Year of the Rabbit: Games of 2011 that have us hot & bothered (pt.1)

Shaun

It’s a dangerous business, researching the upcoming titles you’re most eager to play. Before I began I was under the impression that there were “just a few” games I was anticipating that were scheduled for release 2011. I was wrong, and now I anticipate having much less money than I’d hoped. D’oh!

Let’s get the obvious ones out of the way first. I’m looking forward to Mass Effect 3, Crysis 2 (I may even buy a new graphics card for that one), Brink, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Portal 2, The Witcher 2 and Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine.

Cargo

Cargo looks to be as vibrant and colourful as The Void was unearthly and drained.

Another list I can rattle through pretty quickly are the games I didn’t even know were in development until this month: Max Payne 3 (please to carry on the gorgeous noir romance / gunplay approach of The Fall of Max Payne, guys, that is exactly the kind of melodrama I love), Cargo (from Icepick Lodge, the makers of Pathologic and The Void) and MechWarrior (a reboot of the franchise, at long bloody last). And then there are a few browser games I’m interested in – Blight of the Immortals is still under development and constantly changing, and Sid Meier’s Facebook version of Civilization, Civ World.

One mainstream title I’m particularly eager about is X-COM. Before anyone else says it, I know it’s not a tactical/strategy game like the best of its predecessors. I do think that’s a bit of a shame, though I’m not ruling out a successful relaunch of the franchise opening doors for, dare I say it, spin-offs. But I’m most looking forward to this game because from what little has been leaked to the press and the wider world, X-COM sounds like it captures the spirit of what made the original games feel special. It’s a perpetual trade-off: risk versus return. Do you stay in a mission to the bitter end, or do you grab what you can and flee so you can fight again another day? If anything it sounds as though X-COM may go beyond even this. In UFO: Enemy Unknown, Terror From the Deep and Apocalypse it was usually possible to struggle through to the end of just about any mission, whereas X-COM promises a much more convincing take on asymetrical warfare – think of those trailers where a couple of guys with pistols are confronted with a death-ray toting floating monolith. The only thing you can do is flee.

In the past I’ve defended the upcoming X-COM reboot by arguing that games akin to its predecessors will always emerge from elsewhere – take, for example, the UFO trilogy from Altair. Well, another title along these lines is Xenonauts, which promises to be a thoroughly up-to-date but faithful adaptation of UFO: Enemy Unknown. Hopefully they’ll change the lore and mechanics up enough that there’s still a sense of mystery about it, because I’ve already shot enough Sectoids for three lifetimes.

Xenonauts

Pretty sure I recognise this guy from an Austin Powers movie.

Also coming from a smaller developer are Jagged Alliance 2: Reloaded – a remake – and Jagged Alliance 3. The latter has been in development for years and had begun to feel like vaporware, but last year’s announcement of the JA2 reboot may mean there’s life in the IP yet thanks to new developer bitComposer. And since I’ve spent much of my time so far talking about old series into which new life has been breathed, how can I not mention Beyond Good & Evil 2, the promised sequel to one of the best 3D platform-action-adventure games I’ve ever played? (Note to self: locate original Xbox, finish final level.)

Rock of Ages

As Arcadian Rhythms' editor I'd like to take this opportunity to state that we will never, ever make a Limp Bizkit joke in reference to Rock of Ages. That's not how My Generation does things.

There are a few other eagerly-awaited titles that don’t fit into any particularly category I’ve already covered. The first is Rock of Ages, which promises a wonderful blend of bizarre gameplay and uniquely inspired art direction. I really, really hope that the game we eventually get has the sort of longevity its art-history visuals enjoy. There’s Tropico 4, the next in a series I was only recently introduced to but which is a city-building game with lots of unique character and flexibility in approach. Next up is Might & Magic Heroes VI; why after 5 titles, twice that number of expansions and the general expiration of the parent series I’m unsure why it was considered necessary to rebrand the Heroes games, but hey. Hopefully they’ll spice things up a bit for this release. HOMMV was a great game but I don’t just want more of the same. And, finally, I’m eager to get my grubby mitts on Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2: Retribution, because the Dawn of War games have been a highlight of my RTS calendar for some years now and Relic are doing a fantastic job pushing themselves and the series to new levels. Plus I reeeally want to call down an Exterminatus, and the only setting in which planetary genocide is an everyday fact of life as well as an officially-sanctioned strategy is Warhammer 40,000. I am a bad man, but there are worse things in the Warp.


Dylan

There are far too many games I’m looking forward to in 2011; the list would be three pages long. To avoid this, here instead are some events or trends I’m hopeful about this year…

Indie games continuing to grow

The ‘Winter of Indie’ promotion on XBLA was an encouraging step from Microsoft in this direction. Playstation Minis, the iOS platform and increasing amounts of media coverage and distribution options for small PC titles are all contributing to what now feels like a more substantial indie presence than was felt this time last year, and I’m optimistic things will continue in this vein. The industry needs a shot in the arm every now and then, and ensuring there’s space for creative young bloods to do what they do outside of the big budget corporate realm is the best way to achieve this.

Particular games of note: Spelunky, Game Dev Story 2. Now please. Please.

FPS genre growing tired of CoD clones

I pray this year will be the one in which the bubble finally bursts. It has to at some point, surely? There are plenty of games slated for 2011 that stand out as having a reasonable chance of capturing a decent audience among FPS fans. Just different enough that they’ll have the players of 2011 feeling bored next time they boot up their identiCoD of choice.

Particular games of note: Dead Island, Hybrid, Rage, I Am Alive, Bulletstorm, Duke Nukem Forever, F.E.A.R 3, X-COM

Mainstream culture acknowledging the role of gaming

Dear Points of View,

Why oh why oh why has the BBC not identified that gamers make up a vast, dedicated and long-term untapped audience? Why are there three different shows on every day about buying houses abroad and no shows per year about one of the most successful areas of cultural production over the last decade? I assume it’s because so many people buy houses abroad. This must be at least twice the number of people who buy computer games otherwise your commissioning policy would be absurd.

If you have to, hire Iain Lee to present a show about games. It’s not ideal, but you, me and Iain all know it’s inevitable so you might as well. At least try it out on radio or something. I don’t really care how you do it; Games 2011 with Claudia Winkleman, Top Gear-esque challenges and machismo, comedy panel show, whatever, just please do something. Frankly, it’s disrespectful not to.

Yours,

Frustrated, Brighton


James

After spending the last 18 months getting excited about long-awaited sequels that broke my heart by being awful, disappointing, or awful AND disappointing (Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, Crackdown 2, Fable 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, I’m looking at you), I’m determined not to fall into the same trap again. Except in the case of Batman: Arkham City, which I’m sure will be amazing, but which has already been mentioned by someone else. Last year, the games I enjoyed most were developer-led, artistic and offbeat – the likes of Sleep is Death, One Chance, Game Dev Story, Limbo and VVVVVV – so that’s what I’ve decided I’m going to look forward to in 2011, despite how difficult it is to find such word-of-mouth gems before they’re actually released.

The Witness

As you can probably guess from my list of 2010 faves, I’m a complete sucker for any game that tries to do something fun with aesthetics and mechanics. Coming (we hope) in late 2011 from Jonathon “Braid” Blow, The Witness is an exploration-based puzzle game in full 3D set on an uninhabited island, and even though the abrupt cancellation of Frontier Developments’ The Outsider makes me try hard not to get excited about any release that sounds too ambitious, lest it be dangled in front of my expectant face for years then cast into a nearby furnace by a cackling maniac, just knowing that someone like Blow is working on a game this original-sounding geniuinely excites me about gaming as a medium in ways that yet another Call of Medals or Left for Red Space Redemption can’t in the slightest.

Nexus City

The second full-length offering from Distractionware/Terry Cavanagh, Nexus City is… well, it’s hard to say. It’s an RPG with retro-esque graphics, but coming from the guy who made VVVVVV, Don’t Look Back, Judith and Pathways, it’s sure to have something more to it than that. Like all of my favourite developers, Cavanagh combines storytelling, minimalism and simple mechanics in an almost alchemic combination.

Work-in-progress screenshot taken from distractionware.com

At this point, it’s not clear what “Nexus City” means, but when we’ve had so many great games from Cavanagh already, it almost doesn’t matter. I’m not very big on RPGs, so there’s a very real chance I won’t even like it. In many ways, I’m just happy that I’ll be able to support his game development career financially, because the medium as a whole will be stronger for his presence. Regardless of what Nexus City is like, I can’t wait to see what he does with it.

Portal 2

And as if to prove that I’m not a complete gaming snob, here’s a real game! One that comes in a box and everything! Though, by including it, I’ve also proven that I’ve learnt absolutely nothing about not getting my hopes up for commercial sequels.

Anyway, I came to Portal late in its life cycle with the Xbox 360 re-release Portal: Still Alive – but like everyone else, I was utterly won over by its mix of narrative, metagaming and first-person puzzling. Will Portal 2 end up being the New Coke to Portal‘s Coca Cola? Or will it actually be the Coca Cola Classic to Portal’s New Coke? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m sort of thirsty. Thirsty for more Portal.