It's safe to say that gaming in the last generation has become a lot more focused on sequels, prequels and spin-offs of certain franchises than the pushing of new IPs. It makes sense, as games based on an existing franchise are less of a financial risk, but it leads to higher expectations when a new title is in development in a franchise, especially if the games before it were really top notch. Sometimes it's not easy for developers to live up to fans' expectations, either because the expectation are too high or because they ended up making some wrong decisions during development.
It's a weird cliche, but this step often seems to happen at the third or fourth step in a franchise, with the second often being the best regarded. Now, this isn't to say that the games are necessarily bad, but they often seem to lose their "edge," and when looking at recent history, you could point towards franchises such as Gears of War, God of War, Assassin's Creed, Crysis, Lost Planet, The Final Fantasy XIII Saga, Resistance and Fable, but to name a few.
To look a little bit more in detail, you will see the following Metacritic scores:
Gears of War: 94 | 2: 93 | 3: 91 | Judgment: 79
God of War: 94 / 2: 93 | 3: 92 | Ascension: 80
Final Fantasy XIII: 83 | 2: 79 | Lightning Returns: 66
Resistance: 86 | 2: 87 | 3: 83
Crysis: 91 | 2: 86 | 3: 76
Lost Planet: 79 | 2: 68 | 3: 58
One franchise that is arguably also suffering from this is the Uncharted series. You may say "What!?!? But all Uncharted titles were amazing and Uncharted 3 won several awards!!" However, while Uncharted 3 is by no means a bad game, it failed to surpass its predecessor in terms of quality expectation (it achieved a 92 Metacritic, while Uncharted 2 received a 96).
Let's go back in the series to offer an explain as to why. Back when Naughty Dog was developing Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, gamers didn't have any real expectation for the title, leaving Naughty Dog to do their own thing, and elaborate on their ideas. In many ways, it was "testing the ground" for what the series could become. The end result was a title, that although not perfect, achieved a lot and featured a simple, but fun gameplay element, while offering a cinematic experience that showed gamers what the PS3 was capable of. The game's length was really its only weak point, but one can't deny that this was a good start for the series.
Following the success of Drake's Fortune, Naughty Dog started working on its sequel, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. This time around there was a certain hype for the game, but despite it, Naughty Dog was not affected by the pressure and this could be seen from the way they advertised the game, focusing a lot on the game's narrative and gameplay additions, like the multiplayer. The end result was one of the best games of this generation, featuring an amazing cinematic experience along with a great story and addictive multiplayer component. The game won a vast array of awards, including numerous Game of The Year awards.
Then came the third title in the series, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. The expectation was very high for this title, with the pressure started to increase on Naughty Dog's side. And although you can't deny Uncharted 3 is a great game, it doesn't really drive the franchise on.
There was a significant focus on set pieces and cinematic moments and you could see this from the game's advertising. Naughty Dog released several trailers showing cinematics moments from the single player campaign, which spoiled the experience when we playing the game. It also saw a shift in balance as the game became more about these set pieces, and without wanting to delve too much into it, the story was definitely the weakest and least plausible in the franchise so far. The gameplay also didn't see too many improvements, with the multiplayer having to be changed post-launch and the single-player not offering much of an expansion on anything that came before.
These concerns led to reservations about The Last of Us and whether that could match the bar set by the Uncharted franchise, but Naughty Dog delivered in spades on that experience. However, with the recent departures at Naughty Dog, it starts raising question marks again. First we saw Amy Hennig (creative director) leave, then Justin Richmond (game director) and most recently Todd Stashwick (voice actor) and Michael Knowland (lead character artist). These people were playing a crucial role in the development of the Uncharted title for PS4. And although Sony and Naughty Dog say that the development will continue as normal, we all know that it won't quite be the case. If you lose the creative director on a franchise, there will always be a transition period "“ just look at the Asssassin's Creed franchise.
Naughty Dog has done incredibly well to keep up with expectation so far, but with each success, the pressure for them to perform keeps getting greater and greater. Here's hoping that the next Uncharted experience doesn't suffer any ill effects from the recent departures and goes on to surpass Uncharted 2 as the greatest game in the franchise.
What are your thoughts regarding the next Uncharted title? Do you agree with this point of view? Share your thoughts in the comments below.