It’s extremely difficult for a game to garner a good reputation in today’s gaming world—though our sequel-heavy launch schedule may not show it—and even tougher for further installments to meet the lofty expectations and player hype generated by the first’s success. Fundamentally, this is a good thing; it means developers and publishers aren’t able to push out carbon copies of the original with an extra digit plastered on the cover—at least, theoretically. Consequently, it means that the continuations of our favorite realms and plots will be more than shallow reiterations. It is this relationship, among other things, that fuels the gaming industry’s progression as a creative and entertaining medium. However, it has also given way to a detrimental way of thinking that continues to plague games and gaming journalism alike.
Sequels, where video games are concerned, give developers an opportunity to reinvent and refine the world that they’ve already created, and to build on the plot therein. As a result, we, the players, expect them to dazzle us with new features, perfected controls, vamped-up graphics, and the like. There is, however, a line between asking for improvement—a necessary and rational demand—and asking for the impossible.
Let me run you a hypothetical.
Suppose that a triple-A developer recently breaks into the current generation of consoles with a brand new IP. As expected of this fan-favored developer, the game is critically acclaimed across the board. As a result, a sequel to the game is announced within a relatively short time frame. When the long-awaited sequel’s release date finally comes around, players and critics are left speechless. The sequel is leaps and bounds above the original. Dubbed Game of the Year, gaming perfection, and the developer’s best work, this release quickly secures a third slot for the series. So,unsurprisingly, another sequel is made. This release, however, is met with a much less avid reaction, despite the game’s numerous steps forward. The third entry is better in arguably every aspect, having somehow improved upon the second’s heralded formula while adding new content and enhanced multiplayer to the mix, all without losing sight of the game’s core appeal. But because the gap in quality from second to third is dwarfed by the improvements found between first and second, the third is met with unanimous disappointment.
It’s an interesting paradox, isn’t it? Why would players and reviewers react negatively towards a superior game simply because the predecessoris also an excellent game? This isn’t some Resident Evil-esque tale of diverging from a series’ roots, or a conflict of gameplay interest like the one surrounding Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. It’s a crude, common equation: If a developer puts out improved content, players should be happy, right? Surely this hypothetical is just that: a hypothetical.
In actuality,what I’ve described is a brief overview of the history of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted franchise.
This is a perfect representation of a glaring fallacy in many a gamer’s way of thinking. Although the insatiable demand for improvement and evolution in games is perfectly justifiable, setting outlandish expectations of our own accord and then bashing developers for not meeting our overblown hype is simply ridiculous. Uncharted 3 exemplifies this brilliantly in that the game does not drift from the core TPS formula, but still greatly improves upon the multiplayer’s format, tweaks and fine-tunes the weaponry and cover systems, and throws in the typical bells and whistles that we expect from sequels, such as graphical and sound improvement. Regardless, the game was branded with what can best be described as “so-so” reception. (Though, to be fair, I must point out that Uncharted 3 did win 2011’s Game of the Year Award here at Cheat Code Central.)
Though the mentality is bad enough, it is this sort of complacent and dismissive reaction that is most harmful. In this sense, gaming journalists and critics have dirtier hands than anyone, because we’re simply asking for the impossible: to effectively double a series’ quality with each release. In doing so, we are inadvertently telling developers that they aren’t allowed to make the game as good as it can possibly be by implying that the disparities between releases take priority over the quality of the game. You could even go so far as to say that this proposes something as counterproductive as intentionally withholding content and improvements from an upcoming installment for the sake of adding that value to future releases instead.
Clearly, a game won’t succeed if it’s poorly done—just ask Aliens: Colonial Marines, for example. But when you factor in this ludicrous definition of “the norm,” where does that leave developers? In this scenario, abysmal is off-limits and fantastic won’t work in the long run, so what can they possibly make? The answer is actually brutally simple: average.
Obviously, stagnation is not the universally applicable doom of video games. Games like Borderlands 2, Bioshock Infinite, Far Cry 3, and Halo 4 are constantly proving that expectations can and will be shattered, no matter how high they are. However, for a select few games like Killzone 3, Uncharted 3, Disgaea 4, or Atelier Ayesha, this disparity bias is a credible problem. Then again, if every developer stopped to mull over every reviewer’s input, the industry would hit an immoveable wall overnight.
Date: April 2, 2013