Creating A Sequel To A Game You Didn’t Make In The First Place

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(Image taken from the Bioshock 2 Download Section of their website: www.bioshock2game.com)

Sequels are a part of gaming, for better or worse. Usually for the better, but sadly not always. As development companies struggle to meet deadlines set up but publishers or from fan expectations it’s hard to meet those without feeling the need to fill the time. This time can usually be filled with DLC but not always or the original game creators have moved on to s new project and have no interest in rehashing the same ideas again. This is when the publishers have to turn to another studio to develop a sequel. Today I want to take a look at how this doesn’t always produce the best games. Granted these games as standalone games are very good, even great but they are constantly held in the shadow of the original. I am going to focus on four games in particular that I own, have player, and pretty much enjoyed but still see the flaws in each in as they try to follow in their original’s footsteps.

(Warning I will probable spoiler all of these games and even the past games, you have been warned.)

Bioshock 2

Lowdown: Ten years have passed since Jack left Rapture and the city is no better for his leaving. Sofia Lamb, a psychologist, has taken control of Rapture after the deaths of Andrew Ryan and Atlas. She intends on getting the city back on its feet (or fins) she sends Big Sisters (Little Sisters not saved by Jack or Dr. Tenenbaum) to kidnap girls from around the Atlantic to make new Little Sisters. Dr. Tenenbaum and Eleanor Lamb, Sofia’s daughter) resurrect Subject Delta, the first Big Daddy to be pair bonded with a Little Sister, to stop Lamb from achieving her goal.

Game it follows: Bioshock

Original development team: Irrational Games (2K Boston at the time of Bioshock)

Developer: 2K Marin

Pros: Following in the shoes of the original Bioshock is not an easy task, but the story for Bioshock 2 is really good, it takes to task the extreme opposite opinion of Andrew Ryan’s. The view of looking out for the group to the point of the exclusion of the self is held under the same light as Ryan’s objectivist beliefs. The concept of playing a Big Daddy was an interesting one. Especially with the gathering points with the Little Sisters added to the tension. Additionally, seeing some of Rapture’s poor and less desirable neighborhoods was also a good idea as a way to separate it from the original.

Problems: As a stand alone game Bioshock 2 is really good, the DLC Minerva’s Garden is one of, if not the best DLC I’ve ever played, the only problem is that is has to follow the original Bioshock. The original was a very lightning in the bottle type of game that mix story with really fun gameplay and such a hook of the original games was the city of Rapture itself, learning about it and delving deep into its lord. So how do you follow that? You can’t reintroduce the city. So that part already had a tough hill to climb. The next is Sofia Lamb, she’s a good character but never really gives the commanding Andrew Ryan feel and tone, nor does she give you the friend/foe feel of Atlas/Fontaine. I mentioned it as a bonus, the guard the Little Sisters, and it can be but it can also be a pain in the butts. I Always saved before a gathering, because I knew what to expect. In game it was fine but the game also released a DLC for it called The Protector Trials, which was all protecting Little Sisters. I played but never finished because it’s nice in small doses but aggravating when presented too much. The game always felt like it was trying to justify its existence, part of that was so much press asking, why do we even need a sequel?

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Lowdown: Taking place between Borderland 1 and 2 The Pre-Sequel is set on Pandora’s moon called Elpis and the floating Hyperion space base Helios you play one of four new Vault Hunters (all NPCs from Borderlands previous games) and you are contacted by Jack, a Hyperion programmer and the main antagonist Handsome Jack in Borderlands 2, with a distress call to help him save Helios from The Lost Legion, a faction of Dahl’s former army. They have taken over Helios to use its powerful Eye weapon to open a Vault on Helios. You have to stop them.

Game it follows: Borderlands 2

Original development team: Gearbox

Developer: 2K Australia

Pros: The Pre-Sequel smartly follows in the footsteps of the original and doesn’t waver from it. The new characters are fun and very different, making the game’s replayability very high. The new locations can be fun and the levels are huge. The new oxygen booster allows double jumping which allows access to new locations and more exploration ability. I can’t talk Borderlands without mentioning guns, guns and lots of guns. This game adds new types and new types of elemental damage. The story is paced well and the well known characters are used to great effect without feeling forced and new characters a fun and interesting. Again, as a stand alone game The Pre-Sequel is a good time.

Problems: The Pre-Sequel suffers a bit from being a too much like Borderlands 2, it almost feels like a large DLC rather than it’s own game. The introduction of lasers is cool but didn’t add as much change up as I had hoped they would and the new elemental ice damage (with freezing enemies) meant I had to carry another type of weapon around and as never as useful as the salad weapons from Borderlands 2. The idea of having the game on the moon with its adjusted gravity was a fun way to mix it up and change up traversal but the lack of oxygen really caused problems for my gameplay.  I’m a guy who loves exploring the world given to me, but having a lack of such a necessity really hindered my desire to move to far off the beaten path. Worrying about looking for air pockets or where a building was to jump into if I needed to refill my tanks was annoying and distracting. Given how Borderlands fights go I never wanted to be too far from a building or a vehicle so I did have to worry about running out of air in the middle of a fire fight. Speaking of firefights I have noticed one really annoying thing about this game compare to the original, whenever I’m downed and in a Fight For Your Life moment all the enemies run off or behind cover. This may have happened in the original games but not to the point where I noticed. Psychos, the crazy melee enemies that can’t wait to cut into you suddenly run off whenever I’m downed and have to hope Jinx is there to help me up. Also I want to mention quick Jack himself, he’s awesome in Borderlands 2, because I don’t have him in my ear every few minutes but extending that over a whole game began to wear on me and I found this game story in the end to be Jack’s rise to power, which I really didn’t need the backstory for. I was hoping for more of a story not so heavily relying on the other games to support it. One more quick thing, the DLC characters of Jack’s double and Hammerlock’s sister? Really? I kind of understand but if all your other characters are NPCs from the original games, why not pull from there, I don’t mean Tiny Tina here, but other characters would have, to me, been more appealing.

Batman Arkham Origins

Lowdown: True to its name Arkham Origins is a prequel to Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. It takes place 2 to 3 years into Batman’s career as the Dark Knight, so most of his gear and items used or seen in later games aren’t developed yet, from r example the Batmobile. It’s Christmas Eve in Gotham City and crime lord Black Mask has put a million dollar bounty on Batman’s head and 8 of DCs top assassins are out to collect it. Aside from the main story there are a of side missions to accomplish, like breaking up Penguin’s arms deals or stopping a terrorist named Anarchy from blowing up the city. Plus did I mention the first meeting of Batman and Joker? Merry Christmas Batman.

Game it follows: Batman Arkham City

Original development team: Rocksteady Studios

Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montreal & Splash Damage

Pros: Origins actually has a lot going for it, in design, gameplay, and story. The much loved fighting engine from earlier games is still rock solid and still a lot of fun. Bouncing from enemy to enemy, countering, vicious attacks, and take downs are all still present and as visceral as ever. Using the Batwing to fast travel through the city made navigation of the open world quicker and easier. The first meeting with many characters from Batman’s world, like Jim Gordon, joker, Barbara Gordon (later Batgirl and Oracle) as well as Harleen Quinzel (Harley Quinn) were a good way to give the whole world feel to players of the earlier games and a little background for people who never read the comics. There are also a ton of Easter eggs and comic references for the comic book fans, I found Crime Alley myself by running into the movies theater playing Zorro. Gotham City is as cold, dark, and grimy as ever and the holiday decorations are well contrasted to the city’s dark atmosphere, like a Art Deco gothic Christmas. It strangely feels right for a Batman game.

Cons: As I’ve said of earlier games on this list Arkham Origins is by no means a bad game but it can’t hold up against its predecessors. If this games problems can be summed up in one work it would be: safety. It’s an incredibly safe game. It took everything that worked in the previous games and altered it, augmented it and re skinned it but never stepped beyond those games, feeling the safety in their shadow. On every level the game stayed well behind this line, it gets close at times, but never quite stepping over it. The city itself was mostly lifted from Arkham City, just with a holiday theme as opposed to a prison theme, I’ve even seen the huge prison walls. This of course isn’t surprising since it is the same city with a new theme, instead of a prison theme it’s a holiday one. The meat of the game though is the fighting, which is also lifted from earlier version as well, with one exception, the Death Stroke fight is difficult but very rewarding. Sadly he rest fall in line with previous version, the Firefly fight was very reminiscent of the Poison Ivy fight from Arkham Asylum and the Dead Shot fight was pretty much the Two Face fight from Arkham City. The Bane fight was pretty much the Bane fight from City and the Monster Joker from Asylum so there you go. The street level fights were also similar but all three games have been similar that way so I can’t knock the game for going with what works.another troubling point the game has is struggling out of the weight of the Joker, it can’t. He appears for the third time as the main villain, granted this was their first meeting but still with a rogues gallery like Batman’s to use him again feels like a wasted opportunity. That being said Troy Baker did a fantastic job as Mark Hamill’s Joker but from the selection of great Batman’s villains the safest choice would be Joke and the games suffers from the need to have him. Finally the side missions stayed on the safe side by never verring to far from the older games with the Riddler’s trophies still the standard hunt and find, as well as the Anarchy missions feeling like a reskinned Zazz missions from City. Again never bad in concept, but after finishing this trek I feel this is the safest Gotham has been in quiet a while.

I want to quickly express that I really do enjoy these games, I own all of them and have played and finished them. My real intention in this post is to point out how game creation can be a tricky thing and just because a game does well and plays great it does not mean that the follow up game will be infallible, especially if the original developers are not the creators of the new version. Also these are by no means the only games there are lot more. I just choose a few to point out the pros and cons. Games like Fallout: New Vegas, Halo 4, and Gears of War: Judgement all could have made this list for a few reasons and there are other as well. Some games I’m sure you can name some yourself.

In fact do that, I always like to end with a question so here it is, have you played a game you can see that would fit on the list of good but not as good as the original? Let me know. I hope you enjoyed the post and now I’m just looking forward to follow ups of some games I love, Batman Arkham Knight and Fallout 4, which I hope are even better than the originals. Keep hope alive.

About Ness

As a chaotic good nerd I try to be as well rounded as possible, from video games, comics, tabletop RPGs, anime, and cartoons I try to fit it all in. Although I enjoy all of it, video games have always dominated the majority of my time and attention. My plan for here is not to write previews or reviews but to talk about how I relate to the games I play. Hopefully we can all play along.