How To Make A Sequel

2010 February 21

While I’ve played quite a bit of Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer the past few months, the last two single-player games I have played through entirely are Assassin’s Creed 2 and Mass Effect 2. They are perfect examples of how to improve upon the initial installment of a mainstream series with massive production values. I’m sure Uncharted 2 is another example, but alas, I do not own a PS3 because my 360+standalone Blu-ray player combination serves me more than well enough. And perhaps Bioshock 2 could go either way; I’ll see eventually.

I may be in the gaming minority, but I pretty much loved the first Assassin’s Creed, despite it’s numerous shortcomings. Ok, it was repetitive as hell. Yeah, there were only like five types of things to do. Sure, combat wasn’t challenging. Yet somehow I still loved the feeling of being an absolutely unstoppable badass and also thought the atmosphere and setting was absolutely fantastic. Never before had the Middle East of the Middle Ages been rendered in 3D so beautifully.

A problem with my assessment of the second is that since I loved the original, I’m not quite sure why some people who hated it actually enjoy its sequel. The core mechanics of the game are still there, mainly the free-running aspect. Maybe the people who don’t like the automatic feel of free-running either still didn’t enjoy the sequel and I just didn’t come into contact or they totally ignored the game due to their hatred of its predecessor. Ultimately, I do think the latter is the understandable course of action, but I guess I would have to recommend AC2 nonetheless due to me proclaiming in this very blog post’s title that it’s an example of how you make a sequel.

But maybe it’s only how you make a sequel for fans of the first while attempting to entertain a few more people this time around. You take the complaints — like the lack of variety in tasks and missions, or the surprising ease with which massive groups of enemies are disposed of — and deal with them. And replace flags with feathers and make the collecting achievement easier for those who strive for 1000/1000. And add a city-rebuilding minigame that provides you with obscene amounts of income if you complete it. And make the story about 10x more insane than in the first. Maybe that last thing was for LOST fans? And beating up the Pope was for every kid raised Catholic who hated church and/or Sunday school. And I guess Jews and Muslims too. They covered a lot of bases.

Even the cities had more variety — cumulating in the infiltration of Rome and Vatican City, which unfortunately you can’t actually explore — in addition to the missions, the weapons, and the enemies. You actually had to switch up a bit when confronted with groups of soldiers, as some carried massive weapons you couldn’t hope to block or even parry, necessitating disarmament. Between this and all the different weapons you could buy, combat was definitely more varied this go-around — and I also actually get hurt sometimes, as evidenced by the fact that I never did get the “Kill 10 enemies without getting hit” achievement.

I really need to find all the pieces of “The Truth” so I can see if it’s even more baffling and laughable than the ending to the main story. I hear it is. Maybe it’s up on Youtube or something.

Yep, it is. Hilarious. Although I’m still missing out on the puzzles, which were the best part. I need to take Mass Effect 2 out of my disc drive for the first time since I got it and finish that shit up.

Mass Effect 2 has been in my 360 for the past three weeks or so. I tried to hold off on buying it due to barely touching the single-player of Modern Warfare 2, and also having Lost Planet: Colonies and Mirror’s Edge to go through — ignoring my depressingly huge Steam backlog — but I loved its predecessor and the internet wouldn’t stop talking about it. Why must I interact with so many people on the internet? My poor wallet.

I don’t regret the purchase one bit, though. ME2 is a streamlined version of the original, stripping out the embarrassingly awful Mako driving parts and the overly-complicated and clumsy weapons and armor inventory. This time around you land on the side-mission planets and are thrown immediately into the action; now these missions actually have some variation and relatively interesting stories behind them. One has you trudging through a foggy planet turning on beacons to light your way, while another has you racing against the clock to activate the engine components of a ship before it falls out of orbit and crashes into the planet.

I could see some differing opinions on the simpler way upgrades are handled now. In the original, you had 10 versions of each weapon, as well as the various armor, and then attachments for each of these weapons and armor. It made for much more customization then is possible in ME2, but it also meant spending a lot of time messing around with shit that really didn’t make all that much of a difference. Great, I get 10% more bullet penetration against armor — that only took 5 minutes of fumbling through this terrible inventory menu.

ME2 just allows you to get down to what you want to do most: shoot people. Or throw them. Or pull them and then hit them with a concussive shot. Or toss a bunch of them with an improved shockwave. I really had all this down to a science by the end of the game, with the very team pictured above. Miranda with Heavy Warp rocks balls. I enjoyed combat well enough in the original, but something just felt right when I was destroying groups of dudes in ME2.

But Bioware arguably fucked up this perfect sequel with planet scanning. You need minerals for upgrades and you are required to become one of those guys on the beach with a metal detector in order to have enough of them. I’m sure it bothered my OCD self less than most people, too. On the other hand, at least they threw in this obvious joke:

This is not even mentioning the story, which I’m pretty impressed with at this point (not enough to even think about reading any of the novels, mind you). I imported my character over from the original and that had small implications — probably eliminating some side-missions I could have had due to dead team members — but the decisions in this game seem like they might have a major effect on the course of events in the next chapter. It almost makes me want to go through both games again as a renegade and do effectively the opposite at every important junction. I think I just love epic space operas. I really cannot wait for Mass Effect 3.

Oh, and Martin Sheen as Illusive Man is fucking. awesome. That is all.

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  • Justin

    Bioshock 2 is a no go…in 10 minutes of considering the entire plotline of both 1 and 2 I created a plotline far more engaging, cohesive, and enjoyable to behold. Not to say 2 was bad, it just was gimmicy and felt more like a bioshock 1 expansion.

    • CajoleJuice

      Yep, I’ve heard the expansion comment. Guess I’ll save my money and dedicate the time to getting reacquianted with my PC strategy games and/or even reading. Not that Bioshock 2 is all that long anyway, right?