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 411mania » Games » Columns

The 8 Ball 05.20.14: Top 8 Sequels That Are Worse Than The Original
Posted by Marc Morrison on 05.20.2014

Welcome all to another edition of the 8 Ball. This week the topic is about regressive sequels. What's a regressive sequel, you may ask? To me, it's a sequel that is demonstrably worse than its predecessor. It might have a few good ideas to upgrade the formula, but, on the whole, it's either the same experience as before, or lesser then what it should be. Generally, sequels should hope to strive for being better than the original game, and while that happens a lot of the time, it doesn't always happen. With that in mind, let's begin:

8. Fallout: New Vegas

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Don't mis-understand me about Fallout: New Vegas, I enjoyed my time with it, it was an interesting area to explore, and some of the additions (like follower commands) were nice. However, the game engine just could not keep up with what the designers of the game wanted it to do. They envisioned New Vegas and the casino's to be full of people and, at max, there were about 7 people on screen at any given time. Anymore and the game would bog down terribly. The other issue with the game was the slightly ill-conceived alchemy/crafting mechanic, when it came to starting a campfire, reloading or work bench. The "Rule of Threes" applied, because it felt like almost every gun had three different bullets, one normal, one for unarmored targets, and then one for armored. The food crafting system was a nightmare, that I don't think anyone used, unless they really had to. Fallout: New Vegas wasn't a complete step back, but it wasn't a step forward either.

7. Knights of the Old Republic 2

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Sadly, another Obsidian game, and again, I'm not really pciking on it as much as I could. The driving force behind this game's issues was the sped up release date by LucasArts, demanding certain (semi-important) content get cut or compressed. This lead to the end-game kind of being a mess due to not making a ton of sense. However, even with this main driving problem, my issue with the game is actually the beginning. It's telegraphed from the first time you meet her that Kreia will eventually turn evil. It was blatantly obvious, really. Also, it took you an inordinate amount of time to actually get a light saber. It's not until you're very deep on the second world till you can get one, and it kind of sucked the fun out of the game for those 4 hours running around without it.

6. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

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I hope you like reading a big "FOLLOW" arrow for 5 hours, because that's all Modern Warfare 3 was. Having a stupid hand-holding aspect like that was just indicative of the brain drain after West/Zampella were fired, and took about 20% of the studio with them. Modern Warfare 3 tried to have the shock moments in the game like Soap dying, or the airplane attack, but none of it hits quite right. The multiplayer was ho-hum as well, not really trying to evolve in any sense and just tried to hold the line, until Infinity Ward got back on track.

5. The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion

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When it came out, Oblivion was lauded by critics for how it looked and the gameplay systems it had. However, now, it's almost seen as the redheaded step-child of the Elder Scrolls franchise. First, the game just isn't fun. Morrowind was fun. Skyrim is fun. Even Arena (archaic as it is) has fun elements to it. Oblivion just felt like a slog to get through, especially any time you had to deal with an Oblivion gate. The way enemies leveled up with you also was a semi-broken concept. It kind of kills any sense of character/power progression when you run up against a few bandits on a road and all of them are sporting glass armor. Oblivion just didn't feel as special as it should have.

4. Halo: ODST

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I have an odd history with the Halo franchise, I played them in this order: 1 , 2, ODST, Reach,4 , then Halo 3. I actually got ODST when I got my 360 a few years ago, in a double pack with Forza 3. I played it for around an hour or two, and stopped. My god, was this game dull and boring. I felt exploring the open-world HUB city was a neat idea, but actually trying to figure out where to go and how to get the next level going could take forever. Also, the lack of abilities, compared to Master Chief, made you feel weaker then you should have in a Halo game. You don't need to play as Master Chief in every game, hell Halo: Reach only had him at the end, and Reach was excellent, but you shouldn't control characters that are far weaker than he is. That's just not fun.

3. Amazing Spider Man 2

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I believe Adam Larck is doing a PS4 review of ASM2 soon, but here is my summation: "For every one thing ASM2 gets right, it does two things wrong. You can see what Beenox was trying to do, but either due to a lack of money, talent, or time, they just couldn't accomplish their goals." This might seem overly harsh, but it's pretty honest, and actually ASM2 was the genesis of this column idea. Take the costume system, it's a good idea that you have all these different costumes which have different attributes. However, leveling them all up would be the biggest time sink in the world. I finished the game with only two suits upgraded, and have no desire to do any others. The "Hero vs. Menace" thing is also interesting, but the fact that by the end of the game there are so many side activities ticking down, that you won't be able to do (thus getting Menace points), it becomes pointless to do any of them. The "fire rescue" side event is a joke, due to a broken camera system, and Spider Man's controls feeling loose in any tight environment. Even the upgrade system is borked, compared to the first game. Why can Spider Man no longer do a double stealth takedown of baddies? I don't know what happened to this game, but it is depressing.

2. Batman: Arkham Origins

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Can "ugh" just be my reply here? I was a man possessed when Arkham Asylum came out, gobbling up that game in a two day period of almost non-stop playing. I devoured Arkham City in much the same way, despite some of the small problems with that game. I got to about halfway in Arkham Orgins, and just gave up. It was right after I got the glue grenades and I just said to myself "Yeah…I'm done with this", and uninstalled it. The story is kind of a mess with the twist kind of being obvious. Getting around the town, even with the quick travel spots, became a pain just because of how large the city was. The whole "Detective mode/CSI" thing was just kind of a joke. The baffling thing is that you can scan your environment like the other games, but there aren't any riddles to solve. That was a key element of the first two games, as it actually required some thought, instead of just hunting down the trophies. Everyone is excited for the new Arkham Knight game, I am too. I hope it is a return to form for the Arkham series, especially with Rocksteady in the developer's chair, once again.

1. Assassin's Creed: Revelations

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I think Ubisoft tried to get this game done on the cheap, and it showed. Exploring Constantinople was kind of ok, but the gameplay elements they tried to add to the game fell completely flat and haven't been seen since. I'm referring to the bomb making mechanic, the tower defense thing, and even the hook sword were introduced in this game then promptly discarded. Piri Reis was a poor substitute for Leonardo da Vinci, especially since he was barely in the game. The romance with Ezio and Sofia was handled fairly well, but considering the love life of Ezio, it felt a tad hollow. Compared to the excellence of Assassin's Creed 2 and Brotherhood, Revelations was a step back in terms of game design. A lot of people might not have liked Assassin's Creed 3, but at least it tried to be an ambitious game.

The Better Half with Liana K

Top 8 Regressive Sequels

I want to say off the top that I'm extremely uncomfortable with this topic. Any game, even one that doesn't live up to its predecessors, is the product of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. So I wanted to be gentle in my selections and comments. However, my palpable disappointment in some of these titles boiled over and I ended up going for the throat as a form of tough love, or in some cases, the confessions of a former fan. So often, disappointing games miss the mark by the narrowest of margins, and with a few changes, they could have been just as good as the previous instalments. Others lose the creative director that was the lynchpin of the series' success, but games are a business, so sequels come out that are digital walking corpses. So if you're reading this and you worked on one of these games, they're not all "bad" games per se. They just didn't live up to the previous games in a franchise, or they have something glaringly wrong with them that needs to be pointed out so future games don't make that mistake again. And it's probably not your fault. Out of respect to that, I tried to keep the use of profanity to a minimum. I think I pulled something in the effort.

8: SoulCalibur V

I don't know what possessed Namco Bandai to outsource the story mode for the sixth instalment of the Soul series of fighting games, but they did. And it showed. So much of Soulcalibur V felt like just more of the same, without the meaningful character redesigns that had made previous sequels exciting. Even the attempt to evolve the series by using the kids of past characters fell flat. Though no characters were cut that I really cared about, the mix of characters didn't feel as interwoven as Soulcalibur III and IV, and the result was a game that was less than the sum of its parts. How would I have improved Soulcalbur V? I would have evolved the story without leaving past characters completely behind, and I would have taken meaningful risks with the evolutions of the returning characters. More for the sake of more is never a good idea. Furthermore, I'm not a fan of fighting games having "main characters". They should be an ensemble cast where every character's story takes at least one step forward. Too many of the returning cast members seemed to have been kept in carbon freeze since Soul IV.

7: Kingdom Hearts II

Kingdom Hearts II was another game that just felt like more, and the combat was simplified to an absurd extreme. But the biggest issue with Kingdom Hearts II was that the story didn't give me much reason to care about what happened to any of the characters. Furthermore, the similarities between Kingdom Hearts and Epic Mickey provide enough intersection that they could have mashed the concepts together for something good instead of creating two heavily-flawed games. Sure, Kingdom Hearts II won a bunch of awards and people loved it. But it left me cold and I didn't end up finishing it. Why is Mickey even in these games? He serves zero purpose, even as something that feels missing. I'm good with not having to explain every detail about why Final Fantasy characters and Disney heroes are in a game together, but if you're going to introduce the Disney' brand's flagship mascot, do something with him! He's on the box art, for crying out loud!

6: Halo 3: ODST

I nicknamed ODST "Halo: Overly Douchey Sales Tactics", because that's all it really was: a reason to put more Halo dollars into Microsoft's pocket without Bungie having to do much thinking. I'd go into the various reasons why this Halo delay tactic was not good even by the Halo games' mediocre ludonarrative standards... but I'd have to actually understand the story to be able to do that. Seriously, the game would have been more aptly named Halo: WTF. The weird thing about the Halo franchise is that its universe is actually extremely good. You just don't get a taste of the things that really make it good in the games themselves. Because of this, there's room to expand laterally in the Halo franchise with games that don't involve Master Chief – a game with a protagonist inside the Covenant, for instance. However, ODST was a tangent between Halo 2 and Halo 3 that told me absolutely nothing new about the Halo universe... probably because I spent most of the time not having a hairy clue what was going on. I'm ranking this game low on the list, however, because it wasn't a numbered game, it wasn't offensive in any way, and it was, clearly, a result of the breakdown in the relationship between Microsoft and Bungie. I can't blame Bungie for not wanting to give their best stuff to a company that values quantity over quality in the franchise they built. I wish Bungie success with Destiny, and I think they made the right call in getting back to a place where they can control their content.

5: Bioshock Infinite

I still absolutely love the original Bioshock game, and I will defend Bioshock 2. But Bioshock Infinite? Infinite was proof of the irrational cult of personality surrounding Irrational Games, and another steampunk product that was crappy for no reason other than huge plot gaps in the story. Bioshock Infinite showed signs of indiscriminate cuts in every aspect of game development, because the devs ran out of time, money, or both. The project was overly ambitious, and the messy result was a racist, sexist, antisemitic, pandering game, not just a game that dealt with racism, sexism and antisemitism. The story careened pointlessly from one underdeveloped theme to the next, and the overdone, vaguely unsatisfying, unbalanced gameplay didn't do much to help it. But Bioshock Infinite was rewarded numerous 10s in reviews, so it must have been amazing, right? Sure, if you were an entitled white dude who didn't have inherent reason to be bothered by the horrible depictions of black people, Asian people, Indigenous tribes, Baptists, or Jews. Those of us who were knocked for a loop by one or all of these things, Infinite had serious and undeniable issues. The random shocking imagery overpowered whatever the game was actually trying to say. We were also distracted by the brief late-game return to Rapture, which turned out to just be a commercial for the Burial at Sea DLC, also known as "the game we really wanted". So I'm still pondering whether I should spend $30 on that DLC, even though Bioshock Infinite wasn't worth the $60 I paid for it on its own. Thing is, if they made a Lutece twins game, I'd buy it in a heartbeat. I just never got attached to Elizabeth and Booker, because they're tropes instead of actual characters.

4: Fallout 3

Fallout 3 suffered from the same issue that most Bethesda games do: They're more genre simulators than RPGs, that ultimately go nowhere. If you're a Bethesda fan, you're prepared for this, so you're not bothered. But if you were a transplant, as I was, from the old Interplay Fallout games, you felt like the vault dwellers were popping Zoloft instead of Buffout and Mentats. The gallows humor from Fallout 1 and 2 was gone, replaced by a series of demolished American monuments that don't have the same resonance for players who aren't American. It was "Fallout: remember that 911 happened." It was, admittedly, a good way to bring new players into the Fallout world, but it just didn't feel like a Fallout game. Fallout New Vegas captured the spirit of the series much better, and had a collection of highly-satisfying endings, in stark contrast to the forced sacrifice choice in Fallout 3. I still get angry when I think about Fawkes, the rad resistant supermutant, who wouldn't go into the irradiated zone at the end of Fallout 3 for no apparent reason. RPGs are supposed to reward lateral thinking, and Fallout 3 didn't. Bah. I'm still angry at that ending. Also: seeing as they were featured on the box art, I was very surprised that the Brotherhood of Steel had such a tiny part in Fallout 3. I was expecting a much greater presence.

3: Dead Space 3

Ugh. Just thinking about this game makes me sad. I give EA credit for making a Dead Space 2 after the original was a well-reviewed game with mediocre sales. But I don't understand why they bothered to make a third Dead Space game that had absolutely no intention of feeling like a Dead Space game. I didn't play Dead Space to play a mediocre third-person shooter where I blast away members of a cult militia. I played it for the well-timed jump scares, legit creepy alien zombies, and the psychological saga playing out inside Isaac's head. Because of this, the early levels of Dead Space 3 were an absolute waste, intended only to say "Look! Action gameplay!" Because action gameplay, apparently, sells. But not in games that once were survival horror titles. Good job, EA. Once DS3 settles into more familiar territory it's fine – ice planet, assembling alien bits, the whole works -- but all that wasted attention, development time, and money off the top meant that there wasn't nearly enough time or attention spent on the sheer horror that is the Brethren Moons. Yeah, okay, those moons are kind of a lot like Galactus in Marvel comics. But I like Galactus, so I don't care. Furthermore, I think being allowed to spend some time with the ultimate reason for the marker signals wouldn't have been a bad thing. EA really needs to stop the executive level pressure that forces developers to dilute franchises into generic paste. It's not earning them more money in the long run. Those ex-Clorox executives should know by now that you don't try to market bleach as a fabric softener, and you don't try to attract action shooter enthusiasts into a horror franchise. It pleases no one.

2: Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel

Oh my GOD did this game suck. And I liked Army of Two: The 40th Day, which shows I have forgiving standards. The dialogue in The Devil's Cartel is so bad that my husband still keeps quoting it, because clunky writing seems to amuse him after it passes the point where it's no longer salvageable. Apparently mediocre dialogue is frustrating to him, but truly awful stuff is hilarious. That's all I can really think to say about this game, because the biggest reason it's bad is that it's thoroughly unremarkable and cliche. I'm also storing up my energy to tackle my number one pick. Because it's a doozy.

1: Gears of War: Judgement

Regular readers of this list know that I love the Gears of War franchise. I also love People Can Fly as a studio. That gives you some sense of how bad Gears of War: Judgement had to be to make the top of this list. But Judgement shot past that high threshold into an undiscovered country of crap. It wasn't just a bad Gears of War game. Objectively, it was a terrible game, with clunky controls, wooden characters, and a thoroughly pointless storyline. Gears of War: Judgement could have had a scene where Cole took a dump in Baird's mouth, and it still wouldn't have been as bad as the overworked, pretentious, symphony of crap I was forced to endure as I kept hoping that the game would eventually get better.

It wasn't just the egregiously cliche writing that made it bad. It was a complete lack of adherence to the character arcs that previous Gears games had established, resulting in facsimiles of Baird and Cole so terrible I named them "Not-Baird" and "Not-Cole". Not content with pissing on those characters, the game also decided to create a thoroughly disgusting female character who doesn't know when to keep it in her pants in professional situations, which, in a story like this, is a near-guarantee that she'll get kidnapped, and/or raped and/or killed to advance the stories of the male characters. The thing is, Paduk didn't need a reason to be bitter, and there was already a ton of tension between him and Baird. So Sophia Hendrik's fate was little more than a cheap device that was little more than a repeat of what happened to Dom's wife.

But I am willing to overlook a rape-as-cheap-plot-point mistake, simply because there are so damned many of them in science fiction and fantasy stories as well as video games. What I couldn't overlook in Gears of War: Judgement was the unacceptably loose controls. Hitting checkpoints is a chore. Interacting with environments is frustrating, and player intent gets lost in a mess of competing options that demolished the critical "design by feel" element of previous Gear of War games. It's inexcusable that they would neglect that critical element of the franchises' success.

Gears has always been a delightful-yet-flawed franchise. But it used to be sure of what it was: a certain type of game for a certain type of player, and it didn't claim to be anything else. I used to see a little bit of myself in all four of the guys, and I liked that. Now I'm questioning whether the original three games were ever as good as I thought they were, or if they just validated certain elements of me, which covered up the fact that they were, objectively, kind of mediocre because they are tied to a game world that's really nothing special. And it's precisely this lingering doubt that proves how thoroughly awful the experience of playing Gears of War: Judgement was for me. That's not just a bad sequel. It's a catastrophic one.

Complainer's Corner

I honestly didn't come up with a lot of other games for this backup list. People might argue for Assassin's Creed 3, but I'm one of the few who kind of dug it. Here's what I partially came up with: Saints Row 2Crackdown 2, Tomb Raider 4, Gex 3, Road Rash: Jail Break, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Resident Evil 6, Star Wars: Force Unleashed 2, Mass Effect 3, GTA 4, Deus Ex: Invisible War, Devil May Cry 2, and if you count them as sequels, most Final Fantasy games.

The General Roundup

I'll try to address some of the more relevant comments from last week now: I'm not sure if Rush (from Mega Man) would count. He never had a personality in the games, but I was thinking more about how he acted in the 1994 cartoon series, as essentially a robotic version of Scooby Doo. Argo (horse from Shadow of the Colossus) is a good pull. I just haven't played enough of that game to see how it really ends. Gex is cool, but Gex 3 is kind of terrible. Gex 1, and Enter the Gecko were good games. Also, as far as Donkey Kong goes, he's not especially popular anymore. Donkey Kong, as a character/series, tends to have really long breaks between games. Aside from slotting him into Smash Bros, and most other mascot games, he isn't that well known to newer games. Lastly, the comment that Bubsy was somehow better then Conker made me laugh for a good five minutes. The Conker games aren't my cup of tea but both are vastly better (i.e. playable) compared to any of the three Bubsy games.

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