After taking part in Gamer Limit’s Piece of Heart event this month, I finally discovered just how much one could despise a game – or, in this case, a series – if he or she manages to play it for long enough. Having never before picked up a Ratchet & Clank title, I was more than convinced that I would be able to withstand the repetitive nature of the series, if only for the fact that I had never experienced it before.
How very, very wrong I was.
This got me thinking about how developers and publishers latch onto their “next big thing” and flog that horse until it’s dead, dried, and rotten. Too many innovative games have become whores of sequel-mania, more laughable than original. But how does this all come to pass? And when does “continuing the story” become nothing more than a cash-grab?
I remember the sole reason for purchasing an Xbox in grade 10: Halo. I was 15-years-old and therefore old enough to pick up the MA15+ title. I’m honestly not sure whether I bought it after hearing rave reviews from friends, or simply because I was old enough to buy a violent FPS. Whatever the reason, I fell in love.
As the series progressed, so did my infatuation with the Halo universe. Halo 2 brought about weekly LAN parties with school friends, two TVs set up back-to-back in a living room, eight dudes, plenty of junk food and man-sweat. Who needs to party when you can hang out with mates and play your favorite game?
Even the third installment of the series failed to disappoint. I find the entire idea of pre-ordering games pointless, but for some strange reason, I decided I must preorder Halo 3. By this time, I was at university, living with fellow gamers and attempting to spend my days studying. Of course, Halo 3 changed that for the better.
Then something happened.
Microsoft did what most mega gaming corporations do at some point: they killed the series. Halo Wars? Thanks, Microsoft Game Studios, but if I wanted to line your pockets with even more of my cash, I’d purchase a life-size Spartan body suit and do a jig outside of your Sydney studio for pennies.
They went overboard. They got greedy. Thank god that Bungie wasn’t involved in that tripe; although, they aren’t completely blameless in this fiasco, either.
Halo 3: ODST offered little in the way of exceptional gameplay, and the short length only added to the argument that it was simply a cash-grab. It saddens me to know that I won’t be pre-ordering Halo: Reach.
Unfortunately, the question “Why?” is a futile one. Films and books love sequels and offshoots just as much as game developers. Despite my love for all things Star Wars, I simply can’t defend the second trilogy as George Lucas just wanting to “continue the story”. If the opportunity for big dollars is there, someone is bound to exploit it.
That said, there are several series that have been able to master the art of sequels, and even better their previous iterations with their latest installments. Metal Gear, The Legend of Zelda, and Mario have all managed to evolve over the decades, and in the eyes of the mainstream are still producing first-class titles. Of course, it’s all subjective; but I wager that few gamers could honestly claim that the Sonic series, as a whole, betters Metal Gear.
Which begs the question: “How does a developer avoid overdoing it?” First of all, don’t allow Microsoft to own the rights to your universe, Bungie. It’s unfortunate that Halo has become somewhat laughable, especially considering the global obsession that surrounded it during the early Noughties. Bungie has done the intelligent thing and are venturing into other projects after Halo: Reach, but it seems a bit like switching off the lights after the power has already been cut. The damage has been done.
Publishers hold a lot of the blame in situations such as this, but so do the subsidiaries of major companies. Plenty of respectable companies have seen their babies go down the crapper after nestling into the hefty bosom of the big publishers; I’d hate see Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series go down the same path as Halo.
That is why a handful of private companies are able to succeed where others fail. Sure, it’s a tough ask for any young development company to brush aside multi-million dollars offers from somewhere like Microsoft or Sony, but if they manage to stick to their guns and retain complete creative control, the result can sometimes spawn an unlikely success.
Despite shuddering at the thought of playing another Ratchet & Clank title any time soon, I have to hand it to Insomniac Games. They maintain their position as a thriving private developer, are famed with starting the Spyro series, and have both Ratchet & Clank and Resistance to show off as extremely successful releases.
Whether R & C will ever get to the point of “overdoing it” remains to be seen. But for now, let’s revel in the fact that there are still some series out there that have yet to be tainted by the moneyed fingers of the big boys.