Modern Guilt: The Argument Over Sequels And Reboots

That hair is the symbol of people's complaints about reboots, justified or not.

I have never played Thief, but I can already tell I’m going to enjoy the new game Eidos Montreal is working on. It looks velvety smooth and is overflowing with little touches to perfect that daring rogue playstyle so many players have become enchanted with lately. The demo showed off a few weeks ago looks fun and keeps the stealth active without feeling rushed.

But this is 2013 – the year of people complaining that a series is different from it was ten years ago. Naturally, everyone is tripping over themselves to either say that the voice isn’t right or that the game has been ruined by modern action influences or some other complaint about how it’s wrong.

Basically, it’s the ‘Things aren’t like what my nostalgic dreams told me they would be like! RRRRRRRRAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHH!’ thing that we keep doing whenever a beloved series gets a new coat of paint.

It’s a concept most people have come across in recent years, especially with so many properties getting the reboot treatment these days and Kickstarter dipping into the well of nostalgia. Somehow, making a new game with different design elements and aesthetics is a betrayal of the ‘essence’ and that a series was ‘about’ something different before.

We all have beloved things from our past that we want to see return, but they exist in the perfect recesses of memory. There’s no wonky grey area or chance for disappointment there, and any fist-slamming frustrations we had back then have been rewritten into The Way Things Used To Be and Kids These Days Have It So Easy.

But the truth is that everything sucks to some degree. And just because there’s something we really loved about a game doesn’t mean that was the “defining feature” future entries in a series need to have. It’s like reboots and sequels need to earn the brand name and justify its use to appease a crowd.

But the truth is that everything sucks to some degree.

Frankly, that’s asinine. It’s no more fruitful to argue what constitutes the essence of a particular series than it is to argue what is and is not a video game at all, or debate the nature of art. Just let things be and accept them for what they are rather than rejecting them for what something else was. If they fail on their own merits, fine.

2013 has been a constant storm of these complaints. The same thing happened with the recreation of Dante’s character for Devil May Cry, the inclusion of co-op in Dead Space 3, and the more action-oriented focus of Tomb Raider. People threw fits because each of those games didn’t meet some self-fabricated genre or mechanical criteria, yet each one works perfectly well in its own right. (And in the case of Dead Space 3, the developers actually said “We make Dead Space. We don’t make survival-horror,” which shows massive balls and confidence in a product.)

All of those sequels and reboots made sense within their own context, still generally held true to the established elements of previous titles, and took their genres in new directions. Of course, the same thing can be said about the new Sim City, which has had a truly hilarious lifespan since launch where new ideas didn’t fall flat as much as they sank into the Earth, forming smoldering concave monuments of shame. But it failed on its own merits rather than just being different from past games. In fact, out of all the games I’ve mentioned, Sim City was probably the most similar to past series incarnations.

It's not that scary, but so what? It still works.

Most titles we liked as kids are frustrating to play now. Genres have advanced, and so have our expectations about what game elements separate fun from tedium, and thought-provoking from trite. That’s why we knock new FPS games that lack grenades or the ability to sponge bullets or RPGs that don’t lend a sense of player agency. Our expectations have evolved with the times.

But our opinions and ability to deal with nostalgia haven’t moved an inch, despite how many times developers prove to us that reboots and the like can work. Because in reality, we don’t really want to play the same games we loved ten years ago.