The Interesting Sequels of 2013

Teaching old dogs new tricks.

The numbers affixed to the end of big-name franchises continue to grow and grow (and it's kind of hard not to see the name of the new BioShock as a knowing reference to this fact). But sequels continue to be the backbone of the industry, and the focus of so much of our attention.

They continue to be the backdrop to smart ideas and new ways of thinking. It's easy to bemoan their familiarity, but it's more rewarding to celebrate the reinvention, reimagining and subversion of old ways in these games. Sequels continue to be churned out, and in so many cases they continue to be absolutely fascinating.

2013's a more interesting year than most. Yes, there'll be FIFA 14, a new Call of Duty and a new Battlefield - and now that Nintendo seems to have shifted Mario towards an annual churn perhaps a Road to Rainbow Road retread for the plumber - but this year sees some of the biggest and most celebrated franchises making a long-awaited return.

And now there's the nostalgia machine of Kickstarter helping ageing gamers' dreams come true, there's also the prospect of sequels we've been waiting a little longer for, reviving names and genres that have been dormant for year upon year. So here's to the sequels that do more than just churn through another update, and to the ones that dare to be different and that dare to be interesting.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (Platinum, Xbox 360/PS3)

When Rising was still under development at Kojima Productions, the hook was tantalising enough. Play as Raiden, the cyborg ninja - a Metal Gear hero finally freed from the confines of MGS4's elaborate cutscenes. Now the whole thing's been reborn under a new developer, the hook's even better: do all of the above, but with Platinum Games at the helm.

And Rising seems likely to live up to its promise. After a stellar appearance at last year's Expo, Raiden's latest adventure sees Platinum delivering its trademark elegance when it comes to the fighting system - the parry, in particular, is potentially the stuff of legend - while broadening its scope a little to place a new emphasis on the environment.

MGS and Platinum - a match made in a very strange heaven.

The series' stealth focus may have taken a backseat, in other words, but this is still a game that makes you think about how and when you want to enter combat, and encourages you to plan the best route through some surprisingly expansive environments. Throw in free-cutting, and things look even better.

You Don't Know Jack: "Dear Raiden, I finished MGS2 and your dick is so small I couldn't even see it." Jeff pens a letter to Jack as he investigates Platinum's new game.

DmC: Devil May Cry (Ninja Theory, Xbox 360/PS3/PC)

There's a baffling amount of negativity surrounding this one. Ninja Theory, once critical darlings after the well-received Enslaved, have become unfortunate punch bags for a legion of fans who seem to have forgotten that when it comes to stuffing up Devil May Cry it's Capcom's internal teams that perhaps deserve the most scorn - didn't any of those fans play the second and fourth installments?

See through all that, though, and you might find a thoughtful and endearingly mischievous reboot for Dante, and a game that carries the same rebellious streak as the character that it's built around. It's a new take, yes, but perhaps it isn't better the devil you know than the devil you don't after all.

Al Dante: Wes popped up to Ninja Theory to investigate how the developer's rebuilt the Dante formula.

Dark Souls 2 (From Software, Xbox 360/PS3/PC)

If Ninja Theory thinks it's had it bad, the team should perhaps spare a thought for poor Tomohiro Shibuya, the From Software employee who's taken over the directorial reigns from Hidetaka Mayazaki for the sequel to what's perhaps the most revered game of the last few years.

Dark Souls 2's already ruffled feathers even before anyone's had a chance to have a proper look at it; early details suggest it'll be less obtuse than its predecessor, will offer more guidance to new players and - gasp - may be a little less hardcore.

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Please be good please be good please be good.

There's likely to be plenty more controversy and uproar as more is revealed of From's sequel, but whatever unravels is certain to be fascinating, and another tale of a developer rising against fan expectation - even if it is a sense of expectation that the developers conjured on its own.

Praise the Sun: Rich Stanton's likely to be keeping a keener eye than most on this one, having already endeavoured to become the Dark Soul in the original.

Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics, Xbox 360/PS3/PC)

Here's another one that could get messy. When Crystal Dynamics took over the Tomb Raider franchise in 2006, it didn't really have to struggle with the weight of expectation. The series it was handed had been left broken and battered by the ailing Core Design, and its retooling and retelling of the Lara formula has been an expert exercise in restoration and revitilisation.

This, though, could be a reboot too far, a retelling of the Lara tale that has everything your modern executive expects in a blockbuster game in 2013 while running the risk of losing sight of what it is that made the series such a success in the first place.

But let's not forget how well Crystal Dynamics has handled Tomb Raider in the past, and how it's managed to keep the series' flame burning so brightly for so long. The team's deserved its own crack at the legend - and whatever happens it's going to be another fascinating exercise in revisionism.

Lara Lolz: Oli explored Crystal Dynamics reboot late last year, discovering a game with all you'd expect of a modern blockbuster, for better and worse.

BioShock Infinite (Irrational, Xbox 360/PS3/PC)

A huge part of the appeal comes down to the context. BioShock Infinite doesn't just take you to a fantastical city floating in the clouds, it sends you back to a period of history that games rarely touch: America of the early 1900s, with its unstable admixture of partisan divides and growing arrogance, with its lunges towards greatness, and its stumbles over emerging fault-lines.

And, yes, there's that whole fantastical city floating in the clouds thing, too. Cheery with fresh whitewash and patriotic bunting, Columbia doesn't immediately have an enormous number of obvious things in common with the damp, squalid realities of life in Rapture, but that's exactly the point: Irrational Games is exploring another kind of warped idealism, and sounding out the realities of a different strain of hubris.

And if context isn't what you're after, there's still the one-two punch of weaponry and special attacks. And a Skyline to zip around on. And a strange and powerful companion to assist you. Infinite hasn't had a particularly easy development, by the looks of it, but it's not trying to do particularly easy things. Masterpiece or awkward botch, like Columbia itself, the end result promises to be fascinating.

Columbia Pictures: Irrational broke a long silence to finally show off Infinite in December. Jeff was there to take notes and ask questions.

Pikmin 3 (Nintendo, Wii U)

Even though a couple of months after its release it's more of a known quantity, the Wii U remains a very strange piece of kit. It's no surprise, then, that one of the biggest games of its infancy will be one of Nintendo's strangest ever series with the odd strategy of Pikmin 3.

This is a retooled Wii game at heart, so it's perhaps wise not to hope for too much exploration of the Wii U's eccentricities here. No-one's likely to mind that much, though, when the main dish is so charming, so obscure and - so it would seem - so very, very challenging.

Garden State: Chris reckons Pikmin's Nintendo's cruelest game, and the third installment does little to change that.

Bayonetta 2 (Platinum, Wii U)

Dreams do come true after all - even if you dream of the return of a leather-clad, lollipop-sucking sex-witch with steel bullets in her shoes. You sick puppies, you.

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Here's hoping Clarks get involved for some tie-in merchandise.

Rescued, it would seem, from publisher apathy, Bayonetta 2's another brilliantly incongruous addition to the Wii U line-up; a game that's resolutely hardcore, as well as a little perverted, it sits uncomfortably alongside the likes of ZombiU and Platinum's The Wonderful 101 in Nintendo's strange new world.

Hideki Kamiya's moved aside into an advisory role, though he's left the series in capable hands: Yosuke Hashimoto, a producer on the original, steps up into the director role. Little else is know beyond those facts, but if Bayonetta 2 lives up to its oddball legacy then it's assured to be one of 2013's more interesting games.

Rayman Legends (Ubisoft Montpelier, Wii U)

It's funny how one of the freshest feeling games of 2011 was a revival of one of the most traditional of genres. The 2D platformer's an art that's typically been left alone for Mario et al to dominate, so it's a real treat to see the form being approached from a much more Gallic perspective.

Rayman Origins' big draw was its looks, most definitely, but it had brains to match the beauty. With the Wii U's GamePad thrown into the mix, there's now a slightly more twisted canvas for Ubisoft Montpellier's twisted ideas, and it's going to be a delight to see how the odd couple are going to work together.

Gears of War: Judgement (People Can Fly, Xbox 360)

A Gears of War game being developed outside of the technology powerhouse of Epic, and one that's no longer fronted by man-boy Blesinzki? You'd be forgiven to wonder why anyone would be all that bothered by this.

And you'd be allowed to scoff even more when we tell you that it's the writing that's making Judgement such a tantalizing prospect - or, at least, its potential. New Yorker contributor Tom Bissell's been pulled onboard, bringing with him 20th Century Fox consultant Rob Auten, and they both promise to bring a little knowing intelligence to all that squidgy violence.

Yeah, alright, it looks fairly boring - but the single-player's sure to have some surprises.

And in People Can Fly, developers of one of the smartest shooters of the generation in Bulletstorm, they've got the ideal partners. Its shell may be a little generic, but expect a surprise or two at the heart of this new Gears of War.

Think Tanks: Jeff sat down with Judgement's writers to see what the game's doing differently.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (thechineseroom/Frictional, PC)

Sequels don't really get much more interesting than this. A Machine for Pigs is a follow-up to the genuinely terrifying Dark Descent, which is reason enough to pay attention.

The really interesting part, though, is that this one's got a new developer on board, with Dear Esther's creators thechineseroom stepping in. An artful horror game that promise to be as smart as it is terrifying? Sounds like a chilling treat.

Grand Theft Auto 5 (Rockstar, Xbox 360/PS3)

This one was an interesting sequel back in our 2012 list, and in the 12 months since enough has emerged to suggest that this will be a truly fascinating turn for Rockstar's open world series. The headline features, it would seem, are three intersecting stories that can be switched between at will, as well as a return to the slapstick humour of Vice City and San Andreas and a more expansive playground than has been seen before.

The real pull, though, is surely Rockstar's vision of Los Angeles. The city of angels never really gets the same billing as New York or San Francisco, but it's a much more fascinating space - a disparate sprawl that's one of the most surreal and vibrant metropolises in the world.

LA Living: No single screenshot or well-produced trailer gets us as excited for GTA 5 as this brilliant Reyner Banham doc on Los Angeles does.

Company of Heroes 2 (Relic, PC)

The scale of Russia's losses strung along World War II's Eastern Front can be hard to get your head around, and while Company of Heroes 2 may not truly bring the realities of brutal mechanised war that much closer, it should at least make you think twice before wading through any knee-deep snow drifts, for fear of the landmines that might lie buried beneath that innocent white surface.

Weather's not the only trick up Relic's sleeves with this long-awaited RTS: fog of war's also implemented in the form of the new TrueSight system, which seeks to replicate a soldier's view of the battlefield as they advance from one piece of cover to the next. Its name makes it sound like the kind of thing that comes hidden in the dashboard OS of the new Ford Focus, perhaps, but it works together with asymmetric factions and a knack for tight, imaginative encounters to deliver a wonderfully tense war game with a pleasingly nasty streak.

Fire Emblem: Awakening (Intelligent Systems, 3DS)

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Take your squad into battle, and try to keep your favourite units alive: it's the basis of XCOM, and it's also the foundation of Fire Emblem. Intelligent Systems' turn-based TRPG is getting its first installment on the 3DS this Spring: it may finally be time to retire that copy of Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars.

Awakening won't just feature units that poke their way out of the screen a little more than they did on previous entries. It's also adding to your battle options with the ability to perform team-up attacks on enemy units. Beyond that, you'll be able to marry and have children in between fights - or perhaps during them if you're a hectic multi-tasker - while Nintendo's promising DLC.

Wasteland 2 (InXile/Obsidian, PC)

Kickstarter's made so many dreams come true, and rescued so many loved yet dormant names. All we're waiting for, it seems, is someone to point dear Yu Suzuki towards it for Shenmue 3.

Wasteland 2's the first of the bunch to be scheduled for release, beating Star Citizen, Godus, Elite and Project Eternity to a 2013 release. It's also one of the more exciting prospects, a revival of the game that helped birth Fallout and a taut, traditional open world RPG with turn-based combat.

There could be one sting in the tail, though - we could be in a key Bethesda release year, and it'd be a cruel twist if Fallout 4 were to overshadow Wasteland 2 when it emerges around October. Still, there's likely room in everyone's hearts for more than one post-apocalyptic RPG.

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