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Published on January 30th, 2012 | by Ethan


What Makes a Game—What makes a true sequel?

“Yeah it’s pretty good, but it’s a lot like the last one.”

A topic of fierce discussion and frustration from gamers is whether or not a sequel to a beloved game is actually a fully realized new game or could have easily been an expansion. What games can be considered expansion packs; better known today as a very large DLC? Arguably, there are games that walk the line, but there are also games that have some gamers believing that developers are just plain lazy.

One of the most prolific games that have some players hopping mad about shelling out $60, is Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3. Many arguments can be made that this game being nothing more than an expansion pack or very large DLC pack for Modern Warfare 2. The most obvious issue is that the graphics remain largely the same as Modern Warfare 2. To be fair, the Call of Duty series has been running the same modified engine since the 2nd Call of Duty, but the newest modifications aren’t showing much of an improvement to a player’s view of the game’s graphics.

Can you figure out which one came first?

Having nearly the same graphics doesn’t necessarily mean that the game is not a true sequel, because there are many games out there that are easily considered fully fledged sequels with nearly the same graphics. Batman Arkham City doesn’t do much to improve on Arkham Asylum’s good looks other then expand the scope of the game in general, yet it is considered a well made genuine sequel. That’s because it expands and improves on most everything its predecessor brought to the table. New characters, additional gadgets, and side missions are all added to Arkham City to make it feel fresh and different than its processor.

Modern Warfare 3 fails to do this and instead keeps the same shooting mechanics, the same leveling system, the same coop mode, and instead of taking a chance and trying something new, it simply adds new maps and continues telling the single player campaign’s story. Circa 2000, this kind of update could have been considered an expansion pack. Certainly a lot of gamers, including myself, are disappointed by Activision’s choice to simply rehash an older title, claiming that paying full price for what is essentially DLC is a rip off.

A True Sequel

As much as I like ragging on the latest Call of Duty game, being so harsh on a game begs the question, what makes a game a true sequel? Based on public reactions to games in the past, it appears relativity easy to propel a game into the true successor category. True sequels are made when at least one of three different variables are drastically changed from the game’s previous title. The three are graphics, gameplay mechanics and game modes.

Now for the graphics to make an impact on a game consumer, a subtle upgrade, like new textures or a few redone models won’t cut it. I am talking about a full on graphics overhaul, where the engine gets completely redone, new textures and new models are all implemented into the sequel. A great example of a sequel that doesn’t change much from the original, except graphics, is Battlefield 3. Okay so it does have a single player (considered nearly universally bad) and the guns fire slightly differently, but basically it has the same game modes and gameplay as Bad Company 2. Yet, it is considered a true sequel.

Pretty sure just adding motion blur makes games look 10 times better.

Usually the easiest way to convince gamers that a game is a true sequel is when the core gameplay is changed from its predecessor. Changing the way combat flows, adding new weapons to solve puzzles or kill people, create a new feel to the game. Mass Effect 2 executes this perfectly. Out with the overheating system, clunky combat and bare planet exploring and in with ammo, tight controls and planet harvesting. Most of these changes are upgrades. I know some would take planets to explore over the tedious resource harvesting system, but at least they are changes! The graphics are barely touched and there are no new game modes with this follow-up, but it still satisfies gamers as a well made continuation by merely adding gameplay changes.

Gears of War 3 has nearly the same graphics and core gameplay as its predecessors, but it added new modes, propelling it to shooter of the year at many game publications. Four player coop and beast mode add to the game’s variety, making it feel unique from its predecessors. There aren’t many modes added, but they are significantly different from the main game or any other mode available on previous titles. As one can maybe tell, it is all about drastic changes when it comes to banking on one of these three variables.

Recipe for a fantastic sequel

It’s a wonder why a developer hasn’t actually improved on all three variables in a game yet. Nearly all well regarded sequels improve on one or two variables, but I cannot really think of any that have all three enhanced.

Of course when a game is a giant money printing juggernaut like Call of Duty, there really is no reason to improve the formula. Activision is employing the, if it isn’t broke don’t fix it philosophy with Call of Duty. They receive a lot of flak from nay-sayers like me; but they are the ones rolling in the dough, while I’m certainly not.

Don’t agree with me? Let me know! But please, back up your claims.
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About the Author

Ethan Having long been an avid gamer, Ethan found his niche in the PC gaming market, while still occasionally dabbling in the medium that got him into gaming, consoles. Usually, he finds time to play his Xbox 360 and occasionally will dust of his Wii for a bit to play with friends and family when he isn’t found locked in his room playing shooters and strategy games. Follow him on Twitter: @ethanhawkes

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