The term 'reboot' has become increasingly common in the past decade or so, mostly in reference to movies and TV shows. However, a number of video game franchises have also jumped on the bandwagon. These are titles intended as both a starting point for new players and a fresh experience for long-time fans. Not all attempts have been successful but here are five franchises that got it right!
I have many fond memories of Tomb Raider 2, being the first 3D game I owned on a PC. I spent countless hours searching every corner of the diverse environments for puzzle solutions and secret areas. I closely followed Lara Croft's adventures after that, making the sideways somersault to console for the sequels.
After Lara's initial outing on PlayStation 2 divided fans and critics, it wasn't until the next gen arrived that we got a new Tomb Raider. My first played-to-death game on Xbox 360 was Tomb Raider: Legend; the first reboot of the series. This re-telling of Lara's origins felt like a natural evolution of the aesthetics and gameplay style from the first five games. It was a hit and reinvigorated enthusiasm for the franchise, with a remake of the first game and sequel Tomb Raider: Underworld soon to follow.
The next outing underwent the series' biggest overhaul to date and was rebooted as 2013's Tomb Raider. It marked a significant change from the platformer/puzzle-based style to a grittier action-focused adventure while retaining some of the series' core elements. As opposed to being set in several unique locations around the world like previous entries, the whole game takes place on a remote island. It sees us playing as a young and inexperienced Lara, witnessing her transformation from a naive young adult to the hardened survivor we are all familiar with.
The game offers freedom of either moving through a linear cinematic story progression or going off the beaten track to explore and even fast-travel to previous areas. Exploration is usually rewarded with secrets and treasures, or materials you can use to upgrade weapons and survival skills. Combat has been scaled up considerably and revamped - gone are the iconic dual pistols, unloading infinite ammo into enemies while performing acrobatics to avoid damage. Here we have a more realistic cover system and customisable weapons.
I enjoyed the game so much that I bought and played through it twice - the original on PS3 and the 'definite version' on PS4 (although I've yet to 100% it!). This reboot was another win for the series, spawning two successful sequels to date. It was also the source material for a Tomb Raider movie reboot in 2015.
Admittedly, I only dabbled with the early games in this series. I bought the HD trilogy shortly before the release of the PS4, which did not offer the luxury of backwards compatibility. This meant my PS3 along with its library of unplayed/incompleted games was soon to be relegated. When God of War 3 Remastered came along on PS4, I put a decent amount of time into it and enjoyed the giant-scale boss battles and set pieces. Combat felt gratifying and the player's movement gave a fast-paced action platformer feel, only slowing down for puzzle sections and cut scenes.
When God of War (2018) was first announced, I wasn't enormously excited by the early trailers and screenshots. From the footage I'd seen, the setting and environments seemed a bit drab compared to previous entries. I was also put off by the idea that beefy protagonist Kratos is accompanied by a small child throughout the game. From this, I was expecting a full-length equivalent of an 'escort mission' - AKA some of the most tedious and annoying parts of otherwise great games. I couldn't have been more wrong...
God of War (2018) is a masterpiece. It didn't take long to become infatuated with the engaging story, the brutal combat, the acting, the rest. This time you play as an older & wiser Kratos in a brand new Norse style semi-open world setting, accompanied by his son Atreus. Oh, and forget about the game being one big escort mission - the boy is a powerhouse! Acting more like an extension of Kratos' combat skills rather than an obstacle, you'll find yourself heavily relying on the whippersnapper's abilities as the game goes on.
Whilst it could be argued this is technically a sequel due to the fact it is centred around the same character years after the events of previous entries, it is widely considered a reboot. This is in part due to the major differences in gameplay style and setting. The pace has been slowed down from the old 'arcade-y' style to a weighty and more grounded feel, aided by a more immersive over-the-shoulder view. These changes help the player feel part of the epic journey rather than controlling an overpowered character in a fighting game. God of War takes puzzle elements from games like Tomb Raider and mixes them with fluid & intense melee combat, a fantastic cast of characters, gorgeous environments, and a couple of Witcher-esque RPG elements thrown in for good measure.
Despite being numbered as a sequel, in many ways 2008's Fallout 3 is unrecognisable from previous entries. Bethesda transformed the series from a top-down RPG using pre-rendered sprites into an epic first-person action RPG. The setting remains the same; a post-apocalyptic America, several years after a nuclear war. The open world is vast and rich, inhabited by fully voiced NPCs with their own routines and behaviours. Bethesda was already known at the time for pioneering these technical achievements within their Elder Scrolls series, and Fallout 3 was no different.
The expansive environments and options available to the player can seem a bit overwhelming when you first leave the confines of Vault 101. However, this changes as you work through world-building quests and influence events based on your actions and choices. The combat cleverly incorporates a tactical 'turn-based' style in addition to a more traditional FPS approach. Difficulty can be changed at any time if you find yourself struggling to get to grips with the combat or prefer more of a challenge.
For some reason, it took me a decade to get around to paying this game the attention it deserves. I was hooked for weeks while all my shiny modern games were gathering dust - a testament to how well it holds up today. The Xbox 360 version has received a resolution & performance upgrade via backwards compatibility on Xbox One X/Series X. PC players can also access fan-made mods, ranging from graphics & performance overhauls to additional gameplay and content. Whilst there is already plenty to do in the game, these mods can offer a fresh experience for anyone revisiting the game.
A spin-off titled Fallout: New Vegas was released 2 years later. This was developed by the original creators of the series, leading many to consider it a direct sequel to Fallout 2. Meanwhile, Bethesda built upon their blueprint with the excellent Fallout 4 and Fallout 76; the latter being an online adventure following on from the popularity of Elder Scrolls Online.
The original Deus Ex was renowned for being one of the first games to successfully blend FPS and stealth gameplay with RPG elements. It was followed by the sequel Deus Ex: Invisible War, which was praised by critics but divided fans over due to its simplification of some gameplay elements. 8 years later we saw the third outing in the series, a prequel named Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This was set 25 years before the first game and an attempt to reboot the franchise with revamped gameplay and a fresh story.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is set in a cyberpunk future where advances in technology have led to the creation of augmentations - implants designed to enhance the human body. A class divide exists between people with these implants and normal humans, who form the lower class. Augmentations exist in the game as a way to unlock new skills and upgrades for your protagonist, Adam Jensen. This builds on the RPG elements from previous entries, alongside a non-linear story progression with numerous side quests and people to interact with. As well as dialogue choices impacting certain outcomes, there is a mechanic where you must react based on a character's personality type once assessed. These decisions can mean the difference between escalating or diffusing a situation, coming into play from the very first mission.
You can choose how to play through most missions via numerous routes and approaches. Navigating buildings by crawling through air ducts and sneaking up on fools felt reminiscent of the first Metal Gear Solid. I find the stealth gameplay in this game to be just as effective at building suspense in its crucial moments - despite an unfortunate lack of cardboard boxes to inconspicuously run around in. The significant amount of lore contained, coupled with busy yet streamlined environments, makes the game feel like a more 'focused' take on the first-person RPG formula of the time. It provides a lot more depth than the majority of first-person shooters that were around. I played through the game again a couple of years ago and it still held up as a great experience which I definitely recommend.
This game was followed by sequel Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. This successfully built on the elements introduced in Human Revolution and acted as a direct continuation of Adam Jensen's story.
Thimbleweed Park (2017)
Easily considered both a celebration and reboot of point & click graphic adventure games created by the legendary Ron Gilbert in the late '80s/early '90s (Monkey Island 1&2, Maniac Mansion & more), Thimbleweed Park successfully treads a line between nostalgia and narrative. It provides heaps of fan service and not-so-subtle references to Ron's legacy, whilst also managing to create a unique and compelling experience.
After a short prologue, you begin the game by switching between two FBI agents investigating a murder. As the story develops you gain access to an additional 3 playable characters, each with rich backstories and unique personalities. The story takes unexpected turns throughout so I’ll leave the synopsis at that... take it from someone who had the ending of this game spoiled in a review of a completely different game! Resisting the urge to refer to a guide when it comes to some of the puzzles you face can take an ungodly amount of willpower at times. However, in a ‘call’ back to pre-internet days when premium-rate gaming helplines existed, there is an in-game phone number you can ring for hints (at no real-world cost).
Visuals are clearly inspired by the retro style of Mr Gilbert's early creations, albeit with modern-day graphical flourishes and quality of life improvements. The story conjures similarities to the likes of Twin Peaks and X Files, incorporating plenty of the humour and parody the creator is known for. There is a dream-like quality to the town of Thimbleweed and its quirky residents, which immediately draws the player in and creates a sense of intrigue and foreboding. The soundtrack and voice acting do a great job of maintaining the sense that something feels ‘off’ as the mystery unravels. The fourth-wall-breaking references can seem a little jarring to newcomers, however, an option was actually added to turn off most of these 'in jokes'! The game does a good job of balancing these moments though, and the humour in general, with the noir stylings & murder mystery elements. Put it this way - if you’ve ever played a game like Yakuza where a violent crime story is blended with K-pop karaoke and men in nappies, this will be a walk in the Park.
Telltale Games previously made a worthy attempt at reinventing the genre in the mid-2000s. Their titles include the Sam & Max series (a brilliant revival of another classic point & click adventure), The Walking Dead, and their take on Batman. These games are presented in a way that appeals to modern gamers, containing frustration-free puzzles and a focus on dialogue choices & interactive cut scenes. With Thimbleweed Park though, Ron did a fantastic job of picking up where he left off - without sacrificing any of the ingredients that made the classics as rewarding and special as they are to so many. This is a trend he is set to continue with Return to Monkey Island, a highly anticipated series reboot/sequel that will realise his vision of a follow up to the beloved 1992 LucasArts classic Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge.
Editors note: This blog was originally published on April 21st, 2022. Updated on May 16th, 2022 to improve the information available.