After playing the fifth installment of Resident Evil, it became very apparent just how much the game has evolved since our first encounter with the epic series. Gone are the slow pace, darkness and thought-provoking puzzles. Introduced are the explosive action and sunshine settings. Additionally, for a survival horror title, the game also seems a lot less chilling and lonely with two protagonists. That’s not to say the game is any worse for it, but it did make me think – just how much do developers feel that need to give a makeover (or should that be “makeunder”?) to games that are already successful?
Clichés are clichés for a reason, and that’s namely due to the fact that they are true and applicable to our everyday lives. And never has a truer word been said than, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” So why is it that a developer so often feels the need to give a sequel the complete overhaul, with “new and improved” features and game dynamics? Surely the reasons we wish to play a sequel are because we enjoyed its predecessor and want more of the same? Of course, I’m not talking about minor tweaks and additional content, as a game needs to stay freshly playable, but rather larger reconstructions. Perhaps as gamers we are spoiled, we get bored quickly and we always strive for the next new big thing. Maybe developers feel obliged to keep things absolutely fresh and consistently provide us with new experiences.
Racing and beat-em-up series understandably require additional tracks, stages and characters, but give them a new feel and you’re bound to infuriate people. Virtua Fighter 3, for example, had a much slower (and rubbish) new feel and Need for Speed Undercover is missing a number of features belonging to its predecessor. You would be forgiven for arguing that a sequel should cater for existing fans of a series, as opposed to trying to create a whole new fan base. But, at the same time, a developer may argue that they are merely trying to increase the number of fans by making a sequel appeal to a wider audience.
There is no denying that originality is of paramount importance in game development and we are in need of some truly unique titles. What I am considering, however, is the attempt at originality during the creation of sequels. No game is too big for a major adjustment, either. After a multitude of years and successful incarnations, Square decided to remove the turn-based battles from Final Fantasy XI and XII. Thankfully, they’ve decided to adopt a hybrid battle system for the next adventure, which is an example of how they feel committed to pleasing everybody.
The stark modifications in a sequel by no means always evoke negativity, though. Let’s consider the addition of the 3rd dimension: Worms 3D was welcomed as warmly as a pedophile at your child’s party, but Grand Theft Auto has become one of the most successful franchises in the industry. Surely this is testimony to the argument that developers should be praised for pushing boundaries and experimenting with the unknown. Plus, where else could these games go? In this sense, there seems to be an almost organic progression in modern gaming.
In an effort to keep a series fresh, it’s understandable for a developer to perform some substantial tweaks on a game. The Tomb Raider games are an example of how a series can be strongly criticized for becoming dated if any changes to a sequel are too subtle. But change it too much and surely the game’s fan base will criticize for altering a successful formula. So where is the line to be drawn when a developer finds itself in this catch 22 situation? Perhaps a game should be released as a new franchise if any major changes are to be made, thus pleasing new fans without frustrating existing ones.
You would maybe expect significant alterations to a less successful game, but some A-Class games clearly undergo substantial modifications, too. It is a time when numerical suffixes are growing larger and more commonplace and it is impossible to please everybody, but it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on the matter and any surprises, pleasant or otherwise, you have found when playing a sequel that differs greatly to its beloved predecessor.