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Gaming's grittiest reboots

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

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.

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.