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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.

#3—Crysis

“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.

Semi-destructible environments–gone.

Sprawling drivable tank-on-tank battles–gone.

Piloting dropships–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.

#2—F.E.A.R.

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! 

#1—Turrican

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.

 

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  1. I bought a custom gaming PC back in 2007 specifically in anticipation of the release of Crysis, with the best overclocked processor, liquid cooling and graphics card money could buy. I still had to turn quite a few of the settings down to make it playable. I haven’t really experienced that “wow this is so far beyond anything else” with any game since.

    On the plus side that PC did let me experience the first Mass Effect and the first Witcher game which believe it or not was actually quite a nice looking game when it released. The lens of modern gaming has not done it any favours.

    I’m also really surprised to see Turrican on this list since most people under 30 and even a lot of people over 30 don’t have any knowledge of it. But Turrican II was my favourite game as a young kid and I still listen to the soundtrack to this day. But yeah, turrican 3 was a massive disappointment especially on the Amiga since unlike the first two which were developed on amiga Turrican 3 was developed on the Mega Drive then poorly ported to the Amiga. So a poor third instalment all round.

    • I get what you mean about Crysis and nothing having the WoW factor anymore. In some ways it was a victim of its own success. Once graphics start looking THAT good (damn near photorealistic in some places) it is hard to make any great improvements. We see continual small improvements e.g. higher resolutions, DX11 to DX12, Tessellation, Global Illumination and now raytracing, but since they are not a ‘One Giant Leap’ moment they will not have the ‘Wow factor’. Perhaps when we have truly photorealistic graphics with characters that look real – and thus jump the uncanny valley – we will have the next WoW moment.

      ME 1 looked fantastic. Especially the faces of some characters. In some still images male Shepard looked pretty much like a real person. The somewhat janky animations kind of ruined the illusion however. He looks even better with updated texture mods 😊

      Re Turrican – I specialise in retro and cult classics – i.e. the games most people haven’t heard of. If/when EG has an author bio section I’ll put my bio up which will show all that stuff. I recently started playing Super Turrican in browser and my god it is bad. It has the surround beam – although all it does is freeze enemies now, but the level design is just awful. I never thought I could actually HATE a Turrican game – the franchise I loved as a kid and at one point (may) have had the world high score for (3.34 million in Turrican 2) but I absolutely hate Super Turrican. It is included in another article that will be published in the future where you can find out why I hate it sooooo much. 😊

    • PS – sorry for the late reply. I wasn’t ignoring you, my PC was sent away to be fixed an upgraded and I only got it back today.

  2. Type text here…Nice article, thanks for the read

    • Thank you, glad you liked it. I also wrote the ‘Top 7 game franchises that radically shifted perspective’ artilce. They hadn’t set me up on the system at that point so it said it was ‘By ADMIN’.

      I’m all set up now, and there are plenty more articles on the way 🙂 hope you like them too.

  3. Also, #0 — Fallout franchise.
    Play 1st and 2nd if you haven’t already!

  4. Cameron Wallace on August 13, 2019 at 12:11 pm said

    I feel a need to put a comment in here about the Crysis series, cause while Crysis 2 is more restrictive, in my opinion it vastly improved on the gameplay. With Crysis 1, outside of the giant aliens flying through the air you would shoot at and just kinda hope you would kill, the rest of the game felt like you HAD to go stealth, or you would almost be certain of dying. With Crysis 2, it really felt like you had the option to choose stealth or choose tanking, which in Crysis 1 while possible, was extremely difficult. Plus while it’s true you lose those War of the Worlds style fights, after playing the entirety of Crysis 1, I never enjoyed those, and found them annoying, where fighting human enemies with stealth was much better fun.
    It’s also important to note that Crysis 1 is not open world at all, and with the urban environment of Crysis 2, this is just more noticeable.
    I also think that Crysis 2 had a much better story than Crysis 1.

  5. Additions:

    Mass Effect. ME1 was one of the few games that evoked a strong desire to explore it all. The Mako didn’t annoy me too much; I thought it was fun to drive! As for the planets being mostly empty: that’s what space is! ME2 cut out all those fun parts, and was barely an RPG, not to mention that the main story felt like a lot of sidequests. ME3 had one job, but wasn’t up to it (the ending). I haven’t played it, but I heard Andromeda didn’t do anything well.

    SimCity. When I was 10, SimCity 2000 was my thing. I played it endlessly. A few years later, I played SC4 for about a month, but I couldn’t get the hang of it. It was just too complicated. It killed my desire to play the series so much that I couldn’t get excited for the 2013 one, so I skipped it. I called that one right. Even the traffic simulation was still messed up in that one.

    • Exactly what I was thinking when I saw the title of the article. Mass Effect. An RPG that was an spiritual sequel to KOTOR (I know that there was a KOTOR 2), with a similar game system, but more evolved. Then it became just an FPS with some RPG elements. At least ME2 had Miranda, which just stole the show.

      There are so many games that have been simplified, specially PC game that have gone to consoles.

  6. There seems to be a trend here. Really makes you think.

  7. I myself was so annoyed about going from F.E.A.R to F.E.A.R 2

    All the stuff that was removed that is pretty standard PC shooter stuff just annoyed me. I still haven’t beaten 2 or 3 yet as I just end up going back to the first game anyways…

    • I have been forcing myself to play through F.E.A.R 2 in dribs and drabs over the last three months for the story. It has been a chore and I’m close to saying “Screw it – time to watch a lets play instead.”

      I binged played the first one and the expansions back-to-back in about three weeks. And I’m thinking of doing it all again with difficulty mods added. Says it all really.

  8. Supreme Commander 2 & Deus Ex: Invisible War would be 2 other good examples. IMO it was definitely a question of ‘consoles holding PC gaming back’.

    • Iain Baker/ Sessile_Nomad on August 14, 2019 at 3:53 pm said

      Deus Ex: Invisible War – excellent suggestion, I had forgot about that. Easy way to beat almost all enemies – equip the lightsaber katana thingy, hide around a corner, hack anyone who comes around it. Rinse and repeat until everyone is dead or you fall asleep from boredom. Fun – not.

    • What they did to Supreme Commander two must be a sin.

      What a waste of potential.

  9. The Elder Scrolls series. My entry point was Morrowind, and the difference between it and Oblivion is that of a mountain and ant hill. Morrowind didn’t hold your hand at all and expected a good deal of competency from the player. Oblivion and Skyrim were extremely basic and held your hand all the time, diminishing the sense of accomplishment from completing quests. Furthermore, skills such as acrobatics and athleticism actually increased your jump height or running speed respectively. To drive the point of what kind of game Morrowind was, I’d call it the Dark Souls of the Elder Scrolls series. Now, I haven’t played Arena or Dagerfall, so I suspect those provided an even greater sense of wonder and accomplishment overall.

    • Iain Baker on August 15, 2019 at 8:22 pm said

      Morrowind is on the list of games I will get around to playing someday. I played Oblivion which was ok, but everything I am hearing points to Morrowind being better – far more interesting environments for a start. I’m also interested to see what happens with the ‘Skywind’ and Morrowblivion projects 🙂

  10. Dead Space.

    • Second Dead Space was good, but the human interaction really took away from the horror. Third Dead Space was just abysmal. The extra missions you took on recycled a lot of preexisting environments, and the overused fodder enemy types near the end were damn bullet sponges. At least the dlc’s ending spared us from enduring further devolution.

      • I went into Dead Space 2 on hard mode off the bat. The thing that killed me the most was the psycho with the screwdriver. In a age obsessed with QTEs, someone at the company thought it be a good idea to make those harder at higher difficulties.

        Also the final boss was a let-down. Small arena with infinite baby monsters and a boss who showed their week point for less time then it took to re-load a standard weapon. Didn’t live up to the giant monster from the first game that you don’t really beat as much as survive.

        And back to the crazy guy, why didn’t Isaac re-engage his helmet? I get he probably turned it off to try to talk to the guy, but he could have turned it back on when he realized he was losing the struggle.

    • Iain Baker on August 15, 2019 at 8:27 pm said

      Another franchise on my “I already own it so I really should get around to playing someday” list. Problem is the list keeps growing faster than I can clear it. Damn those Steam / GoG sales, Epic Game Store freebies and mods. Soooo many mods!

      Correction – I own Dead Space 1 & 2. Probably won’t bother with 3 until it cost less than a fiver 😉

  11. ” Video Game sequels are usually superior to their predecessors. ” So true – never thought about it that way when considering my favorite franchises.

    Age of Empires II is WAY better than the first (which is extremely primitive and clunky in comparison), and the same applies (though to a lesser extent) to Diablo II.

    Asheron’s Call 2 was terrible, though.

  12. Great timing as I play fiirst F.E.A.R. right now 😀

    As why Crysis 2 and F.E.A.R. 2 failed – well, yes, it was because of consoles. Though not the way it was argued in the past. What consoles did? They popularized video gaming, they made it a mass entertainment. First F.E.A.R. and Crysis were supposed to be groundbreaking, while the sequels were produced to make money. Therefore they must have been “dumbed down” for statistical Smith.

  13. .Good read. Video games are such a diverse form of art, bud sadly some videogame series degenerated over time and just got worse and worse until they died.

    One of the many examples is Gothic. While Gothic 1 and Gothic 2 are pure masterpieces and remain in a very positive reputation among gamers in germany and poland, the third part sadly was a massive desaster. Especially JoWood (Publisher) put the game designers under massive pressure, so they had to release a undeveloped buggy game. Yeah, some of you may have a giggle now, but there were times when videogames were functional at release and not buggy messes like Fallout 4.
    Still, the repuration increased over time thanks to the fanbase that cared for this game, added community patches, mods and additional content to improve the experience. And heck, even a gothic hardliner like me found pleasure in Gothic 3.

    Other franchises didn’t to so well. Medal of Honor started great and died.
    Empire Earth was one of my favorite RTS games during childhood – but the third part killed the series. Almost like the Stronghold 3 / Stronghold Legends desaster…

    Still – the good games remain in my memory and especially in my Big Box collection. I think i might even have one of the biggest Gothic collections in germany.

  14. amchambers1998 on August 17, 2019 at 8:33 pm said

    I like your article, well done and informative. Nice to see actual gamers reviewing things.

    Would love to see you do an article on hidden gems or obscure
    games though. Never heard of turrican, but now I’m interested.

    It would also be cool to see a list of best indie games, like the vestaria saga. Which was made by the creator of fire emblem.

  15. My personal list of game franchises that objectively degraded over time:

    1. Fable series
    2. Mass Effect series
    3. F.E.A.R. series

  16. wayne walter on August 20, 2019 at 10:43 pm said

    Type text here…I was sure Fallout would be on the list. Fallout 4 was a huge letdown rpg wise after playing NV or even fo3. Then 76 takes about everything left that good and trashes that.

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