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Top 5 Best & Worst Video Game Threequels

The third installment of a video game series tends to make or break a franchise. Recognizing this, most game developers these days tend to treat their franchises as trilogies, and if the final game happens to be successful, they will go on to announce another trilogy (as Microsoft has recently done with the wildly successful Halo games). There are at least a dozen highly anticipated third installments on the horizon--such as Bioshock Infinite, Diablo III, and Resistance 3--and many of them are billed as the final entry in a trilogy, including Assassin's Creed III, Dead Space 3, Gears of War 3, and Mass Effect 3. This is a relatively new phenonemon, but it has always been the third installment, more than any other, that can kill a franchise or propel it to greatness. These ten games help illustrate my point.

As with my previous list of best and worst video game sequels, I have to lay down a few rules: 1) the game has to be the third main installment in a series (off-shoots, handheld games, and multiple versions don't always count); 2) at least one of the predecessor games has to have been a successful game (though that probably goes without saying, since the series made it to a third installment); 3) the game has to have been out for at least a few years; and 4) I have to have played it. With those restrictions in place, here is my list of the best and worst third games.

5. Carmageddon TDR 2000
Carmageddon TDR 2000

Carmageddon is a bonafide classic and one of many games to be propelled to greatness on the shoulders of idiots who insist on making controversy over violence in video games. It's a "racing" game, in that you play as one of a collection of cars that compete with one another on a set track. You can, in theory, race to the finish line, but if you do that, you're playing the game all wrong. It is far more fun to destroy the other cars or rack up the most points, which you get by killing the many, many innocent civilians who happen to be watching the event. Carmageddon is one of the greatest guilty pleasures ever created, and though the game is relatively well-known, its two sequels are not, for good reason. The third and last game in the series is Carmageddon TDR 2000 (a pseudo-homage to Death Race 2000, the obvious inspiration for the games). Carmageddon TDR 2000 would be fine if it were just a graphical upgrade with tweaked controls, but the game also insists on having side missions, specific goals, brutal time limits, and controls that are actually worse than the original. In other words, if you take everything that makes Carmageddon fun--the freedom and ease to play however you want--that's exactly what's missing in Carmageddon TDR 2000. The game is so bad it effectively killed the franchise for over a decade, and only now is a fourth installment, named Carmageddon: Reincarnation, in development.

Super Mario Bros. 3
5. Super Mario Bros. 3

One recipe for a successful third game is a mediocre second installment, which is a pattern we'll be seeing more than once on this list. Though both versions of Super Mario Bros. 2 are generally considered failures today, they did not at the time diminish the enthusiasm of Nintendo fanboys. Few games are able to inspire as much anticipation and awe as did Super Mario Bros. 3, a game that both honors and vastly improves upon the original. It is even featured in The Wizard, which is probably the most expensive video game advertisement ever created. If you were alive and gaming in the days leading up to the release of Super Mario Bros. 3, you don't need me to tell you what it was like. Still, the game is not on this list because it was one of the most highly anticipated games of all time. (If that were the only important criteria, Duke Nukem Forever would be here.) The reason Super Mario Bros. 3 is the fifth best threequel in video game history is because it actually lives up to the astronomical expectations of the most devoted fanboys. Mario is, to this day, the unquestioned king of gaming mascots, but that probably wouldn't be the case if it weren't for the wild success of Super Mario Bros. 3.

4. Doom 3
Doom 3

Doom is a key first-person shooter that belongs side-by-side with greats like Wolfenstein 3D and Half-Life. Doom 3 is an attempt to recreate the magic of the original by retelling the same story with better graphics and more modern gaming conventions. Though the game was well-received upon its original release, the reputation of Doom 3 has steadily declined ever since. The controls are a little wonky, the lighting is ludicrously dark, the gameplay is repetitive, and the "story" is non-existent. It's all style without substance, and as such, it is criticized for having no heart. There is a Doom 4 in the works, but it will not be a sequel to Doom 3, which tells you what even the designers think of their creation.

Grand Theft Auto III
4. Grand Theft Auto III

The Grand Theft Auto games have a lot in common with Carmageddon, in that they both involve automobile mayhem. The first two Grand Theft Auto games are top-down driving games that allow you to complete certain missions, run over pedestrians, shoot people on foot, and participate in over-the-top car chases. They are fun and had a fanbase in their day, but the games aren't exactly groundbreaking. Enter Grand Theft Auto III, easily one of the most influential games of this century. The jump to 3D did amazing things to the franchise, most notably turning it from an arcade-style driving game into a non-linear, open world sandbox. Indeed, the entire genre of "sandbox games" owes its existence to Grand Theft Auto III. It's only been ten years since its release, but the game has revolutionized the industry in ways that are virtually impossible to overstate. Though subsequent releases have vastly improved the GTA formula, Grand Theft Auto III remains the single greatest leap forward an existing franchise has ever taken.

3. Master of Orion III
Master of Orion III

There was once a time when turn-based strategy games dominated PC gaming, and in those days, the title for the greatest was frequently challenged. One contender was Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares, in which the player can control one of thirteen space-faring races in a struggle to dominate the galaxy through military might, diplomacy, technology, and exploration. To this day, Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares is the gold standard--the high watermark--of space-themed turn-based micromanaging sims, and the subgenre has seen narry an improvement in the last fifteen years. The game has pretty archaic graphics, but it has aged well and is still terribly addictive. Unfortunately, its successor, Master of Orion III, wore out its welcome long ago. Like other games on this list, Master of Orion III was relatively well-received at launch and garnered some positive reviews. However, its reputation quickly soured as gamers came to understand the poor A.I., the cumbersome interface, the unforgiveable number of software crashes, and the needlessly complex gameplay. Any fan of Master of Orion II who plays Master of Orion III for more than a few hours will discover, beneath an impressive veneer, a game that is, to put it bluntly, broken. This is why, instead of clamouring for a fourth installment in the series after the threequel's release, fans just popped back in their copies of Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares and learned a valuable lesson about why you don't try to fix perfection.

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-e. magill 8/16/2011


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