Every once in a while, a game comes along that changes the gaming landscape forever. Once these titles become established and gain a following of hard-won fans, there are inevitable calls for a sequel to be made. But what’s the secret to success in this situation? Is it simply more of the same formula, or does it take a drastic change in dynamics to win over a passionate fanbase again? Here we’ll take a look at some of the most critically acclaimed and beloved game sequels from the past two decades to identify whether there is a failsafe plan at play.

Bioshock: Infinite

The first Bioshock game crash-landed onto the scene back in 2007 to wide critical acclaim. Its fusion of dystopian setting with steampunk design made it immediately iconic, whereas the thought-provoking storyline and immersive gameplay ensured its longevity. So, when Bioshock: Infinite, the third title in the series, was released in 2013 it was received with a combination of hope and trepidation.

Thankfully, it more than delivered. Now hailed by many as the stand-out game in the series, Infinite’s change in location and development of the central story arc won over legions of new fans as well as satisfying die-hard devotees. With original writer Ken Levine back at the helm, Infinite’s success arguably comes from both the familiar but updated gameplay and the revelation of further intriguing information about the Bioshock narrative.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Although the entire Uncharted series featuring Nathan Drake has been a definite success, it’s the second title, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves that holds a special place in fans’ hearts. Named as Game of the Year 2009 by many outlets, this second offering follows Drake’s adventures through Turkey, Nepal, Tibet and Borneo as he searches for the legendary Shambhala. Its movie-style action sequences and engaging narrative appeal to a wide audience and, along with superior graphics quality, secure its place as one of the greatest video games ever released for Playstation.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

When people speak of industry-changing games, they cannot avoid a reference to the renowned Grand Theft Auto series. The first title was released in 1997 but with the dawn of a new millennium came the start of a new chapter for GTA. Grand Theft Auto III was originally released for the Playstation 2 in 2001 and quickly showed the world a new type of gameplay. Featuring 3D graphics and an open world design, it was light years ahead of many of its contemporaries.

Fast forward 12 months and Vice City was released, perhaps one of the best loved games of all time. Critics noted the increased immersive nature of the gameplay and praised everything from the music to the realism to the open world design. Fans meanwhile loved its controversial subject matter, improved driving experience and rebellious nature. It’s a classic upon whose success the franchise is still riding with merchandise ranging from phone backgrounds to beach balls!

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Up and Coming

Looking forward, the highly anticipated The Last of Us Part II centres on an older version of fan favourite Ellie from the first game. Although initially a supporting character, Ellie really stole the show as far as likeability and general toughness went within gameplay, showing that it’s not always the protagonist who has the best skills. Although there’s no confirmed release date for this title yet, Naughty Dog hope to reintroduce fans to Ellie in late 2018 or early 2019.

Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 is another eagerly awaited sequel to be released later this year. Rather than taking place after the events of the first game, however, it moves back in time to follow the storyline of another member of the Van der Linde gang: Arthur Morgan. Previous protagonist John Marston does show up in the background, but it seems he’s swapped his role to that of a supporting one. It’s not yet clear how much screen time this well-loved character will receive in the new title but he’s not the only familiar face.

Reviewing the evidence, it seems that the success of a sequel lies in its ability to preserve the triumphs of previous titles with improved and updated gameplay. These days, the most popular games are the ones with developing narratives that can be told across a variety of different titles and platforms. The key to all this then seems to be in taking a progressive attitude towards the technology and a respectful approach in regard to the storyline.