The other day a commenter commented that "this year in its entirety is looking pretty lukewarm compared to its predecessor." That got me thinkin'.
There's no denying 2011 was a pretty fantastic year in games - and I know that's something that's bandied about quite regularly - but c'mon, think about it. I can rattle off ten awesome titles from 2011 just off the top of my head. Here, lemmie try:
inFamous 2, Uncharted 3, Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, Dead Island, Dark Souls, Dead Space 2, Skyrim, Portal 2, Bastion, Rage, Batman: Arkham City, Catherine, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Alice: Madness Returns, Killzone 3, Bulletstorm, Stacking, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Resistance 3, Rayman: Origins.
So, twenty. And that's just on the PS3 with two download-only titles from XBLA. I'm not even counting Zelda or the 3DS or the mighty PC - 2011 was a frickin' awesome year - but is 2012 really a desert of content, compared to the lush tropical jungles that populated 2011?
Let's talk turkey.
Keep in mind, the 2012 holiday releases haven't been hammered out, yet. I've no doubt at least another half-dozen rock-solid triple-A games will be added to this list before the end of July, due out for release between October and November of this year - but we don't know about them, yet.
Here's what we do know.
The following games will almost definitely be constructed entirely of awesome, with a delicate frosting of super-coolness. Delicious.
Halo 4 is due out this year. Forgot about that, did you? I've always liked but never loved the Halo franchise - even so, the series has exemplary gameplay and standard-setting online. One can rest assured that - even though series originator Bungie has moved on - Microsoft will be throwing an obscene amount of money at new developer 343 Industries to ensure that Halo 4 remains at the top of the console FPS dog pile.
SSX has never been a snowboarding simulator. It's a way-bigger-than-life, deeply unique arcade-style racer with ridiculous tricks, gorgeous scenery and a never-less-than-sizzling soundtrack. Keep in mind, this isn't simply a reboot handled by some off-the-shelf developer - SSX is back in the hands of EA Canada, who worked on SSX Tricky and SSX3.
This is one last-gen franchise I have been dying to see reborn in high-def - an easy-call day-one purchase.
Ken Levine and Irrational Games return to the franchise that redefined what gamers can hope for in a first-person experience. Unwilling to simply tread water by returning to Rapture, BioShock Infinite is instead a spiritual sequel to the legendary BioShock - with a double-down on character and storytelling, a new fantastical city to explore and groovy new mechanics that allow you to fly around the hovering metropolis on chasm-spanning rail lines.
BioShock Infinite - merely due to its remarkable heritage - is already on many short lists for Game of the Year 2012.
Darksiders was a delicious video game confection. It was an unexpected success in gameplay, design, art direction and storytelling - one of my favorite games of 2010 - and I cannot wait for its sequel.
Darksiders combined the uniquely comic-book style of Joe Madureira, the slick combat mechanics of a streamlined Devil May Cry, the brutal adults-only violence of God of War - along with a half-dozen set pieces or mechanics pulled from the best of the past ten years of gaming - pureed until smooth, and applied it to the wonderful structure of The Legend of Zelda. It was both comfortable and thrillingly new - and now that THQ is convinced they may have a franchise on their hands, I cannot wait to see what Vigil Games does with an actual budget.
Ugh, God. I just watched the trailer again - eeeee!
Mass Effect 3
BioWare continue to lead the pack when it comes to linear, western-developed RPGs. With the most sumptuous production values this side of Final Fantasy, the voice work of legendary talent like Jennifer Hale, surprisingly pleasing combat, a rich sci-fi universe, BioWare's fantastic writing and a dynamic story five years in the making, Mass Effect 3 will top many people's Game of the Year lists, come December.
Max Payne 3
Any fears I had regarding Max's makeover were dispelled with this dev diary, showcasing that the core mechanics - and seemingly, the feel of the game - remain intact. I feel much the same, now, about Max Payne 3 as I do Halo 4. This isn't a little testing-the-waters affair. This is a game that the mighty Rockstar is throwing its full weight behind, developed by an internal Rockstar studio.
I don't expect a redux of L.A. Noire, here. Rockstar will throw as much money at MP3 as it needs to become the headlining third-person shooter of 2012 - and if Max Payne 2 was anything to go by, this may become an all-time classic.
Hitman is a world-class franchise - one-third of the holy trinity of stealth titles, along with Metal Gear Solid and Thief. These games have always boasted incredible settings, weighty animations, fantastic atmosphere, cerebral gameplay and the remarkable music of Jesper Kyd. Now - finally - Io have returned to what they do best, and my God it looks gorgeous. Hitman: Absolution may not be the best game of 2012, but I can guarantee it'll be one of my favorites.
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So there's seven games I can pretty much assure you will be spectacular.
Of course, far more interesting than games that will be great are games that may be great. There's nothing more boring than surety, so here's a metric ton of stuff that may - if they live up to their promises - be wonderful ways to waste our time.
Radical Entertainment's Prototype was, if nothing else, the spiritual sequel to the sublime Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. This is a big, bombastic, brawling open-world gorefest where any chaff about morality is stripped away and you are put in command of a character who constantly has god mode switched to 'on'.
Perhaps Mike Krahulik said it best; "In Prototype, you can do a karate kick on a helicopter. What the fuck else do you want?"
Devil May Cry
"Oh no, Devil May Cry's reboot is being handled by Ninja Theory! They've never done great combat! And they're running it on the Unreal Engine! That can't do sixty frames per second! And they've redesigned Dante! Rabble! Rabble rabble!"
Haters gonna' hate - but Ninja Theory's Devil May Cry may be just the shot in the arm the aging franchise needed. Let's face it, things were getting a little stale with 4 - and given that (DMC1 director) Hideki Kamiya's moved on from Capcom, he can't be asked to give it another go. Kamiya has since further refined and redefined the modern brawler with the phenomenal Bayonetta - and the odds of someone outdoing him at his own game are slim to none.
No, Ninja Theory is a good idea. They do best what DMC has always lacked - cohesive, interesting stories and wonderful worlds. Combine this with combat that's being constantly approved and tweaked by core DMC designers at Capcom, and we have something that could prove very interesting indeed.
From the good folks at CyberConnect 2, who brought us the (gorgeous) Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm games comes Asura - a title about "getting really, really angry." Asura's Wrath is developing quite a bit of buzz in the industry, with nothing but positive reactions from folks who've gone hands-on with it.
A demo is due out shortly, but until then we'll just have to be content with the idea of God of War meets Hindu mythology and ridiculous, awesome trailers of really, really pissed off six-armed dudes beating the shit out of the finger of God.
South Park: The Game
A Super Mario RPG-style combat system, developed by (Fallout: New Vegas) Obsidian, written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
Need I say more?
-no trailer, yet-
I Am Alive
Ubisoft have been working on I Am Alive for so long one suspects it was one of those announced-then-cancelled-then-resumed titles. Either way, it's due out during Microsoft's XBLA House Party event, and this looks like a very intriguing game indeed.
With a mix of combat, Prince of Persia-style platforming and survival gameplay, I Am Alive could prove to be one of the better downloadable games of the year.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare
Remedy - the original Max Payne developer - put together a pretty special title with Alan Wake back in 2010. It's a gorgeous, atmospheric horror shooter that, unfortunately, doesn't know when to shut up - but overzealous writing aside, it's still one of the better experiences on the 360.
American Nightmare simply promises to be more Alan Wake. Precisely how much isn't known - but we've got new enemies, new weapons, and a continuation of Wake's pretty awesome story - which means more narration from a writer who could benefit from a ball gag. That said, I'm gonna' be hard-pressed to not buy American Nightmare at launch.
XCOM is being put together by 2K Marin - a studio made up of folks who were once part of Ken Levine's Irrational games, who've worked on BioShock and BioShock 2. Similar to the outrage over Devil May Cry, a lot of gamers are very displeased to see the legendary XCOM - a strategy RPG - turned into a first-person shooter.
As someone who's never tasted those heady, classic gaming waters, I have no problem with this. It's a game made by 2K Marin about a bunch of gross aliens attacking idyllic 1950s suburbia, and you go after them with derringers and pump-action shotguns. Sounds like fun to me!
Like XCOM, Syndicate is a classic strategy game re-imagined as that most profitable of modern genres, the first-person shooter. I was rather nonplussed about the idea at first, but as it turns out Syndicate is being put together by Starbreeze Studios - the folks who made The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and that wonderful sleeper-hit adaptation The Darkness.
Starbreeze have a record of making ballsy, interesting choices in their games - I'll be very curious to see what surprises they throw into this mix.
Dragon's Dogma is Capcom's attempt to play their own riff on the successful fantasy enterprises of From Software and Bethesda. I wouldn't be all that excited about it if it didn't look wonderful. You roam a big, beautiful open world, command AI companions and do battle with gigantic creatures (griffons, hydras, dragons) in fights reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus.
Color me hyped.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Animation giant Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) and storied RPG developer Level 5 (Dark Cloud, Professor Layton, White Knight Chronicles) join forces for Ni No Kuni, a jaw-droppingly gorgeous cell-shaded RPG that seems to combine the best of both studios.
There aren't many high-profile JRPGs coming our way for the HD systems - best to keep an eye on something as promising as this.
The latest title from the wonderfully prolific, creative Platinum Games (Bayonetta, Vanquish, Metal Gear Rising), Anarchy Reigns is a multiplayer brawler that seeks to combine the tactile, vicious combat of Devil May Cry with online craziness.
Given that Platinum have yet to release a bad game, it's not a bad idea to have faith in this one.
Far Cry 3
Ubisoft did great work with Crytek's property in 2008's Far Cry 2, and after last year's incredible gameplay demo at E3, I must admit I have high hopes for their next crack at it. Far Cry 3 promises another lush open world to wander through, more crazed war criminals to take out and more awful war crimes to commit.
This is one of the more ambitious titles on the list - here's hoping it doesn't slip under the radar like Far Cry 2 did four years ago.
David Jaffee returns to his roots with the heavily-hyped reboot of vehicle combat's grand daddy, Twisted Metal. I never got involved in the Twisted Metal games - and, ignoring this one's impressive level of destructibility - it's not exactly the best-looking game coming down the pike. At the same time, the core of the game - just driving around and blowing shit up - looks slick.
Twisted Metal could be the dark horse hit of 2012.
Grand Knights History
Vanillaware, the folks who gave us Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Odin Sphere offer up their take on turn-based strategy RPGs with Grand Knights History, a gorgeous 2-D, sprite-based PSP title. Word dropped last September that GKH is getting a localization from Xseed - and that's all we've heard since.
I sure hope this one didn't get shut down, as it's one of my single most anticipated games of 2012.
Vanillaware also offers up Dragon's Crown this year, coming to the PS3 and the Vita. It promises the developer's trademark gigantic, beautiful and um... bouncy sprites in an old-school Gauntlet-style 2-D RPG brawler.
Day one? Yes indeedy.
Suda 51 returns with the help of Dawn of the Dead screenwriter James Gunn to bring us Lollipop Chainsaw, an indulgent, pulpy, exploitive little treat about a hardbodied like, y'know, cheerleader, a giant chainsaw and a high school overrun by the living dead.
I like every part of that sentence.
Shank was my single favorite downloadable game of 2010 - and that includes Limbo - so I am over the moon at the knowledge that we'll be getting a sequel. Shank 2 boasts much deeper combos, more combat options and a redoubled focus on co-operative play.
As long as I get to kick the hell out of gorgeously-animated sprites in the world's best Brock Sampson simulator again, I'll be a happy camper.
Skulls of the Shogun
Okay, so imagine Valkyria Chronicles, right? Now instead of a bunch of WWI-era emos you control in third person, you've got a top-down view of a cast of 2-D animated dead Samurai warriors attempting to cut their way through the underworld while grooving to the kung-fu-exploitation-era grooves of the Wu-Tang Clan's The RZA.
Prepare to get your heart broken - it's a 360 exclusive.
Spec Ops: The Line
The Line has the distinction of being the only military-themed shooter I'm actually interested in. It looks poised to be an exciting, atmospheric and emotionally intelligent modern riff on Heart of Darkness, set in the ruins of Dubai following a catastrophe that has turned the global symbol of fast expansion and excess into a third-world hellhole.
Crystal Dynamics are aiming to invigorate the once-legendary franchise with a re-imagining of Lara Croft as an usually brave everywoman thrown into an extreme-survival situation. Screenshots show a Lara with a respectably normalized body type and a fierce, piercing gaze. Previews suggest the game will have some horror elements, and with what appear to be top-of-the-line production values, Tomb Raider is poised to be 2012's Dead Space.
Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown
Sega is finally giving us a new console version of Virtua Fighter 5 with the re-tuned Final Showdown. This is the only fighting game I truly love, deep down in my soul - it offers exquisitely well-realized real-world fighting styles and a deceptive combat system that provides a light barrier of entry for newcomers and frame-specific depths to plumb for the hardcore.
Gearbox Software discovered a nice little cash cow with 2009's highly stylized, first-person gear-heavy multiplayer RPG. A ton of folks are dying for Borderlands 2 - as for me, I'm just hoping they redeem themselves after the irredeemable Duke Nukem Forever.
The folks working on Dishonored have some serious gamer cred. These guys worked on Half-Life 2, BioShock, Deus Ex and Thief: The Dark Project. With what sounds to be a very ambitious take on consequences for a player's actions, a metric ton of strategic choices and a game built from the ground up as an action-stealth enterprise, I'll be keeping a very close eye on Dishonored.
-no trailer, yet-
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time
Sanzaru Games were responsible for the very respectable HD up-port of the PS2 Sly trilogy - as a test run for Thieves in Time. I'll be curious to see if Sanzaru can retain Sly's wonderful liquid-smooth platforming and capable storytelling, but either way I'll find it very difficult not to day-one Thieves in Time.
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So... As you can see, 2012 has quite a crop of remarkable games on the way. Not just games that will be incredible, but a ton of games that could offer unique, original, interesting experiences. Of course, there are a few games that may come out this year, but we aren't sure of yet...
It's more likely than you'd think. Take The Last of Us, for example - Naughty Dog has a history of announcing a game at the VGA's and releasing it in the Fall of the following year. It wouldn't surprise me if we'll be exploring their latest world before Christmas 2012.
So there you have it - there's thirty-six games to look forward to, in the next twelve months. I don't know about you, but I'm suddenly hyped. 2012 is lookin' pretty good, indeed.