Gaming's grittiest reboots

Duke Nukem 3D

The series: We're talking about games whose central tenet is “muscular lunk shoots things in nuclear hellscape:” Commander Keen this ain't.

Above: The games go out of their way to establish the distinction 

But, the setting aside, they're pretty upbeat: clad in Last Action Hero red 'n' denim, a heroic Duke indulges in no vice darker than the occasional can of cola.

The reboot: “Time to kick ass and chew gum,” Duke snarls early in Duke 3D, the first of many shamelessly-pilfered catchphrases. That's the new Nukem: stumbling the line between pastiche and imitation like a middle schooler's notion of “badass” and never really making it clear whether it's meant as parody.

Dark 'n' edgy additions: Oh, plenty – provided your notions of “dark” and “edgy” came from John Stamos' character in Full House. Pig-faced aliens in cop uniforms provided a rebellious visual pun, and dodgily-pixellated strippers provided... dodgily-pixellated stripping.

Above: Of course, dedicated fans only played Duke 3D for the articles 

How'd it work? The audience for Duke Nukem 3D was a young, iconoclastic one with a crap sense of humor. They might as well enjoy a knowingly juvenile FPS about a muscular doofus who shoots aliens and cavorts with strippers – it's not like the same audience would be clamoring for that schtick forever.

Above: Oh right 

Jak 2

The series: Spiky-haired everyhero and backpack-dwelling everysidekick traverse platform-heavy everyland on collect-'em-up everyquest, in the game that launched a thousand “[Guy] & [Sassy Smaller Guy]” franchises.

The reboot: A convoluted hooey of a plot sees the eponymous hero imprisoned, effed up by genetic experimentation and taking on a passel of angst – and a chunky little nu-metal chinbeard – in the process. Thus begins a story that's half grim revenge quest, half underground-resistance war saga, and all tonally shocking surprises for fans of the original.

Dark 'n' edgy additions: Whereas the original Jak utilized fruity-tooty environmental magic, the sequel's grimacing guerilla has learned that change comes from the barrel of a gun. To that end, regular Jak solves problems by shooting them in the face, and “dark” Jak – who shows up when regular Jak collects enough “dark” power-ups – excels at face-ripping close-quarter combat.

Above: “He's actually a pretty nice guy, we're going to get brunch sometime.” 

How'd it work? Naughty Dog's earlier flagship, Crash Bandicoot, had done great things early in the PS1's cycle – later sinking in a shallow pool of stagnant repetition. By turning the Jak series on its head, the company may have denied those games the ubiquity enjoyed by the Crash titles, but they also showed that the new property wasn't about to become another lazy sequel-farm.

Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness

The series: 1950s – matinee serials present budget tomb-raiding adventure for audiences who can't afford theater; much popcorn sold. 1980s – Steven Spielberg pays winkingly pulpy tribute; sequels ensue. Late 1990s – Lara Croft recreates the same schtick, now with boobs; meet the World's First Digital Superstar.

The reboot: 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. Oh, and also Tomb Raider gets a PS2 sequel covering much of the same ground, but nobody cares because the game is pants.

Above: Bears and dogs are replaced by skinless horrors from beyond the bounds of human ken, which conveniently behave much like bears and dogs 

Dark 'n' edgy additions: Serial murder, black magic and Biblical ephemera form the backbone of Angel of Darkness' story, a warmed-over patchwork of alternative history that adds little to the archeological-thriller genre (apparently there is such a genre now). Besides that, it's business as usual, but with more ritual murder and a lamentable dearth of bear attacks.

Above: Body-mangling man-traps were a secret feature only available in unpatched first editions 

How'd it work? Most players couldn't be bothered finding out whether or not the grimmer-than-usual atmosphere was any great improvement over the earlier games: so plagued was Angel of Darkness by bugs and control issues, few bothered to stick it out.


  • 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.

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