By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
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Just to be clear, I am not in any way stating that any of these sequels aren’t good games. On the contrary, all five of them are very good–if not great–games. I personally just happen to prefer each of these part ones to their respective part twos, for reasons I will elaborate on.
5. God of War over God of War II
This is a tough one, because it is one of those cases where the sequel basically just feels like the second half of the first game. You could easily put them together on one disc, take out the end credit sequence of the first game and the title screen of the second, and present it as a single, cohesive game. GOW2 basically does everything the first game did, only bigger and better. Which is exactly why I enjoyed the first one (slightly) more. While God of War II starts out already cranked to 11 and only gets louder and more epic from there, the first game began rather modestly and gradually ramped up to that point, which for me just felt a little more satisfying. Those massive levels and screen-filling bosses that have become the hallmark of the GOW series were more startling and awe-inspiring when they finally presented themselves a bit of the way into the first game rather than immediately after I pressed start in the second (and third).
There are certain types of experiences that can only truly wow you the first time, and that’s how God of War was for me. I have enjoyed the series since, and appreciate the way everything reached an almost comical level of epic-ness by the third game, but by then we were just going through the motions. The first big drop of the roller coaster had already happened, and the rest of the ride is never quite as exciting. Plus, while Kratos was never a “likable” protagonist, there was at least some semblance of legitimacy to his rampage in the first game. As the series went on, it just started to feel like he was killing gods merely for the pleasure of it rather than for an actual reason. The first GoW game was also the only time the “sex scene” felt remotely novel and unexpected, and just became a forced token moment in subsequent games, again always trying to top the previous game until he literally gets it on with the goddess of sex herself, Aphrodite, in the third game. At that point, it’s way too ridiculous to even be interesting or funny anymore.
4. Ratchet & Clank over Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando
By 2002, the year of Ratchet & Clank‘s release, the 3D platform genre had been going on for about six years, mostly on the N64 but a little bit on the beginning of the sixth console generation. There was definitely a sense that developers were beginning to feel like the genre needed a major overhaul, and began trying different things. Nintendo did that with the water gadget-based Super Mario Sunshine, and Insomniac and Naughty Dog would do that with the increasingly combat-focused sequels to R&C and Jak & Daxter, respectively. While I definitely prefer the direction Ratchet took to Jak‘s, I still found myself liking the original R&C over its more action-oriented sequels.
Beginning with Going Commando, the R&C series slowly began to turn more into third-person shooting games with platforming elements than the platform game with third-person shooting elements that the first game so brilliantly was. I wasn’t particularly crazy about the focus on firearms–creative as most of the weapons were–and the need to upgrade them in an almost RPG-like way. In conjunction with that, I also didn’t like the way the enemies were all suddenly armed and dangerous as well. I quite enjoyed how most of the first game’s baddies could be dispatched with a satisfying whack of my trusty over-sized wrench. Going Commando‘s difficulty also got far too unforgiving in later stages, and not in a typical platformy way but in a “wave after wave after wave of enemies” type of way. I also found a lot of the non-platforming sections and minigames, like the space combat, the giant Clank levels, and the combat arenas, to be more distracting than welcome diversions and just wanted to get back to the “real” game–which is the same reason I prefer Crash Bandicoot 2 to the generally better-liked Warped. A lot of these “issues” were ironed out for the third R&C game and I ended up liking it a lot better in spite of the still-increased focus on weapons and combat, but I still found myself longing for a return to the pure platforming bliss of the first game, even if R&C3 is probably the “better” game by most standards. Maybe I’m not alone in this, as the recent reboot of the first game was the fastest-selling game in R&C history.
3. Halo: Combat Evolved over Halo 2
I have to specify right off the bat that this one is entirely about the single-player experience, as it would be pretty tough to make a case for Halo being a better multiplayer game than Halo 2, especially with its online support. In fact, Halo 2 remains one of only two FPSes (Team Fortress 2 is the other) that I put any measurable amount of time into playing online even to this day. I should also mention I am not a particularly huge fan of the Halo franchise as a whole, and I’ve tried playing 3, 4 and Reach and none have hooked me deeply enough to keep playing them for more than an hour or two. But I did genuinely enjoy my experience playing the original Halo‘s story mode.
I was enjoying the sequel, too, until I took control of the Arbiter. And then continued to be in control of him, and continued, and continued some more. I don’t know, maybe I’m exaggerating how long the Arbiter portion of the game was, but it felt like an eternity to me, and it completely ruined my enjoyment of the game. I always appreciate a surprise narrative and gameplay shift like that and was enjoying it initially, but for some reason I just grew bored with it and I was more anxious than Cortana to get back into Master Chief’s suit. I always hated getting stuck with most of the Covenant’s weaponry in multiplayer, and now that’s all I have to use? No thanks. If the Arbiter was the only character who could use the energy sword, that would’ve at least made his arsenal feel a little more unique in a positive way, but as we all know that sadly isn’t the case.
2. Resident Evil over Resident Evil 2
You can mostly chalk this one up to RE2‘s setting: a police station simply isn’t as scary as a creepy old mansion–well, in a video game, anyway. I think I’d rather be stuck in the latter in real life. And while I typically have no trouble suspending my disbelief in a video game, I found it hard to swallow that a police station would be full of hidden walls, secret doors, keyholes shaped like stars and eagles and whatnot, mechanisms that worked via convoluted puzzle-solving, and vast underground chasms and passageways. Which, again, I could buy in a haunted mansion-type setting, but not an otherwise modern police station in a modern city. Yeah yeah, I know, they tried to explain that away by claiming the police station used to be a museum or some such nonsense. Doesn’t change how I felt about the game’s setting as I was playing it.
As far as puzzles go, RE2 seemed to be much worse than the first game with puzzles that relied too heavily on the game’s limited gameplay mechanics. See that doorway there that’s literally only two feet off the ground? Well you can’t simply hop up onto it since there’s no jump button in the game, so you have to go find a stepladder to put there before you can ascend the dizzying height. Seriously? Stuff like that takes me out of a game more quickly than almost anything else. I don’t mind games where you can’t jump–Timesplitters is one of my favorite franchises of all time despite the fact that you never leave the ground–but the game needs to be built in such a way that it I don’t really need to jump in the first place. RE2 is not such a game. On top of all of that, what made RE1 so creepy was the feeling of isolation–most of the other characters in the game are killed or disappear almost immediately into the game, and if any of them even show up at all it isn’t until the home stretch. RE2, with its huge cast of characters constantly popping in and out of your adventure, also lost that for me, especially given that we were no where near decent voice acting by that point so just having more of it didn’t do the game any favors. At least the series won me back over–seven years and a handful of sequels and side-games later with Resident Evil 4 (before immediately losing me again, although for entirely different reasons).
1. Batman: Arkham Asylum over Batman: Arkham City
As pretentious as this list’s entire premise is–“I liked the early stuff better” is basically the mantra of the snobby hipster–I’m sure this one makes me sound the most hipster-ish of them all. As well-liked as Arkham Asylum was, Arkham City was more or less unanimously deemed a masterpiece, and one of the best games of its generation–if not all-time. 10s, As, and 5-star scores were thrown at it from all directions, along with game of the year awards and all kinds of other accolades. So heavy was the praise for Arkham City that the cover art for its “Game of the Year” edition was notoriously so crowded with awards, scores, and review quotes that it barely left room for the actual title of the damn game. And I won’t say all of that acclaim isn’t well-deserved. I just know that for me, I still preferred the first game.
Arkham Asylum was an expertly-crafted, brilliantly-paced game that took place in an impeccably well-designed location, blocking off areas until you got the right gadget or ability in that classic Metroidvania way but in a manner that somehow felt fresher than most Metroidvania games had for a long time (and certainly better than any 3D one since the original Metroid Prime). It was exactly because the game took place entirely in a smaller, more contained space that all of this worked so well. Taking all of that and putting into an open-world setting lost a lot of that luster for me. The individual areas of Arkham City were still very compelling and felt as magical as the first game, but gliding and zip-lining through the city in between just felt tedious and unnecessary to me and only served to kill the pacing of the game. Ditto for the random side missions and groups of baddies dotted around the environment, which sure you could ignore but it felt like you weren’t playing the game right–or truly “being Batman”–by doing so. And because the combat is so fun, it was hard to swoop past random gangs of thugs and not drop down on them and wipe them all out, which just further detracted from the pace of the game and ultimately felt like a waste of time once I was done doing it.
Having such a huge area to explore also made finding all of the secrets, like the Riddler items, feel more daunting of a task than they did in the first game, knowing that some small little item could be on a random building ledge a virtual mile away rather than in an air duct just above your head, which ruined another one of the best aspects of the first game. Just because modern technology allows for rendering huge environments doesn’t mean that that’s always the best approach to a game. Bigger is not always better when it comes to a game’s world, especially when that extra space is mostly just there to make it take longer to go from one area of actual gameplay to another.