Gaming's grittiest reboots

Metal Gear Solid

The series: Technological limitations and a young audience meant the first few iterations of the sneak-em-up series played like a thinkier cousin to Gun.Smoke or Commando. For all its dense backstory, the last 8-bit entry, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, is still chiptunes, primary colors and goofily-named antagonists.

The reboot: Newcomers took to the series' Solid relaunch with gusto, welcoming its comparatively down-to-earth take on black-ops shenanigans. For longtime fans, the feeling was one of finally realizing what Hideo Kojima had been going for all along.

Above: That is to say, self-referential haranguing interspersed with occasional gameplay 

Dark 'n' edgy additions: Few elements were actually added per se – it was more a matter of finally being able to present the core notions with some degree of realism. That said, it's important not to overlook MGS' contributions to the field of jarring, confrontational videogame nudity.

Above: Games = art. Debate settled 

How'd that work? Browse the blurbs of titles released in the last decade for mentions of “realistic tactical-ops gameplay” or “stealth-based sneaking sequences.” Add to that most of the stubble-faced, gravel-voiced assaults on the notion of “anti-heroism” committed in recent years and MGS' influence becomes clear.

Kane & Lynch: Dog Days

The series: “Wait a minute,” you say, “Kane & Lynch's entire raison d'etre is being overbearingly grim.” That's true (and what, you're too good to say it in American?), but compared to Dog Days, the original Dead Men was Fun With Dick & Jane.

The reboot: With the first title somewhat overshadowed by controversy, Eidos' hard work promoting Kane & Lynch looked like going to waste. With a globally-recognized brand waiting to be leveraged (that's boardroom-talk for “they talked it up until we'd all heard of it”), it was a matter of reviving our interest. Solution: make it even darker!

Dark 'n' edgy additions: Lynch, kitted out in a sweat-stained wife-beater, grunts profanely through multiple instances of rape, torture and murder (sometimes committed by him), shown through a grainy handicam lens presumably wielded by an invincible sociopath.

Above: Buddy-buddy moments provide welcome levity 

How'd that work? The gratuitously nihilistic tone is arguably closer to what Dead Men was aiming for all along. But just as the central gimmick – the handheld perspective – is so impressive that you can't stop noticing it as an effect, so the game's relentless grimness becomes a hindrance, rather than a pathway, to immersion. That and it's like five hours long.

Zork Nemesis: The Forbidden Lands

Above: In the old days we made our own fun. If we let anyone else do it, this is what they came back with 

The series: “Your greatest challenge lies ahead and downwards,” taunts the oddly-specific blurb for the original Zork: The Great Underground Empire. A more fitting warning for newcomers to the long-running text-adventure series would be “Your greatest challenge won't even have pictures until the eighth installment.”

The reboot: Having failed to set the world alight with the newly-graphical Return to Zork, the series quickly hit the grim-rebirth button that was so close to hand throughout the 1990s. Nemesis! Forbidden Lands! This ain't your daddy's Zork, etc.

Dark 'n' edgy additions: Not content with adding “human sacrifice,” “premature burial” and “collecting dismembered corpse-parts” to the series' scope, Activision attempted to keep things stylish by including classically artistic depictions of the human form within the game. Ratings officials responded by slapping a “partial nudity” warning on the box.

Above: As you can see, it was basically Playboy: The Mansion for the hidden-object crowd 

How'd it work? Well, you're not playing Zork nowadays, are you? The series that enjoyed an early heyday never made a successful transition to modern, multimedia gaming, but you can hardly fault them for making a grim 'n' ghoulish bid for continued relevance. It was 1996: that was just what you did.

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  • QWERTYCommander - November 22, 2010 12:25 a.m.

    Waiter, there's too much spam in my comments section.
  • soren7550 - November 21, 2010 1:56 a.m.

    I'm a wee bit surprised that CoD4 and/or CoD:WaW wasn't included.
  • Genericpenisjoketista - November 20, 2010 9:47 p.m.

    ...Guys, uh... Does Devil May Cry ring a bell? This reboot is going to be gritty as shitfuck if we, the fans, can't have it stopped in advance.
  • Romination - November 20, 2010 8:26 a.m.

    The irony is that we ARE playing Zork still. It's in BlOps.
  • nikrusty - November 20, 2010 8:12 a.m.

    Nice...article and yeah Bomberman really looks bad ass, i remember playing with a friend in it's cute form on SNES emu on PC. But dang that ass is just distracting in the pic!
  • Aletheon - November 20, 2010 5:21 a.m.

    @Yeager Agreed. Jak 2 is my favorite of the series. Amazing game.
  • Aletheon - November 20, 2010 5:19 a.m.

    Metal Gear does not belong
  • Yeager1122 - November 20, 2010 3:35 a.m.

    I absolutley love jak 2 still have it and play it from time to time.
  • BrunettePride - November 20, 2010 1:53 a.m.

    Angel of Darkness was AWFUL!! I was so disappointed!! But yeah, great article. :D
  • GamesRadarJuniorWildlifeEditor - November 19, 2010 7:14 p.m.

    Solid article.
  • DreamWeaverPL - November 19, 2010 6:03 p.m.

    You seem to not understand the word "REBOOT". Also, calling Shadow the Hedgehog one of the grittiest... Are you seven-year-old, or what?
  • hester2 - November 19, 2010 5:55 p.m.

    I loved Advance Wars, but the rest of these were pretty disappointing games. Also, Commander Keen!
  • CongratulagentAgentTHEAgentAntista - November 19, 2010 5:52 p.m.

    Congratulagent Agent! You've unlocked black hair and a Limp Bizkit album! Go on and break shit, agent.
  • sleepy92ismypsn - November 19, 2010 5:39 p.m.

    @Mrsuitman I like Sly better than Jak so now that we have The Sly Collection and we know Sly 4 is on the way, I'd like to see a Jak collection and a new Jak game for PS3.
  • zonic505 - November 19, 2010 4:26 p.m.

    Really, no mention of Bionic Commando? & totally agree on Spyro. I remember the PS1 games were happy & colorful, then when it hit next-gen, it suddenly got more serious.
  • Asloveszuko - November 19, 2010 4:19 p.m.

    I would've added the Spyro series, it went from running around colorful worlds flaming up gnorks to an angsty storyline in the trilogy.
  • philipshaw - November 19, 2010 4:06 p.m.

    Great article,I knew Jak 2 would be on here. Beat it again last night and despite it being completely different to the first game, I think it's just as good if not better than the first game
  • Pyrovizard - November 19, 2010 11:52 a.m.

    I don't see why people hate on POP:WW it was an awesome game
  • CitizenWolfie - November 19, 2010 9:41 a.m.

    "2003 – a story of conspiracy, murder and a globe-trotting academic, obsessed with ancient mysteries and wrongly suspected of a grisly Parisian murder, captures the public consciousness. The work in question? Dan Brown's contentious novel, The Da Vinci Code." 1996 - a story of conspiracy, murder and a globe-trotting tourist, obsessed with ancient mysteries and wrongly suspected of a grisly Parisian murder, is loved by a cult audience. The work in question? Charles Cecil's point n click adventure game Broken Sword. Seriously, sometimes the wrong games get overlooked.
  • CH3BURASHKA - November 19, 2010 9:16 a.m.

    Outstanding article, chap! I'm trying to think of some, but none are coming to mind, and those that do are sequels, not reboots.