favourite endings ever: it was intense, surprising and left me wanting to continue the story immediately. When Brotherhood came out and the story started EXACTLY where the previous one ended, I couldn’t believe I’d gotten my wish. I would have been content with the predecessor’s mechanics if it meant the story was just as good but found myself enjoying the new inclusions and upgrades to the current AC arsenal. Assassinating from horseback, dual-wielding weapons and a crossbow expanded the ways Ezio could stealth-kill the Borgias.
It wasn’t just an interesting time period full of names I recognised, it opened up Rome in more ways; now I could destroy Borgia territories to open up new areas for trade and business opportunities. Freeing the people in these areas also created allies; this was one of the best parts of AC2’s sequel. Courtesans, mercenaries and thieves became my best friends in a fight and helped Ezio’s reclamation of Rome through the use of their expanding guilds. Recruitment of willing individuals to fight the Borgias became more than a side quest for me; I was training assassin apprentices everywhere I found them and sending them off on missions. This wasn’t just something to keep the player busy either; you could watch your apprentices fail and die or flourish and join you on missions. Having them reach the level of Master Assassin or join you when you called for a volley of arrows was a brilliant addition to the series. Brotherhood may have been short, but it had the character development, gameplay innovations and more than did justice to its predecessor’s narrative. It’s still my favourite AC game yet, and the epitome of sequel games.
For me, Half-Life 2 will always be the greatest sequel in gaming history because it pushed the boundaries of everything there was to be expected of an FPS game at the time. Six years after Half-Life graced the screens of our computers and had built up a fanatical following, Valve announced the release of Half-Life 2. With the sequel, players were transported to the fictitious City 17 roughly 20 years in the future from the original game. You play the role of Gordon Freeman, one of the scientists from the original Black Mesa facility who has returned from the alien Xen World to once again save the human race from the malevolent “Combine.”
The story for its time was revolutionary, and, thanks in part to its advanced animation and narrative, it provided players with a true sense of depth and immersion that made you feel like you were a part of the game. You didn’t just play as Gordon Freeman, you were Gordon Freeman. The AI was critically acclaimed as revolutionary for its time as NPCs actively reacted to your presence and responded to any form of interaction that you enacted. Let us also not forget the titular Gravity Gun that showcased the amazing physics system that had been designed for Half-Life 2 and paved the way for many future physic-based games.
In the end, it all comes down to one simple fact: Valve created an immersive world, that, no matter how many times you return to it, you always feel graced by its depth and a sense of amazement that you are a part of the story. After all, you are Gordon Freeman, and only you can stop the Xen invasion and the damage that’s happened to this world.
In the eyes of many, Resident Evil (1996) heralded the rise of the Survival Horror genre- an experience in gaming like none other which placed the player in a slow-burning, dread-heavy atmosphere, as you trudge with trepidation through an abandoned mansion and its surrounds, taking down flesh-eating zombies, and various other genetic freaks all fighting tooth and nail to sink their pointy choppers into either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine or their assorted scrambling STARS cohort.
Resident Evil was groundbreaking in other ways- the two characters had strikingly different play styles and a different starting loadout. This significantly boosted the replayability of Resident Evil and helped fill out the story in the process. It also boasted the ‘Newgame +’ option, popularised previously in roleplaying games which allowed players to start a new game while having all their stats/items from the previous play through roll over.
With Resident Evil 2, Capcom really cranked it to the next level- Not only did we see the return of the two-protagonist mechanic amidst a mad scramble for survival in apocalyptic circumstances (this time, Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield), but Capcom included an ingenious ‘A-game/B-game’ mechanic (which, it honestly surprises me that no other game ever picked up on). While players may be initially unaware, the first time they complete the game they’ve in fact completed the ‘A-game’ mode.
In addition to the ‘Newgame +’ mode, a ‘B-game mode’ was also available on a subsequent replay- choosing this automatically cast the player as the character opposite of their previous selection (ie: if the ‘A-game’ was completed with Leon, the ‘B-game’ would assign them Claire), and allow the player to experience that character’s journey in parallel with the A-game events, featuring around 70% new areas to discover, as well as player’s A-game choices affecting B-game variables (whether players in their A-game decided to lock or unlock sections of the police station, as well as certain items collected or left behind would roll over and directly affect the player’s B-game ). It added a huge amount of replayability and ensured a fresh experience many times over.
Resident Evil 2 not only honoured the ground-breaking work of its predecessor, it managed to surpass it in every way.