The Top 5 Games That Desperately Need Sequels
Later this year we will see the release of Halo: Reach, the next and supposedly last Halo game. I’ll believe Bungie and Microsoft have ceased worshiping at the base of that cash cow when I see it, but it does make me wonder why we’re inundated with sequel after sequel of this prattle while games that are actually really well designed and brilliantly written fade away.
For those fans of the Halo series let me elaborate. I hate the Halo games and I’ve played a lot of them in the hopes that the series might improve (though, I owe Blockbuster for this as I’ve never thought any of the games were worth spending $50 to $60 on), and so far I’ve been sorely disappointed. I am a PC gamer at my core and I will admit that there are some good FPS’s on the consoles, but even then none of them can stand up to the might and impressiveness of a FPS on a PC. With a mouse and keyboard I can achieve feats of accuracy and maneuverability in a game like Mechwarrior 4 that would astound and confuse even expert console gamers (but not pro level, even for console jockeys, those guys and gals are pretty damned good).
So imagine what I thought of Halo when I first came across it in late 2002 (I didn’t have an X-Box until then so I really didn’t see much of Halo until it had been out for a year). At the time I was playing Unreal Tournament 2003, a fast, complex and demanding FPS with an AI of such fine quality that you could forget that your opponents were actually only bots. In comparison, Halo: Combat Evolved, was a dull (but pretty) FPS with repetitive gameplay, repetitive level design, a dull and rather uninteresting plot, and an enemy AI that would either run around in a circle, stand in one place while shooting you, or charge at you head first. I was not amused, and my opinion of the series over the years has only solidified. It’s a blasé FPS that has only served to dilute the quality of the genre since its inception. Then again it has brought Bungie and Microsoft enough money that they could probably start their own space program, so my bitching about it isn’t really going to achieve a damned thing. As the Transformers movies have taught us however, popular is not the same as good.
So with this all in mind, I began to wonder why so many other great games fall to the wayside and never get the sequels they deserve. I’m not referring to games like Psychonauts, whose brilliance and beauty allow me to put down the gun for one more day, but somehow fail to gain the recognition they deserve. This is because there are some games that are complete in their elegance and need no sequels. At first thought a Psychonauts sequel would be wonderful, but then I can help but think of all of the horrible ways it could go wrong. I think of how a single easily botched game could ruin the fragile masterpiece that was its predecessor (just look at the Star Wars prequel movies). No, I believe that a Psychonauts sequel is better off as a “what if” scenario. But there are other games out there, brilliant games that failed to make it big or franchises that just faded away. These are games that aren’t sacred enough to remain untouched, but were good enough to warrant another go at the series.
So without further ado, I present my Top 5 games that desperately need sequels.
5. Evil Genius
In Evil Genius, players took on the persona of a stereotypical Bond villain. You started off the game with nothing more than a hitman/henchman, half a dozen jumpsuit wearing minions, a pile of cash and a tropical island with mountain. What more could any megalomaniac want? Your goal is to turn these simple tools into a thriving empire of villainous intent. A real-time strategy/base design sim, gameplay in Evil Genius consists primarily of designing and building your evil subterranean lair as well as defending it from the prying eyes of UN investigators, super spies, and idiotic tourists. Money and advanced technologies are gained by sending your minions out into the world in order to extort, steal and kidnap. While this went on, you had to keep an eye on the day to day operation of your secret lair as the tropical island upon which it was built had the bad habit of attracting all sorts of law enforcement agents/investigators and tourists who had the cockroach-like ability to find themselves in your base somehow. Agents could be tortured for information, killed, or brainwashed and sent on their way. Tourists could be kept out of the way by building a casino on the island to attract their attention.
What Evil Genius brought to gaming was a new take on the idea of playing as villains in a game. It picked up where games like Dungeon Keeper left off and paved the way for games like Overlord and Destroy All Humans. It was cute and clever and filled with many silly parodies of classic James Bond movies. Evil Genius took Austin Powers’ the over-the top satirization of spy movies and gave gamers the opportunity to be as Dr. Evil.
Is it wrong that this was the career I aspired to as a child?
Where Evil Genius failed was in its very repetitive gameplay and the number of bugs that plagued it at launch. Every game of Evil Genius pretty much started out the same way, with players picking one of 3 different super villains (each came with a different power and henchman) and then starting out on the exact same tropical island every time. After playing through the game the first time you can try to spice things up by designing your base differently this time and putting traps in different places, but you still have to complete the same set of quests every time. Halfway through the game you get to move to a new island and begin the construction of your secret volcano lair, but that’s about it. At launch, Evil Genius was also plagued with a number of rather annoying bugs. Few of them were real game killers, but it was still aggravating as one bug completely negated one of the super villains’ main powers.
What makes Evil Genius a game that really needs a sequel is that it’s a great premise; play as a Bond villain. If the game was cleaned up a bit with a little randomness thrown into island and mission generation, I could really see another Evil Genius game being a hit. Sadly, London based Elixir Studios closed down in 2005 and their IPs were sold off to Rebellion Developments. Based on their previous titles though, I really doubt Rebellion could even match the level of creative silliness required to make an Evil Genius sequel.
Sometimes you can tell a bad game by its box art. This wasn’t one of those times.
4. Ghost Master
Ghost Master really shouldn’t have been a good game. It looked, at first glance, like a budget title. Even the box art looked subpar. It was developed by a relatively unknown studio Sick Puppies, and was published in 2003 by UK based Empire Interactive, who have also brought us gems like Big Mutha Truckers, Jackass: The Game, and Hello Kitty: Big City Dreams. All of that aside, Ghost Master was an amazing game that got good reviews, but didn’t sell worth a damn.
In Ghost Master, players assumed the role of a demonic entity known only as the “Ghost Master” and they’re given the mission of scaring the holy hell out of a small town. However, players could not directly interact with the game world. Instead, players would select a team of ghosts to do the dirty work for them. Ghosts could only be bound to certain items called fetters, and the ghost’s powers were often related to them in some way. The gremlin, a small apelike imp, could only be bound to electronic items like toasters, light bulbs or TVs, but he could make them go crazy, shoot out sparks, or switch on and off. The rule was “the more powerful the ghost, the rarer the fetter,” with a ghost like the Headless Horseman only being able to be bound to long, outside paths and roads (but damn was he powerful).
The main currency in the game was fear, which was used to summon more ghosts and to activate their powers. A level would start players out with just enough fear to summon one or two ghosts and they would have to scare the townsfolk in order to generate even more. Every human on a level would have a health bar, a sanity bar, and a fear bar. When one of those bars ran out, they would either flee screaming from the level, or wander around with their minds shattered. Most levels could be completed by simply scaring every human on the map until their fear bars ran out and they fled the area, though some levels would require certain targets to be driven insane or injured before they would flee.
Ghost Master was an odd mix of God sim, puzzle game, and strategy game. Fear had to be conserved and used wisely, and many levels had odd puzzles built into them that would reward players with new ghosts to add to their rosters. The real heart of the game though, was its sense of humor. Ghost Master was one of those rare games that managed to mix humor and fun gameplay together. Many of the game’s levels and ghosts were rather blatant pop culture references. There were levels based on movies such as Evil Dead, Ghost Busters, and even Goodfellas. In one level called “Poultrygeist,” players could free an entity composed of the tortured souls of a thousand chickens, all of whom lost their lives at the hand of someone called “The Colonel”. The entity started out initially bound to a small boy in a farm house and the player had to figure out how to free it.
If Harvey looked like that I’d have started drinking too many years ago.
I can’t really think of anything negative to say about this game. Some of the puzzles could be pretty tricky, requiring ghosts from later levels to free ghosts in earlier levels. But since you could replay any level in order to beat your previous scores and possibly earn some more XP to train up your ghosts with, that’s not much of a problem. The only reason I can imagine for there to have never been a Ghost Master 2, is that Ghost Master just didn’t sell well for some odd reason. This is one of those rare games that I’ll go back and play every now and then, and everyone reading this should give it a shot as well. And since Ghost Master is now available on Steam for only $4.99, there isn’t an excuse to not try it out.
Sure this epic battle might kill off half of the villagers but no worries, they’ll just breed more.
3. Black and White 2
What can I say; I love games where I get to play some sort of supreme ruler or god. I loved X-Com, Evil Genius, Ghost Master, Civilization, The Sims and of course, Black and White. Black and White was a game where you get to be the god for a small tribe of islanders, and you were assisted in this endeavor by a giant, Godzilla sized animal/pet that was less of an avatar and more of a virtual pet. You could be a good god, a cruel god, or you could light your worshipers on fire and start chucking them at towns full of unbelievers. It’s surprising just how much people will start believing in a god when flaming corpses begin raining down on them from above, and before you knew it you had a new town full of believers. You could only manipulate the world within your sphere of belief. The more people believed in you, the wider the circle would be, but it would remain centered around their main town. If you converted a new town, it would expand your control to the area surrounding that town as well.
Black and White was fantastic and it eventually got a decent sequel. The small villages shifted into more organized cities (with a lot more building options), and now you could actually see what your pet’s thoughts were, which made teaching them a lot easier. In the first Black and White, in order to teach your pet to not eat people, you had to hand it a villager and then slap it around if it ate the poor SOB. However since you usually had no idea what the beast was thinking, you might have been beating it up for eating a herd of cattle while it thought it was being punished for healing sick villagers with its magical spells. I think every one of my pets in Black and White could easily have been diagnosed as schizophrenic by the end of the game. As you can imagine, giving players the ability to actually see what the pets were learning/thinking in Black and White 2, made the whole process a lot easier and a lot more fun.
Yeah, this won’t end well.
“But Black and White already got a sequel!” I can hear some of you saying that, and yes, you would be quite correct by saying that. But the game I’m talking about here is Black and White 2. Black and White 2 added a few minor changes to the gameplay that ruined the game somewhat, and we need someone to come along and fix them. Instead of converting towns by impressing them with your godliness, towns were converted if your capitol city was impressive enough. So really you could just build up your starting town and then wait as every enemy on the map would eventually decide to give in and join you without a fight. Black and White 2 was a lot easier and a lot less fun than its predecessor because of this. Of course I could always go back and play the first game, but some of the gameplay mechanics fixed in Black and White 2 are hard to part with and what we really need is a 3rd game that mixes together the best of both games.
We may one day see a sequel to Black and White 2 though, as both games were developed by Lionhead Studios, which means Peter Molyneux was involved in their design and he’s still around. I’m not a huge fan of the Fable games, but I didn’t exactly hate them either. At this point though, the franchise is beginning to get on my nerves as it’s the only damned thing Molyneux is willing to work on! It annoyed the hell out of me when it turned out that the next “big thing” Lionhead was going to develop would be another damned Fable game.
That’s right, Steampunk dwarves with flamethrowers.
2. Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
Back in 1997, three of the key people behind Fallout; Time Cain, Leonard Boyarsky, and Jason D. Anderson, left Interplay and started their own little studio called Troika Games. Sadly, before dissolving in 2005 Troika Games only released 3 games: The Temple of Elemental Evil (meh), Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines (buggy as hell), and Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (damn fine). Arcanum Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura was their first release, and it was their greatest.
Arcanum: “Really Long Title I’m Not Going To Repeat Anymore” is best described as what would happen if Fallout and Baldur’s Gate got together drunk one night at a Steampunk convention and had a baby. Combat was turn based and is similar to the system used in the Fallout games, while the writing and overall feel of the game was reminiscent of the best parts of the Baldur’s Gate games. The plot is a complex web of mystery, magic, conspiracies and dwarves, and to be honest, it doesn’t matter what I say because I can’t even begin to explain it properly here. It’s like trying to describe the plot to the Lord of the Rings. You can go on and on for pages in order to truly describe the plot in the detail it deserves, but if you try to summarize it you end up with something along the lines of “in a magical fantasy world, a short guy with hairy feet needs to toss an cursed ring into a volcano or else the world will end. Oh, and Liv Tyler plays a hot elf chick (if it’s the movie version).”
The game was set in a tolkienesque fantasy world that happened to be going through its version of the Industrial Revolution when the game takes place. If there was a main theme at the heart of Arcanum it would be Magic v. Technology, or on an even deeper level, Tradition v. Change. Technology rose up and, with the introduction of the steam engine, bitch slapped magic. The 2 were incompatible as magic altered the physical laws, and technology relied on those same laws to work.
In the presence of great magic, clocks unwind, gunpowder fizzles, and the brakes on trains start acting iffy. In the presence of powerful technological devices, weaker magical forces just fail causing magical swords to lose their enchantments, potions to turn into water (or poison depending on how lucky you are), and transforms wizards into strange old men in pointy hats. Since magic required decades of research to master, and anyone could go out and just buy a damn gun, it doesn’t take a genius to guess which side happened to be winning. While the main questline was rather linear, the game world was open and allowed for tons of exploration. Players could visit the smog filled industrial capital of Tarant; the decaying, technology hating nation of Cumbria; vast Dwarven mines; enchanted treetop Elven cities, and even…um…Australia (desolate prison colony that happens to be pissing of the natives).
Arcanum was one of the older styles of RPGs, where it would take forever to complete the main quest and completing all of the side quests were only for those without a life or any pressing commitments. But where the game really shined was character creation. Players could choose from a long list of different races, skills and backgrounds, and each would actually have an impact upon events in the game. Players could choose from Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Halflings, Orcs and Ogres, and NPCs would react to different races in different ways. Elves were often snooty to anyone but other elves, Dwarves were obstinate and curt to non-dwarves, and Orcs and Ogres were treated as second class citizens, forced to toil in the factories.
Lacking a real class based structure (like in Fallout), Arcanum allowed players to build whatever kind of character they wanted to. Want to build a mage? No problem. How about an inventor? That’s easy. How about a thief, a conman, or a debutante? Sure, have fun. Really, the only restriction placed on players was that no matter what you tried, you couldn’t play as a female dwarf, and if you inquired in-game about their strange absence from the setting, you could get your ass handed to you by a Dwarf.
There was one other little hitch though, if you decided to give your character magical skills, your technological abilities would suffer. Mages could hurl fireballs and heal magically, but guns would break, fail, or miss in their hands. The same goes for inventors. They could create robotic spiders, lightning guns, and steam powered armor, but healing potions were pretty much useless in their hands. They could try to use magical armor, but it would be little better than going nude. Also, only mages were allowed to enter the hidden magical university, so if you wanted to get a look at it you had to start a new game with a magical character.
To hell with magic swords, I’m going with the acid spitting robot spiders!
A sequel to Arcanum was planned back in 2000, but when Troika Games closed its doors in 2005, the game vanished into obscurity despite the awards it had earned. I’m not sure who currently owns the IP for Arcanum, but with the rise in the popularity of Steampunk in recent years, they’re sitting on a goldmine.
This image has nothing whatsoever to do with actual gameplay, and I really don’t mind.
1. Dungeon Keeper 2
The original Dungeon Keeper was brought to us by Peter Molyneux back when he was part of Bullfrog Productions. It was a brilliant game that put the players in the role of a demonic entity in charge of the design and defense of various fantasy dungeons from the troublesome forces of good. Heroic parties of men, elves and dwarves would venture forth into your dungeons intending to slay its denizens and rob your vaults. Players were the only thing (aside from armies of goblins, trolls, skeletons, and other assorted baddies at your disposal) that stood between the victory of Good over Evil, and the heroes meeting a rather squishy end. When Molyneux left the company to start Lionhead Studios in 1997, Bullfrog Productions would put Colin Robinson (who would later on become VP Head of Production over at EA Europe) in charge of the sequel, Dungeon Keeper 2. Though it didn’t receive the level of acclaim as its predecessor, with Dungeon Keeper 2, Robinson did a few things right and as a result I consider it to be a great sequel. Basically, they didn’t really change a damned thing. Sure Dungeon Keeper 2 was true 3D (and well done at that), and it introduced a sandbox mode, but that was about it. It was basically the last game with a new graphics engine, a few fixes and a new game type; it proved the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Dungeon Keeper 2 was really what Evil Genius really wanted to be. It was a fun, funny and a complex god/strategy game. However, everywhere Evil Genius failed, Dungeon Keeper 2 shined. Players interacted with the game world via a giant floating hand that fans of Black and White would recognize instantly. Imps could be directed to dig out tunnels, build special rooms, and place traps and other fixtures, and if you thought they were being a bit lazy you could “motivate” them with the back of your floating hand. Different rooms attracted different types of monsters and as the Dungeon Keeper it was your job to make them feel at home. Dungeon Keeper 2 was also one of those strategy games where, for the most part, players couldn’t directly control their monsters. They could be ordered to converge on a location and defend it from encroaching heroes, but usually they would only attack an enemy if it came within sight of the unit.
However, as a Dungeon Keeper, players could also take a more commanding role at times. Monsters could be picked up and dropped next to an enemy if they weren’t getting their lazy asses in gear fast enough, and if they were attacking the wrong target or just fighting stupidly, players could actually possess individual monsters, turning the game into an FPS.
One of the main strengths of Dungeon Keeper 2 was how the linear campaign was laid out. Rather than focus all of your time and efforts on a single dungeon, each level (with few exceptions) had players starting out in a single room, the dungeon heart, with a couple of imps to do construction for you. The folks at Bullfrog realized that the fun part of the game was designing the dungeons, so in the campaign they give you the opportunity to do it a lot. Some levels require you capture abandoned dungeons instead of building your own and a few start you out with pre-made rooms. Each level varied from the others in some significant way, ensuring that players didn’t grow bored from repetitive gameplay. Players could go back and replay previously completed levels at any time (a feature that should be mandatory for most games these days).
Dungeon Keeper 3 was originally planned and development started in 1999, but was shortly canceled in early 2000 in order to divert resources over to games like SimTheme Park, SimCoaster, and the EA Harry Potter games. In 2004 Bullfrog was consumed entirely by EA and became EA UK which eventually became Bright Light Studios, which is still a subsidiary of EA. So basically EA is still sitting on the rights to this franchise and Dungeon Keeper 3 was never made because the company was more interested in producing titles for the PS2 (according to the press release they sent out when they canceled the game). In 2008, EA announced that they had licensed out the Dungeon Keeper brand to the Chinese studio NetDragon, who began development on a Dungeon Keeper MMO. Much to my annoyance though, Dungeon Keeper Online will only be available in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. So there’s a sequel of sorts in the works, but we won’t get to play it.
There is one tiny rumor swimming around that back in 2009 EA was looking at resurrecting some of the Bullfrog IPs. Though with my luck, we’ll either get a new Theme Park game, or they’ll do to Dungeon Keeper what 2K is currently doing to the X-Com series, and it’ll be a completely bastardized and screwed up remake that bears little to no resemblance to the game that so many people loved.
Bitch bitch bitch. Next thing you know they’ll want bathrooms too.