It used to be that professional video game reviewers and cynical fans alike would roll their eyes at the announcement that last year's favorite AAA game title was getting a sequel. But no matter how loud the protestation, the sad truth is these same cynics would wind up shelling out the big bucks for these sequels anyway.
The fact is, good or bad, and for better or worse, we love sequels to our favorite titles. So let go of that pesky, dated hipster pride and hop on the hype train, 'cause this holiday season's rife with sequels that you won't want to miss out on.
3. Watch Dogs 2
Watch Dogs was a gritty game about a gritty protagonist doing gritty things. Set in the near future, the world is a lot like ours, but technology – and, corruption – is everywhere. A gifted hacker and deadpan moralizer, Aiden Pearce was ruthless in his efforts to bring down a corrupt corporation.
As far as effective action game protagonists go, Aiden was an anti-hero, the dark knight in a glittering, techno Gotham. But if Aiden was Batman, then Marcus, the hero of Watch Dogs 2, is meant to be your friendly neighborhood Spiderman.
Internet Crime Done for the Right Reasons
Plucky, good-natured and irrepressible, Marcus and his team of brightly-dressed hackers better embody what mainstream media exposure has conditioned us to believe hackers ought to be: modern day Robin Hoods prowling the digital superhighways, siphoning resources from the rich and corrupt and funneling it to the masses.
They're bright enough to have the world's data infrastructure at the mercy of their fingertips, yet spend most of their waking hours arguing about Star Trek and Aliens vs. Predator and counting the downloads of their proprietary mobile app.
It's hard not to dislike the colorful cast of misfits, even as Watch Dog 2's narrative treads the grounds of sensitive moral issues, some of which manages to hit a little too close to home, yet manages to keep things lighthearted and even flippant.
It's tempting to think too much about the story's attempts at being truly intellectual in its moralizing, when one should really just enjoy it for what it is at face value: GTA with hacking and computer nerds.
Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks
Like its predecessor, Watch Dogs 2 is an open world third-person sandbox founded on the principles of 'if it's digital, you can hack it.'
Need some funds? Hack an ATM. Being pursued by law enforcement? Hack a parked sports car and leave the cops in the dust. Need a distraction? Hack some traffic lights and cause a multi-car pileup. Need an even bigger distraction? Tamper with the local power relay and cause a city-wide blackout.
Or do all of these things, in a cascading sequence of catastrophe worthy of the hacker's equivalent of a Rube Goldberg device.
If there's one thing that open world gameplay mechanics excels in is creative problem solving, and Watch Dog 2 excels in giving you all the pieces to put together a truly spectacular jigsaw puzzle of mayhem.
It's an updated retro hacktoverse as envisioned by the directors of Sneakers and Hackers.
What the Sequel Does Right
While the narrative may be at once bitingly satirical and ironic and ultimately kinda confused, where Watch Dogs 2 excels is in its lovingly rendered recreation of the San Francisco Bay Area as a hacker's paradise.
Unlike the grim and gritty Vice Cities with its trash-heaped slums and poured concrete walls peeling with ancient posters and graffiti, Watch Dog 2's Bay Area is a gleaming, sunlit paradise, where technology is everywhere and ripe for the hacking.
Expect car chases, high stakes data heists, oddly clunky parkour, lots and lots of unauthorized ATM transactions and the occasional mass shootout.
Buy Watch Dogs 2:
2. Dishonored 2
Corvo Attano: Mass Murderer Not for Hire
Don the clockwork mask of Corvo Attano, master assassin and bodyguard of the Empress.
Corvo's certainly had an impressive career: after failing to stop the brutal murder of the Empress and the kidnapping of her daughter Emily, Corvo embarks on a one-man vigilante murder spree across the gritty, steampunky, pseudo-Victorian city of Dunwall.
Along the way, he signs a devil's bargain with a mysterious being known only as the Outsider, who imbues Corvo with an arsenal of shadowy powers that it easier for Corvo to traverse unseen across the shadows, as well as making staying alive a lot harder for those who cross his path.
Eventually, Corvo rescues Emily and tracks down the key figures in the shadowy organization responsible for the Empress's demise. And, because he's a master assassin and it be what master assassins do, Corvo revenge-murders every last one of them.
Or so he thought.
The Empress Is Dead! Long Live the Empress!
In Dishonored 2, we return once more behind the mask of the master assassin, only this time he's accompanied by none other than Emily Kaldwin, all grown up, who joins the roster as a second playable character.
Dishonored 2 begins on the day of Emily's coronation: finally of age to assume the throne of Dunwall. In a not unanticipated, but spectacularly Shakespearean turn of events, a mysterious sorceress appears and lays waste to the party, setting the stage for a violent coup that deposes Emily from the throne.
While Corvo's a lot more successful at this whole bodyguard thing the second time around, he and Emily are forced to flee to the ailing city of Karnaca. There, the plot against Emily is slowly unraveled, of course, through a series of meticulously crafted revenge assassinations.
A Good Story Sidelined
While the storyline of Dishonored 2 has a lot of potential, reviewers are bemoaning that the narrative gets kind of muddled and ultimately dumped by the wayside. Which is a shame; I've always been fond of the minimalist narrative in the first Dishonored, in that it instills just enough character to the carnage while still leaving plenty of room for speculation to fill in the blanks.
At some point after the dramatic intro, Dishonored 2 seems to have dispensed with the intriguing plot points altogether in favor of focusing on giving Corvo and Emily all sorts of new and creative ways to kill people. Which, while not as good as it could be, is not a bad thing at all.
What the Sequel Does Right
Fans of inventive level design are in for a treat, as Dishonored 2 follows in its predecessor's footsteps.
There are multiple ways to traverse each map and complete every level, so whether you favor a stealth or blades blazin' approach to your mass murder, you'll feel sufficiently well rewarded for letting your inner assassin out to play.
The Outsider returns as well, granting both Corvo and Emily a dark arsenal of mysterious abilities both new and returning. Corvo, for instance, can summon a horde of rats to devour the bodies of murder victims you'll leave behind, perfect for disposing of the evidence in case a patrolling guard happens upon the scene of the crime.
Emily, on the other hand, gets the super cool ability to weave together the fates of her enemies, causing any harm inflicted on one victim to be visited on all the others. Nothing quiets a room quite like slitting the throat of one guard, only for three others to start gurgling and falling over dead, bleeding from ghostly incisions across their jugulars.
It's one of the most refreshing (and darkly rewarding) powers I've ever seen in a video game, and its applications in stealth action gameplay are wondrous.
Buy Dishonored 2:
The Ballad of John Marston
To this day, fans of the original Red Dead Redemption for the Playstation 3 (and later Xbox 360) remember it as one of the greatest hits for the console, and at least in my humble estimation, quite possibly of all time.
And it's not just the fans who are still raving about RDR. To this day, the wild western, horse rustlin', bounty huntin', farm ranchin', Wild Western shoot 'em up maintains a staggering Metascore rating of 95/100 among critics.
Quite succinctly summed up as “Grand Theft Auto on horseback, and so much more,” the original RDR puts you in the spurred cowboy boots of John Marston, rugged survivalist, reluctant lawman, devoted husband and father and would-be rancher struggling to put his outlaw past behind him.
In an American West rapidly being encroached upon by technological marvels such as the railroad, telegram and an increasingly oppressive federal government, John finds himself reluctantly returning to his former desperado ways as he is forced to roam the frontier in order to reclaim his tiny slice of the American dream.
It's High Noon Somewhere
Gunfights galore, bar brawls, bank robberies, side quests, even hunting, trapping and skinning wild animals round out an unforgettable open-world experience in the Wild West as only Rockstar could render it.
You could also ride down bad guys and lasso them from horseback, hogtie them...and either bring them into the local sheriff's office for a hefty cash reward, or leave them in the middle of the railroad tracks and wait for the the 3:10 to Yuma to dispense its own special brand of frontier justice.
RDR was an action-packed and truly cinematic experience, exceedingly respectful and evocative of its source material.
Needless to say, fan expectations for RDR2 run high, and we can be sure Rockstar's well aware of this. (And it doesn't help that the sequel's been 7 years in the making.) While official details have been sparse, we do know a few teaser bits about the game.
Back in the Saddle Again
As for the game itself, no characters have been confirmed, but several teasers have fanned the fires of speculation that RDR2 will, in fact, be a prequel to the original game, starring, or at least featuring, a younger John Marston.
It's also possible that, similar to Rockstar's recent smash hit Grand Theft Auto 5, which told the interweaving story of three different, all playable protagonists, the single player campaign of RDR2 will feature multiple protagonists.
Perhaps more than just an homage to classic Western films, seven cowboys have featured prominently in RDR2's officially released imagery. We also know that the game will be set in the Wild West!
So, uh, there's that.
The game has been confirmed for next gen consoles, specifically the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with no official word yet about its availability on PC. Also no news yet on whether RDR2 will be released on the upcoming Nintendo Switch or older Nintendo consoles like the Wii U.
Buy Red Dead Redemption 2:
Especially in recent years, it seems like sequels have sometimes taken up the trend of being less synonymous with 'shameless cash grabs' than 'worthy, or at least respectful homages to the original.'
When game developers start treating beloved intellectual properties with the care and respect they deserve, that can only mean good things. After all, if the numerous remakes, spin-offs and 'remastered' releases lately are any indication, sequels sell, so it's great seeing them handled with care.
What are some of your favorite sequels? Let us hear about it in the comments.