3 Video Game Franchises that Devolved Over Time
Film sequels are usually inferior to the first film in the franchise. The possible exceptions being Aliens, Terminator 2, and The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers. A film sequel that is simply ‘More of the same but with better CGI’ will usually be panned by critics and filmgoers alike, and rightly so.
Video games are almost the polar opposite. Video Game sequels are usually superior to their predecessors. Many video game sequels are evolutionary, not revolutionary, and we the video-game-buying public appear far more forgiving of this than we are with films. ‘More of the same, but with better graphics’ is often seen as a positive, as it means the game has not deviated much from its successful predecessor.
The gameplay of video game sequels is often better too, as annoying or unpopular features and game mechanics can be removed, whilst new and better ones implemented. The 3rd-person combat in the original Mass Effect trilogy is a shining example. Combat in the first game was terrible, it had improved greatly by the second game, and by the third it was on-par with Gears of War.
Why then have some franchises gone backwards by removing the advanced features and mechanics that made the earlier titles great in the first place? We will look at some of the worst offenders below and try to figure out where it all went wrong.
“But can it run Crysis” was the meme-before-memes-were-a-thing of high-end PC gaming. The hardware demands of the CryEngine and the breath-takingly beautiful open-world it created in 2007’s Crysis were legendary for crippling even the highest spec rigs of the era. Not only did Crysis pioneer many of the advanced graphical effects we now consider standard, it played out on a vast open-world island, complete with day and night cycles, dynamic weather effects, realistic physics and semi-destructible environments. To say it was jaw-dropping at the time was an understatement. Its equally PC-exclusive expansion pack, Crysis: Warhead, delivered more of the same, but with more weapons and better optimization. All was right with the world.
Aliens make their grand entrance at about the 11:25 mark.
Then Crysis 2 happened.
Open-world game play–gone.
Sprawling drivable tank-on-tank battles–gone.
Floating around in a zero G alien environment–gone.
Fighting interesting and original flying alien war machines that use cold as a weapon–gone.
Giant map-spanning cryosphere and boss fights against huge War of the Worlds style walker machines–gone.
What we got instead was a rather generic urban combat FPS split into small levels, in which you fought a rather uninspiring cast of PMC NPCs and aliens that were tediously humanoid. For many fans of the original, it was a big disappointment. So why was Crysis 2 nerfed so badly compared to its predecessors? The view at the time was that it had been nerfed due to Crysis 2 being multi-platform, and since this was 2011, this meant the Xbox 360 and the PS3. It was thought that the consoles of the era simply wouldn’t be able to cope with the demands of a game like Crysis, and so the developers had to scale everything back to make it ‘console friendly’. Many PC gamers were annoyed by this nerfing, and it was around this time that I became aware of the “Consoles are holding PC gaming back” debate.
What really rubbed salt in the wound was that not long after Crysis 2 was released, Crysis was released for both PS3 and Xbox 360 as a digital download. Apart from a lower draw distance, less detailed textures, and being capped at 720P, it was a faithful re-creation of the PC original. The only thing that was missing was the piloting-a-dropship level, which was rather ‘meh’ anyway. The console versions actually added stereoscopic 3D support and simplified some of the controls to improve quality of life, so in some ways they were better than the PC original. Therefore, Crysis 2 probably didn’t need to have been nerfed so badly after all.
2005’s F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon was another initially PC-exclusive franchise that was seemingly nerfed for its multi-platform sequels. F.E.A.R. was infamous for its competent enemy NPC A.I., which remains some of the best in any FPS to this day. Surviving more than ten seconds against a squad of enemy NPCs required both liberal use of ‘bullet time’ and effective use of cover–in particular, judicious use of lean n’ shoot. This resulted in gameplay that was both challenging and exhilarating, especially on the hardest difficulty settings. It also featured some of the best J-Horror inspired jump scares around.
Its equally PC-exclusive expansion packs, Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate improved the A.I. yet further, and added new weapons, enemies, locations etc. Again, all was right with the world. (Unless you lived in the city of Fairport, in which case you were screwed.)
Then 2009’s multi-platform F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin happened. The challenging A.I. enemies were gone. What we were ‘treated’ to in their place were braindead goons who could easily be defeated by bullet time alone. This was perhaps a blessing, since lean n’ shoot was gone too! Was this done to simplify the controls to make them more ‘console friendly?’ If so, why then did the 2006 Xbox 360 and 2007 PS3 ports of the original F.E.A.R. still include lean n’ shoot via use of the D-Pad? Clearly it was possible to implement it on a gamepad, so why remove it?
Many people felt that F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin was inferior to the original. Its jump scares were notably less frightening too. Some argued that it even looked worse, with the sharp, clear graphics of the first game replaced by blurry textures, glitches, and an overuse of film grain.
What really annoyed PC gamers was that most of the options common to most PC FPS games were absent. There were pointless restrictions placed on what keyboard keys could be mapped to actions, which rather negated the advantage of having a full keyboard. In particular, the Delete key could not be bound to anything, as it was hard coded to being the delete key for the ‘options’ menu. What’s more, F.E.A.R. 2 did not natively support more than three mouse buttons–i.e. the basic left click, right click, and ‘clicking’ the mouse wheel. If, like most PC gamers, you had invested in a gaming mouse with additional buttons, you were out of luck–F.E.A.R. 2 did not recognize them. Thankfully this could be resolved by using ‘middleware’ such as X-Button Mouse Control, but this simply isn’t good enough.
There was no easy way to alter the game’s Field of View either, meaning you were stuck with the nausea-inducing, narrow 55 degrees FoV used on the console versions. Only by messing around with the config files could the FoV be raised to something acceptable. Getting F.E.A.R. 2 to a state worthy of playing was a mission in of itself. Guess which older games did all of these things natively and so could be played straight away with zero hassle–yes you guessed it, F.E.A.R. and its expansion packs!
If back in the ‘90s you owned one of the 8-bit home computers, or one of the 16-bit home computers or consoles, you probably would have heard of Turrican, since pretty much every platform had a version of it. For those who are too young to remember the ‘90s, Turrican was a platform shooter by German video game designers Rainbow Arts, which had a heavy emphasis on exploration. Your character wore an armored suit and could turn into a spinning saw blade to enter narrow spaces. If you are thinking, ‘sounds a bit like Metroid,’ you wouldn’t be wrong; there were clear similarities.
If you want to skip to the action then it starts at 07:25 – but then you would miss out on the superb intro music.
Turrican, however, was far more focused on direct combat, and his arsenal of weapons reflected this. He was probably one of the most OP player characters in video game history at that point–some of his weapons fired shots larger than he was! One of his most impressive weapons was the aptly named ‘surround beam,’ which allowed him to engage enemies in a complete 360-degree circle around himself. It was also extremely powerful–perhaps too powerful, since it could defeat most boss enemies in mere seconds if you got your position right. It was the franchise’s signature weapon, and helped it to stand out from the crowd during a time when 2D platform run and gun shooters were everywhere.
So, why oh why did someone at Factor 5 Studios think it was a good idea to remove it completely, and replace it with a rather underwhelming grappling hook? This made Turrican 3: Payment Day, and its SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis counterpart, Mega Turrican, inferior to both the original Turrican and its exceptional sequel Turrican 2: The Final Fight. This reduced Turrican from being the king of the run and gun platform shooters to being “and also ran.” Thankfully the later fan-made Turrican clones, such as T2002X, Hurricane, and Gunlord ditched the pointless grappling hook and returned the surround beam to its former glory.
Gunlord is now available on the Nintendo Switch!
It was previously released only for the NEO-GEO and SEGA Dreamcast, so relatively few people ever got to play it. The Switch version appears to have additional content–I don’t recall a flying backpack level before, but don’t quote me on that; it has been a loooong time since I last played it.
Those are my top three franchises that devolved as time went on. I’m sure there are many others which could also have been included. What other franchises do you feel should go on the list and why? Tell us in the comments section below.