Earlier today, I found myself thinking of some of the great games of my younger days and thought, those games were megahits, yet these games still killed their franchises.
The grown-ups among us have made peace with the fact that certain franchises (especially games) have fizzled out and might never return the way we remember. These games were era-defining hits of their time but these iterations below straight up killed their entire franchise.
1. Legacy of Kain: Defiance
For those of us who haven’t yet experienced this franchise, it is the story of the vampire Kain, in the fictional world of Nosgoth. Developed by Crystal Dynamics (CD), the minds that took Core Design’s Tomb Raider and gave it new life. CD is also responsible for the upcoming Avengers game (we’ll reserve all judgment on that until it actually comes out).
Trivia: did you know Anna Gunn of Breaking Bad played a major character in this game?
There is a very dedicated group of fans of this franchise who would pay good money to see this game come back in some form. However, the franchise that we grew to love, is dead.
The Franchise (or “Legacy” in this case)
The first one, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain (by Silicon Knights, at the time) came out in 1996, a time when games were less graphics-intensive than a modern website. Developers built games with complex puzzles to drive gameplay further. As for the story, developers and gamers implicitly agreed to just use our imaginations. In the mid-’90s, games usually had a narrative limited to “defeat X because they’re evil” and that would be enough for us. I, to this day, don’t know who the bad guys in Contra were, but I killed the hell out of them all the same. This is why Blood Omen was so surprising because it was a playable novel. It featured real characters with layered motivations and agendas, character arcs, plot twists (fans of the series will likely mutter “hoo boy” at that one) you name it. The game was successful enough to warrant a franchise.
Some 3 years later, Legacy of Kain Soul Reaver came out as a futuristic depiction of a world created by the events of the first game. This game sold big as it featured a rich story, coupled with improved graphics, challenging gameplay and puzzles. It qualifies as one of the best games that came out on the Sony PlayStation. A sequel came out in 2001 named Soul Reaver 2, and then came Legacy of Kain Blood Omen 2 in 2002.
Legacy of Kain has, arguably, one of the best storylines of any franchise to date. The dialogue was pristine (albeit rather circumlocutory in some places), the voice acting has since become iconic and the graphics were quite up there for their respective eras. Honestly, if people are interested, I can make a documentary (or write a thesis) on just how incredibly opportune and fantastic this franchise was. The entire franchise can be purchased at GOG (available at just silly discounts).
Then came, Legacy of Kain – Defiance. The combat was front and center this time around. You got to play as Kain, the Demi-God, rather than a struggling vampire (as evident when you mow down armies of foes in minutes). It featured all the popular tropes with unlockable weapons, health, and TK upgrades. Suffice to say, Crystal Dynamics pulled out all the stops and went in headfirst.
At the time of its release, it was clear that the publisher back then, EIDOS Interactive (sold and bought in parts by Square Enix since) gave Crystal Dynamics a serious time limit and major sales targets – which did not align with the nature of the franchise. It might have sold well, only if it was fully developed.
Though it wasn’t rushed, it wasn’t all there at the time of release. It was, after all, trying to tie up 4 games worth of storylines while telling a completely new one. They did it very well, but not enough fans had kept up with all the storylines and sales targets weren’t met. It reportedly sold somewhere around half a million copies and that wasn’t enough to keep the franchise going. The director went on to make the Uncharted franchise, the team went on to Tomb Raider and Legacy of Kain was constantly heard from, but never seen again. EIDOS did not think it worth the investment to continue The Legacy of Kain.
Attempts at a reboot
In 2009 work began on a game called Legacy of Kain – Dead Sun, but it was canceled 3 years into production. This game has a lot of parallels with Shadow of Mordor, in that your character was living because of some magical/mythical/vampiric entity that kept him alive and granted him magical powers. It touched on some of the themes from the original franchise, but it stood alone with its own world and characters. You can experience the whole thing in the clip below.
Following that debacle, was an MMORPG called Nosgoth. Published by Square Enix, developed by Psyonix. The game builds on part of the story from Soul Reaver 2, but realistically it could just as easily be called a prequel to Tetris and it would not have been much more different. It was a free-to-play game that met its demise in mid-2016.
However, Legacy of Kain Defiance, ended the Legacy of Kain and killed the franchise.
2. Batman Arkham Knight
You might be thinking, “this series didn’t die, it ended after telling a complete story”. That is what we’ll call Abbotdinger’s analysis, in that it is both true and untrue. For the three people out there who have not yet experienced this game, it is a creation of Rocksteady Studios – who made a cult classic called Urban Chaos: Riot Response – that came just as quietly as it went. It wasn’t until Batman Arkham Asylum that came out on August 25th, 2009 that the studio made a name for itself.
Rocksteady did the one thing no other studio had accomplished before, they made a good superhero game. People like to visit some old Batman games on ancient consoles and roast them for getting so many things wrong. However, that provided some real insight into what a great Batman game was supposed to look like. When the time was finally right, we had ourselves a franchise.
Arkham Asylum was a critical and commercial success. It featured original voice actors from the animated series, the iconic voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hammil (and almost everyone else from the original cast), an amazing script that faithful to the mythos and game design that put you in full control of a Batman in his prime.
With the right planning, you could take out an entire room full of goons without anyone noticing (predator mode). The same carried over to an even greater run in Batman Arkham City where the story escalated, the map grew larger and more open everything went to another level (yet unrivaled in any form of entertainment other than comics)
They made bank with the concept.
Then came Batman Arkham Origins (made by WB Game Montreal this time). It caught some hate, maybe because it didn’t feature the original voice cast, or maybe because it was pretty much like Arkham City. It might not have been a 9 or 10 as the others in this franchise, but it was a solid 7.
To be clear, Batman Arkham Knight, was supposed to end the series. There wasn’t (and still isn’t) a sequel planned for it. However, the game had its share of technical problems as soon as it came out. The PC Port might as well have been called “Arkham – waiting for the patch”. When all of that was sorted out eventually, the game was a reasonable experience (that still has a few hangups, but we’ve learned to live with them). A solid 6.5 (7 if you could magically drop the tank stuff).
There was the Batmobile grind and some puzzles were long just for the sake of being long, but you still had a good (even if slightly predictable) story to go with it.
The game had a decent lifespan. They kept it alive with a lot of DLCs stories and unlocks, but that was the last appearance (outside of an Injustice game) in which Batman made a significant appearance.
As the last DLC rolled out, the studio wrapped up development and any plans of even thinking about an Arkham Origins sequel (there’s a pre-sequel joke in there somewhere) and the entire franchise came to a halt. Rocksteady moved on to another game (temporarily and falsely rumored to have been a Superman game) and that’s the end for the foreseeable future.
Attempts at a Reboot
Rest assured, that they tried to squeeze this franchise for every single penny until their hands cramped. They made mobile games, a VR game, a tonne of DLCs with costumes (even had a Batman V Superman tie in) but it seemed the original format was the only way in which consumers wanted to interact with this franchise.
We know that WB Montreal (Arkham Origins) is working on a sequel story, however Rocksteady did go so far as to create concept art for a futuristic Batman game where the character was played by Damian Wayne (Bruce Wayne’s son, in case you’re not into the comics) and it would have some elements of Shadow of War’s Nemesis system, but that idea was scrapped long before people could even register a protest about playing as a non-Bruce Wayne Batman.
3. Tales of Monkey Island (Monkey Island 5)
Whenever you come across games with a rich history, fleshed-out characters and detailed back story, you usually think it was inspired by some novel. Even though “On Stranger Tides” was an inspiration, but the settings of the Monkey Island game were wholly original. Lucasfilm Games (now known as Lucasarts) gave the green light for this series to visionary game creators Tim Schafer, Rob Gilbert, and David Grossman. Check out their gameography and you’ll see how influential they’ve been to the gaming landscape.
These geniuses created a point and click adventure game based on the adventures of the pirate hero Guybrush Threepwood and his arch-nemesis, the undead pirate LeChuck.
Parts 1 and 2 were incredibly funny, challenging, hilarious and just very well made. This was at a time when hints were scarce and the challenges were incremental.
They released parts 1 and 2 (one after another) telling the hilarious adventure of Guybrush Threepwood’s dealings with The Zombie Pirate LeChuck one year after the other. You probably remember how, back then, it was unheard of to get sequels this quickly (EA didn’t realize that until 1993), yet this game pulled it off.
Time went on and out came The Curse of Monkey Island (Monkey Island 3) in 1997 that took the franchise ahead with a new hand-drawn animation aesthetic that could pass muster even today – might need a 4K reskinning – but it’s basically all there. Then came the 3D Escape From Monkey Island (Monkey Island 4) in 2000. They featured a similar formula, but only became a little more interactive and had some mini-games in there (don’t get me started on Monkey Combat)
Tales of Monkey Island (Monkey Island 5) released in 2009 was a great and long overdue rejuvenation for the franchise. Created by the, then practically unknown, Telltale Games who had just created some poker games on steam before, came out with the idea of releasing a new episode each month (they later stretched the bejesus out of that idea for future titles).
It was a 3D Adventure game with some puzzle-solving thrown in there. The puzzles were complex, but the game was as fun as it had always been.
This was the origin of Telltale and the world didn’t know how to react to an episodic game. Not that it hadn’t been done before, it hadn’t been done on such a huge franchise. 5 was a fun game, modernized puzzles, classic writing and a decent franchise. The lack of sequels on this one can only be put towards a studio’s inability to monetize the game such that it continuously makes them money, single-player titles rarely get they can post some huge numbers. Which, Monkey Island hasn’t been famous for.
Attempts at a Reboot
In 2009 Lucasarts released a Special Edition HD Remake of Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2 for practically every platform. However, that was the last attempt at anything resembling a reboot. It has been 10 years without even the slightest mention of a sequel, so it stands to reason that we will not be going on any further adventures with Guybrush Threepwood in the foreseeable future.
4. Max Payne 3
Max Payne was what happens when Noir meets Matrix. Since both were unexplored at the time of the game’s release, Remedy Entertainment struck immediate gold. You don’t need ol’ Abbot here to tell you how you felt when you played this game. Some of us must even remember the Kung Fu mod that reinvented an already stellar game. Max Payne was also one of the very first PC games to be ported for mobile devices.
At the time of release, Remedy Entertainment was operating on such a tight budget that the main lead was modeled after one of the team members working on the game (raised eyebrow and all). The second game came around with an actual budget and a more detailed game and story, i.e. what if Max’s life had a ray of hope and even that got snuffed out?
Then, out popped Max Payne 3 after a considerable hiatus. It checked all the items off its list. It featured Noir, Bullet-Time, Max’s life getting sadder and sadder. It also had a plot, but someone would have to read it back to me. Despite being a reasonably playable game, it was pretty average and the storyline was no longer intrinsic to the character we had grown affectionate towards. He’s bald now, works as an enforcer for the cartel – the jump from cop to cartel is visited, but one feels that could have been a whole game all on its own.
Attempts at a Reboot
This game came out to a reasonable reception. Wasn’t half bad, sold well, and then… stunned silence. No mention of part 4, no mention of its return and it just went away. Maybe it’ll be back soon (and I would like nothing more than to scrub this entry from this list). There are rumors floating of a Max Payne 4 at Rockstar, but then again, so are those of World War 3.
5. Crysis 3
Crysis 3 builds on the traditional model of the Crysis games where you have to carrow out a mission, though this time you get a bow. It came out back around Far Cry 3 and Tomb Raider when archery was to gaming was Zombies were to 2010 i.e. all over the place.
You could stealthily make your way through the terrain and/or go guns blazing and wipe the entire populous out. Pretty straight forward, really. Gorgeous, but straightforward.
You are a soldier donning a cutting-edge CryNet Nanosuit that enhances your speed, strength, and accuracy while acting as armor and even an invisibility cloak. The suit has a limited amount of energy that allows it to power a selection of the above functions. Your job is to resolve some conflict but, you unexpectedly encounter aliens along the way.
Crysis, when it originally came out in 2007, was so demanding and graphically intense that it has become a long surviving question and meme. People were building rigs to get halfway reasonable performance out of Crysis, which was a considerable challenge for the GPUs of the time (Nvidia 8800 series and Radeon’s 2900 series being the peak).
The game itself was a first person shooter that puts you in an island full of hostiles while donning your Nanosuit. 12 years and counting, even today, on board graphics struggle to get acceptable FPS out of this FPS.
This, in itself, was a huge selling point. The game was pretty average if we’re honest with ourselves. There’s a global conflict, then aliens pop in (pretty standard storytelling for games released in 2007, actually).
Crysis Warhead came a year later, with slightly more optimized and better looking graphics. Crysis 2 popped up in 2011, this time it still looked gorgeous, but, wasn’t as demanding. In 2013, Crysis 3 followed (picking up on that era’s weird fixation with archery), which was more of the same and then the entire series just rolled over and died.
Crysis 3 featured one (spoiler alert) plot twist that didn’t add up. A guy you saw die in Crysis 2 comes back to life as the main protagonist but they don’t worry too much about that. The game was right up there with any of the predecessors, but then, it just fizzled out. Realizing that they could no longer create a game that was practically unplayable (at least not in modern times) they stuck to some gorgeous, but doable. You could download extra shaders and skins to beef it up, but even they ran well enough on an average system.
Attempts at a Reboot
Even though Crytek is still pumping out unit after unit of their Far Cry franchise, we have yet to hear news of Crysis 4.