Franchises That Departed From Their Original Idea
The majority of AAA games released nowadays are sequels. It’s just plain fact, really. I told my non-gamer girlfriend that I’m excited for Assassin’s Creed IV and she asked me “are there already four?” (there’s actually six, but I didn’t tell her that). Thank God I didn’t mention Call of Duty or Final Fantasy. The reason why we get so many sequels is obvious. A new IP does well and creates an audience base and developers and publishers see fit to just go with what they have already established and rolling with it. The end result is usually a truckload of money because people like to cling to stuff they are familiar with.
Personally, I don’t mind sequels. I like that sense of familiarity. I know what to expect and it gives me comfort. I would be much more comfortable pre-ordering a new Assassin’s Creed game than a new IP that I’m not really sure of. I nearly paid full price for Remember Me and look how that turned out. But what happens when sequels just completely depart from original idea? Here are a few games that have done so.
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I’m one of the very few people I know that has played the first Saints Row game. In fact, it was the very first game I played of this console generation when I bought my first Xbox 360. The game was a shameless GTA clone, but I was so enamored by the “amazing next-gen graphics” that I didn’t care all that much and played the thing to pieces and loved it. The game in itself was far from bad, but it was also far from excellent. It was fun and chaotic and that’s all I needed to be entertained. But having the “mediocre GTA” label wasn’t good for the game. Along came Saints Row 2 that introduced unique assets to the franchise.
Saints Row 2 is one of gaming’s greats. It blended pure insanity ridden mindfuck chaos with engaging gameplay and even some decent storytelling. Saints Row was now the wacky counterpart to GTA rather than its slightly retarded half-brother. Then Saints Row 3 came out. Here was where I was beginning to worry a little bit for the franchise. Everything was now insanely over the top and crazy and I felt like the franchise lost a little of its magic. It was just one gigantic comedic rampage throughout, but it was so overblown that it became tedious. When I finished the game, I didn’t really feel like exploring the world anymore because I’ve already blown up half of an entire military stronghold and punched about a million people in the dick. It lost its charm way too fast.
Then there was Saints Row IV that just went full blown crazy. Superpowers, aliens and all the things you would never associate with a crime game. And the result was great. Sure, it had way too many nostalgia moments than required, but the game now had its own identity. It wasn’t the shoddy GTA clone that it started out as, but a game entirely on its own. It was a superhero crime game and it played wonderously. A good move, I would say.
The first Dead Space will be forever remembered fondly by most gamers. It was this new and exciting horror experience that was masterfully created and made you crap your pants numerous times. The environments were scary and the necromorphs really freaked you out. I played the game on Impossible and it was one of the most intense gaming experiences I’ve had in my life. When it was time for a sequel, I just figured they will continue along this formula that they have established and make it even more horrifying. But they didn’t, for some reason.
Dead Space 2 disappointed me somewhat. It didn’t give me that tense, horror experience that I had in the first game. An opinion I have for why it wasn’t so scary was because Isaac talked now. I know that seems rather banal, but in the first game where he didn’t say a word gave it that sense of emptiness and horror that wasn’t really captured in the second installment. It was still a decent game, however, and it had some real scary as hell moments that I still fondly remember.The eye poking still horrifies me to this day.
Ah, then comes good old Dead Space 3. I have defended the game numerous times now saying that it’s still a good game even though we have almost lost the sense of horror completely. During my time with the game, nothing horrified me like in the first game barring one scene in co-op that made me crap my khakis and perhaps those anorexic zombies that were a bit creepy. But the game was admittedly much more action orientated. Blame it on EA or Visceral if you want, but I still think it was a solid game in its own right only if you ignore the first installment completely. A big part of me wished they stuck with the original concept rather than go the more runny shooty route, but I guess history is history.
Another horror game, yes. I’ll admit that I don’t really have sufficient knowledge on this one because I’ve only ever played RE4 and 5, but I have seen numerous retrospectives on the previous games. It was originally a zombie survival horror game with crappy controls and tense atmospheres and if you fast forward to Resident Evil 6, you would be excused to think that they are completely different games. Nearly all horror has been stripped from the franchise altogether and Resident Evil 5 felt more like a standard third person shooter to me rather than a tense atmospheric zombie survival game.
The results are certainly not positive, however. It’s strange to see a game such as Resident Evil 4 get universal praise, but then see Resident Evil 6 get slammed out of proportion by nearly everyone in the gaming community. This is a prime example of how not to evolve your franchise. Imagine what the series would look like if they just stuck with their original idea and continuously made it better. The series is kind of a bad word in the industry right now, but I do hope that they “return to their roots” as they have promised.
Need For Speed
You can’t really depart too much from your original idea in a racing game, but Need for Speed somehow managed to do this. I still have very fond memories of playing Need for Speed Underground 2 as a young little scumdog puppy because the game was just so much fun, even for a guy that abhors cars. To be able to install neon lights and sound systems in your car was absolutely wonderful and something I enjoyed so much. Then Need for Speed Most Wanted (the first one) departed a little from the underground circuit to a more serious racing environment and it was still mountains of fun. The cop chases in particular were fantastic and you still had a ton of customizing options. Then it all went downhill for the series. That pun was honestly unintended.
Prostreet was a complete bust because we already had better offerings out there when it came to realistic racers. Undercover is just plain bad. Shift and Shift 2 did some things right, but nobody really cared about them because, once again, there were better offerings. Then along came Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted (the second one). Of course, Criterion were now in charge and I for one was perplexed by the concept. These guys make Burnout games right, so why are they dabbling in a street race game? The result just frustrated me and not only because I crashed into every wall in the game world.
The games lost all their soul. The first Most Wanted had a cheesy as all hell story, but it was still a welcome edition because it gave the game some added flair. Underground 2 had its charm because of its extensive customization options and great free roam gameplay. Hot Pursuit and the new Most Wanted just felt lifeless. You went from race to race and raced. When you won that race, you raced some more and got some free cars. You couldn’t even customize your cars anymore and it’s really telling when GTA V has better car customizing options than a series who was once the strongest in the field.
I don’t know, maybe I just long for a simpler time when Need for Speed games had some actual heart. Some people might enjoy the newest installments, but they just managed to bore and frustrate me. I sincerely wish they can just make Underground 2 in HD and make everything right in the world once again.
This one just makes me sad. I played the original Fable back when my Xbox got fried by lightning and I had to take up PC gaming for a while. It was a great game with just the right amount of accessible gameplay and good story. It achieved some great balance. Fable 2 departed a little from the first one, but it still had some decent storytelling and decent enough gameplay. Easy, but still offers a little challenge. Fable 3 was just a cakewalk. The game offered literally no challenge. I played the game twice and on both times I didn’t even die once. I even tried dying deliberately and succeeded, but it’s a shame that I actually had to try.
This franchise probably suffered the most from the “appeal to the widest audience possible” epidemic. The first game was supposed to be a foundation that they could build upon and make one fantastic fantasy adventure out of. But instead they focused on dumbing down absolutely everything and making it so that little Timmy can play it as painfree as possible. I really hope Timmy didn’t go to the brothel for an orgy and got all kinds of crotch rot. The base concept of the franchise was brimming with potential, but somehow Lionhead just messed everything up in favour of some English Shepherd and an awkward hand holding exercise.
I won’t even speak of Fable The Journey because I might just blow a vein in my head. This franchise had the potential to be an extremely strong Xbox exclusive, but in the end it just ended up being some glorified kiddy game. Even with all that hate, I still liked the games. They were something I used to unwind after playing more serious games and I somehow just loved the world of Albion. But the wasted potential is still a massive thorn in my side. Also, fuck Fable Heroes.
Franchises are here to stay whether we like it or not. Sometimes they turn out alright and sometimes they completely miss the mark. Most of the games mentioned that departed from their original concept suffered because of it. In order for a game to become a franchise, the original idea has to be so good that people just want more of it and if you lose that essence, you lose your audience. With the current trend of sequels, I hope developers and publishers realise that they still have to capture that magic that they achieved in the first game rather than watering it down so much that it’s barely recognizable. But all we can do is hope. What other franchises do you think departed from their original concept and do you think it was better or worse off because of it?