There are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes, and the fact that we’ll get a new Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty game each and every October or November. While sometimes it can be nice to know that the next installment in your favorite video game series is always just right around the bend, there’s still a lot of debate throughout the community over whether or not these almost forced yearly installments are really necessary. Furthermore, do we as gamers really WANT them anymore? Are we in that much need of the next military shooter that we can’t find some other game to pass our time with while the developers give it a much needed extra year in development to try some new things or to make sure that everything is working as it should?
So let’s start with the big offender: Call of Duty. The larger-than-life FPS franchise is probably one of the biggest video game series responsible for ushering in this new era of yearly iterations in gaming. I actually didn’t get into Call of Duty until Black Ops came out in 2010, so I can only imagine how tired some people must be by now who have stuck with the series from the very beginning. Hell, I even got a bit fatigued from playing New Super Mario Bros. 2 and then New Super Mario Bros. U just a few months later. One of the biggest complaints you’re likely to hear about the yearly installments of Call of Duty games is the fact that nothing that drastic really ever changes from game to game (except maybe the inclusion of a controllable dog in the upcoming Ghosts). I guess it’s something to say for sticking to a formula that’s proven to work, but as you’ll shortly see, sometimes the lack of innovation in gaming sequels can be a very bad thing for a video game series.
Does anyone remember a little game called Guitar Hero? The guitar-playing simulator used to be the next biggest thing in gaming, with Guitar Hero 3 on the top of everyone’s Christmas list by the end of the year. But then the franchise got too big for its own good, and the yearly iterations of games like Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and Guitar Hero: Green Day quickly leveled the once-colossal series into absolute oblivion. Is this what yearly franchises have to look forward to? Is it really THAT important to remind gamers year after year that developers are still making a beloved video game series? After all, there sure seem to be a lot of people who remember Grand Theft Auto IV and Metal Gear Solid 4 just fine despite the many years since their release, and the excitement for each next respective installment can’t really match that of the yearly iteration, which no one seems to be all that surprised about, nor all that entirely interested in anymore.
But Call of Duty will always be Call of Duty, and despite what your own personal opinions might be about it, there are surely more than enough people buying each and every new release to keep the yearly model going until, well, who knows when. But perhaps even more upsetting to the crowd of hardcore single-player gamers is what Ubisoft has been doing with Assassin’s Creed. The first Assassin’s Creed (2007) was pretty good, but Assassin’s Creed II (2009) completely blew it out of the water by redefining the entire mission structure and the way that progression was felt in the game; not to mention introducing a number of gameplay elements that are now staples to the way we think of an AC game today. But the year after, Ubisoft began to churn out new Assassin’s Creed games each and every year, starting with Brotherhood in 2010. And, while Brotherhood was still amazing and fresh enough in its own right, each game after that just started to blur together in their attempts to give us just more of the same.
Assassin’s Creed III was one of my personally biggest disappointments of this gaming generation, and while Revelations was an early sign that the series’ yearly fatigue was beginning to show, AC III really drove home the point that the legion of white-robed assassins had already run their course. For one thing, despite having two different development teams working on alternating AC titles in order to give each one a sufficient 2-3 years in development, the final product that was Assassin’s Creed III felt FAR from finished. I bought my copy shortly after release, and was one of the many who anxiously awaited the first title update to the game, which featured over ONE HUNDRED bug fixes. A few weeks later, we got another patch that fixed even MORE bugs. But I guess some sacrifices must be made in order to hit those yearly deadlines – you know, like quality control and bug testing.
But with all of the unfinished complaints aside, I think the bigger problem with AC’s now-yearly model is that each game barely tweaked the formula. Did the game really do anything all that drastically different from previous games besides the new characters and settings, like Brotherhood did with the assassin trainees or even Revelations did with bomb crafting? To me, a full-on pirate theme and bigger emphasis on the naval warfare component that peeped its head in AC III just doesn’t seem like enough of a dramatic shift to constitute another iteration in the series, or at the very least, another iteration so soon. Ubisoft has even expressed recently that they DO in fact have an end in sight for the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but the better question is when exactly that will be – once most of their fan base stops caring entirely?
We can’t have an article about yearly gaming installments without mentioning a big offender: the sports game genre. Aside from roster updates, the majority of sports games don’t do much different to break from the winning formula of the year before it. Madden, for example, churns out high-grossing, popular titles year after year, with EA banking solely on the fact that the franchise is already huge, so why bother? I can tell you, you won’t see a major difference between Madden ’11 and Madden ’12. It does, however, appear that Madden 25 has made some interesting changes, but we don’t have that game in our hands yet so we’re not counting it. EA isn’t the only offender of offering stale, hardly-even-reskinned sports titles. 2k Sports forces out a new MLB 2k title every year, and any changes made are hardly even noticed by the most eagle-eyed gamer.
On the other extreme, we have developers like Rockstar who take their sweet-ass time in between making sequels: but the result of progression from sequel to sequel is simply unmatched by most other franchises. I mean, one needs to only take a look at the difference between Red Dead Revolver (2004) and Red Dead Redemption (2010) to see how easily the sequel becomes a better, more completely refined and drastically changed game when compared to the first. Or better yet, the jump from Grand Theft Auto IV (2008) to next month’s Grand Theft Auto V (2013): the latter of which already looks to be the most impressive and incredible thing to hit gaming since probably EVER, and with a bunch of new additions to the franchise. Even sequels that are more or less the same as their predecessors, like Borderlands and Borderlands 2, still feel fresh, because it’s been a few years since we last got to see new pieces of Pandora, or listen to Claptrap ramble on about nothing in particular.
So the question remains: do we really need yearly installments of a game franchise to remind us of their relevancy? If some of the best franchises out there like God of War or Grand Theft Auto started churning out installments each and every year, would we really even care about them as much anymore? Some of this year’s freshest sequels so far, like Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon and Pikmin 3 turned out to be so magical because we hadn’t seen a new game in the series since the GAMECUBE came out, and in gamer years that makes them almost ancient. If Pikmin 4 came out next year, would we still have that same sense of excitement?
So be sure to let us know your thoughts on yearly installments of video games like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. Do you like having a new game to play in your favorite series each and every year, or would you rather let some time go by so you can fall in love with the concepts all over again? Sound off below in the replies!