The lights are on
As this past
generation of home consoles prepares to ride off into the sunset, we thought it
was an appropriate time to look back at new franchises that defined the past
nine years in console gaming – and predict how likely it is they will continue in the future.
[Note: this list
is in alphabetical order]
[Note: This feature is limited to games that not only spawned sequels but met with both critical acclaim and large-scale commercial success in the console space.]
Assassin's CreedDebuted: 2007
While it has
become one of the most commercially successful franchises of recent years, a
massively expansive open-world game involving time-travel, virtual reality,
science fiction, and obscure Crusades-era religious sects was hardly the safest
bet back in 2007 when the original Assassin's Creed released. Nonetheless, the
series quickly struck a nerve with gamers who became entranced not only by the
gorgeous, open-world assassination action, but the game's complex lore.
Later entries, especially Assassin's Creed II and Assassin's Creed:
Brotherhood, made big improvements in terms of gameplay and design, while
letting gamers explore new time periods like Renaissance Italy and colonial
America. While Ubisoft Montreal seems to have lost the plot in terms of the
overarching storyline, last year's Assassin's
Creed IV: Black Flag still managed to deliver big thrills and unique gameplay.
Future Prospects:Assassin's Creed
continues to garner strong review scores and sell by the millions. It's now the
pillar of Ubisoft's stable of franchises, and will definitely continue on
PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Its ability to place itself in new, unique settings
and time periods also gives it a better ability to keep things fresh than many
of its competitors.
Batman Arkham seriesDebuted: 2009
While Batman is
hardly a new character, his struggles in the realm of video games have been
well documented. Despite the fact that this gadget-wielding, thug-pummeling
Dark Knight seemed tailor made for gaming, no one could seem to get it right
- until Rocksteady Games made Batman: Arkham Asylum. The game got nearly
everything right. It reached out to longtime fans with great references and
characters from the comic's past while having the dark tone that fans of the
Dark Knight films expected.
importantly, Rocksteady understood how to make great gameplay with Batman. As a
silent bird of prey, you used gadgets and and guile to stalk your enemies
- and then delivered brutal beatdowns with an easy-to-use, free flowing
combat system. These traits were only emphasized when Rocksteady moved into an
open-world environment with Batman: Arkham City.
Future Prospects:While reviews of
Batman: Arkham Origins (developed by Warner Bros. Montreal) were mixed,
Rocksteady is back in the driver's seat of the franchise. In fact, its new
Batman: Arkham Knight actually graces the cover of the new issue of Game
Informer, so we'd say the future of this franchise is looking good indeed.
we revealed to the world on the cover of Game Informer back in 2006, was
universally hailed as one of the most creative, well-written games ever.
Creator Ken Levine and Irrational Games created the unforgettable sunken city
of Rapture, Andrew Ryan's grand experiment in biotech libertarianism. The
decayed, Art Deco beauty of the city belied the horrors that had been created, and
played backdrop to an adventure that none of us will forget.
follow-up, BioShock 2 (developed by 2K Marin) didn't reach the same narrative heights,
Levine returned to the series to create his masterpiece, BioShock Infinite.
This new game rose from the ocean into the sky, letting players explore the
early 1900s-inspired floating city of Columbia. The game dazzled, combining
amazing set piece moments with serious themes of racism, jingoism, and the
existence of other dimensions.
Future Prospects:Sadly, despite
the triumph of Infinite, the future of the franchise looks shaky right now. Ken
Levine recently shuttered Irrational Games, laying off all but a handful of
employees and is said to be working on a new, smaller scale project. 2K Games
has said that BioShock will continue, but without the guiding hand of Levine,
will it be the same?
Borderlands originally appeared as a gritty, Mad Max-inspired open world title.
Somewhere along the line, it went through a transformation into a cel-shaded,
broadly comic action/RPG focused on collection and a cornucopia of wild, highly
customizable weapons. This proved to be a great decision, and the game quickly
became loved for its humor, explosive gameplay, and variety. In particular, the
acerbic robot Claptrap became a fan favorite.
The game was a
hit, eventually selling over 4.5 million units worldwide. It spawned a sequel,
Borderlands 2, which was also praised by critics and consumers. It was a
massive success, selling over 8.5 million copies and becoming the best-selling
2K Games title ever (not counting those of its subsidiary Rockstar Games).
Future Prospects:The sales of
Borderlands 2 suggest that the franchise will continue in some form. However,
Gearbox head Randy Pitchford says that Borderlands 3 is not currently in
development, in favor of another project set in the Borderlands universe. We'll
have to wait and see what these comments mean.
Dead RisingDebuted: 2006
Rising was atypical of the company at the time. As an exclusive for Microsoft's
Xbox 360 (which never made a dent in the Japanese market), it was a clear case
of the company making a game specifically for Western audiences. The game used
the power of the 360 to push then-startling numbers of characters onscreen,
resulting in some crazed zombie battles. However, unlike many games in the
zombie genre, Dead Rising's tongue was firmly in cheek, emphasizing gonzo humor
and ridiculous weapons. By releasing early in the 360's lifecycle, it gained a
foothold with gamers and spawned two downloadable episodes (Case Zero and Case
West) as well as a full-fledged sequel. In a difficult generation for Capcom,
Dead Rising proved that it could still create compelling new IP.
Future Prospects:Once again
striking early in the console generation, Capcom had Dead Rising 3 ready for
the Xbox One launch as a console exclusive. As one of the most technically
ambitious titles of either system launch, the game's sales exceeded the
company's expectations, selling over one million units in a month. This seems
to point towards a bright future for the franchise.
Dead SpaceDebuted: 2008
doesn't have the best reputation among gamers, but it absolutely did it right
with Dead Space. Instead of investing in a licensed IP, it let an internal team
(led by Glen Schofield, who later left to form Sledgehammer Games at
Activision) have the freedom to create a new franchise from the ground up. Its
creation was Dead Space, a gripping sci-fi survival horror game inspired by
classic films like Alien and The Thing. It provided gamers with some
of the tense action that many felt Resident Evil had eschewed, and a great new
universe centered around disturbed lead character Isaac Clarke. The
laser-powered plasma cutter weapon in the game was inspired, leading to tense
combat in which the player brutally dismembered grotesque aliens.
The game didn't
do blockbuster numbers, but it sold strongly enough for EA to approve a sequel,
Dead Space 2, which was also well-received due to its mind-bending plotline. Sadly, the third Dead Space title - despite a glowing review
from GI's Tim Turi - was perceived as a dud by many and did not sell up to
Future Prospects:Though it was
clearly a standout franchise for EA in this past generation, the outlook for
Dead Space appears dim. In June 2013, EA executive VP Patrick Söderlund said
that - although the franchise is "close to EA's heart" - ""Is
that team working on a Dead Space game today? No they're not. They're working
on something else very exciting. You have to think of it from that perspective.
Is it better to put them on the fourth version of a game they've done three
previous versions of before? Or is it better to put them on something new that
they want to build, that they have passion for?"
Demon's Souls/Dark SoulsDebuted: 2009
marketable hero or story, mediocre graphics, and a game design that was
slightly archaic and punishingly difficult, From Software's Demon's Souls was
the unlikeliest of hits. Still, its stern challenge resonated with core gamers
reared on the difficult Japanese games of yesterday, and it quickly became one
of the cult phenomenons in the last decade of gaming.
asynchronous merging of single and multiplayer was innovative, and while it was
unforgiving, it never felt unfair. The original Demon's Souls was brought to
America by Atlus, a small company which specializes in localization of hardcore
Japanese games. However, it success meant that Atlus was eventually outbid for
its follow-up, Dark Souls, a sequel in all but name.
Future Prospects:Dark Souls II,
which released this week, is earning extraordinarily high review scores. Game
Informer's Dan Tack gave it a 9.75, and he's not alone; the game currently has
a Metacritic score of 91, which will likely make it one of the best-reviewed
games of the year. Right now, the Souls franchise looks to be in robust health.
Dragon AgeDebuted: 2009
signature IP of this generation is Mass Effect (more on that later in the
list), it didn't forget its roots in high fantasy. Dragon Age might not have
had a spotless track record, but it did deliver fans an epic, single-player
fantasy RPG that balanced contemporary game design with traditional elements.
The game cast
you as a member of the Greywardens, a group that is tasked with battling an
evil that threatens to engulf the land. Sound familiar? From this rather clichéd
plot, sprang an engaging adventure with deep RPG gameplay influenced heavily by
the classic Knights of the Old Republic series. While the game didn't match
Mass Effect in storytelling, it did spawn some memorable characters,
particularly the femme fatale Morrigan. While the sequel, Dragon Age II drew a
mixed response, with a sub-par storytelling and a more action-oriented combat
Future Prospects:Despite the
relative failure of Dragon Age II, BioWare, and EA have kept faith in the
series, and are currently working on Dragon Age: Inquisition, a new-gen
title slated for release by the end of this year. So far, the game has looked
quite impressive, and could represent a new birth for the franchise.
Gears of WarDebuted: 2006
franchise has always been the staple of its Xbox platforms, but it also created
a defining new franchise for Xbox 360 with the help of developer Epic Games.
Gears of War, a gritty third-person shooter set on the post-apocalyptic planet
Sera. The game pitted COG soldiers against the vicious Locust alien race.
Conceived by Unreal creator Cliff Bleszinski, the game brought Epic's signature
shooting into the third-person, with a slower, more methodical feel than its previous
were divided on the series' overly macho storytelling and characters, Gears of
War contributed cover mechanics and an "active reload" system that were widely
imitated. Gears of War 2's endless co-op Horde mode might be the most widely
copied multiplayer mode of the past few years. With three sequels all on Xbox
360, it was definitely a standout for Microsoft.
Future Prospects:The last couple
years have been difficult for Gears of War. The latest in the series, Gears of
War: Judgment, received a mixed critical and commercial reaction. Internal
shakeups at Epic Games saw series creator Cliff Bleszinski leave the company.
For awhile, it looked as though there might not be a future for Gears of War.
However, in early 2014 news surfaced that longtime Gears producer Rod
Fergusson, who had left Epic for Irrational Games, was returning to make a new
Gears of War title with new Microsoft internal studio Black Tusk.
Sony has always
maintained a strong stable of internally developed franchises, and in 2009 it
added another with Sucker Punch's Infamous. Sucker Punch, previously known for
the cartoonish Sly Cooper franchise, took a risk with Infamous, a dark open
world superhero saga which revolved around antihero Cole McGrath. McGrath's
flexible electrical powers, and the game's detailed New York-inspired setting
touched a nerve with PS3 owners, making it a hit. The game garnered a sequel,
2011's Infamous 2, which went south to a virtual doppelganger of New Orleans,
New Marais. Both games proved Sucker Punch's ability to deliver great
open-world gameplay, and provided gamers with a superhero-like experience that
wasn't based on familiar DC or Marvel properties.
Future Prospects:For Infamous,
the future is now. Once slated as a PlayStation 4 launch title, Infamous:
Second Son will be one of Sony's most high-profile early PlayStation 4 titles
when it launches on March 21. The game is now set in a real-world Seattle, and
features a new protagonist, the rebellious Delsin Rowe. For more, check out our
Infamous: Second Son hub.
Left 4 DeadDebuted: 2008
Valve and Turtle
Rock's Left 4 Dead, published in partnership with EA in 2008, is a testament to
the power of a simple, beautiful game design. While many developers chased
increasing complexity, Left 4 Dead has a perfectly done premise: pitting four
survivors together against hordes of horrific zombies. There wasn't a need for
fancy game modes or complicated storytelling; the simple act of banding
together and working towards a common goal (survival) was enough to make this a
classic cooperative multiplayer game.
Left 4 Dead
instantly struck a chord with gamers, and was supported by post-release DLC and
a sequel, Left 4 Dead 2, which some felt was too similar to the first game, but
was great nonetheless. Today, we see the influence on Left 4 Dead on games like
Payday 2 and Turtle Rock's upcoming Evolve.
Future Prospects:While Turtle
Rock has moved on, recent leaks indicate that Left 4 Dead 3 could be a
possibility. Early this year, design documents and images of a supposed third
sequel to the game (running on Valve's Source 2 engine) have surfaced, and some
feel that they are legitimate.
Sony by the eccentric British studio Media Molecule, LittleBigPlanet was
charmingly out of step with most of the game industry. Released in 2008, the
game created a world made entirely out of cloth, starring the cute ragdoll
Sackboy. The core game was an expertly designed 2D platformer, proving that
there was still much to be done with the genre in a world of 3D first-person
The game also
sensed how important creation tools would be to gamers in the last generation.
The game's creation mode allowed you to not only tweak Sackboy in myriad ways,
but create everything from new platforming levels to games in whole different
genres. Fans embraced the creative vibe, leading to the release of
LittleBigPlanet 2 for PlayStation 3, and well as the excellent handheld games
LittleBigPlanet PSP and LittleBigPlanet PS Vita and a kart racing spinoff.
Future Prospects:Despite all the acclaim and success LittleBigPlanet has experienced, it appears
as if Media Molecule has moved on from the franchise. Most recently, the
company created Tearaway, a papercraft-inspired platformer that was one of last
year's best games and a highlight of the Vita's software library. During a
previous PlayStation 4 event, Media Molecule demonstrated a new project that involved
creating and animating 3D characters and objects in real time using the Move
controller. It's not clear if it was a tech demo or a new game idea. However,
there doesn't seem to be much momentum in the LBP franchise right now.
Debuted: 2007BioWare's Mass
Effect series will stand as one of the most ambitious, successfully realized game
projects in history. From the beginning the studio aimed high; the game was
conceived as a trilogy with decisions that would radiate through all three chapters.
The game melded BioWare's traditional RPG gameplay with a shooter-based
component, striking a marketable new hybrid in the genre.
Most importantly, it innovated on game storytelling to an amazing degree.
Featuring full voiceovers and a dialogue selection wheel mechanic, Mass Effect
made what had traditionally been canned cutscenes into a core part of gameplay.
As space marine Commander Shepard, the player was sent on a wide-spanning
adventure to save the galaxy. Along the way, you'd make decisions that affect
the fate of your companions and entire planets. While some felt that the ending
to Mass Effect 3 didn't deliver, causing BioWare to release a post-release
update, the game stands as a monument to ambitious game design.
Future Prospects:While it's near
certain that we will get another Mass Effect game, just what form it takes is
up in the air. BioWare has stated that Shepard's saga is done, and that the
upcoming Mass Effect title will be a different story featuring different characters.
We don't have many details regarding what form the game will take, but we do
know there will be more of this franchise in the future, and that's good thing.
PortalThe video game
industry is a hotbed of creativity, but some games are a bit more creative than
others. Portal, and its follow-up Portal 2, is an example of a title that went
off the beaten path to great success. The game began as a student project,
Narbacular Drop, which was built on the simple concept of the main character
walking in one "portal" and out another. The team was eventually brought into
Valve and ended up creating a game of much greater quality and scope.
Portal placed a
silent protagonist into a series of test chambers, coached along by a possibly
murderous AI voice names GLaDOS. The player would place blue and orange portals
allowing them to teleport around the ingeniously designed levels. While the
puzzle-solving element was brilliant, it was the game's offbeat storytelling
and dialogue that really won gamers' hearts - something that was improved
upon in the sequel.
Future Prospects:It seems
unlikely that we will see another Portal anytime in the near future. While
there was a European Portal 3 trademark filing, many felt it was fake, and evidence points to the fact that there is no Portal 3 development team operating within
the company. You could speculate that its popularity would make a third game a
no-brainer, but remember this is the company that hasn't given us a Half-Life 3
Rock BandDebuted: 2007
"Live fast, die young"
has been the sad slogan of many rock stars, and Harmonix's Rock Band followed a
similar trajectory. The developer fell out with Guitar Hero publisher
Activision, and became part of MTV Games. Along with EA, they expanded their
previous virtual guitar formula to include drums, bass, and vocals. The result?
A pop culture phenomenon that took over living rooms and parties nationwide and
was, for a time, seen as a way of breaking bands both old and new to the gamer
success of Rock Band continued with Rock Band 2. However, the market became
saturated, thanks to both Rock Band's own spinoffs (like Rock Band: Green Day
and Lego Rock Band) and competition from the Guitar Hero franchise. By the time
the excellent Beatles: Rock Band was released in 2009, the bloom was already
off the rose. Another sequel followed, as well as some mobile adaptations, but
soon Harmonix moved on to Dance Central.
Future Prospects:Rock Band seems
the least likely of any of the games on this list to mount a comeback. As great
as it was, the world seems to have moved on from the world of plastic
instruments and descending note runways. It's a great memory for many of us,
but it's unlikely to generate big sales again. Perhaps there will be more
attempts to translate Rock Band to touch and mobile platforms, but it's not
quite the same without that dinky fake Stratocaster, is it?
Saints RowDebuted: 2006
Saints Row is a
testament to knowing what you're good at. The first game, clearly inspired by
Rockstar's GTA series, was a funny, but cheap feeling knockoff that rode some
competent gameplay to reasonable success in the window between San Andreas and
GTA IV. Saints Row 2 was successful, mining a similar "darker" narrative.
Brilliantly, the team at Volition took the perception that Saints Row was a
"b-movie" version of GTA to heart, and came out swinging with Saints Row 3.
Instead of competing with Rockstar's Hollywood pretensions, the company went
the opposite direction, making Saints Row 3 a gonzo, anything-goes romp filled
with adolescent humor and goofy weapons.
The move worked
out brilliantly, resulting in the best game and best reviews the series had to
date - and also established a real identity for the series. Saints Row IV
went even farther, escaping the bounds of reality and offering players
Future Prospects:Given that
publisher Deep Silver purchased the property from THQ prior to the release of
Saints Row IV, it seems a given that the series will continue. There's also
been unofficial confirmation of a new Saints game from Volition producer and
some voice actors. However, there is word that the next game might be going in
a new direction for the series.
Spyro's Adventure came along a late in the last generation, but it made a
monumental impact at retail. Activision and developer Toys for Bob hit upon an
idea that flew in the face of conventional wisdom: a game that incorporated
real-life toys and was set in a new universe based on the long-irrelevant Spyro
the Dragon franchise. However, the combination of the game's simple, top-down
action, heavy collection elements, and figurines that could save player data
and "appear" in the game via a portal base peripheral proved to be irresistible
to kids the world over.
Spyro's Adventure was an instant sensation, with figures quickly fetching big
money on eBay. The game itself sold millions, and two console sequels
(Skylanders Giants and Skylanders: Swap Force) have been equally successful. To
date, Activision says it's sold 175 million Skylanders figures, and the
franchise's total sales including software has topped $2 billion.
Future Prospects:Activision isn't
a company that's known for walking away from a series that's making money, so
Skylanders should be safe in the short term. However, a console transition
could prove difficult, as new console adopters are overwhelmingly older than
the mass audience of younger gamers that loves Skylanders. Activision also
isn't shy about closing up shop on a fad that has come and gone (see: Guitar
franchises have always been some of the prominent public faces of Sony's
consoles, from Crash Bandicoot up through the 2007 release of Uncharted:
Drake's Fortune. An amalgam of Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, and a modern-day
Hollywood action flick, the game instantly became a sensation, thanks in no
small part to its amazing graphics, production values, and storytelling.
Helmed by Amy
Hennig, the PlayStation 3 Uncharted trilogy took gamers all across the globe in
search of treasure, adventure, and - in the case of hero Nathan Drake and
journalist Elena Fisher - love. It was the kind of instantly engaging,
easy-to-love gaming that helped build the industry in the 8- and 16-bit era,
but brought to life with cutting edge technology and game design.
Future Prospects:A new Uncharted
game (apparently with no number or subtitle) has been officially announced for
PlayStation 4 and will likely be shown at this year's E3. So, the future of
this franchise is fairly certain. The only dark cloud on the horizon is the
recent departure of series creative director Amy Hennig from Naughty Dog, under
apparently tense circumstances. How this will affect the vision and development
of the next Uncharted is unknown, but Naughty Dog is a talented studio with
unparalleled graphical chops.
Email the author Matt Helgeson, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.