5 Underappreciated Game Sequels
When it comes to my personal enjoyment of games, something I’ve learned in recent years is that I have a better experience if I go into them without expectations.
Unfortunately, it’s not reasonable to take this approach with sequels. The very nature of them implies that they will not be judged on their own merits. Rather, they will always be compared with the original. Even as someone who is determined to keep an open mind about new experiences, the first installment of a franchise that I love sets the tone for any future games in the series. Sequels that don’t live up to fans’ expectations will get backlash. However, there are plenty of times where my opinion of a sequel differs from the reaction of the fan base at large. Today, we’ll examine five games that I think are better than some fans give them credit for.
#5–Silent Hill: Homecoming
I purchased Homecoming years ago on Steam when it was on sale, if only to support the franchise in the hopes that Konami will release the rest of the games on digital PC storefronts. However, for years I heard about how terrible the game was, and I had dreaded playing it, as it pains me to see my beloved franchise torn from the hands of Team Silent. After replaying the first four games recently and suffering from Silent Hill withdrawal, I resolved to finally give Homecoming a chance, and I’m as surprised as anyone that I actually enjoyed the experience, despite having every expectation that I would despise it.
Sure, it’s nothing compared to the first four games. Yes, the linearity of the game detracts from the exploration that was such a big part of the originals. And of course, it takes too many cues from the Hollywood adaptation and inherits many of its canonical inconsistencies, particularly when it comes to the presentation of the Otherworld, Pyramid Head, and the Nurses. But it’s not a bad game. In fact, I found a lot to like.
The monster designs, first of all, are unique and creative. Like the best Silent Hill monsters, many of them have psychological implications. The bosses include some of my favorites in the series. The music and sound design is also on point, no doubt thanks to the involvement of legendary composer Akira Yamaoka. Many scenes are incredibly cinematic and feature some of the best voice acting in the series. As soon as I saw the chilling scene (https://youtu.be/RRLc4VdAxic?t=1584) where Alex finds his pale-faced mother alone at home cradling a revolver in her lap, I thought to myself, “Wait a minute… is this game actually good?” I was hooked from that moment onward. It was a pleasant surprise, and any Silent Hill fans who have yet to give it a try should give it a second look.
#4–King’s Quest: Mask of Eternity
Any time a series departs from its genre, it’s only natural for its fans to feel a sense of betrayal. Mask of Eternity came at a time when the point-and-click adventure genre that many of us had grown up on was on its deathbed. A new genre known as first-person shooter games was taking the PC market by storm, and anything without action-oriented gameplay would frequently be overlooked by audiences. Lucasarts and Sierra On-Line were all but finished making adventure games, and with the advent of 3D rendering, they were becoming too expensive and too niche to justify making.
Mask of Eternity was Sierra’s attempt to adapt the series to the shifting market, combining puzzle solving with platforming and RPG elements. The result is an engaging blend of gameplay styles that tells a compelling story dripping with atmosphere. It’s by far the most immersive game in the series, and it’s easy to get lost in the world Sierra created. The darker storyline had a lot of appeal to me, and it was a welcome change for the series.
As a huge fan of adventure games, I understand why fans rejected this combat-heavy entry in the series, especially given that pacifism is one of the core themes of the series. Naturally, the game’s existence was a sign that the genre may be done for good. However, I’m an equal opportunity gamer who loves all genres, and what I see is an action-adventure game that was ahead of its time. I have fond memories of how scared I was as a young kid hearing the spooky music surrounded by citizens who had been frozen into statues. The incredible soundtrack and environments are still memorable to this day, and in retrospect, it’s actually one of my favorite installments in the series. If you can get it to work, it’s definitely worth a play. You’ll just have to read up on how to dodge the legendary Sierra game-breaking glitches before you dive in.
#3–Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Continuing with the theme of point-and-click adventure games adding combat and alienating their fan base, the reaction to Dreamfall was mixed among fans. The first game, The Longest Journey, was a masterful combination of science fiction and fantasy that came at a time when adventure games were few and far between. The main character, April Ryan, was an incredibly relatable and likeable character who is a fan favorite. However, the sequel turned April into a secondary character, with new protagonist Zoë Castillo taking the reins as the star. Many fans found Zoë to be an inferior character and were disappointed that April was only playable in brief sequences. Worse still for these fans, April had changed from the previous installment and was no longer the happy-go-lucky girl she was in the first game.
Naturally, the shoehorned combat and stealth sequences added to the game were rejected by the fans, but it was these character choices that fans rejected the most. I don’t disagree that April is the better character. However, I commend the creators for taking risks with the storyline. Dreamfall was clearly a personal story for writer Ragnar Tørnquist, and its plotline tackled difficult themes rarely expressed in video games. The first game followed a fairly straightforward hero’s journey for April. She was told repeatedly throughout the game that she was destined to fulfill a prophecy, and spent the game anticipating an important role for her life. However, her role in the prophecy was much smaller than she had expected, and once she had filled her role, she felt lost. She fell into a deep depression, disappointed with what had become of her life, and was never quite knew what to do with herself. This post-partum hero’s journey depression is rarely seen in the realm of fantasy storytelling. While it may be disappointing to fans to see a character they love struggle to find meaning, I found it to be a realistic storyline that many people emerging into adulthood can relate to. The other two playable characters, Zoë and Kian, are struggling with similar issues, with Zoë having difficulty deciding what to do with her life following her education and Kian discovering that the faith he’d devoted his life to was oppressing the magical citizens of Arcadia. As the dark middle chapter of a trilogy, Dreamfall explored ennui and the characters’ search for meaning, while the sequel Dreamfall Chapters had themes of rebirth and moving on from tragedy. Dreamfall’s role in completing this story arc was to express the darkness, and in my opinion, it did a damn good job.
#2–The Walking Dead Season 2
After the first season became a smash hit for Telltale Games, expectations were high for the second season. Telltale had successfully transitioned from point-and-click adventure games designed for Lucasarts fans to Quantic Dream-style interactive drama games made for the masses. The Walking Dead Season One became the blueprint for drama games to the point that interactive drama games are often referred to as “Telltale-style” games.
After the (spoiler warning) death of Clementine’s caretaker Lee at the end of season one, the narrative question hanging over season two is “Who will take care of Clementine?” Each episode teases us with a potential answer to this question, but each potential caretaker is lost tragically as the episodes progress. It turns out that no one will take care of Clementine. She must become her own caretaker in the cruel world of the apocalypse. This mature realization gave the series new meaning and is a rich story arc for Clementine.
One of the most common criticisms of Telltale’s games is that your choices don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. This is a fair criticism, but season two takes the “your choices don’t matter” problem and turns it into a plot point. The fact that, no matter what choice you make, a character is punished for failing to complete her chores in episode two may be frustrating to players who want to do the right thing, but it inspires the theme that the majority of things that happen are beyond your control, much like the real world. The choices that other characters make in the game cannot be changed, and Clementine must realize that she can only be responsible for herself, reinforcing the theme that she must become her own parent.
The most controversial aspect of the second season was the inclusion of the season one character Kenny. He was a meek character in the first game, who couldn’t put down his zombified son in season one. But between seasons, the loss of his family hardened him, and he morphed into a ruthless, vengeful individual. His character was a metaphor for abusive family members that can’t see themselves devolving into madness. His transformation comes to a head at the end of season one when he attempts to murder another character because he believes that she had lost a baby (she lied to expose his insanity). Clementine has to decide whether or not to stop him. Kenny is only redeemed if Clementine shoots him, and an emotional scene follows that shows Kenny regretting who he’d become. He tells Clementine that she did the right thing. It’s a powerful, albeit painful, scene that angered many fans, but that left quite an impression on me. It’s one of the most nihilistic moments in the entire Walking Dead franchise, and for that, I must commend it.
When you create one of the best video game stories ever told, following it up is an intimidating task. The deep, fascinating lore and epic plot twist at the end of the first game gave the sequel a lot to live up to. As such, there are quite a few fans who believe BioShock 2 to be the weakest in the series.
I may agree when it comes to the narrative, although I think it told a worthwhile story that enriched the history of Rapture. It sidestepped the challenge of surpassing the plot twist from the first game by not even attempting one. This was the right move, in my view, as anything they tried would have paled in comparison. Sometimes you can’t recapture that lightning in a bottle, and you shouldn’t try.
Instead, 2K Marin created a compelling cast of characters, and they expanded the lore in a way that enriched the first game’s storyline. The narrative themes of the series were deepened by the fact that antagonist Sofia Lamb’s belief system was on the opposite side of the spectrum from Andrew Ryan’s. By introducing Ryan’s political rivals and the presence of religious organizations, Rapture was shown not to be the ideological monolith it appeared to be in the first game. When exploring the shantytown of Pauper’s Drop, we get to see what life was like for the workers who built Rapture, only to be left jobless once the construction was complete. Through the character of Mark Meltzer, we see how Rapture is influencing the outside world. Portraits of Jack, the protagonist from the first BioShock, found in Siren Alley reveal to us that he has become something of a messiah to Lamb’s Rapture Family. Towards the end, we get to see the world through the eyes of a Little Sister in a fantastic sequence. By examining these concepts, it’s clear that the writers of BioShock 2 spent a great deal of time imagining the world of Rapture and pondering what life was like in the fallen paradise. The highly detailed world building lived up to the original in every way.
In addition to a compelling story, the gameplay is simply the best that the series has to offer. The new weapons, improved plasmids, and satisfying upgrades add a lot of replay value to the game. By putting the player in the boots of a Big Daddy, the developers made us feel more powerful, while ramping up the difficulty by adding more enemies to fight. The new Little Sister adoption mechanic gave the player many opportunities to experiment with a variety of techniques. In addition, the level design is fantastic, with complex and varied locations to explore that are some of my favorites in the series. BioShock 2 is worth playing and replaying. It’s the most fun combat in the series, and it’s a worthy follow-up to one of the best games ever made.
What sequels did I miss? Do you think these games are trash? Voice your disagreements in the comment section below.
Brian Schuchert is a writer and filmmaking professional. He’s been playing games since before he could read and will continue to play them until he’s a big-shot director in Hollywood with no time on his hands. You can follow him on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/TINSELTOWNINC), Twitter (https://twitter.com/ShookEarthMedia), Facebook (https://fb.me/ShookEarthMedia), or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/shookearthmedia/). You can also visit his website at https://www.shookearth.com/.