Video game sequels must stay innovative while maintaining signature styles
Michael Santoro, Rocket Contributor
November 29, 2012
Filed under Opinion
In keeping with my theme of sequels, I feel the need to cover another art medium that only recently has been considered as such: video games. While video games don’t have as rich a history as movies or even as long of one, they are rising to become the biggest entertainment releases. This brings me to my first video game series, one of the many that are changing the landscape of digital entertainment: Call of Duty. The Call of Duty series has been around since 2003, and back then the game didn’t bring nearly as much money or recognition in as it does now. How many sequels later, we get the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Just as with the previous game in the series, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, this release was the largest in entertainment history.
Why, you ask? There really hasn’t been much change or innovation between the Call of Duty sequels. Each year, another iteration is pumped out with minor alterations, and each year hundreds of thousands of fans rush out to drop $60 on it. I believe that the company knows it has a good thing going; the numbers prove it. Why change anything major in fear that the large fan base will be disapproving and stop playing the games altogether? With such a populated and diverse fan base, you never know if something different you implement could be well received or absolutely deplored. Like the old saying goes: don’t fix it if it isn’t broken.
Other series do the same, but don’t end up with nearly as positive results. A great example would be the Driver series. When the original was released, it won accolades and awards for its innovation in 3D driving. It took what the original Grand Theft Auto did, but without the isometric (top-down) view. Then Driver 2: The Wheelman is Back is released to polarizing results. While some praised it, others derided the atrocious pop-up and the horrible out-of-car controls. At least it let you get out of your car and take other vehicles, an innovation for a 3D driving game such as itself. Then after multiple delays, Driv3r is released. (pretty lame name, amirite?) It’s a commercial and critical failure, and does next to nothing to update the series. The same complaints leveled at 2 were leveled at 3. Sometimes a lack of innovation can squash your game, even its gameplay performance was well below that of the Call of Duty series.
Now since I already mentioned it, might as well comment on it: the Grand Theft Auto series. A truly innovative and expectation-breaking series, every Grand Theft Auto game that’s released does something different to entice and engross the players. With 3, the isometric (top-down) view is gone, and we’re plunged into a fully rendered, living, breathing 3D world. Inhabitants are active, cars are heading to their destination, and our player has himself a “sandbox” to play in. With Vice City, the controls are made more fluent, the camera is now controllable, the new setting is brilliantly indicative of the 80s time period, our character now has a name, a voice, an up-front attitude and personality; the list goes on and on. With San Andreas and IV, even more innovations and updates are accomplished, all the while delivering top-notch gameplay that developer Rockstar is famous for.
Now, let’s move onto a less adult-oriented game series that have given us amazing sequels. Every Mario Kart game has been relatively well received, and has updated itself in one way or another. Mario Kart 64 gave us fully 3D tracks with battle modes and new weapons. Mario Kart: Double Dash gave us the ability to have two riders on one cart, opening up strategy opportunities with weapons. Lastly, Mario Kart Wii let us get turbos through stunts, opened up past and current tracks, and let us use our Miis as characters.
One series I believe is falling under the “Call of Duty trap” is Madden NFL. Every year another Madden NFL is released, and more recently they haven’t been so great. Any changes made seem to be purely cosmetic. If they’re involving gameplay, it’s usually very minor, and doesn’t change up the feel much at all. Fans just pick them up every year for an updated roster, and that’s about it.
Sequels to video games tend to be better than sequels to movies for a few reasons. With the future comes new ideas that can be implemented with new technology. Instead of retreading the same-old-same-old, like most movie sequels do, video game sequels can be structured like their previous game, but can be updated, fixed and streamlined. New ideas and innovations can become standard, and while movie sequels always try to relive what the original did, video games can accomplish this with ease while not retreading over stale territory. I just hope certain series don’t get caught in a yearly cycle, and if they do, maybe something needs to come along to shake things up a bit.