Now that 2011 is done with, it’s time to stop reminiscing about the year that was and look forward to 2012, which is already starting to look like it might be a great year for games. With titles like Soul Calibur V and Mass Effect 3 set to drop all within the first quarter of 2012, gamers (and their wallets) won’t have much a reprieve to recover from the holiday rush before 2012’s best titles come at them, and there’s no telling what other possibly great, game changing announcements may come at this year’s E3 and TGS. 2012 is going to be an exciting year for gamers, and now is a good time to look ahead to the many things we have to look forward to.
Now obviously I can’t do a write up for every game that’s coming in 2012, so here’s an offering of some of the more noteworthy titles you can look forward to in the coming year. If I’ve missed out on a particular title you’re excited for, it’s probably because I either 1. don’t care or 2. don’t know about it, but please, feel free to leave a comment and maybe I’ll take a look at it in the future.
The original Bioshock was the game that convinced me to stop clinging to my PS2 and Gamecube and embrace the at the time next-gen Xbox 360. Bioshock’s unique setting, the desiccated underwater metropolis of Rapture, and equally unique gameplay, which combined the best elements of FPS, adventure, and RPG games, made the original Bioshock a must-play.
While Bioshock 2 played it safe with a substantially polished and refined but ultimately safe and samey take on the same formula, Irrational Games’s newest sequel seems like it’ll manage to recapture that same sense of wonderment that players experienced when they first dove into the depths of Rapture.
Instead of taking on us on another tour through the flooded depths of Rapture, Infinite is set in the very different but equally beautiful flying city of Columbia. Tasked with rescuing a girl held prisoner somewhere in the city, players have to make use of an arsenal of new, modifiable weaponry and a new set of plasmid abilities, as well as a new zipline tool that allows players to dramtically swing from one floating building to another. Like Rapture before it, Columbia’s beautiful veneer masks a crumbling, violent society; where as the original Bioshock illustrated the logical fallacies and stupidity of Objectivism with it’s cast of vicious opportunists and tragically misguided fools, Columbia is home to a new cast of villains who serve as a representation of America’s destructive jingoism and xenophobia. Unlike Rapture’s cast of crazed, always aggressive Splicers, the enemies in Bioshock Infinite are a little more insidious: you can never really be sure who’s your enemy and who’s your ally, and some seemingly docile residents of Columbia will suddenly turn vicious depending on how you behave around them. Despite it’s more cerebral take on the genre, Bioshock was still at it’s core a shooter. Bioshock Infinite, while still definitely action filled, on the other hand, seems like it’ll put players in situations where going in with guns blazing might not be the best course of action. While Bioshock Infinite seems like it’s a big departure in terms of setting and tone from the original Bioshock, it definitely looks like it’ll recapture all the best elements of the first game.
Mass Effect 3
In 2007, gamers were introduced to Commander Shepard and began his war against The Reapers, a race of sentient, ancient machines intent on harvesting and destroying all other lifeforms in the galaxy. Now, almost five years and an astounding sequel later, Bioware is giving us the conclusion to Shepard’s secret war, and Mass Effect 3 looks like it’s going to be just as spectacular as the first two games.
While old-school RPG curmudgeon’s decried Mass Effect 2’s streamlining and increased focused on action, most players generally agree that ME2 was one of the best action-RPG’s released this generation (possibly ever,) and Mass Effect 3 builds upon that foundation with the addition of competitive multiplayer and co-op modes that affect the storyline in your single-player campaign. The first two games were sort of a galactic cold-war, with both sides gearing up for a possible conflict; Mass Effect 3 sees that war go hot with a full-scale invasion of Earth and battle scenes so epic and massive that they make even the previous games’ climactic final battles seem like minor skirmishes by comparison. Xbox 360 users should also start dusting off their Kinects, as ME3 gives players the ability to bark out orders to their squad mates via the Kinect’s microphone.
But of course, the intense action is only one element of what makes Mass Effect so great; Bioware, of course, has made a name for themselves by telling some of the absolute best stories in gaming, and ME3 seems like it’s going to continue that trend. Not only does it wrap up Shepard’s story, but Bioware tells us that we can expect to see the return of most of our favorite characters from the first two games, including the slightly insane Solarian scientist Mordin and the trigger-happy but loveable Wrex. Hope you kept your Mass Effect 1 and 2 save files as well: all of the decisions you made during those games will have an effect on ME3’s story, and depending on which characters you helped or fought, you may have some extra allies or enemies to face on Mass Effect 3’s gigantic battlefields.
Soul Calibur V
While Soul Calibur still has a large fanbase, the series kind of lost me after SCII: further sequels in the series became more focused on fanservice and on secondary modes and minigames (the conquest modes, the character creator, etc.,) while the core fighting mechanics seemed to fall by the wayside.
Namco Bandai is touting the newest Soul Calibur as a return to form, and they’re shaking up the series’s status quo by introducing a new cast of characters: set 15 years after SC4, more than half of Soul Calibur V’s roster is made up of new challengers, like Xianghua’s jailbait daughter Leixia and the magic wielding Viola, while returning characters like Mitsurugi and Siegfried have aged noticeably and have made significant changes to their fighting style. In addition to that, Assassin’s Creed’s Ezio Auditore da Firenze makes a playable cameo appearance, and while the whole novelty of the “guest character” gimmick has faded, he certainly makes a whole lot more sense appearing in SC than Darth Vader or Yoda did.
SCV also does away with most of the unpopular changes to the core fighting mechanics that SCIV introduced, while adding it’s own new features: the game now has a more traditional sort of “super meter” that allows players to execute new “Brave Edge” and “Critical Edge” attacks (the SC equivalent of super and ultra combos, basically,) as well as some new defensive options that should re-inject some depth into Namco’s flashy flagship fighter. Soul Calibur V comes out on Janurary 31st.
The Wii, like the Gamecube and the N64 before it, has suffered through some pretty rough droughts regarding new game releases; the only reason I turned on my Wii in 2011 was to play Skyward Sword, and I get the feeling that the only reason I’ll use my Wii in 2012 is to play Xenoblade Chronicles.
But hey, Zelda was just about good enough to compensate for the Wii’s non-existant 2011 line-up, and word is Xenoblade Chronicles is just as good. Already released in Japan and Europe, the game has been met with almost universal praise and admiration for those who were willing to give Monolith Soft’s (developers of Xenosaga, Baten Kaitos,) attempt at modernizing the J-RPG genre a chance.
Xenoblade Chronicles has a lot of features you’d expect to see in a Bethesda or Bioware game and not in a Japanese RPG: a massive, non-linear adventure with a wealth of sidequests, loads of customizable gear, and huge, open areas that can be explored at your leisure. But while Xenoblade Chronicles draws a lot of influence from Western RPG’s, it remains distinctly Japanese; whether it’s the expected anime-influenced aesthetics or the unique setting (a world where two civilizations live on top of the corpses of dead Gods,) Xenoblade manages to retain that distinct feeling of polish and originality that the best classic J-RPG’s had.
Final Fantasy XIII-2
So yeah, judging by the general internet consensus, most of you didn’t like Final Fantasy XIII. I didn’t either. The game’s overly linear structure, lack of character customization, and convoluted, awkwardly told story turned many off of the series, and the game managed to somehow reinforce all the worst stereotypes about the J-RPG’s rather than reinvigorate the genre as was hoped. Still, despite most fans disappointment with the game, Square-Enix has chosen to go ahead with a direct sequel to the first HD Final Fantasy, and by all reports it seems like it’s going to be a much better game.
The straightforward, restrictively linear structure of the original game has been replaced with areas that are now much more open and feature branching paths, while towns, strangely absent from FFXIII, make a return to the series. Adding to the new sense of freedom is a narrative involving time travel, which will allow players some degree of choice in how they progress through the game’s storyline, and like Square-Enix’s famous classic time-travelling RPG Chrono Trigger, FFXIII-2 features multiple endings depending on how you alter the game’s time stream.
While the gameplay seems to have taken a big step in the right direction, it remains to be seen whether the story line, which picks up right where FFXIII ended, will be able to rise beyond the frankly crappy precedent set by the original game. While the old cast will still make cameo appearances, the playable protagonists of this game are pretty-boy newcomer Noel and Lightning’s cuter but slightly more annoying younger sister Serah, as they travel through time to search for the now MIA Lightning and battle the mysterious new villain character, Caius. Here’s hoping that the XIII cast’s newest adventure makes a little more sense than their previous one.
Phantasy Star Online 2
After years of disappointing sequels and mediocre handheld ports, Sega is finally giving us a proper sequel to cult-classic and fan favorite Phantasy Star Online, and I couldn’t be more excited. As with anything Sega makes these days, there’s a chance they’ll completely screw it up, but seeing how the original PSO is my favorite game of all time, I’m choosing to remain optimistic in this situation.
Thankfully, early gameplay videos and reports from players involved in the game’s closed alpha-testing make my blind optimism seem a little more rational, as the game so far looks fantastic: the game looks like a proper, modern take on PSO, with a return of all of the original character classes, interesting new settings, and hopefully, lots and lots of cool loot and rare weapons to find. But of course, what will make or break PSO2 is it’s balance: the original PSO found the perfect sweet spot between grind and reward, as players spent 100’s of hours fighting through hordes of mindless enemies, but always making them feel like their time was well spent with a few rare item drops or levels gained. It’s a sense of balance that none of PSO’s follow-ups have managed to achieve, and it’s an element of the game that I hope Sega is focusing on getting right this time. I know for sure that I’ll be getting Phantasy Star Online 2 the day it’s available, so please Sega, don’t let me down this time.
Blizzard’s long awaited sequel looks like it’s going to finall come out this year, and recovering addicts, like me, are already getting the shakes from the thought of another concentrated hit of gaming’s equivalent of crack.
With a new selection of character classes to chose from and an undoubtedly staggering amount of new abilities and gear to customize those characters with, Diablo III may be the game that causes the thousands of loyal fans, still playing Diablo II, to finally stop playing that decade old classic and pick up a new game.
Other stuff to look forward to in 2012:
It’s kind of hard writing this list, because there’s a good chance that the biggest game of 2012 might just end up being some game that we don’t know about yet; with the Wii-U set to launch next Fall, as well as the rumored debuts of the next Xbox and PS4 at this year’s E3, chances are the gaming landscape will be very different by the time 2013 rolls around (Well, provided that the whole Mayan Apocalypse thing doesn’t come true.) So, with that thought in mind, here are some of my baseless predictions for the coming year:
Both Nintendo President Satoru Iwata and premiere game designer Shigeru Miyamoto have made statements regarding their regrets that the 3DS didn’t launch with a big title, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one new title in one of Nintendo’s core franchises (Mario, Zelda, Metroid, etc.) launch alongside the Wii-U.
Also, and this one’s a long shot, but I’m really hoping that Half-Life 3 will be at least be announced and shown this year. It’s been far too long since Half Life 2: Episode 2’s shocking finale, and the amount of time Valve has kept us waiting to find out what happens next to Gordon Freeman and Alyx is simply cruel. I know Valve works at their own pace and will only release a game when they’re absolutely satisfied with it, but seriously, the sooner the better as far as Half-Life is concerned.
While it got off to a rough start, I think the PS Vita will eventually garner a healthy installed base, and the 3DS should continue it’s rise in popularity. With that said, don’t expect either system to be as successful as either of their predecessors: Since Sony no longer has exclusivity on handheld Monster Hunter, don’t expect the Vita to dominate Japan like the PSP has for the last few years, and with increased competition from gaming apps on the iPhone and Android, both the PS Vita and 3DS are simply fighting over the increasingly tiny segment of the population who still prefer to carry around a dedicated gaming handheld with them rather than just gaming on their smartphone.
As for the PS4 and Next Xbox, I may be wrong on this, but I don’t think we’re going to see much of them this year; maybe a teaser or some fake “target” tech-demos at E3, but I don’t think we’ll see anything concrete about either system for at least another year. Sony has only recently started to turn a profit with the PS3, and Microsoft is in a good position with the 360, which dominates both monthly hardware and software sales. There’s simply no financial reason why these companies would want to move on from their current platforms, but then again, the threat of Nintendo repeating the Wii’s success with the Wii-U might just be enough to cause them to jump the gun on the next-gen of systems. I suppose we’ll find out at this year’s E3, but speaking as somebody who already spends way too much money on games, I’m in no rush to drop another couple hundred dollars on another set of consoles.