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.