5 Great Game Series That Got Off To Rocky Starts

They may be considered classics now, but all of these game series came from more humble beginnings.

Classic Games That Weren't Smash Hits Right Off the Bat

In the midst of all the pre-release hype for the new Saints Row: The Third, a couple of my Twitter friends and industry colleagues brought up an important question: Had we all forgotten that the original Saints Row was originally seen as not much more than a GTA knock-off?

It got me thinking though: What other franchises have mimicked this pattern? Plenty have gone downhill after great beginnings, but how many have gone uphill after disappointing starts? Here is a look at Saint's Row and four more classic franchises that didn't exactly start out that way.

Saints Row

The first in the series might have felt like a knock-off, but after playing Saints Row 2, I'd forgiven Volition.

The sequel was a superior game that seemed to find an identity of its own by focusing on the more explosive possibilities of the "open-world" "sandbox" style of game design. Saints Row 2 became more about finding immense satisfaction in blowing stuff up and going amorally crazy in a game world that felt unique from Rockstar's own evolving franchise.

With Saints Row: The Third, the crazy is dialed up even more, this time with an added self-awareness that makes the game more sophisticated. They've gone from light and airy cotton candy, to a full-on 20-scoop ice cream sundae covered in deep-fried Snickers and shots of Patron.

The Moral of the Story: You never know.

Assassin's Creed

Altair's original adventure garnered some very favorable reviews when it first came out in 2007, including a 5-star review from this very outlet. But overall, opinions were mixed, with many reviewers citing the game's short, uninteresting storyline and repetitive missions. Most everyone agreed, though, that there was still a lot of potential there, and 2009's Assassin's Creed II was almost universally praised, mainly because it finally delivered on a lot of those possibilities.

It didn't reinvent the series, but it refined it into something it maybe should have been in the first place. Unfortunately, the most recent installment in the "let's squeeze every last dime out of Assassin's Creed II" parade has returned to the mixed review territory of the first game. Let's hope Ubisoft gets back on track next year when they finally move on to Assassin's Creed III.

Moral of the Story: If there are parts of your game that are great, make those things better and cut everything else. Also, know when it's time to move on.

Call of Duty's Multiplayer Version

There's no bigger juggernaut in online console gaming than the Call of Duty series, which has moved on, maybe finally, from its World War II roots to current day conflicts. And in no way would I like to suggest that the original Call of Duty on the PC was a bad game. It wasn't. It was quite awesome in fact, outdoing the Medal of Honor series in recreating an amazing WWII experience.

Call of Duty 2 followed suit, and brought the amazing experience to the "next-gen" Xbox 360. But what it didn't bring over with it was a multiplayer mode that anyone today would recognize. Part of the blame goes to Xbox Live still finding its legs, but matchmaking was abhorrent, making it difficult to even find a decent game online.

The Moral of the Story: Stick to it, and a meager multiplayer experience can evolve into one of the best in all of gaming.


The original Burnout didn't do a lot to stand out from the crowd of arcade racers. It had a great sense of speed and pretty decent graphics for the time, but nothing really all that memorable.

It wasn't until Crash Mode was implemented in Burnout 2 that Criterion started to really hit upon the core mechanic of the series that made it so great: destruction. Of course, when crash mode returned as a standalone title this year in Burnout Crash!, gamers turned away from the re-imagined concept. Maybe the days of Burnout are over.

The Moral of the Story: Find what makes your game different, and exploit that. Also, let people destroy things; it seems to make us happy.

Red Dead

When Rockstar Games announced that they were going to make a long-in-coming, not awaited by all that many people, sequel to 2004's Red Dead Revolver, very few gamers actually stood up and said, "Finally!"

That's because Red Dead Revolver, while not a bad game, was maybe a bit too visually stylized or drew from spaghetti westerns a bit too strongly to really captivate the mainstream market. It was unique, and decidedly Rockstar, but the game hardly lit the world on fire, either critically or commercially.

The appropriately titled Red Dead Redemption was another matter entirely, achieving almost instant classic game fame. That probably has something to do with Rockstar making it into an open-world type game, a genre they invented with the GTA series.

The Moral of the Story: If it doesn't work the first time, don't be afraid to reinvent it.

So tell us, what game series do you think got a lot better after questionable beginnings?