What’s with These Video Game Sequels That Nobody Wanted?
Another Homefront? A second Dead Island proper? We can't have a new Burnout, but these sequels get the green light? The fuck is happening, Video Games?
This article originally appears in VICE magazine, Volume 23, issue 3 (May 2016). Find more information here.
The Deep Silver-published, Dambuster Studios-developed first-person shooter Homefront: The Revolution will imminently be on shelves and in digital stores, releasing on May the 20th. The sequel to 2011's Homefront has been in varying states of development hell for most of its gestation, finally landing on Dambuster's doorstep in the summer of 2014, having been sold by Crytek to Deep Silver's parent company Koch Media and subsequently hit by release delays. Its background is the kind that's killed hundreds of projects before it, so credit where it's due for just getting something out.
I've not played the finished version of The Revolution, but my preview at Gamescom 2015 was so much hot garbage that I cancelled a pre-arranged interview with its team on account of not knowing what to ask that wasn't: seriously, now, this is it? It was one cliché of "open-world" FPS design after another, cribbing unashamedly from better games before it and painting the entire experience in several depressing shades of grey. It might be that Nottingham's Dambuster has executed an amazing turnaround and it will go down as one of 2016's bet-you-didn't-see-that-coming surprises. I sort of hope it does. But at the same time, the whole situation with this game coming out, and others not, makes me very sad indeed.
See, The Revolution doesn't feel anything like a wanted sequel. I've not sensed the slightest excitement for it. The first Homefront was met by mixed critiques, but its first-day sales were a healthy 375,000 in North America. Its synopsis, of unified Korean forces invading and occupying the US just a decade from now, struck a chord with stateside gamers. Less so those in South Korea, where it was banned, but publisher THQ still reported 2.6 million units shipped globally after two months. Now, if it was a Capcom production, that might just about qualify it for sequel consideration. In 2014, Street Fighter V producer Yoshinori Ono commented: "If a game doesn't sell over two million copies, then we'd have to put the brakes on a sequel. All that means is that we weren't capable enough."
Apply Capcom's business model to the makers of Homefront , the long-dead Kaos Studios, and we can conclude that they were barely capable. And barely capable experiences aren't something we should be welcoming more of. Ubisoft's Watch Dogs, released in May 2014 after its hype had reached a deafening peak, was another such game. A soulless virtual version of Chicago was the joyless playground for an investigation into human trafficking and computer hackers, the player controlling the growling drone of Aiden "The Vigilante" Pearce. Imagine taking the colourful chaos of a modern GTA title, stripping all the fabulous fun from it, and then presenting it as the future of video gaming: that was Watch Dogs. And at this summer's E3 conference in Los Angeles, it's widely anticipated that Ubisoft will confirm development of the game's much-rumoured sequel, another that slots straight into my bracket of follow-ups that nobody truly wanted (surely).
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With no main series Assassin's Creed title coming this fourth quarter – there's a movie, though – slipping Watch Dogs 2 out this side of Christmas makes financial sense for Ubisoft, and they'll look to the sales of the first game – ten million copies shipped by the end of 2014 – as evidence of demand. But Watch Dogs enjoyed a fantastic pre-release promotional period, without precedent – the game looked great in early, pre-order-encouraging footage; its hack-everything mechanic seemed hugely innovative; and the demand was there, after the sun-kissed shenanigans of the 2013-released Grand Theft Auto V, for another realistic-enough open world. But moods soured when the retail Watch Dogs appeared to have downgraded visuals, and the whole thing was about as much fun as practising keepie-uppies with a shit-smeared brick. Its sequel does not have the advantage of being a brand-new IP with player expectations undetermined.
There are more sequels coming, to games that hardly set the landscape alight with their commercial performance, player appeal or critical response. Does the world really need the already troubled Dead Island 2? Does it fuck, given the first game, of 2011, was another summarised as Great On Paper, Shite In Practice. The jury's even out on Mirror's Edge Catalyst, the imminent sequel-cum-reboot after 2008's EA DICE-developed original, which was beautiful in motion but hard to love, with its first-person parkour never allowing any true environmental freedom. Sales of "just" 2.5 million for its predecessor positions Catalyst as a risk for its publisher, Electronic Arts – it could be the most gorgeous flop of 2016. (The beta wasn't exactly encouraging.)
A better-reviewed game of 2008, from the same publisher, was open-world racer Burnout Paradise, the at-present final (main series) entry in Criterion Games' carnage-encouraging franchise. So, why isn't that line of games, with 15 million copies sold, making a comeback? The demand is there – yet Criterion is adamant that it's moving away from the cars-and-crashes market, so the IP remains in limbo. The same can be said of a handful of other greatly anticipated but (as yet) unconfirmed successors to wildly revered titles – Half-Life 3 has been jokingly "confirmed" countless times, but never officially, and Beyond Good & Evil 2 has apparently been in development, with no end in sight, since 2008.
There's hope for one massively anticipated but entirely speculative to date sequel, though. Ever since it was taken to the hearts of gamers globally, a follow-up proper to Rockstar's epic Western Red Dead Redemption has been dearly wished for. And a map of what is allegedly its playable world, leaked to NeoGAF in April, appears to be the first tangible proof that the GTA-makers are going to reveal Red Dead 2. That could be as soon as E3, which would really piss on Ubisoft's already rather muted parade. A cowboy spinning six-shooters on the back of a steed, or a trenchcoat-clad bore with an unhealthy attachment to his smartphone? I know which role I'd rather play for a tens-of-hours new adventure.
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