I admit, straight up, I have a personal distaste for prequels of any kind. I was never a big Star Wars buff but the prequel film trilogy probably helped ignite my hate for them. For some reason, after that came out it seemed like everything got a prequel, film or game.
When was the last time one of them actually worked out well? I’m sure one of you can think of something but I can’t at the moment. For one thing I can’t fathom the purpose of taking a franchise that has been on a hot streak and trying to jam pack a bunch of crap into the back story. Why would any of that even matter? I already know the later fate of the characters, universe, or world so by doing a prequel you automatically remove a portion of the uncertainty each new entry brings. Removing storyline uncertainty makes things… safe. There isn’t much reason to be interested in what is happening in the first place, and if that weren’t enough we often get subjected to asinine changes meant to alleviate or distract from the fact that the game is an obvious cash-in.
When I tucked into God of War: Ascension I was skeptical but still fairly confident that Sony Santa Monica would deliver another 9+ game. It was God of War after all. Sure Kratos probably needs to retire but the handheld prequels turned out well. Well, maybe prequels should stay on handhelds. The changes to the combat mechanic were archaic and forced. The less said about the QTEs the better. The attempt to make Kratos more human felt like an afterthought, and that general sense that I’ve been here before was far too prevalent to consider it an elite title. More than anything it seemed to be a half-hearted measure to create a single player experience that could pay for the investment in creating a multiplayer component for the future.
Some Gears of War fans felt let down by the Judgment campaign, control changes, and the been there done that feeling. I also think that towards the end of the generation, shifting much development over from Epic to People Can Fly just screams cash-in. “We need this game made and the proceeds from it so let’s just give it to another studio.” Got to fill up those coffers for the next generation installment right?
Batman: Arkham Origins appears to have fallen into some of these familiar prequel traps. Warner Bros Montreal has taken over from the critically acclaimed Rocksteady and also aimed for an end of generation cash-in to keep the money train rolling for the high costs of the next entry. Once again we have a game crafted so much in the image of its predecessor that it feels more like an expansion than a new game. “But they are just giving the fans what they want!” you say? Sure, but that’s not enough. A few more gadgets isn’t going to go very far either. In the end you have to wonder if either the publisher or developer of all these prequels is that worried about doing a hit and run on consumers.
Do they feel like if a prequel scores significantly lower than main entries that that doesn’t put a bad mark on the franchise? Maybe they do think that, but gamers aren’t the most forgiving bunch. They also tend to learn their lessons pretty fast when it comes to full price purchases. In this case the lesson is that prequels aren’t worth getting excited over or paying full price for.
God of War: Ascension managed a Metacritic score of 80, Gears of War: Judgment was right behind with 79, and Batman: Arkham Origins has so far come up with a 79 on 360 and 76 on PS3. Are any of these bad scores? Hell no, those are some damn solid scores by any standards. Frankly I’m a little irked when people assume anything below an 8/10 “sucks.” That’s not the point though. The point is that there are just too many obstacles to putting out a decent prequel. It’s a cop out and bad idea that critics and gamers can smell coming.
Most would prefer these top franchises not have to go into their next iteration with any stink attached.