In the world of filmmaking, it can difficult to find a sequel that actually surpasses the original. For every Godfather II or The Empire Strikes Back, you have films like The Matrix Reloaded and Anchorman 2; films that either take things too far in a new direction or are too much like their predecessors that they end up feeling like retreads.
In other words, sequels are hard.
By contrast, video games are often the opposite, as the very nature of game design means that developers are typically better able to hone ideas established in the first game while getting rid of features that didn’t work and adding in new ideas to help enrich the experience. Assassin’s Creed II is a oft-cited example, as it improves upon the original game in pretty much every way, especially in the story and gameplay departments. However, not every sequel is able able to surpass what came before and even though a good number of the following 10 games are great games in their own right, they couldn’t quite outdo their predecessors.
10. Halo 2 (2004)
I feel like I might catch some heat for this one but I firmly believe that when it comes to Bungie’s first two Halo games, Combat Evolved is the better of the two. Halo 2 gets a lot of love these days for its excellent online multiplayer and with good reason, since it helped establish Xbox Live as a viable service and did a lot to usher in the era of broadband online gaming on consoles. However, if you strip away the online component, I’d argue that Halo 2 is an unfinished sequel that was rushed out the door before it was ready and it shows in the game itself. In its original form (not the beautiful remaster released as part of the Master Chief Collection on Xbox One), Halo 2 is a stuttering mess, with an absurd level of texture pop for a first-party Microsoft game.
The story also ends with an infamous cliffhanger and the game arguably peaks early on with the epic Scarab battle in New Mombasa. Sure, Combat Evolved recycled a lot of assets in its levels, but it also told a much more coherent story and felt like a more confident game. And despite useful additions like vehicle boarding and dual-wielding, I feel like Combat Evolved’s gameplay is better balanced and more satisfying (it helps that the Halo 1 pistol is one of the greatest weapons found in any first-person shooter). Halo 2 definitely helped lay the groundwork for Halo 3, which would go on to be the high point for the franchise, but it stumbles a bit too often to be held in the same regard as the near-perfect original.
9. Mafia II (2010)
The original Mafia hasn’t aged well technically, but it’s held up by many as one of the best open-world crime games of the early 2000s and a worthy rival to Grand Theft Auto III, which had revolutionized open-world game design a year prior. It took eight years to get a sequel and although Mafia II is a good game in its own right, it doesn’t quite live up to the pedigree of the original. Part of the reason for this is that its pacing is pretty sluggish overall.
The game is at its best when it’s delivering interesting story and gameplay moments, but you have to do a bunch of mundane tasks in order to see them, like driving for extended periods of time or watching lead character Vito pick up the phone and stare at the wall while he talks (to be fair, many of these same criticisms could be leveled at Mafia II’s contemporary, Grand Theft Auto IV). Again, Mafia is pretty dated but its story and characters are arguably stronger and its open world isn’t bogged down with as much annoying busy work.
8. Dark Souls II (2014)
The original Dark Souls is championed by many as one of the best third-person action RPGs of the last decade, if not ever, and the Souls franchise as a whole (including Demon Souls and Bloodborne) is held in high regard among gamers, especially those who enjoy challenging, rewarding experiences. Unfortunately, even the best franchises stumble from time-to-time and with From Software’s Souls series, that blunder is Dark Souls II. One particular area where it falls short of its predecessor is in its world and level design. Gone are the intricately connected zones of Dark Souls I; instead, each area is arranged in a linear fashion that simply isn’t as satisfying or well thought out as the level design found in other Souls games.
Another big problem is the way in which Dark Souls II artificially manufactures difficulty, as the game often overwhelms players with large groups of powerful enemies. Whereas in the original Dark Souls, learning enemy patterns was often the key to victory, many of the encounters in Dark Souls II are designed as battles of attrition and practically necessitate cooperative play with other people for all but the most skilled players. Fortunately, From Software course-corrected significantly with Dark Souls III, but the second game remains the black sheep of the series.
7. Yoshi’s Island DS (2006)
As one of the best 2D platformers ever made, creating a worthy follow-up to the Super Nintendo classic Yoshi’s Island would be a tough task for any developer to tackle, so Artoon should be commended for making Yoshi’s Island DS as good as it is. The game does an excellent job of recreating the pastel-like graphics of the original Yoshi’s Island and introduces some interesting new gameplay elements; most notably the addition of several different baby characters for Yoshi to carry around, each with their own unique abilities. That being said, for as good as Yoshi’s Island DS is, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original game.
For one thing, it’s a bit on the easy side. Of course, the original Yoshi’s Island isn’t known for being a touch challenge to get through, but it’s still a bit disappointing that the DS version can be blown through so easily. It also sucks to not be able to sprint in the game unless you’re using Baby Mario. On the whole, both games are well worth playing but if you only play one, make it Yoshi’s Island and skip the DS installment.
6. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009)
Of all the games on this list, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 arguably comes the closest to topping its predecessor, but it doesn’t quite measure up to the first Modern Warfare, which remains the greatest Call of Duty game of all time. Starting with the campaign, MW2 does a good job of raising the stakes and building upon the themes of the first game and has some memorable levels. However, nothing in MW2 tops “All Ghillied Up” from MW1 and looking back now at the controversial “No Russian” mission, it feels less like a moment of moral challenge for the player than a level designed with the intent purpose of making headlines.
It would be different if developer Infinity Ward was actually trying to say something important here; instead, No Russian comes off as an excuse to shoot up a virtual airport with no repercussions And while MW2’s multiplayer builds upon Modern Warfare’s now industry standard leveling up system, its map selection arguably falls short and the experience feels less balanced overall with ridiculous power-ups like the Nuke killstreak. Again, Modern Warefare 2 is still one of the best Call of Duty games out there, but it just doesn’t deserve to be held in the same esteem as the first Modern Warfare.
5. Crysis 2 (2011)
When it was released in 2007, Crytek’s first-person shooter Crysis was pretty much the benchmark game for showing off how powerful your gaming PC was, as the game was nigh-impossible to run without a beefy rig. To be sure, most of the attention Crysis received was because of its impressive visuals, but it was also a fantastic shooter that felt like a spiritual successor to the original Far Cry (which makes sense considering Crytek made both games). For the sequel, Crytek went multi-platform and released Crysis 2 on consoles. As a result, the PC version had fewer options available for tweaking graphical settings, which understandably upset some fans of the first game who were hoping that the sequel would push their hardware to the same limits.
However, Crysis 2 was also a very different kind of shooter than its predecessor and eschews the open design of Far Cry and Crysis in favor of a more streamlined, run & gun style experience. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this direction but the reason people liked Crysis so much is because of how open it was and how many different ways it gave players to deal with enemy encounters. Crysis 2 simply delivers a different kind of experience and while there are some who prefer it, it’s not the sequel many wanted or hoped for.
4. Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (2004)
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is one of my favorite games of all time, an action-adventure masterpiece featuring mind-bending time puzzles, fluid controls, and some of the best level design in the genre. The only area where it comes up short is in the combat, which is flashy but ultimately simplistic. To their credit, Ubisoft Montreal made overhauling the combat system a top priority when it came time for the sequel but unfortunately, that’s about the only thing Prince of Persia: Warrior Within gets right. Released just over a year after The Sands of Time, Warrior Within took everything that made the first game special — its witty dialogue, colorful world, and overall charm — and threw it in a meat grinder. What was left was a heavy metal music video masquerading as a video game, as Warrior Within goes so far out of its way to be edgy and mature that it borders on the comedic.
I can understand wanting to go in a darker direction, but Ubisoft fundamentally misunderstood what made The Sands of Time such a special experience and instead created a sequel that, while a more polished experience in some respects, is so lacking in personality that it’s more of a chore to get through than anything (and the much longer 15-20 hour story doesn’t help in this regard). Ubisoft’s follow-up to Warrior Within, The Two Thrones, is a much better game and attempts to return to a Sands of Time-like aesthetic, but the studio has yet to make a Prince of Persia game that has been able to surpass it.
3. Dragon Age 2 (2011)
Although not as popular as Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins proved that Bioware was just as comfortable making fantasy-themed, story-driven RPGs as they were space opera ones and the game resonated with many fans of the genre. The follow-up, Dragon Age 2, was a much different story, as the game feels like it could have easily been an expansion to Origins rather than a whole new game. The main problem with Dragon Age 2 is that it feels half-baked, especially when measured up against its sprawling predecessor.
Whereas Origins is massive in scope and filled with all sorts of cool characters and storylines, DA2 is set primarily in and around a single city and the game feels closed off as a result. The whole experience feels like a side story in the Dragon Age universe and not a very important one at that. Dragon Age 2’s negative reception was so great that Bioware went all out in making a massive RPG experience with its follow-up, the excellent Dragon Age: Inquisition.
2. Devil May Cry 2 (2003)
The original Devil May Cry, released in 2001 for the PlayStation 2, is arguably one of the most influential third-person action games ever made. Created by Hideki Kamiya, who previously worked on Resident Evil 1 and 2, Devil May Cry was lauded for its fast and fluid combat system, high degree of difficulty, and unique Gothic style. For whatever reason, Capcom decided to hand the reins to a different team for the sequel, resulting in a game that feels like an inferior version of its predecessor in almost every way.
Devil May Cry 2 is a much easier game than the original, but the problems go much deeper than a change in difficulty. The combat itself takes a step back, with less variation in the types of weapons wielded by lead protagonist Dante, who himself is less engaging a character overall, with his cocky attitude nowhere to be seen. The addition of a second disc and second playable character was also heavily criticized, as it really didn’t add anything to the game besides an opportunity to run through the same missions again with only minor variations. Capcom would set things right with the third Devil May Cry a few years later, but Devil May Cry 2 remains one of the most disappointing video game sequels of all time.
1. Crackdown 2 (2010)
The original Crackdown was an early surprise hit on the Xbox 360. No doubt helped along by the inclusion of a Halo 3 beta key, many players who bought Crackdown ended up falling in love with its open-world action gameplay (especially the orb collecting aspect). The sequel, Crackdown 2, was released three years later and developed by a new studio, which should have been an early indication that things weren’t quite right. Ruffian Games took a “if it ain’t broke …” approach to the sequel and brought back everything people had loved about the first game. Unfortunately, Crackdown 2 pretty much is the first game, only worse.
It takes place in the exact same city, only this time Pacific City is in ruins and invaded by a breed of zombie-like mutants called The Freaks. That’s a pretty decent sequel blueprint to follow, but Ruffian recycles assets and gameplay from Realtime Worlds’ original game and then does nothing interesting with them. The missions are uninspired and somehow Crackdown 2 is less polished than its predecessor and doesn’t do any of that game’s issues. In other words, Crackdown 2 is the laziest kind of sequel: a game that essentially copies everything that made the first one good and somehow does it all worse.