In a climate where video games are becoming a bigger and evermore expensive business, securing a hit is vital for any publisher to stay afloat. That's why, when a video game is successful, it's all too temping to play it safe and spawn a sequel instead of following up with a brand new concept. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some of the most well received titles have been sequels – Halo 2 anyone? However, many sequels have failed to live up to their predecessor's high standards and fallen by the wayside for me. Two such titles have recently been brought to my attention – Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories (Playstation 2) by Nippon Ichi, and Call of Duty 3 by Treyarch (Xbox 360).
I was besotted with Disgaea 1: Hour of Darkness. I'm talking puppy-dog eyes, weeping at cut-scenes, and plummeting hygiene levels caused by inability to leave the PS2. Great music, great story, great characters, and additive gameplay. It was a bit of a niche game – strategy role-playing games aren't everyone's cup of tea – but if you liked it, you damn well worshipped it. Call of Duty 2 on the other hand secured a wide-range of fans. Playing the role of various allied soldiers during World War 2, it successfully built and improved upon the achievements of Call of Duty. It's also worth noting that CoD2 came from a different development team – the original CoD developers, Infinity Ward, founded by ex-members of the Medal of Honor Allied Assault team.
That's why it's all so gutting when the next installments don't deliver. Disgaea 2 packs none of the punch of its predecessor. The battle system is still top-notch and relatively untouched, but the bland main characters and grinding storyline means you find yourself skipping through the cut-scenes after the first twenty-minutes. All well and good if you like your SRPGs brutal and to the point, but Disgaea 1 was able to stand out from the crowd because of its unusual black humour and engaging characters.
Call of Duty 3's mistakes are less ingrained, but not necessarily any less annoying. The multiplayer - while hugely fun - is blighted by connection problems, and the single player comes with irritating oversights. For example, checkpoints vary between two every couple of minutes, and one every half hour. Your team A.I. often bump into you, pushing you out of cover, or take a liking to a particular area and don't follow you through the rest of the level at all. There's also the nasty shock of getting stuck in the scenery, forcing you to reset. Having said that, there are nice additions – the driving sections make for pleasant breaks in combat, and the hand-to-hand events (though clearly designed for the Wii version of the game) can be fun.
Would I be so critical if either of these games didn't have such highly regarded predecessors? Of course not. But neither would they have sparked my interest so easily. Maintaining a game series is hard work, and very few make it through unscathed. Let's hope these games can learn from their mistakes and come back with even better next installments. After all, they've done it before, I'm sure they can do it again.