When it comes to a gaming series, is every new iteration an improvement over its predecessor? The majority of the time, the answer is yes, it is, particularly when it comes to the visuals. Meaning that when a franchise has been running for a number of years, the differences between the most recent entry and the début game can be staggering. With some titles evolving to such an extent, they become almost unrecognizable from their first versions. Here are five of the most popular game franchises in the world today, and a look at how much they have changed over the years.
Halo: Combat Evolved
On November 15, 2001, as an exclusive launch title for the new Xbox console, developers Bungie introduced a first-person shooter called Halo: Combat Evolved. The game took the world by storm, selling five million copies in four years. It was critically acclaimed, with reviewers stating it surpassed even Goldeneye 007 as the then standard for FPS console games. Halo’s design and gameplay gained particular praise from those who played Master Chief’s first outing.
Halo 5: Guardians
Almost 14 years after the first Halo, we’ll soon get to play the latest entry in the franchise: Halo 5: Guardians. A decade and a half is long time in gaming, and although the series has stuck to its first-person shooter roots, the difference between these two versions is akin to comparing black & white movies to modern day blockbusters.
Guardians is scheduled for release on October 27th this year. From what we’ve seen in the multiplayer beta, expect beautiful graphics, big budget cutscenes, and a silky-smooth 60 fps. The original Halo didn’t support online multiplayer, meaning if you wanted to play with friends, the only option was jostling in front of a split-screen or going with a system link LAN. Like a lot of games today, the multiplayer element is a huge part of Halo 5, to such an extent that when compared to the first Halo, it’s like having two totally separate games.
Call Of Duty
In 2003, developers Infinity Ward and publishers Activision released the first game in a series that would become the biggest first-person shooter franchise in the world: Call Of Duty. Set during World War II, this first COD won several awards, including game of the year, best action game, best music/sound design, and - something that isn’t usually associated with most series these days - an award for outstanding innovation.
Having computer-controlled allies supporting the player was pretty unique for the time, while the game also shifted protagonists between British, Canadian and Soviet soldiers. This was also the start of the COD trend for using celebrity voice actors, featuring Crank and Expendables actor Jason Statham as Sergent Waters.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
The recent Call of Duty titles often feel more like movies than games. The cinematic graphics and, some would say, the at times linear gameplay give the feeling of participating in a first person movie. Although the multiplayer mode has now become such a big part of the series that the single-player campaign usually plays second fiddle.
There’s a whole myriad of differences between this latest incarnation and the first Call of Duty, and not just in the looks department. It may still be a first-person shooter, but as the series moves further and further into the future. Jetpacks and mech suits have replaced Tommy guns and pineapple grenades.
Sid Meier's Civilization
At almost 25 years old, Civilization is the longest running game series on this list, with the first entry getting a release all the way back in 1991. Meier admitted to borrowing several elements of Civilization from the 1980 UK board game of the same name, particularly the tech trees. It seems this was a good decision, as the Civ series is now regarded as one the most important strategy games of all time. If you’re old enough to have played this on the Amiga, you may have fond memories of its huge, 16 color palette and the 4 floppy disks the game came on. Despite these now-clunky-seeming shortcomings, the original Civ was like nothing ever seen before. Today, it would look archaic for a smartphone game, but it’s where this great franchise all began.
Civilization: Beyond Earth
Including expansion packs and remakes, Civilization: Beyond Earth became the nineteenth title to carry the Civ name when it was released in October last year (twentieth if counting CivNet, a 1995 remake of the first game). It’s still a turn based, 4X game, but much like the civilizations that feature in the game itself, we’ve moved a fair bit up the tech tree in the last quarter of a century.
The 5.76 Mb which the original game came on has increased to 8GB, meaning if Beyond Earth was still using floppy disks, you’d be swapping between 5688 of them. The top-down viewpoint and ancient graphics have been replaced with an isometric view and luscious 3D models. The AI has advanced so much since that first game, it’s now a bit like comparing Skynet to a pocket calculator.
Much like the Call of Duty Franchise, the first Battlefield game was set during World War II. Originally released on the PC in 2002, Battlefield 1942 was, like subsequent games in the series, a first-person shooter heavily designed towards multiplayer action (the single-player mode here was the same as the multiplayer, except with AI controlled opponents). Coming on two CD-ROMs, 1942’s support for up to 64 players, use of vehicles and the excellent online competitive play made it quite revolutionary at the time.
As well as the obvious graphical improvements, the last few Battlefields have made more of an effort to include worthy single-player campaigns, but multiplayer action is still where the games excel. Hardline is the first entry in the series to move away from military warfare, concentrating instead on the age old battle of the law versus criminals. Now both sides possess some pretty bad-ass new hardware. The huge varieties of weapons and vehicles, destructive scenery, and huge online community have taken this series a long way from its blocky roots.
Grand Theft Auto
We come to what is easily the game series that has evolved the most over the years. The first GTA was actually a top-down, open world game, which was originally released for the PC and PlayStation in 1997. It was far from the critically praised 3D Grand Theft Auto titles that came later, with many reviewers stating the graphics to be a bit plain, even for back then. The game still sold well, as many players loved its concept and the freedom it gave. The various radio stations that played in the vehicles is an element of the game that continued throughout the series, as are the three cities in seen in this first GTA: Liberty, Vice, and San Andreas.
Grand Theft Auto 5
If there’s one thing the latest Grand Theft Auto could never be accused of, it’s having plain graphics. They may vary from machine to machine, but anyone lucky enough to own a PC able to play GTA 5 in 4K will experience one of the most beautiful games ever made. The series moved away from its 2D roots and embraced the third dimension in GTA 3, turning it into the series we’re so familiar with today.
The fantastic vehicles, the ability to take to the skies, the addictive gameplay, online multiplayer options and fantastic cutscenes have made this arguably one the best games ever made. And all from those humble 2D beginnings so many years ago.
Where do these franchises go from here? After so many years, it seems they may be starting to reach a gaming plateau. One option may be for the next generation of these titles to embrace new technology as it is released, such as VR headsets and other new control methods.
Or, the less likely scenario, abandon the series altogether and start on new some IPs to stop them becoming stale. But, as long as they keep making money, the sequels will continue to be pumped out. Maybe one day we’ll be playing Call Of Duty 15 in our virtual reality helmets, laughing at how old fashioned controllers used to be.