Thunderbolt’s Most Wanted of 2014
With our annual Game of the Year list now firmly behind us, we’d like to take a moment, or several moments really, to look at some of the games we hope might be gracing that same list come next January. We’ve got next-gen (current gen?) games, indie games, Kickstarted games, and even a few games I guarantee will not make it out in 2014. But that’s why predictions and lists are fun, so you can tell us how very wrong we were.
And so, in no particular order, Thunderbolt’s Most Wanted, 2014 edition.
Galak-Z: The Dimensional
I don’t own a PlayStation 4, and I’m unlikely to in the immediate future. But when I saw Galak-Z on stage at Sony’s PlayStation 4 reveal I knew it was a game made just for me. I’ve had a long history with thruster-based shoot ’em ups, from Space Wars to Asteroids to the criminally underrated Gravity Crash. I love everything about them. The level of patience required, the deft inputs, the nerves of steel; it’s all great. I love giving my reflexes and tolerance for frustration a workout, and games like Galak-Z offer a welcome alternative to the twin-stick shooters and bullet-hell titles that dominate the top-down genre. Now all I need is a PlayStation 4, or an extremely short exclusivity window.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I don’t even like Strider, well, his games that is. I love the character, ever since discovering him in Marvel vs. Capcom, but Strider, Strider 2… they never quite did it for me. Merely running and slashing (admittedly while looking like a total badass) never cut it for me. I wanted the action but I also wanted something more.
Now, normally, Double Helix isn’t exactly a name I’d trust, but I’m intrigued by the concept of dumping Strider in a Metroidvania style game. At this point their Strider looks gorgeous and fast, which are the two absolute musts for Capcom’s iconic ninja. I’m hopeful Double Helix can produce the Strider I’ve always wanted. And if not, well, I suppose I could go back to Marvel vs. Capcom.
Child of Light
I hope Child of Light is a sign of things to come. Following the wild success of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, this, of all games, is what the creative director decided to produce. Ubisoft has published a number of ‘indie’ titles this past generation, but Child of Light‘s mere existence is a promising example of what might be possible when big publishers let their creators run free, albeit on a smaller budget.
As the first game without Rayman in the title to use Ubisoft’s Ubi-Art Framework, Child of Light is hopefully the tip of the iceberg. With Valiant Hearts to follow, maybe we’ll finally see Ubisoft loosen up and get the engine into more creators’ hands; I’ll take that over another Assassin’s Creed any day of the week.
Pillars of Eternity
Chris Avellone, Tim Cain and Josh Sawyer on board? A massive new world to explore? Streamlined role-playing mechanics and combat with that classic Baldur’s Gate feel? Pillars of Eternity seems like it’s been specifically designed with everything I like in mind. The first gameplay trailer hit in December, and it looks beautiful. Gorgeous pre-rendered backdrops, isometric exploration and combat, and an intricately created fantasy world hint that we’ll finally get the expansive, old-school RPG we’ve been missing since Baldur’s Gate II.
Obsidian always make interesting games, but in the past they’ve struggled to really capture their vision under strict publisher deadlines. There are no such excuses this time. With total control of their project, a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign and many ambitious promises made, Obsidian have to prove that they can come up with the goods. I believe this talented studio is capable of something wonderful. I hope it’s Pillars of Eternity.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Bioware are another studio with something to prove. After the lukewarm response to Dragon Age II, it seems like Inquisition is a pivotal moment for the franchise. So far they seem to be making the right noises. The extended development time (compared to the rushed out Dragon Age II) suggests that the correct amount of time and care is being lavished on the game, and the much hyped open world freedom seems like the perfect antidote to the stifling, repetitive dungeons of Kirkwall.
It looks lovely, which doesn’t hurt, we get to choose our character’s race again, and there seem to be some intriguing ideas thrown into the mix. In particular the concept of spreading the influence of your Inquisition across the world, through agents and the construction of keeps and outposts, seems like a good chance to explore and affect the wider world of Thedas. Early signs look promising, and I’m cautiously optimistic that Bioware can breath new life back into the Dragon Age universe.
A year has passed since I wrote about The Witness in our ‘Most anticipated of 2013’ feature, and yet Jonathon Blow’s current project still remains something of a mystery to me. Despite the numerous demonstrations of and interviews about the game that Blow has given in 2013, little about it has actually been revealed beyond that fact that it’s a puzzle-exploration game set on an uninhabited island. And I told you that last year.
Why is that island uninhabited? Where does it exist? Who are you playing? And what exactly is the mystery that you’re trying to solve? I don’t know. And as of yet nobody beside Blow and his small development team know the answer to these questions, which is both a frustrating and a fantastic thing.
Mystery is the mother of anticipation and The Witness hasn’t been delayed long enough, nor overly teased with reveals as of yet to have dried up my excitement. All that this year of waiting and wondering has given me is a growing sense of anticipation that Blow and Company’s gorgeously cell-shaded island will be a fantastic mystery to unravel.
Super Smash Bros. Wii U
Online play. That’s all that Nintendo need to get right with Super Smash Bros. on the Wii U and 3DS and it’s a shoe-in for one of the most addictive games of 2014.
If their previous franchise effort, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and Sony’s comparatively lacklustre Smash Bros’ imitator, PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale, demonstrated anything about Nintendo’s flagship fighter series, it’s that there’s very little they can change about the gameplay to make it any better. It’s already a fine-tuned, uniquely addictive formula for a fighter, and a fantastic local-multiplayer game. What 2008’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl also showed is that Nintendo’s online infrastructure wasn’t mature enough at the time to handle the twitch-based controls and precise timings required to play Smash Bros.
Almost five years has passed since Brawl and all that Nintendo really needs to do to make a successful sequel is throw in the expected graphical upgrade, bulk out the roster of stages and characters, and, most importantly, improve its online infrastructure.
All indicators suggest that this is exactly the route that tireless series director, Masahiro Sakurai, is taking with this sequel, but what remains more of an unknown prospect is how the Wii U and 3DS versions, being developed simultaneously as they are, will integrate. I’d imagine it would be in the form of unlockable treats, but if the recently excellent Super Mario 3D World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, say anything about the state of development within Nintendo, it’s that they still have trick-stuffed sleeves, so don’t be surprised if it turns out to be something a little more innovative.
Dark Souls II
It’s often overshadowed by the cowl of their punishing difficulty, but Demon’s and Dark Souls were brilliant at subverting player expectations. That first journey through Boletaria or Lordran was frequently punctuated by surprising moments like a fake wall hiding significant but entirely miss-able portions of the game, or the many chests that suddenly sprung upright into saw-toothed monsters.
What is Dark Souls II going to do to surprise us? That’s a key question that From Software has to answer come March 14th, and troublingly for the developers, this numerical sequel doesn’t have the luxury of being an unknown quantity. Dark Souls was a huge success, and many are now well-acquainted with its bag of slimy tricks.
There have been indications of subversive design in the demos – a player opponent assuming the role of a Boss’ side-kick is something that has rarely, if ever, been seen before outside of this franchise, and yet it smells like the Old Monk fight from Demon’s Souls. Still, even if the answer turns out to be a disappointing one, we’ll still have an enjoyable new serving of Dark Souls to sink into this year. But imagine that it isn’t, and that From serve up a soul that’s just as surprising as those that have come before it, but in entirely different, unexpected ways. What a prospect that would be.
Not only have I seen Titanfall but I’ve also played it. It was rather splendid. Showcasing a playable map from the final product six months before release is a rarity and signifies the well-earned confidence Respawn Entertainment has in its new prodigy. The sense of scale mech games have is often lost when there’s no way to depart the vehicle and view the battlefield from a fresh, on the ground perspective. Here we’re able to sprint through district streets on foot before calling in our personal Titan to take on enemy forces in an agile walking giant. The movement is slick, athletic and every element coalesces together to birth a real showstopper.
As we’ve seen with vertical slices in the past we should never fully trust a preview. This time it felt different – the pre-alpha demo played better than most full games that shipped in 2013. The instant buzz it provided was last felt when the Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare beta hit. Titanfall‘s inevitable public beta will no doubt have the same impact when it lands early this year.
Transistor is Supergiant Games’ second offering, after the superb Bastion mesmerised us all back in 2011. Little is known about the project at this point but it’s clear to see from the screenshots and videos released so far that the art style is every bit as gorgeous as their debut effort. It’s quite a departure in mechanical terms too, mixing real-time and turn-based battles into one fluid unit. It will certainly be interesting to see how it all pans out, particularly when the experience is complemented by the music of Bastion composer Darren Korb and the sultry tones of voice actor extraordinaire Logan ‘Rucks’ Cunningham. That’s more than enough to get me firmly on board with this original sci-fi RPG.
While AAA survival horror has all but vanished in recent years, the sub-genre has thrived on the independent scene with many more intriguing propositions set to arrive in 2014. Routine is one such title, taking the classic deserted space station setting and infusing it with a non-linear approach and focus on complete immersion. With no HUD, deadzone aiming and a permadeath system in play it’s easy to envision a fairly nerve-wrecking experience as you explore this eerie Moon base, hoping to discover the truth behind the disappearance of every living soul on board. With an emphasis on horror over action it looks like we’ll encounter just as many terrifying excursions in 2014 as we did last year. An enticing prospect.
I was going to put The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in this space but I think we’re mostly all fairly excited about that anyway, right? Good.
Cyberpunk 2077 is also in development at CD Projekt RED but it’s quite the departure from Geralt of Rivia’s fantasy yarn – if you hadn’t already guessed from the terrible name. It’s probably fair to expect the same fantastic characterisation, world building and meaningful consequences that imbued the studios past efforts but Cyberpunk 2077 also looks to step things up a few notches. In adopting a pen & paper RPG approach they’ve set themselves a monumental and hugely ambitious task. How do you take something with almost limitless flexibility and apply it to the realm of videogames and the strict rules they must abide by? At some point CD Projekt RED are going to have to answer that question and I want to be there when they do.
The Next Mass Effect
Mass Effect 3 ended Shepard’s trilogy with more questions than answers regarding the future of the franchise. How will Bioware Montreal handle all of the different possible endings? Will the game be a direct continuation of prior events or will we perhaps be going backwards or far into the future? Are we ever going to see any of our favorite squadmates again? Oh, and what was the deal with that particular bonus scene that players with a specific ending and high EMS were treated to? This is just a small sampling of issues that will have to be addressed by the next Mass Effect game, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Infamous: Second Son
With its vast natural beauty of every variety, the Pacific Northwest has unlimited potential for adaptation into videogames. And Infamous looks to be a showcase for what Seattle stands to offer on new gen. It’s enough to be excited and as a local, a thing I’ve always wanted to see come through.
There’s an established reason for concern. Those familiar with FUSE’s production will know it. It’s the difference between marketing promises and delivered products. If Insomniac can live up to the potential energy and use of color shown in the first trailer, Sunset Overdrive is a big hope for the Xbox One.
The Evil Within
The hype is about Shinji Mikami and restoring the old ways that made everyone a believer in videogame horror. Nobody is more capable and having Bethesda behind his new studio certainly adds a potential for high-end production. There’s nothing more exciting for horror than the return of a master of the form.
Fans of all things post-apocalyptic should be glowing with radioactive anticipation over Avalanche Studios’ upcoming Mad Max. Touted as a vehicular-combat action-adventure set in an open world, the trailers depict the embattled leather-jacket clad Max dealing death on the searing desert roads of Australia.
The discharging of sawed-off shotguns and close quarters melee combat will feature heavily as will vast expanses of ruinous desert-scape wasteland. On the surface, it looks decent but factors such as how vehicles handle, whether it’s a true sandbox and the writing pedigree will be key in determining if this Rockatansky roll-out rocks or flops.
Surely we’ve missed or skipped a game you’re looking forward to (I know I could rail off at least 3 or 4 more myself). Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!