The possible pitfall of video game sequels
Hotline Miami remains one of my favorite games. It was brief, engrossing and well-ended. A few weeks ago, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number came out, and I just can’t enjoy it. Where the first was quick, concise and frenzied, Wrong Number is sluggish, convoluted, and repetitive. It’s made me take a second look at sequels, and after looking over trends and innovations, I don’t think games need many number-increment sequels anymore.
A decade or two ago, sequels were a given. Technology in consoles and PCs was still moving along at a palpable pace — the jump from the Super Nintendo to the Nintendo 64 and then to the Gamecube was plainly obvious to any observer. As time went by, games looked better, ran faster, and had more going on. Naturally, iterations of established franchises would take advantage of the new capabilities. Seeing your favorite characters in 3D for the first time was a magical experience, but until virtual reality rolls out, it can’t happen today.
Of course newer games look better than old ones, but many don’t shoot for photorealism. Bastion and Transistor are beautiful not because of the cutting-edge capabilities of the machines running them, but because of the art style. There is no next-generation leap for them, and there doesn’t need to be. Even games that do strive for high-fidelity graphics are experiencing slower improvements on new hardware. The HD remake of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for the Wii U is more colorful and detailed, but the improvements over a two-console gap are laughable compared to differences between the Playstation 1 and 3. Instead of moving from cave paintings to grand tapestries, modern advancements move from statues to slightly more refined and polished statues.
Because improvements are coming at a slower pace, some games are simply issuing updates to keep themselves fresh and current. While Activision has released 11 Call of Duty games since 2007, Valve’s Team Fortress 2 has seen numerous free upgrades over its 8-year tenure that keep tens of thousands of players online to date. Would players be better off with Team Fortress 9 instead? On the contrary, TF2’s core gameplay has stood the test of time, and iterations would struggle to improve on its winning formula.
Similarly, the developers of the heist-’em-up game Payday 2 announced that they would be supporting the game with additional free and paid content for at least two more years, almost two years after its original release. Why would developers spend the time and effort to remake everything they’ve done, including potentially tossing out good ideas for the sake of differentiation, when they could just iterate on what they have? Moreover, why would customers want to buy a slightly different version of something they already own?
And sometimes a sequel just isn’t necessary. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number’s story is much more complex and literal than the previous entry’s, which was mostly up for interpretation. It’s incongruent and out of place, and while it’s not an inherently bad idea, it’s a bad idea for Hotline Miami. It’s like making an unironic Tetris sequel where each block has a name, a personality and a troubled backstory. Even if the tale of L-block’s trauma from WWI is excellently written, why not just make a new game instead of rejiggering the original to fit?
Sequels have their place, primarily in series like The Witcher and Deus Ex, where an intricate narrative can continue across titles and multi-year gaps between entries makes developing a fresh game the simplest solution. But those cases are becoming fewer and farther between. As more sequels loom on the horizon, I can only hope that they’re worthy successors.
Will Uhl is a sophomore journalism major who cringes increasingly at each release of a Final Fantasy game. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.