We’ve seen media take a curious tack in recent years. Folks have grown comfortable with the idea of revisiting old work and blowing revitalizing wind through the manifolds. Results vary; compare 2011’s remake of The Thing to George Miller’s new Mad Max.
Video games, though, they seem to have had more luck with capturing magic in familiar flavors. Many of these successes target a genre or resume where creators in general left off, but let’s focus on some whose genealogy is direct. These spiritual successors, reboots and revivals—sort-of-but-not-really-sequels—set the bar high for the rest of pop culture.
8. ‘WASTELAND 2’
The original Wasteland is written into the DNA of several things that might fit this page. Its post-nuclear badlands would serve as progenitor for the well beloved Fallout series, but this entry is about a direct sequel nearly 30 years the relic’s junior.
It casts you as an inductee into the Rangers, a well-intentioned group attempting to restore a little bit of justice to the post-societal, irradiated Wild West. Your aerial view sees you commanding a squad through tactical skirmishes, customizing characters, and deciding things of widespread import. The game won’t comment on your moral path, but the people living out here sure as hell will.
7. ‘CHILD OF EDEN’
The 2001 game Rez was a guided ride through a computer network littered with polygons to shoot. It turned heads with the way its accompanying music changed and morphed in response to play, creating a kind of audiovisual house trance experience. In 2011 Child of Eden revised the formula for a more organic take.
You drift through a thrumming environment of lights and rhythm. One mode of fire produces a sharp note as you pass lock-on targeting over enemies, another a machinegun rapping of drums in tune with the beat. Every flare and burst is met with sound and vibration. Think digital Fantasia, except you’re purifying the broom people with lasers.
6. ‘FALLOUT 3’
One and two struck an isometric, bird’s-eye perspective of a retro-future 1950s bathed in nuclear fire. Players built avatars from unique character statistics sheets that factored into both turn-based combat and interactions with the world at large.
A decade later, the series was translated to a behind-the-iron point of view, upping the tempo of violence and drafting a strange combat ability of freezing time and selecting targets carefully. The signature style of black humor remains intact, though the setting’s indifference toward the player was traded for a more straightforward hero’s tale.
5. ‘DEMON’S SOULS’
Dark Souls is commonly understood to follow Demon’s, but before that? The minds behind these notoriously punishing games drafted a bunch of the series’ characteristic elements in a game called King’s Field. It placed the camera somewhere different, but the cautious pace, bleak tone, and several mechanical conventions the faithful would recognize were already in place. Each type of weapon, for example, exhibits important differences in function and use that define how you play.
About 25 years after the first’s release, Demon’s Souls came along to illustrate just what shape the brood of inheritors would take. Stalking through the perilous unknown and carefully tangling with monsters strikes a signature combination of unforgiving and rewarding we’ve collectively come to love.
No longer the visual marvel it once was but still exceedingly interesting to look at, this shooter thrives in its sense of place. The expanse of sea Rapture is anchored under is trying its absolute damndest to crush your little metal bubble like a soda can, and the crazed survivors of its bloody downfall would love to moosh your face into shapes as hideous as theirs. Your defenses synergize with a dynamic ecosystem of characters pursuing their own ends, opening an array of angles to advance from.
But before it came System Shock. In BioShock we moved to the past under the weight of oceans, from a future in the depths of space. System Shock’s harrowing sci-fi bequeathed its thick, foreboding atmosphere and freedom of approach to this beloved title, though Bioshock simplified the numbers a bit.
3. ‘SLEEPING DOGS’
This was True Crime: Hong Kong, the next in a series of Grand Theft Auto-ish driving and crime fighting games, until development issues led to the project being shut down. Then Square Enix snatched up the rights and forged ahead to bring us a saga of undercover Triad drama.
It’s packed with the martial arts brawls and fantastic tattoos most of us (for better or worse) want from Chinese underworld drama, with spots of gunplay and flashy cars for good measure. Fans of Hong Kong cinema like Infernal Affairs should take a serious look.
2. ‘DRAGON AGE ORIGINS’
This year’s release of the third in this series bears little relevance to its heritage at first glance, but Origins mimicked the grand old age of the “C(omputer)RPG” a bit more closely. Their predecessor, Baldur’s Gate, was one of the best loved classics in this top-down style of involved, complex adventures—a game whose legacy its fathers revived in Dragon Age.
We’re treated to the same depth of character and relationships, excellent writing, and thoughtfully paced hacking and slashing. The latter can be paused at any moment to plan strategy and assign action to your crew. Have a nice fireside chat afterward about the awful things you’re all going through—your compatriots are engaging enough to take the time.
There’s a man whose name has come to be associated with absurdity and style in action games. His Devil May Cry sported a protagonist of boundless arrogance, a dude who suspends baddies mid-air with a torrent of pistol fire and spins greatswords like a baton twirler. The ludicrous soars to new heights in Bayonetta, his follow up starring a similarly confident witch wearing her own hair as costume.
A skillful flurry of controller abuse produces arcane torture devices and giant, crushing high-heels alongside more standard angel-filleting combinations. It’ll test your skill and reaction time as much as your patience for innuendo, demanding plenty of practice if you’re to score well with its evaluation cards.
Kris Goorhuis is a freelance writer, nerd, and pathologically shy fish in a sea of eyes. Leer at him on Twitter @krisgoorhuis.
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