2012's Worst Sequel Omissions

Some say 2012 was a disappointing year, those people are crazy. That doesn't mean I wasn't bummed out a few times. What sequels broke my heart the most this year? Find out. I promise this isn't just an excuse to whine.

By Tony Walter | Feb 9, 2013

It seems that I find myself saying this every year, especially as we find ourselves rounding out this cycle of consoles, but this has been a year for sequels. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Borderlands 2, Mass Effect 3, Assassin’s Creed 3, and Halo 4, just to name some of the bigger releases. We also saw several revivals of older series with new sequels (e.g.: Diablo III, Max Payne 3, XCOM: Enemy Unknown), some of which had their previous most recent release a decade prior. Funny, in that sort of tragic “oh no, I’m getting older” way, a good portion of my rival gang members, guerrilla rebels, and dirty cops were just learning their ABCs when I was first stumbling my way through the depression, whiskey, and pill induced dreams of the widower detective's inaugural release.

We see it with each sequel, the fans of the series lobbying complaints as soon as the teaser teases some surface change - a new voice actor, a change in pacing, a new hairdo. As much as I hate seeing complaints about a game before it is even comes out, sometimes omissions happen. Sometimes something small, sometimes something far more integral to our past experiences. 2012, being a year of sequels, was certainly no stranger to this.

Max Payne 3 - All I Want To Do Is Dream

I personally felt Max Payne 3 ended up being a much better game than its predecessors in a lot of ways, but the modernized mechanics, change of environment, and completely serviceable multiplayer didn't sit well with the purists. From the moment Rockstar released the first screens of an elderly, bald, and tropical-shirt-wearing Max Payne taking cover in South American favelas, we heard all sorts of complaints that Rockstar had lost sight of the roots and themes of the series. Though I'll never see eye-to-eye with the purists, there was something that I felt was missing from the new release. While the depressed, substance dependent detective largely remained the same, the changes to the series largely situational (i.e.: he's depressed and violent in South America and killing really scary oppressive police, rather than being really depressed and violent in New York and killing really scary and oppressive government thugs), there was still something missing.

Dream sequences, perhaps the thing that I felt that Rockstar could have taken from the original games and run with most, were completely ignored. Don't get me wrong, the dream sequences originally had been really, kind of terrible; clumsy, unclear, and kind of laughable while trying to be dramatic (a crying baby is sad, right?). Rockstar would not have handled them quite the same way, that's for sure, and a dream sequence practically oozes creative possibilities. This was a missed opportunity for an uninhibited, creative Rockstar to achieve a really memorable moment, something Max Payne 3 certainly could have used more of.

Assassin's Creed 3 - Under The Bored Walk

I picked this up the day it came out and have yet to push all the way through it. It would seem as soon as I begin to make progress in the game something halts my enjoyment and destroys my ambitions to liberate the colonies. It could be that the mission structure has remained largely exactly the same for the past four games, it could be the relatively unreliable scripting that results in segments of the game breaking, it could be the uneven AI that allows enemies to spot you on a rooftop three blocks away and keeps your allies from being even remotely helpful, it could be the completely pointless economy that serves only as a vehicle to provide you with something else you have to do in the game while not really rewarding you for doing it, or it could be that after five games I've been completely numbed to the prevailing Dan Brown-ian arch. No, the chief problem with Assassin's Creed 3 is something that hits you much earlier than any of that.

You can't make the damned hidden blades go in-and-out during the load screens. During my first load sequence I thought, "I just missed it, certainly they don't expect me to just walk around this empty white space for twenty seconds." I made sure to mash every button on the controller while waiting for the following sequence to load up, but nothing. These moments pop up in the game rather frequently, probably more often than you're actually assassinating people, so there is no denying the importance of them. Assassin's Creed 3 makes a bad first impression, and when a game is littered with so many small missteps, it could be the first that breaks it.

Twisted Metal - Go Your Only Way

Twisted Metal, the reboot, abandoned the major infrastructure of the past Twisted Metal games for something a bit more focused. This game provides something of a more traditional campaign, a linear event that presents cutscenes as you progress. Older Twisted Metal games worked something closer to the method used in the day of arcade fighters; you pick your unique character, progress through a series of matches, and watch a short movie at the end. As a teenager I fell in love with the Twisted Metal endings, before the YouTube explosion, I had to actually track down each game and beat it with each character to see all of the endings.

This reboot offers some well produced, and charmingly disturbing live action scenes during its campaign. The disappointment here comes from the choice to focus on a singular experience. While I'd argue almost all games that want to present a story would benefit from less choice and a more focused experience, Twisted Metal actually hurts itself. We're left with far less of the classic stories than what we had in previous entries, and ultimately something less personal. The characters are as exaggerated and horrible as always, but the effort to create individuality is lost among them. The vehicles and special weapons are no longer exclusive to each character, and the fighting game-esque mentality of 'this is my dude' is gone. Ultimately, the mysterious and bizarre universe where these games take place was better off less explored, with more of a focus on the mad individuals populating it.

Darksiders 2 - Riders On The Snore

I had a love/hate relationship with Vigil's premiere adventure game back in 2010. Having missed out on much of the Zelda craze, perhaps some of the initial Darksiders praise washed over me. Feeling bad for not giving the game its fair shake when it released I decided to pick it up while it was on sale, and after bashing my skull against a relatively slow start, I fell in love. Darksiders provided a Zelda-esque experience that, in a lot of ways, was more interesting than the series that had inspired it. A fast paced combat system, massive and varying environments, well designed puzzles, a story that was surprisingly intriguing, and one of the most memorable endings of any game I've ever played.

Darksiders ended in such a goosebumps-inducing way that I actually shouted at my television in support of War as he stood in defiance and let loose one of the most badass lines in all of video game history. "No. Not alone." It was simple, but all of the events you had experienced in the past twenty-five or so hours had wrapped up perfectly. Darksiders 2 ended a bit more abruptly with little more than a nod to the first game's ending. The main villain was only mentioned a few times throughout the game, and certainly wasn't built to the depth of even the minor characters in the first game. While this didn't kill the rest of the game for me, it certainly left a bitter taste in my mouth, and slightly less excited for a sequel that we may now never see.

Borderlands 2 - The Sounds Of Unsilence 

I wanted to love you, Borderlands 2. I was obsessed for weeks. I would play Short Change Hero while at work, fantasize about leveling up, and which skill I might invest in next. I spent more time than was healthy pursuing codes for Golden Keys so that could find that next best pistol or shotgun. The thought of pumping acidic rounds into skags, bandits, and evil robots filled my mind whenever I wasn't actively pumping acidic rounds into skags, bandits, and evil robots. I meticulously sorted my active quests so that I could complete them in the most efficient order, while maximizing my XP intake.

And, I heard the shrill, piercing, tones, of poorly conceived characters delivering constant, profoundly unfunny, internet-forum-based humor, that made me hope a stray rocket might explode a bit too close to my character, knocking out my ability to hear. What's missing from Borderlands 2 is the absence of something - silence. Quiet periods may sound like an odd request from a game where guns flow like water, but juxtaposition is a valuable thing. From Tiny Tina to Scooter, every character in Borderlands 2 can't quiet grasp the concept of shutting the hell up, resulting in a dialogue that blends makes an indistinguishable mess of itself.

Mass Effect 3 - House Of The Rising Price Tag

I debated having Mass Effect 3 in this list. It seems an obvious inclusion simply because due to the backlash post-release. In March I couldn't mention that I played games without being asked, "what'd you think of Mass Effect 3's ending?" That's something that I've tossed around in my head for almost a year now, and I'm still not sure I have a solid answer of exactly how I feel about it. I'm more hesitant to consider the ending bad because of the ridiculous backlash. I wish I could have experienced the ending in a bubble, without the rumors of how horrible it was floating around. Maybe then I could have felt a more honest reaction to it. Though, while my feelings on the ending of the game aren't exactly solidified, I do know that isn't my main problem with this sequel.

I can't possibly be the only one who remembers the giant terminator baby from Mass Effect 2, can I? Even if Mass Effect 3's ending left you feeling a bit empty, the series is no stranger to anticlimactic endings. And because of this fact, the ending is disqualified from this list. Then why am I talking about Mass Effect 3 right now? The true disgusting thing about Mass Effect 3 wasn't something that was included with the game at all, and that's the problem. The From Ashes downloadable content contained a character that was vitally important to my experience, and certainly something important to the fiction of the universe - the problem is that it carried its own separate price tag. Anybody who wished to have the entire available experience of the game on release would be asked to either drop ten bucks for the extra content, or to find one of the very uncommon, eighty dollar collector edition copies of the game.

Need For Speed: Most Wanted - Who Are You (A Sequel To)

I have about as hard a time discerning what this game is supposed to be as EA did. Criterion, beloved creators of the arcade racer Burnout - and one of my favorite games on the current generation, Burnout Paradise - were acquired by EA and tasked with helming an entry to their own flagship racer franchise, Need For Speed. I assume this is because the Burnout name doesn't bring in quite the audience that the annualized Need For Speed franchise does. This game fits oddly on this list because it isn't exactly a direct sequel. It is clearly a spiritual successor to Burnout Paradise, being founded on many of the guiding principles. It bears the Need For Speed name, so if you don't buy the Burnout argument, it's certainly arguable that it's a sequel to the last Need For Speed: Most Wanted game, Need For Speed: Most Wanted. Yes, that's right, there are two of those now.

Is it a sequel to Burnout Paradise or the original Need For Speed: Most Wanted? Well, both, and I have two ways in which they dropped the ball. In a bit of poetic justice, EA trying to milk the money from the Need For Speed name using the talents of Criterion, got neither. In fact, this game managed to loose what gave both of these games their identities. Licensed cars sounds like a plus, but when you pick up names like Ford and Chevrolet, you lose the amazing, detailed damage models of Burnout Paradise - and, when you lose those damage models, the wrecks are less satisfying, and therefore mistakes are just frustrating. This also explains the absence of the always fun Crash mode. On the Need For Speed side of the coin, they lost the laughable, but defiantly charming, live action character sequences. No B-movie tier villain like Razor Callahan this time, just some realistic cars driving around another open world.

The Darkness II - No Sympathy For The Devil

The Darkness II was probably just as overlooked as its predecessor, despite being a much tighter experience overall. Digital Extremes took the helm on this one, scrapping the generic dark, realistic art style for something more striking, and an homage to the comics from which the source material came. They also mostly scrapped the open world segments of the first game in favor of something a bit more streamlined, with some smaller open sections. This might sound like a negative to some, but the open world segments of the first game often led to subway confusion, and tireless walks through baron New York streets.

If anything could have really benefited from the new visuals and better pacing, it would have been the most interesting segments from the original game, The Darkness's interpretation of Hell. That is, an eternal World War I themed battle set in an abstract wasteland. I could only imagine some of the horrors and visuals that might have existed in the new engine, and its a shame that it was left out entirely.

Far Cry 3 - I Will Survive, Rather Easily Actually

Honestly, I can't say I expected much from Far Cry 3. When the trailers started coming out back in 2011 my interest was piqued, but as time went by and actual gameplay was shown, I began to suspect that the sequel was being reworked to become something more palatable to the Call of Duty audience. Not to say that Call of Duty doesn't have its place, but that Far Cry 2 was most definitely not that. Then as December rolled around my fears almost entirely vanished. Far Cry 3 wasn't simply another Call of Duty derivative, but rather something that borrowed some basic themes from the popular shooters - big explosions, fast paced action - and created a chaotic and really, really fun game to explore in.

While there is a lot to say on what exactly Far Cry has gained from this evolution, there is also something it lost in the sequel: a sense of survival. In Far Cry 3 you are never truly in danger of dying. Yes, you've been kidnapped by pirates, and your friends are being held for ransom, but as soon as you escape the pirate camp at the beginning of the game, you never once again feel vulnerable. This is quite the opposite to the feeling Far Cry 2 created. In Far Cry 2, even when you take out an entire enemy camp without being spotted, you feel that you only made it out by the skin of your teeth. In Far Cry 2 you must constantly scavenge for weapons, or deal with weapons that could jam in a bad situation. Your character also starts the game with malaria, and while the implementation wasn't the best, the idea of being dependent on finding medicine did add a sense of urgency. But the best way to explain this is that in Far Cry 2 you were surviving the island, in Far Cry 3 the island survives you.

Halo 4 - (Get Bored) With A Little Help From My Friends

Halo 4 surprised me in several ways. While I was confident 343 would be able to handle reproducing another Halo game, as they handled the HD remake of Halo: Combat Evolved well, I assumed it wouldn't be much more than just another Halo game. Rather than taking the easy way out and putting something out just to satisfy the fans, they took the risk of reproducing much of the iconic imagery within the series. Weapons sound and look different, vehicles sound and look different, multiplayer has been completely reworked, and even the graphics of the game received a total overhaul. Most of these changes were incredibly well done, the game sounds and looks better than any Halo game ever has, and better than just about anything else out this year too.

Though, after finishing the campaign, and spending an unhealthy amount of hours playing the multiplayer during Thanksgiving break - not only unhealthy because of the Mountain Dew and Doritos either - there was still something missing. 343 decided that to drop the survival mode, Firefight, in favor of the new cooperative campaign missions, Spartan Ops. Prior to release I was excited to see exactly what sort of experience Spartan Ops would become, especially with promises of it being a place where they could experiment with ideas they couldn't in the campaign. Instead we were left with episodic missions that were little more than scaled down campaign or multiplayer levels filled with a limited number of enemies before you're simply done. There are some well produced CG cutscenes provided with each episode, but these have almost nothing to do with what you're actually doing in the missions, and could have easily been compiled and released online, like the many other movies produced for the franchise.

It is impossible for any game to release without some small misstep that will inevitably disappoint somebody. It's a shame when we see series that we've grown to love make these mistakes, but I find it valuable to acknowledge them so that we may further understand what it is that had us enjoying the games in the first place. For the most part these mistakes can be shrugged off as nothing more than simple miscalculations, especially when they're made earnestly, with the developers best intentions in mind. 

We're at an interesting point in the industry though; a growing audience, a flawed economy, and advancing technology all lends itself to more pervasive problem. We're seeing publishers sacrificing the artistic merit of their developers so that they may experiment in new methods of earning. A franchise that started as something special being forced into annualization to the point where it deludes its own market is hurting us. Extra content, that should otherwise be a part of the game, being released on the day the game comes out is totally unacceptable. Talented developers being gobbled up, their work being tossed aside, and being folded into other projects just because they might bring in a larger profits is deplorable. I understand that this is a business, and that these sorts of things will occasionally happen, but we're at a turning point now and the decisions made today will likely be decisions that we will live with for a long time. 

I don't believe that these companies are as evil as they're made out to be - EA has brought us some of the best games we've ever played - but rather they are struggling to find what is acceptable while attempting to run some of the most expensive projects in all of entertainment. The idea of voting with your wallet might sound trite, but is overused for a reason. We need to remain vocal when we feel we're being mistreated as consumers. We need to help shape the future of this industry.

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