Games go stale, it’s not a new thing or something that will ever stop. There are two directions that a game developer can take their waning franchise, revitalizing it with choice gameplay and setting changes, or completely obliterating it with over-the-top overhauls and unnecessary features.
Good Game Goes In, Bad Sequel Comes Out
There have been countless examples of utter failure on development companies and their publishers part. The lure of a sequel often trumps the bad juju associated with trying to out-do their last blockbuster hit, more or less with the same offering. It has happened to many beloved game franchises.
Take the Burnout series for example. Burnout 1, while not the best looking or even the best control wise, was a great game. The challenge of winning a race coupled with surviving an onslaught from 7+ AI all trying to push you into any obstacle they could find was a rush. There was a great boost mechanic which rewarded the player for doing dangerous maneuvers such as driving in the wrong lane, jumping ramps, and slamming into opponents(bonus points for actually making them wreck into a thousand tiny pieces!). The ‘story’ was progressed by means of a radio DJ calling all ‘burners’ to these races and when the player made their name known in an area they were permitted to enter races in other locales, kind of strange but it worked.
Then of course the developer, Criterion(published by Acclaim), decides to make a sequel… and guess what? It wasn’t that bad! It kept the same core mechanic and gnarly crashes while expanding in just the right areas. Namely the graphics, car selection, track selection, and AI learning is what was tweaked. Burnout 2: Point of Impact played like the original and was better in all the right places. Also, there were nearly double the races and challenges as the original… oh yeah.
After these two successes EA games bought the franchise rights from Acclaim but kept Criterion as the developers. Burnout 3: Takedown was in my opinion the best Burnout release. It bumped up the difficulty of the hard modes by adding more traffic and, coupled with the harder tracks and the way better AI, made beating your personal best that much harder. The car selection was great and varied. Game progression made sense even though they ditched the classic radio DJ theme although there was still some form of interaction with a radio personality.The game was getting kind of old but you could never really get over the bad ass crashes and full on action of the races, the series was far from being dead on arrival, or so one would think.
Sugar We’re Going Down
Now, I’ve told you all this because these were examples of how to do it right. It just so happens that the Burnout series had a great run with outstanding titles. That is, until Burnout: Revenge. This game was basically a rehash of Burnout 3, but worse. In the previous 3 titles touching any of the non-racing vehicles resulted in a fiery death, yes just barely grazing them with 1 pixel of your car or pushing the side view mirror of an opponent into traffic was enough to start a crash. On the same hand if you contacted any car after it had been crashed and was not yet despawned off the track it was an instant death as well. Burnout: Takedown changed both of these features. The 4th installment of Burnout allowed the player to ‘Traffic Check’ same-way traffic. Essentially if you were driving in the same direction of a non-racer car you could blast their rear and use them as a weapon against other racers with NO PENALTY WHATSOEVER. There was no slow-down, no damage done to your car, and if you pinballed a wrecked NPC car into an opponent it counted as a special takedown.
This one change in gameplay made almost everything about the game feel cheap. No longer did you have to actually dodge cars, all you had to do was stay in your lane and rear end every mo’ fo’ unlucky enough to be driving through the Autobahn that day. Not only did it not slow you down but Traffic Checking gave you boost! WTF. Of course this made the race mode extremely easy, but it made the crash mode ridiculously easy. In the previous titles one would have to play a level over many times to get the perfect angle and cause the most destruction, often it came down to millisecond timing and amazing reflexes. In Revenge, however, all you had to do was drive around until you were in same-way traffic and start a chain reaction. And the timer just so happened to always give you enough time to get to that same-way traffic lane. If the timer was 90 seconds you better believe it was going to take you 85 seconds to get to your crash zone.
The Burnout series wasn’t just a scene, it was an arms race. An arms race that fell completely short with its 4th title and Burnout Paradise, the open world driver was so far gone from the first game it was unrecognizable. This was one of the few times a demo made me NOT want to buy the full game. In the end things fizzled out, and I predict that the next installment will be crashing, but it certainly won’t be a wave.
Calm Before the Storm
I really wanted to get into other games and how they have ruined their franchises, or at least sullied their reputations… but I know I can be and already am very long winded here. I just feel pretty strongly about keeping to your guns when you know what works, and also knowing when to quit or just release some DLC instead of a new potentially bad game. Gears did it, Halo did it, Ghost Recon is also a culprit. Street Fighter, Zelda, Mario, Sonic, hell even PONG has run themselves over with their own game before.
We are on the cusp of a new ‘gaming season’ where more and more information will be released about ‘blockbuster’ games conveniently coming out near December. How are companies going to wow us, and ultimately let us down this year? A new Gears and CoD are likely releasing, along with (maybe) Duke Nukem Forever. Lets just hope we get a polished and well thought out product instead of a hastily released amalgam of old boring features and new bullcrap.