Saturday, 14 January 2017
Hello and welcome back to the Hot List. This week we will turn our attention to videogames, previewing for you our loyal readers the most exciting videogames set for release in 2017.
2016 was a notably strong year for gaming, and unusually so in just about every area of gaming, from the single-man indie miracle of Stardew Valley, to Planet Coaster's small dev team taking on the established giant of Roller Coaster Tycoon and winning. And there were equally exceptional results from the big money AAA producers as well, including the excellent XCOM2, the much hyped Dishonored 2, and very surprisingly Battlefield 1 with it's wonderful story telling. But of course no summary of 2016 could be complete without mentioning the culmination of the decade-long productions of Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian, at least one of which turned out to be worth the wait.
If gamers were truly spoilt for choice in 2016, 2017 looks to be a rather quieter year for the industry, with some notable exceptions. Most significantly, 2017 is the year of Nintendo's newest gaming system, the Switch. You might be thinking, "didn't they just release a new console, the Wii U?" and you would be correct. Suffice it to say the Wii U has not been doing very well, and while on the surface the Switch does not fix the most glaring issues of the Wii U (it is still a significantly weaker piece of hardware than its competitors, which means it will again lack the major third party titles), there is no denying that it's a pretty smart looking bit of gear. If it really works as smoothly and as seamlessly as advertised, it will be a hugely impressive achievement.
So here it is, the 10 key videogames to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 10:
10. Prey (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
Prey is a reboot of sorts. The original title was something of a cult classic, and after many years of troubled development, the long-awaited sequel was eventually canned. Step up Arkane Studios of Dishonored fame, and the sequel was turned into a complete reboot, a "reimagining" of the original game.
The result has been quite controversial, a game which carries the "Prey" name, but bears little resemblance to the original. Fans have been up in arms. Despite this, the actual game looks rather decent if you can look past the name. A classic mix of first person action/shooter and horror elements in a smartly realised sci-fi setting. The gameplay looks as solid as one would expect from the Dishonored developers, and the immersive presentation bears many familiar hallmarks.
We won't have to wait too long to get our hands on this one, the release is currently pencilled in for a Q1/Q2 2017, which usually means you'll have it by Spring barring any further delays.
Release Date: Spring 2017
9. Sea of Thieves (Xbox One, PC)
Now for something a bit different, an entirely multiplayer game, Sea of Thieves. This game is notable for two reasons, one it's the newest game from what was once the legendary game development company Rare, two it just looks like a lot of good silly fun.
This is a multiplayer pirate game, you and a few friends design your pirate, get a pirate ship, and take to the seas finding treasure and getting into naval battles and the like. Sailing one of these ships is no simple point and click job though, it takes teamwork, with one man steering, one man on the sails, another operating the cannons, and if you take damage, someone needs to place wooden boards over the holes to prevent your ship taking on water and sinking. You can also do all manner of silly piratey things like drinking grog and, just for the hell of it, playing musical instruments. There's something delightfully over the top about charging into battle with one guy on the wheel, another firing cannons, and another in the crow's nest blasting out Flight of the Valkyries on an accordion just for atmosphere.
This seems like the type of game that I have zero time to get into these days, but 10 years ago would have been a blast to waste some time with a few friends. Rumours suggest a Spring release date, but at the moment there's no confirmation.
Release Date: TBA 2017
8. Friday the 13th (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
Another multiplayer game, which is weird because I don't usually play multiplayer only games, but this is just a great concept. This is Friday the 13th, the game based off the famous horror movie franchise. It's an asymmetrical multiplayer game, with elements familiar to fans of Evolve or Left4Dead.
One player takes control of the supernatural killer Jason, while the others control the campers trying to make their escape. As in the Left4Dead series, there are a series of items that need to be acquired and objectives that need to be completed in order to escape, which presents an array of strategic elements to be considered, and requires the co-ordination of an entire team. As fans of those other series will know, these kinds of teamwork-based games always end in some good chaotic fun, particularly when horror and jumpscares are added to the mix.
This has actually been in development for a while, originally on Kickstarter as a generic horror game before surprisingly acquiring the licence for the Friday the 13th series. There is in fact a trailer for this game, but a bunch of clips showing Jason brutally killing someone doesn't really tell you much about the game, which is why I've linked some actual gameplay. Should land sometime in the Spring.
Release Date: Spring 2017
7. Kingdom Come: Deliverance (Xbox One, PS4, PC, Mac)
It's back again! This has been on the Hot List for a good long while. One of the more notable Kickstarter success stories, Kingdom Come: Deliverance started with a simple observation. Publishers typically refuse to release games with historic settings unless it features magic, dragons and silly things like this, so why not break the mould by making a game in an actually realistic historic setting?
That's the idea behind Kingdom Come: Deliverance. A roleplaying game set in 15th Century Bohemia, with period-accurate clothing, technology, culture, and even going so far as to bring in medieval combat experts and historians to program realistic tactics and fighting styles. But this is not just a period combat simulator, it is a truly sandbox world in which players can pursue their goals as a warrior, a trader, or take a more diplomatic approach.
Depending on how these different gameplay elements come together this could be a very unique experience. There aren't enough games that display an interest in real history and show the kind of attention to truly bring alive such a setting. All the signs so far are that Warhorse Studios are very committed to this vision, and judging by the millions of dollars raised there are a lot of gamers who are as well. After many delays, the developers have at last finalised all the publishing contracts and this game should hopefully see release at some point in 2017.
Release Date: TBA 2017
6. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
Originally teased during the Switch announcement video, Nintendo have finally given us an official name and some more details. The next Mario game will be Super Mario Odyssey, and it looks like some classic Nintendo magic.
Details are thin, but from the trailer we can see some typical Mario platforming action, albeit with some new tricks such as the ability to use Mario's hat as a tool, while there appears to be some kind of flying vehicle that Mario uses to get between different levels, implying more of an open-world design. We also catch sight of a realistic city setting, which on first glance looks really weird in a Mario game, especially as all the people have normal proportions compared to Mario's cartoonish size, though as a short guy I can relate.
Mario Odyssey will supposedly be released for the holiday season this year. Not a release title for Switch then, which seems a strange risk to take.
Release Date: Xmas 2017
5. Star Citizen (PC)
Another long recurring member of the Hot List. Star Citizen is the mother of all crowdfunding success stories, having so far raised over $100 million, and that amount is still growing. What makes this all the more remarkable is that people are throwing their money at Cloud Imperium Games despite the fact that only a few conceptual game-modes have been made available so far after years of development. So why all the excitement and hype?
Star Citizen is the brainchild of Chris Roberts, a game design legend from the early days of PC gaming most famous for his space-based combat simulations such as Wing Commander and Freelancer. Star Citizen is Roberts' big comeback to gaming following years in Hollywood with a number of producer credits to his name.
Unapologetically PC exclusive, Star Citizen's mission statement is simple: to be the ultimate space epic, the game that Roberts has always wanted to make. It takes Roberts' trademark quality combat simulation gaming, adds detailed economy and trading elements, and throws it all into one massively multiplayer online persistent universe. A massive online universe populated with thousands of players, in which players can essentially do what they want: they can trade or start a business, they can be a combat pilot, they can become a diplomat, or they can engage in a bit of in-game sports (racing for example).
The sheer variety of gameplay being thrown into this game is matched by the vast efforts that are going into creating a believable, fully fleshed out universe. The official website now is chock-full of literature and back-story for the world they are creating, and even if reading into all that depth is not your kind of thing, that kind of love and detail makes a game world truly engaging, even for the most casual of players. It's this kind of effort that turns a good game into a great game.
Can an independent developer really deliver on such high ambition? So far the signs are good. The modules that have been rolled out so far show promise, and with the single player campaign set to begin this year, with the online persistent universe soon to follow, it's time to get excited.
Release Date: TBA 2017
4. Sonic Mania (Xbox One, PS4, PC, Switch)
A little bit of a nostalgia trip for our next entry. The fall of Sonic the Hedgehog games from gaming icon of the 1990s to the industry's biggest ongoing joke is the stuff of legend. To recover its form, the series is going back to its retro roots with Sonic Mania.
Not much to explain here, it's classic 2D Sonic fun, with new stages, a few modern twists and new gameplay elements. Sega have tried going back to the series' 2D roots in the past, but generally without success. No one of the original team remains on staff, and few of the current organisation appear to really have a handle on what makes these games worth playing. So this time, they are wisely tapped the fangame community to helm the project, with the creator of the very warmly received "Before the Sequel" series placed in charge.
It all looks like exactly the kind of sugary fun you'd expect from the series. Trailer says Spring 2017, let's go with that.
Release Date: Spring 2017
3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U, Switch)
Nintendo have got a lot in the pipeline this year, but by far the most hyped of their mega-franchises has got to be The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. To be released simultaneously on the Wii U and Switch, this will be the first original Zelda to be designed in HD.
Nintendo are taking very clear inspiration from The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and BotW will contain a truly massive, fully explorable open-world, chock full of quests, crafting skills, and secrets. The new Zelda is being designed with the idea to allow players real freedom in how they explore and complete quests, suggesting a much more open-ended structure to the game.
Notably, this will be the first game to feature full voice acting for its characters, a very bold move for a game series for which the silence and careful punctuation of voice samples has become very much an expected feature. The suggestion is that BotW will place a much greater emphasis on its characters and their relation to the narrative. Recent games in the series had shown a trend in this direction, but this promises a whole new level of storytelling.
Release date has been confirmed as 3rd of March, 2017, launch day of the Switch.
Release Date: 3 March, 2017
2. Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
I love the Mass Effect series. The quality of writing and storytelling has consistently set the pace in the industry, and its world is one of the best realised in any medium of fiction. Mass Effect: Andromeda is the latest entry in the series, and as the name suggests, it's a complete break from the preceding trilogy.
This of course means that Shepard is gone, as are all the characters you know and love. More than that though, it seems the galaxy and locations you know and love are gone too, and Andromeda sees you travel to a whole new galaxy. Quite why that was necessary when the last game made a point of telling us that the Milky Way is 98% unexplored in Mass Effect is besides the point, surely not as a convenient way to avoid having to deal with the array of different endings one could potentially have chosen at the end of the original trilogy? But lets not quibble over poor writing.
A new galaxy means a focus on exploration. Andromeda gives players a much more open-ended world to explore, more akin to the open nature of the original Mass Effect than its sequels, and will allow players to scout out new systems, colonise new worlds and presumably stumble across some form of ancient evil. It can be also be assumed that your ship is staffed by a menagerie of well-written characters with daddy issues. All sounds good, though let's hope this isn't the last we've seen of the Milky Way we know and love.
Release Date: 21 March, 2017
1. Read Ded Redemption 2 (Xbox One, PS4)
But as excited as those last two entries were, none of them can take the top spot away from the surprise reveal of Red Red Redemption 2, a sequel to 2010's Red Dead Redemption, which was itself a spiritual sequel to a previous game.
RDR was probably one of the greatest games ever made. It had the quality of storytelling and production that one would expect from Rockstar, developer Grand Theft Auto series, but married that with an open world that to this day can't be matched for character and detail, and at the time was simply unprecedented in the variety and depth of its procedural content. Through its random events, ambient challenges and mini-games embedded throughout, this was a game world you could truly play endlessly, even once the main story and side quests had been completed.
For the sequel, I'd expect more of the same, and the leaked map suggests a world that is even bigger and more varied than its predecessor's. Due by the end of the year, I can't wait to get lost in this one.
Release Date: Winter 2017
So there you have it folks: 2017 in videogames. Tune in next week for the essential movies set for release this year!