Thunderbolt’s Most Wanted of 2013
Well, the world didn’t end and 2013 is actually here. Since we’ve wrapped up the gaming year that was 2012 it’s time to look forward, to what must surely be the last year for one, if not both, HD console(s). With too many major ‘AAA’ releases to name pushed to the 2013 calendar, this year looks to end the current generation with a bang, as a relentless blitz of big titles starts next week – yes, I’m calling Anarchy Reigns a big title.
And so, here they are, Thunderbolt’s Most Wanted, 2013 edition…
Grand Theft Auto V
Aside from the expectations that there will be a large open environment, sporadically populated by missions that give the appearance of non-linearity, there are few things that can be easily assumed about a Grand Theft Auto sequel. The last game set a tone for the series unlike its previous incarnations, with a storyline that felt like it took itself a lot more seriously than it used to. A recent trailer depicted a wide variety of locations along with three new protagonists, presenting a sun-soaked backdrop to its tale of crime.
What’s odd about this new set of characters is how seemingly ordinary these criminals are, and to be fair, that doesn’t put them too far apart from the silent man of Grand Theft Auto III. They’re just guys seeking to get ahead in the world, willing to do whatever it takes to mobilize. Technically, they don’t have to do it while driving the fastest, flashiest car they can steal, flying down the road at speeds so dangerous that a mere tap on the handbrake will send them spiraling into a horrible accident. I merely assumed that by loading up a Grand Theft Auto game that reckless driving was a necessity.
I didn’t expect a sequel to Bayonetta. In fact, I assumed that such a thing would never be created. Not that the first part was bad. The tale of the witch hunter who robed herself with clothes made from her own hair (of which also doubled as a weapon) contained ridiculous quantities of fun. This became the rare game that made me want to spend all of my time playing it, even if it was just to see what crazy encounter was waiting around the next corner.
My only concern, being that it is a Wii U exclusive, is that the game will be filled with pointless GamePad touchscreen mechanics that only exist so that they’re used. Also, how concerned will Bayonetta 2 be with one-upping its predecessor? Is there a possibility that the sequel can be too ridiculous, even under Bayonneta‘s concept of logic? As long as it maintains the original’s tight controls and fantastic combat system, all should be well.
Bethesda’s new interpretation of Fallout, in my opinion, has been great. However, it’s a far cry from the experience of its combat-heavy predecessors, including 1988’s Wasteland. As one of the high-profile 2012 Kickstarter success stories, Brian Fargo’s project holds a wealth of interest. He’s surrounded himself with the right veteran talent to succeed, and even brought the community in, going so far as to solicit would-be modelers to contribute to the game. They’ve pointed themselves in the direction Wasteland fans and Black Isle purists’ want, but, realistically, inXile’s track record has been spotty so far. Whether it turns out to be great, or not, the hopes of over 60,000 backers (myself included) hang in the balance; I think that’s a story worth following in itself.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
In 2010 Lords of Shadow was one of the truly great surprises. While fans of Castlevania have continually bemoaned any-and-all 3D entries to the Belmont legacy, Lords of Shadow wisely side-stepped such expectations. As the first franchise title to be developed outside of Konami, Gabriel’s journey exhibited a heavy influence from Western action/adventure titles, but dressed it all in a thoroughly convincing Gothic veneer. From its sweeping orchestral score to its jaw dropping locales and boss encounters, Lords of Shadow was an experience worthy of the term epic.
Two years later Lords of Shadow 2 returns as a known quantity, and I have no reason to doubt MercurySteam a second time.
Metro: Last Light
Metro 2033 is one of the titles this generation that I can still hear calling me back for a second playthrough. The stance 4A Games took set it apart from the respawning waves of FPS competitors. Using Dmitry Glukhovsky’s novel of the same name as its source, you took the role of Artyom, a survivor in a post-nuclear fallout Russia. Living in an underground Metro where sections had arisen to represent current day ideologies taken to extremus, the world had also been touched by mutation and the hand of something most unusual.
If the underused survival motifs such as the gas mark are explored further in this sequel, Metro: Last Light could prove to be the antithesis to the military shooter I’ve long burnt out on. Much like the survivors of Glukhovsky’s future, here’s hoping.
Super Bread Box
Back at Play Expo 2012 I had the opportunity to sit down with Super Bread Box. Developed as a port of the Vita game for the Commodore 64, it was smart, quick, and entertaining. There was something instantly gratifying about a tiny crocodile sprite leaping around and firing duel pistols like some warped John Woo dedication to banned children’s programme Around the Bend. And following this I took a dive into the past and picked up a working Commodore 64 and an adaptor to use a DualShock controller. With an early – and limited – 2013 release this looks to be further evidence that low-budget doesn’t automatically equate to low-quality.
The Last of Us
Each new glimpse of Naughty Dog’s latest venture whets the appetite just that little bit more. It doesn’t take much to notice how impressive the enemy AI looks, or how much promise the relationship of its two protagonists holds and how visceral and unsettling its combat can be. The Last of Us takes an overused post-apocalyptic setting and injects a stark dosage of brutality and humanity to proceedings – Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead has already shown us just how potent that combination can be. Naughty Dog’s impressive handle on character animation further immerses you in its dilapidated world, flush with hidden beauty. That it’s already such a joy to watch only makes the wait to play it that much more unbearable. It may just be the last great hurrah of the PlayStation 3 era.
I was never a fan of the Devil May Cry franchise and it’s something I don’t admit proudly. The series had an emphasis on style, one-liners, and never failing to deliver on badass soundtracks. It always seemed like that one concession that I should enjoy, but the gameplay always came off backwards to me, as one would often need to revisit past stages to level-up skills in order to progress forward smoothly.
Having experienced the demo, DmC looks to play exactly like the game I’ve always expected from the series: the flashiness is still an active factor, but still pressing on with zero nonsense. The story too holds much appeal (at least when compared to the first four games), proving Ninja Theory does in fact know what they’re doing. And as for the ‘controversial’ subject of abandoning white haired pretty boys, c’mon now, aren’t we getting a little too old for that?
Despite being pushed back for a March release date, the wait is almost finally over. The ticket booths will have lines stretching on into the horizon as countless many rush to reserve a space in Columbia.
Having witnessed its splendor at E3 2011, the act of further delaying a highly anticipated title is usually a sure annoyance. But if you’re like me, after seeing what has been exposed thus far, this is a title that you’d like to see perform at impeccable levels. If it takes another year to make it happen, so be it. Already this year, the ‘1999 mode’ has been hammered out, where players will place themselves in a challenging mode dictated by choice and consequences.
It’s also been a long time since I’ve felt excited waiting to see what sorts of abilities and bosses one will encounter in an upcoming release, and Bioshock Infinite certainly leaves a whole lot to imagine on how it may rock my world.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
Obsidian is a developer that has always been just a small distance away from creating something really special. They’ve created some great games like the fantastic Neverwinter Nights 2 expansion Mask of the Betrayer, one of the best RPG experiences in the last few years, but they’ve also released clunkers like the astonishingly shonky spy thriller Alpha Protocol. You get the sense that they could do with a solid, reassuring hit. Stick of Truth might just be that title. An action RPG packed with references to the show, Stick of Truth puts you in the shoes of a new kid tagging along with Cartman and company on an epic quest to retrieve the titular ‘Stick of Truth’ and save the town of South Park from destruction. With Trey Parker and Matt Stone writing and voicing an original story, and Obsidian deciding to stick with the traditional 2D cut-out style of the show rather than the fairly execrable 3D of past tie-ins, this could be the game that finally captures South Park in all its vulgar glory, and proves just what Obsidian can do with a franchise title.
Company of Heroes 2
Company of Heroes was in many ways the game that finally got me into the RTS genre. With a canny use of the Havok physics engine, Relic Entertainment’s game brought a sense of dynamic physicality to the battlefield. By which I mean that things blowed up real good. Combined with an excellent resource system that encouraged the smart use of a small number of specialised units, the destructible environments and focus on cover signalled the beginning of a more tactically interesting style of real-time strategy. Company of Heroes 2 looks to continue Relic’s good work, but also switches focus over to the slightly less well-worn arena of the Eastern Front, where driving snow and brutal conditions will demand that you take even greater care of your command- you should probably think twice before driving your Panzer tanks over a frozen lake while under heavy mortar fire, for instance. It looks just as clever, action-packed and eye-bleedingly pretty as ever, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
I’ve been following Jonathon Blow’s developmental blog of The Witness for nearly two years now, and I can’t tell you much about the game beyond what that very blog’s title displays – it’s An exploration-puzzle game on an uninhabited island. Blow’s keeping his cards close to his chest which makes The Witness something of an enigma, and that’s the way I like it. I knew next to nothing about his previous title, Braid, before playing it, and it utterly floored me. On the surface Blow wove time manipulation into the well-worn mechanics of a 2D platformer, whilst orchestrating a possibly autobiographical narrative underneath about relationships, loss and the atomic bomb (maybe). He’s a secretive man, and the most enticing thing about The Witness is that he’s hiding a similar level of depth and ingenuity somewhere on that uninhabited island.
The Last Guardian
This is the wildcard. It’s been seven years since Team Ico released the wonderfull Shadow of the Colossus, and two and a half since they announced The Last Guardian. The only news released this year regarding its development has been worrying, with the announcement of design director Fumito Ueda’s and executive producer Yoshifusa Hayama’s departure from Sony, although Ueda does continue to work on the project on a contractual basis.
Team Ico’s Catdogbird-simulator may be in trouble of slipping into the same developmental limbo that chewed up Duke Nukem Forever, but that hasn’t stopped me from dreaming about the myriad ways I know that this game could impress me. Really, The Last Guardian is on this list because of Team Ico’s pedigree; for me Ico and Shadow of the Colossus were boundary pushing masterpieces, and everything I’ve seen from The Last Guardian so far has been filled with their potential. The trailers show of some stunningly realistic animal AI, an emotional connection between man and beast ala Wanderer and Agro, and the same mysteriously monument-filled forgotten landscapes that made it’s spiritual predecessors so very special. I just hope we get to explore them in 2013.
After acquiring the rights to the controversial franchise it conjured in the early 1990’s and following a successful Kickstarter campaign, developers Stainless are set to deliver the fourth Carmageddon game in the latter part of 2013. This is news of the most excellent variety, especially to those who enjoy ultra-violent sandbox racing games. For Carmageddon: Reincarnation, Stainless has been interacting directly with fans for feedback and ideas which will clearly have a bearing on the game’s idiosyncrasies – a few large donations even led a few fans to design their own car, and be included in the game themselves. From the concept art and early footage that’s available, it’s apparent the game will hark back to the gameplay and darkly comic aspects of the ground-breaking original. Basically, it’s going to be 1997 all over again and I cannot wait.
Dead Space 3
Embattled space-engineer-cum-alien-scurge limb-lopper, Isaac Clarke, will return in the third main game of the horror-survival Dead Space series. Developer Visceral has implemented a drop-in/drop-out co-op mode for the game which will offer co-op only elements of the storyline and gameplay mechanics, something it has claimed was always intended. There will be additional new features such as the ability to create new weapons from salvaged items, but one that will surely make the biggest impact on how the game plays is the upgrades to the player characters’ movement. Isaac and new character Sgt. John Carver will be able to take cover behind structural elements and roll away from danger. This should improve what has always been a somewhat cumbersome movement control system. I feel like I’ve built up a decent tolerance to necromorph scares over the years but I hope Dead Space 3 will be able to slice through that like a ripper blade through reanimated limbs.
The Elder Scrolls Online
Another MMO? Say it ain’t so. I haven’t hated an MMO in a long time, but I haven’t loved one either – but the idea of exploring the Elder Scrolls lore with friends in a world filled with other players is incredibly enticing. On the one hand, part of me is mostly interested in seeing how a subscription-based MMO not named World of Warcraft fares in a post free-to-play world, but on the other hand, I can’t deny the giddy excitement anything with The Elder Scrolls on the box gives me. The scant information we have so far reveals an interesting art style and a combat system that, at least on paper, sounds engaging and fresh. Here’s hoping that the full game delivers something that MMO fans and Elder Scrolls geeks alike can appreciate.
One of the sole highlights of E3 2012 was Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs, a game which they claim is being developed for current gen consoles. Bull. While I’m sure 360 and PS3 versions of the game will see the light of day, the exciting part of Watch Dogs is the unbelievable attention to detail in graphics and animation. The game looks like it takes a few cues from the original, more experimental Assassin’s Creed game, with an emphasis on social stealth as well as combat. Walking around and hacking cars, computers, streetlights – if the game is as meticulously detailed as the demo, it could be a truly unique experience. It’s also the next in a long line of cyberpunk near-future blockbuster games. Is Gibson-esque science fiction the new modern military? Please, for the love of God, let it be so. As it stands, Watch Dogs is currently one of the best indicators of what we can expect next generation.
Where the hell is Persona 5?
Please, Atlus. Please. The fighting game is fun and Golden is a great port, but we need something more. Something that doesn’t just cash in on Persona 4. Something that isn’t the spotty TV anime.
Your game fail to make the list? Let us know what’s got your eye, and potential gaming dollars, in the comments.