In the modern era, video games are rarely, if ever, conceived of as one-off affairs. These days, nearly every title is developed with the hopes of it growing into a much larger intellectual property. And if a game finds any commercial success at all, it will almost certainly get a sequel. Often, that sequel is already in the conceptual stage before the first game even launches. Some new franchises even have multi-game arcs mapped out before work even begins on a prototype. Sequels, in other words, are in the industry’s bones.
Of course, those hopes don’t always pan out, and not every game meets with success — especially if it’s just not very good. From veteran teams crashing on the shores of their own ambitions, to new developers who just couldn’t get an idea to work at all, here are video games that turned out so bad, they had to cancel the sequel.
Too Human to come back
In the late ’90s, developer Silicon Knights wanted to create the next massive narrative epic, a game that would weave science-fiction aesthetics with Norse legends. The game would feature a huge world to explore, a rich mythology to discover, and a blistering blend of combat styles. Initially intended for the original PlayStation, the game would have to be split across four separate CDs, similar to other sprawling epics such as Final Fantasy VII. It’s fair to say that Silicon Knights had high hopes for the title.
But the game, called Too Human, struggled from the start, as it suffered numerous delays and console switches, not to mention friction between the developer and engine-maker Epic Games. So once the title finally did release in 2008 for the Xbox 360, it really had to break out as a megahit in order to recoup both the coin and the expectations spent on it. Unfortunately, it did neither.
Players found that combat had been simplified all the way down to the right analog stick, which couldn’t provide enough options to hold their interest in the many combat encounters. Not that those encounters had any weight to them: death in the final release had no consequence at all. Players would simply resurrect on the spot, without losing any resources.
Reviewers were not kind, and gamers by and large gave Too Human a pass. Silicon Knights had hoped to create a full trilogy out of the IP, but with the critical and commercial failure of the product, the sequel never came to pass.
The Order: 1886 didn’t get another year
Sony’s God of War franchise exploded in the mid-2000s into one of the company’s signature hits, a PlayStation-seller that raised the third-person action genre to new heights. As the primary studio in Santa Monica got to work on sequels, a different developer, Ready at Dawn, was tasked with creating new God of War games for the PlayStation Portable system. After those games went on to commercial and critical success, the studio was at last ready to realize its ambitions: to create a franchise of their own.
The first entry in this new IP was The Order: 1886. Blending Arthurian mythology with a steampunk setting, The Order offered a unique setting along with plenty of action and intrigue. In a way, this was an expansion of the lessons the studio had learned from God of War. With the level of graphical fidelity that always made Sony first-party games stand out, The Order was set to be the hottest new game in the PlayStation lineup.
But it wasn’t. Reviewers skewered the game for being surprisingly limp to play and short to complete. Far from being the next God of War, The Order: 1886 became lost in the crowd, and quickly fell out of the gaming conversation. The rights to the series remained with Sony, which meant that even though Ready at Dawn was ready with more sequel ideas – a whole series, in fact — the franchise’s fate was left in the publisher’s hands. No word of any new Order game has been spoken of since, and Ready at Dawn has moved on to other projects.
Mass Effect: Andromeda won’t explore any farther
BioWare is one of the most storied studios in the industry. Over the decades, they’ve found success in everything from the Baldur’s Gate series to the blood-soaked Dragon Age franchise. But no BioWare work has had a bigger impact on the gaming landscape than Mass Effect, a spectacular science-fiction adventure that perfected the studio’s knack for combining epic plots with intimate character arcs. When the original trilogy ended, few gamers believed the IP was finished. Surely, BioWare would return to the Milky Way galaxy soon.
Mass Effect did indeed return, but not to the Milky Way. The fourth game in the series would take the adventure to the Andromeda galaxy, and BioWare really wanted to emphasize the ‘galaxy’ part. The initial designs called for hundreds of procedurally-generated planets the player could explore at will. However, these ambitious aims proved to be more than the studio could handle. For both creative and technical reasons, Mass Effect: Andromeda had to be rebuilt — and scoped down — several times, resulting in a final game that felt scattered and unfocused. Andromeda released to scores far below what BioWare was used to.
With the game’s facial animations becoming an internet laughing stock, sales failed to hold up to expectations. The franchise, one of BioWare’s core brands, was shelved and all plans for a sequel cancelled. Andromeda was simply the victim of high hopes gone wrong. It may never get a chance to put things right.
Dawn of War III has seen its last sunrise
Relic Entertainment is among the most prestigious strategy game creators in the business. Dawn of War and Dawn of War II were both successful games, but for very different reasons: in fact, though they shared the same title, the two games were nothing like each other. The first was a conventional base-building real-time strategy game, while the second was a squad-focused real-time tactics experience. So for the follow-up, Dawn of War III, Relic decided to combine both play-styles into one, while simultaneously incorporating ideas from the popular MOBA genre.
Like StarCraft II, Dawn of War III featured three unique playable factions. These all included individual hero units with different abilities, which would center the battles around these characters from the narrative. However, that narrative proved to be weaker than in previous games, and the balance of army strategy and hero tactics simply never gelled into a solid game.
Relic’s previous Dawn of War games all got massive expansion packs that were, for all intents and purposes, full sequels. They had entirely new campaigns and new units added to each factions’ rosters. Dawn of War III had the same roadmap, but unfortunately, poor sales forced Relic to cancel any future work on the expansions. Their goal of crossing over MOBA, strategy, and tactics players ended up appealing to none of them, and now the title is dead. Where Relic goes from here is anybody’s guess.
Duke Nukem Forever didn’t last long
It’s true: Duke Nukem Forever took a very, very long time to release. Started way back in 1996, the game suffered endless restarts and directional shifts until, at long last, its developer 3D Realms went out of business. And yet, Duke lived! Gearbox Software, a studio known for, you know, actually finishing games, took on the project. They polished up what 3D Realms had done and formally launched the finished game in 2011.
The head of Gearbox Software, Randy Pitchford, explained that he "did not acquire the franchise merely so people could experience Duke Nukem Forever," which means that he wanted more Duke games down the road. But Forever was not a commercial success; in fact, it tanked hard.
Pitchford would later credit this to the fact that Forever had just trod the same ground that Duke Nukem 3D had decades earlier. Despite his wishes for a Duke-centered franchise, Gearbox hasn’t announced any new games. Duke Nukem espouses a certain kind of masculinity that doesn’t translate very well to the modern era: crass, womanizing, and unsophisticated. Maybe it’s possible to evolve the character in some way that wouldn’t alienate long-term fans, but honestly, we could be waiting a very long time for that. Maybe forever.
SiN Episodes never emerged again
In the mid-2000s, a revolution struck the gaming industry: Steam, Valve’s digital platform that was part-network, part-storefront, and part-DRM service. This allowed smaller developers to cut out publishers altogether and skip the expense of boxing and shipping physical products.
Developer Ritual Entertainment also foresaw a whole new business model for gaming: instead of spending years creating one massive project, it was now possible to spend a fraction of the time making smaller, bite-sized ‘episodes’ of a single game that would be released over time. Ritual put their idea to the test and got to work on a follow-up to their 1998 shooter SiN. The result was SiN Episodes: Emergence, released in 2006 exclusively on Steam. Running on Valve’s own Source engine, the game had the graphics and mechanics of AAA title, but produced for only a fraction of the budget.
Unfortunately, the game never caught on. Its design sensibilities were already out-of-date, and the first-person shooter genre had plenty of other options for buyers to choose from. In the end, Emergence only managed 150,000 sales, only barely enough to recoup the costs of development. Though Ritual had always intended to move on to the next episode, and the next, a second title never arrived.
Shortly afterwards, Ritual was acquired by MumboJumbo, a spin-off company that had originally been part of Ritual itself. Since Ritual’s new parent was a casual-focused company, many thought the SiN franchise might be put on hold. No official statement ever came, but no other SiN game has been seen since.
The Thing never spread
Film director John Carpenter is a master at elevating B-movie ideas into era-defining art. Famous for works like They Live! and Escape from New York, he was also the driving force behind the brilliant alien horror film The Thing. Though Carpenter himself never returned to the idea, developer Computer Artworks came along twenty years later and decided to make a sequel in the form of a game. The player would take the role of a military commander sent to investigate whatever had happened at the isolated facility in the film. And naturally, things would go bad.
And bad they went. Though the designers tried to work in the group-paranoia of the film as a fear/trust AI system, in which other characters might suspect you of being an alien yourself, it was simply not refined enough to be very interesting. The game — also called The Thing, just like the film — was also faulted for a poor control scheme and a short playtime. Unlike its namesake, it could not elevate itself out of mediocrity.
Nevertheless, Computer Artworks did want to move on and make a sequel. But The Thing simply hadn’t sold enough copies to keep the company afloat. The studio went under, and with it, any news of a new game. In principle, Universal Interactive, the owners of The Thing IP, could have given the sequel to somebody else, but they never did. The game just couldn’t live up to the film — which was, of course, about something that mimicked something else. The horror.
Call of Duty: Ghosts was exorcised
Video game franchises don’t come much larger than Call of Duty. A success since the first game in 2003, the franchise leapt into genre-defining prominence with 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Ever since, Call of Duty games have released every November like clockwork. Modern Warfare became its own sub-brand within the series, but after making three of them, developer Infinity Ward was ready to move on to a new idea. The result came out in 2013 as Call of Duty: Ghosts.
Set in a near-future riven by nuclear conflict, Ghosts introduced a team of covert operatives desperately trying to fend off an invasion of the United States by a coalition of South American nations. Featuring the fast-paced action and persistent multiplayer rewards that had turned Call of Duty into a juggernaut, Ghosts seemed like it would be a smash hit. And indeed, it was — but not by as much as in the franchise’s past. The game had a paint-by-numbers feel to it, a sequel mandated by corporate need and not artistic passion — even more so than other Call of Duty games.
After the disappointment of Ghosts, a new narrative director was brought on-board, who had no desire to continue with any plans for a sequel. Instead, Infinity Ward started from scratch and created an entirely new game, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, which was intended to be the new sub-franchise that Ghosts couldn’t be.
Night Trap never made it to daylight
In the 1990s, a new genre of video game was emerging. More interested in giving the player some control over the narrative rather than serving them constant action scenes, these games leaned into their cinematic influences by creating the entire game out of full-motion video, or FMV. FMV was, effectively, just recorded footage of actors, with the video quality kicked down to fit onto game consoles of the time. Night Trap, a teen horror game where the player tried to defend some helpless coeds by springing traps on their assailants, became the most famous of this style.
But fame isn’t always a good thing. Night Trap drew the attention of the United States Congress as parents began to realize how violent these ‘kids’ games’ were getting. Under scrutiny, publisher Sega decided to pull the game from stores. Though Night Trap would eventually be ported to other consoles, the whole FMV genre waned over the next few years.
But the creators of Night Trap still believed in their vision, and twenty years later, a Kickstarter campaign tried to bring their game back to life. Part of their promise was an idea for a Night Trap sequel, which they hoped would energize their fanbase after so much time. But it didn’t: the campaign barely made 10% of its financing goal. Night Trap, it turns out, wasn’t so beloved after all: it has ranked on various worst games lists over the years. In this case, gamers voted with their wallets, and made sure the sequel never came.
Wet dried out
Bethesda Softworks is the publishing arm of ZeniMax Media. They have released some of the biggest hits in history, including The Elder Scrolls and Fallout games. But these titles were all produced internally. In the late 2000s, Bethesda decided it was time to start publishing more projects developed from outside the company. One of their early pickups was a game called Wet from developer Artificial Mind and Movement, which had recently been dropped by its old publisher, Activision.
Wet was a kind of video game equivalent to the Kill Bill films: a bloody revenge story featuring a female lead equally adept at swords as she was with guns. Unfortunately for Bethesda, it turned out that Activision had dropped it for good reason. The game released to poor reviews, and its reception was hurt by its subpar graphics, relatively short length, and poor controls.
Despite this, the studio was excited to announce a sequel was in the works in 2010. But simply put, nobody else shared their excitement. Bethesda later publicly stated that they would not be publishing the sequel, a strong indication that the original had sold poorly. Without commercial or critical success to buoy it, Wet 2 has basically evaporated.
Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel was its own last stand
Army of Two always felt like a game forced into franchise status by publisher Electronic Arts, and not by any kind of audience demand. The first game never set the market on fire, and, if anything, it became something of a punching bag. The webcomic Penny Arcade took aim at it with a strip outlining when, and when not, to fist pound. And yet, the game became a series with the release of its sequel, Army of Two: The 40th Day. Despite suffering many of the same issues — namely, that no one really cared — it managed to spawn a follow-up, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel, in 2013.
The Devil’s Cartel seemed intensely aware that franchise heroes Salem and Rios had become bywords for glorified violence in video games. So this time around, developer EA Montreal (which technically reported to Visceral Games) decided to bench the main characters and send in two new characters instead. These characters were far less glib than their predecessors; unfortunately, this also meant they were far less interesting. In addition, EA Montreal removed the competitive multiplayer mode, which made the package feel incomplete. Plus, the AI simply wasn’t very good.
The Devil’s Cartel took a problematic franchise and made it boring instead. Is that better or worse? Answer: nobody cared. Receiving the worst reviews of the franchise so far, The Devil’s Cartel marked the last entry in the Army of Two series, and no new game is in sight. Oh, and one other thing: EA shut down the Montreal studio altogether. That franchise isn’t just dead, it’s buried. Under concrete.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 took a stake to the heart
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was the pleasant surprise of 2010. A Westernized 3D update of the classic 2D series, Lords of Shadow married the gothic atmosphere and slick action of Castlevania with the close-up and fast-paced style of God of War. What’s more, Konami gave the development team a boost by bringing no less than Hideo Kojima into the mix. The result was a superlative action game dripping with fantastic art design. It seemed like the long-dormant Castlevania would at last rise from its coffin and sink its fangs into the modern gaming scene.
Then came Lords of Shadow 2 in 2014. And, hoo boy: whatever secret sauce went into the first game had apparently dried up by the second. The game received virtually no promotion prior to its launch, itself a sign of trouble. The sequel had a different director, who allegedly was a nightmare to work for. And Kojima was not involved in any way this time. If that first game was lightning in a bottle, the sequel was a cold guy standing in the rain, holding up a bottle, hoping for lightning to strike twice.
Needless to say, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 was butchered by critics. Since then, there’s been no sign of another Lords of Shadow game. Castlevania is a beloved franchise, and may get another reboot someday. But the dream of a long-running, high-quality franchise that the first game promised was never realized.
Homefront: The Revolution lost the war
The original Homefront in 2011 was publisher THQ’s attempt to cash in on the modern warfare craze inspired by Call of Duty 4. Featuring a script written by Red Dawn writer/director John Milius (or, then again, maybe not), the game envisioned a future in which North Korea invaded the United States, and a rag-tag band of rebels rose up to defy the Communist occupiers. While reviews were only middling, the game did almost predict the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. So, there was that.
THQ greenlit a sequel, which sounds simple enough. And then, everything went wrong. First, THQ shut down developer Kaos; then they handed the reins over to Crytek UK; then THQ itself went under; then Crytek, still making the sequel, suffered financial problems and stopped paying their developers; then Crytek shuttered its UK office and sold the unfinished game to Deep Silver, which then founded a new company and hired back all the laid off developers. Whew! After all that, you would hope that at least the resulting game would all be worth it.
But, no. Homefront: The Revolution was bashed by critics, even worse than the first game. Looks like the North Koreans won after all. Under the enlightened administration of our glorious new rulers, no new Homefront game from any capitalist pig developer is expected anytime soon. Or, ever.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter shot itself in the foot
For a few years, Medal of Honor was the gold standard in historical shooter games. The first game from 1999 and the 2002 follow-up Allied Assault are both regarded as classics of the World War II genre, bringing the conflict to players with a realism and respect never seen up to that time. The series was very much responsible for the ensuing World War II craze, which brought us the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises among many others. Unfortunately, the battle for marketshare turned against Medal of Honor. The release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare then effectively killed the World War II genre dead.
To survive, Medal of Honor had to adapt. Publisher Electronic Arts created a brand new team to produce a modern-era reboot, simply titled Medal of Honor. In 2010, the series made its triumphant comeback … only to receive middling reviews. So the team went back to the drawing board to produce Medal of Honor: Warfighter, their answer to both their critics and the booming Call of Duty juggernaut. The developers worked with actual members of DEVGRU (commonly known as SEAL Team Six) to bring a depth of realism and authenticity to the experience that the over-the-top Call of Duty couldn’t match. They hoped this would bring Medal of Honor back in line with the early games in the series.
In short, Warfighter failed to do any of that. The game was panned across the board as a soulless exercise in paint-by-numbers development. The DEVGRU operators, meanwhile, were disciplined by the Navy for giving away classified information to a video game company. Nobody won any medals for developing this one. It’s no surprise that a sequel is officially "out of rotation."
Dead Space died
Dead Space was a revelation when it debuted in 2008, an exquisitely crafted horror experience set on a derelict spaceship. Featuring some of the most clever sound design in all gaming and a perfectly-tuned sense for when the player was just ready to let his guard down, Dead Space instantly earned itself a spot in the horror pantheon. The sequel, Dead Space 2, expanded on the formula in every way and delivered another grade-A title in what was, by then, the hottest series in the genre.
Unfortunately, publisher EA asked developer Visceral to change up the formula for Dead Space 3. Horror games are notorious low-sellers in the marketplace; people say they love them, but then apparently don’t want to buy them. So for Dead Space 3, EA wanted a more "accessible" game that anyone could pick up and play. Though they claimed they still wanted the game to be scary, in practice, this turned a horror franchise into an action one, alienating its audience. On top of all that, a new microtransactions system was included, which degraded the game’s difficulty and looked for all the world like a corporate cash-grab.
Fans, needless to say, were not happy. And indeed, sales for Dead Space 3 ended up below expectations. There were allegedly some plans for a Dead Space 4, but after the disaster of Dead Space 3, EA pulled the plug. Dead Space now lies dormant. Waiting. Watching.
Perfect Dark Zero … wasn’t
Developer Rare has produced some of the most beloved games of all time, including GoldenEye, Banjo-Kazooie, and Perfect Dark. The latter was a kind of spiritual successor to their legendary 007 game, a first-person shooter for the Nintendo 64 at a time when console shooters were rare as hen’s teeth. Featuring a zany science-fiction/espionage plot and a cool new protagonist in Joanna Dark, Perfect Dark became one of the N64’s last breakout titles, releasing during the console’s fading years.
Then in 2002, Microsoft pulled off a coup by poaching Rare from Nintendo. The Seattle tech titan had a new console out, the Xbox, and they needed developers for it. With Halo: Combat Evolved, they’d proved that shooters could thrive on consoles, so Rare and their in-development prequel to Perfect Dark made perfect sense for their lineup. In the end, the new game, Perfect Dark Zero, proved so ambitious that they had to transition it into an Xbox 360 title instead. It arrived as a launch game for that system.
And after all that, somehow, the game still didn’t turn out very well. While not necessarily terrible, it didn’t live up to the first game’s sterling reputation. It was simply a "good enough" shooter, not a breakout sensation like Rare’s previous efforts. In a world where Halo existed, that wasn’t enough to stand out. In fact, over time, the game’s star has only faded further: it even made GameTrailer’s list of Top Ten Worst Sequels. Ouch. Rare has never made a Perfect Dark game – or indeed, any shooter — since.
Epic Mickey 2 … also wasn’t
The Walt Disney Company is a behemoth of the entertainment industry, which bestrides the Earth with franchise studios like Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar. Yet once upon a time, Disney was most famous for a creation of the man himself: Mickey Mouse. In 2006, Mickey returned to screens in video game form in Epic Mickey, a game designed by industry legend Warren Spector. For all the hype around the mouse’s comeback, the final product didn’t review all that well. Critics found it repetitive and shallow, despite the fantastic representation of early Disney charm.
Disney just wouldn’t be Disney if it didn’t knock out a sequel, and so Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two arrived in 2012. Unfortunately, something clearly went wrong somewhere in development. The sequel suffered dismal reviews, since it fixed none of the issues with the first game and somehow managed to make the whole thing even less fun. Mickey Mouse and his friends might be great characters, but a bad game is simply a bad game. Epic Mickey 2 is an object lesson in trying to coast off the strength of an intellectual property, and failing.
After disappointing sales of the sequel, Disney closed developer Junction Point Studios, and with it, any hope of an Epic Mickey 3. Perhaps someday, Mickey Mouse will make a triumphant return and prove to the world why he built a little company into the greatest force in entertainment. Now that would be pretty epic.