Amid the chaotic soup of life, bobbing among those things that your Nan insists are croutons, there are certainties…shreds of accepted order. Few things alter the taste and texture of these globs but every once in a while, one is flipped upside down to reveal something unexpected.
To most folk, sequels equal shit. In the world of film, sequels are often looked upon as something to be dreaded, bitched about, held up to the original and then tossed aside with a snort of contempt. Even those that are enjoyed are rarely considered to have surpassed the original – an original which, as more films are churned out in a series, tends to become more and more sacred until it is placed on a marble pedestal under a veil which conveniently hides any flaws it may have once had.
Swing the gaze to gaming however and block out EA sports titles for convenience sake and it is the opposite…we can’t seem to get enough. We love our sequels. Rumours zip around the internet at warp speed over the slightest hint of a sequel to a popular game or venerable franchise. Developer interviews are minutely dissected and the results pinned to message boards for further scrutiny – screenshots are devoured, videos poured over, and gossip spun on…just mention Elder Scrolls V, Crackdown 2, or Gears of War 3 and the internet will implode in a black hole of euphoric juices. Even non-triple A titles such as Two Worlds 2 get sequel love.
No one ever got blisters on their hands thinking about the possibility of another Nightmare on Elm Street film or Legally Blonde 3, or even Look Who’s Still Fucking Talking. On and offline, the gaming press and fan sites run endless, painstakingly detailed previews and speculative pieces from the most minute details on sequels to even unpopular games because there is always a hardcore of gamers who’re devoted to them.
Oh, there are obviously previews, rumour mongering, and gossip about film sequels, however gamers as a breed seem to want them more. We don’t just look at a screenshot of a new game, and think, ‘we’ll have some of that’, we actively pursue sequels – expect them even. Why? Why is gaming different? For a medium which seems, at times, to desperately want to emulate film, perhaps the gaming world should cut out the ‘grass is greener’ attitude and take a look at what they’re doing right because whatever it is, it’s working.
2010 is the year of sequel – we’ve either had or are waiting for Dead Rising 2, Crackdown 2, Fable 3, Fallout:New Vegas, Bioshock 2, Force Unleashed 2, Mass Effect 2, Dead Space 2, Yakuza 4, Mafia 2, Kane and Lynch 2, Gears of War 3, Mario Galaxy 2, and undoubtedly others which have slipped my caffeine deprived mind. The most eagerly awaited announcements are for yet more: Hitman 5, Elder Scrolls V, anything with Lara Croft in it, Mirror’s Edge 2, Bioshock 3, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood to name but a few.
It is an odd thing…filmakers have budgets that could bludgeon a continent to death, yet they strive to milk franchises under a constant shroud of cynicism, dampened by the law of diminishing returns. While some films do get hype over their promised sequels, there is a general negativity which seems to pervade…perhaps because, more often than not, their sequels are lacking. Compare that to, say, Assassin’s Creed 2: the sequel went over and above what was a flawed but superb gem and blew the gaming world away with smooth mechanics, dynamic and diverse gameplay and improved story and visuals. With comparably smaller teams and budgets, our developers create work which is pursued feverishly from inception to delivery, with an often ferocious hunger from the gaming community.
Of course, there will always be dissent – many gamers rightly fear anything which will ruin a beloved franchise…the new Lara Croft game for example had many choking on their Pringle sandwiches when the screenshots were released and the thought of multiplayer being hammered into the Dead Space sequel like a toddler tackling a jigsaw puzzle is a worrying, if not uncommon, fear; fuck only knows what Fable 3 will end up like, stripped of its RPG duds and forced to mate with Natal, but, for the most part it is the opposite of film. We have an expectation that our sequels will be great because they so often are…with films, there is the weary suspicion that they won’t, that they’ll be crap – again, because they usually are.
Is our sequel love down to gamers becoming more immersed in their medium due to the level of interactivity? Surely this would then mean that they would be more protective, wanting to ward off a sequel at all costs? It seems not. Are we so plugged in to what we play that we are unable or unwilling to just let old characters slip into the night, to let a game rest in peace as a lone masterpiece or respected trilogy? Perhaps. So it is greed then on our part or selfishness? Spoiled foot-stamping? That doesn’t seem to fit either. Childlike wonder then? Never wanting an experience to end – wanting desperately to sustain those worlds and characters because if they don’t, they’ll be lost…after all, to play them is to make them live. Possibly.
In film, the story and characters are everything – cliff-hanger endings and setups for sequels are there but loose ends and plot holes are less tolerated because all we can do is watch. With a game, there seems to be more leeway: we interact, immerse ourselves, control and manipulate, becoming involved on a level that never happens in film. Therefore, even if the story is weak or ends are left inexplicably dangling, there is often more than enough to make up for it – film doesn’t have that luxury. As gamers, we know that our loose ends could well be the strands which are woven through the next game – if not? Ah well, the gameplay was superb and that set piece with the Flamingo and the giant toaster was fucking awesome, now excuse me while I go and round up these few hundred collectables. In short, games have a fallback.
Worlds, good characters, and concepts are ripe to be explored further, to be pulled apart and played the gamer’s own way depending on their preference – there is only one way to watch a film but there are many ways to play games. The more invested gamers get, the further they want to delve and thus, a sequel is usually assured.
Thanks to this hunger for more, for whatever reason, gamers seem less predisposed to writing off sequels – even those that seem to offer little in the way of new gameplay such as Pokemon are awaited with impatience. If the sequel does turn out to not be that great, it is churlish somehow to look upon something with contempt that you have been demanding since the credits of the last game in the franchise were barely off the screen, so we just expect the next one to make up for it.
With more than a story to watch in a game, so much to consider, and gameplay being all important, developers seem to be more willing to hone and craft their sequels – the good ones looking at their first title, identifying the strengths and weaknesses, taking criticisms on the chin and constructing an even tighter, more impressive product. While film isn’t alone in chucking out derivative, consistently weaker sequels, it seems, to me at least, to be far more common to the medium of film than gaming.
While studios are letting Michael Bay loose in the special effects department or hiring an aging star to wisecrack their way through generic script # 3 with stock sidekick # 2, the game devs are refining, rebuilding, or rebooting, lavishing care and attention, expanding mythologies, and paying lip service to devoted fans with in-jokes, Easter eggs, and rewarding plot twists, producing worlds so rich that they can almost be tasted.
Gaming seems to view films with a little brother type of envy, but I think that they are wrong. I think that it is they who should envy us. If only we would realise what we’re doing right and stop trying to dress to impress in big brother’s clothes…ours fit just fine. We’re the underside of that weird thing in your Nan’s soup that you never expected.
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