Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Hype List.

I did up a little list in reaction to industry-wide lamentations that, if there's a game you're excited for, it's probably coming in 2015.  Nuts to that.  There are at least ten edge-of-my-seat hypeworthy games coming between now and December, and if you want to open it up to stuff that looks great enough to get, the list approaches thirty games - and, truth be told, I've always wanted to keep a "live list" of what's on my radar, and what's worth keeping an eye on in the coming months.  No time like the present!

Why should you be hyped for what's coming in 2014?  Well, to that I say...

The Top Ten

Galak-Z - PS4, Vita, PC - Late Summer 2014
Developer: 17-Bit

#1 on my hype list is 17-Bit's Galak-Z, a 2D sci-fi Roguelike which sees the player dancing through  procedurally-generated asteroid fields and avoiding incoming fire with fore and aft thrusters, gliding about on Newtonian physics in zero G.  It's got the styling of a 70s space-opera anime and the enemy AI of Halo.  I have a friend who was hyped for Watch Dogs 'cause he believed it promised new-gen emergent gameplay.  He was looking in the wrong place.

Far Cry 4 - PS4, PS3, One, 360, PC - November 18, 2014
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

#2. The E3 gameplay footage for Far Cry 4 consisted of the player-character shooting some dudes with a crossbow, then strapping some explosive to a barrel before kicking said barrel into some bad guys and detonating it.  Then they hopped in a rickshaw, trundled down a precarious Nepalese mountain pass and caught up to a military convoy.  They held up a submachine gun and shot it through the windshield of their tiny car, eliminating the driver of the jeep ahead of them.  They pulled up beside the big truck that was next, leapt from their crappy little rickshaw to the passenger's side door of the truck, yanked the passenger out, assassinated the driver, and switched to driving the truck.  Then an avelanche took out the road in front of them and the truck careened off a cliff, but they bailed out and opened their wingsuit to soar gracefully down, through the mountains, to touch down on a rice paddy, near a river where some elephants were just chillin'.

It's worth noting that consistency isn't one of Ubisoft's strong suits, as they shuffle staff on an abhorrently regular basis - but Far Cry 3 is one of the best games of last gen, and if the above is what Far Cry 4 begins to offer, I'm in.

Alien: Isolation - PS4, PS3, One, 360, PC - October 7, 2014
Developer: The Creative Assembly

#3.  Alien-licensed video games have forever taken their cues from James Cameron's Aliens, and they have forever kinda' sucked - the player straps on a futuristic assault rifle and flamethrower and goes to town against waves of the creatures - but not so, here. Alien: Isolation is hoping to provide the classic Alien experience no game has ever delivered, and does so through a strict adherence to Ridley Scott's seminal 1979 film, which can count Event Horizon and Dead Space among its progeny.

Alien Isolation is a pure survival horror, with a meaty dose of stealth to back it up.  You are Ellen Ripley's daughter, having taken to the stars in search of your lost mother, you find yourself on a space station that has been gutted and terrorized by an alien creature.  An alien.  Singular.

This one creature, driven by adaptive AI, is hunting you throughout the game as you scamper from set-piece to set-piece, slipping through air vents in search of its next victim.  While the game has weapons - cobbled-together incendiaries, flame throwers, et cetera - these are more tools than means of true self defense, as Creative Assembly have said "we'll never give you a weapon that will let you kill the creature."

So run, Ripley.  Hide, Ripley.  Survive, Ripley.  It's Alien.  The Alien game we've always wanted.

Hyper Light Drifter - PS4, Vita, Xbox One, PC, OSX, Linux, Wii U - Late 2014
Developer: Heart Machine

#4.  One of Kickstarter's most illustrious and anticipated titles, Hyper Light Drifter is a Link To The Past-esque Metroidvania, with 2.5D top-down, beautifully-animated pixel sprites.  Developer Heart Machine asked for a mere twenty-seven grand to make their game, and the Internet gave them six hundred and forty five thousand.

They've been very closed-lipped on the game's narrative, but we know you play the Drifter - a wandering warrior who seeks out goods and technology in a dying world, to maintain the fragile civilization you hail from.  The game's action is fast, frantic, strategic and built on an ever-expanding arsenal of weapons and abilities and you explore a gorgeous sci-fi-fantasy world.

Hell yeah.

The Last of Us Remastered - PS4 - July 29, 2014
Developer: Naughty Dog

"The Last of Us is a master's thesis on pacing, and nearly impossible to put down.  The narrative presents a new high-water mark for intelligent, honest writing in video games, but never feels like it gets in the way on subsequent playthroughs.  Indeed, I find I always well up at two key points - even familiarity does not weaken its grip on your heart.  It's just... so touching.

It's a supernaturally gorgeous game, yet more proof that Naughty Dog have forged some dark pact with unholy forces to grant them dominion over the PS3's capabilities.  The game's world is beautiful, intelligently-designed and painstakingly detailed.

Its cast is exemplary, with Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker in particular delivering stunning, beautiful performances that elevate the entire production and hammer home the brilliance of Neil Druckmann's human, emotionally honest writing.

It's one of the best "survival" games to appear on the current gen, but more than that its fresh-feeling, weighty, desperate, impactful combat is a wonderfully balanced and nuanced blend of stealth and action, which repeatedly imparts a heart-thrashing adrenaline high.

The Last of Us is so uniformly accomplished across every facet that it's... shocking.  Its intelligence, craft and uniformity of excellence is a shock to the system.

In the years to come, it will be regarded as an absolute classic, and a landmark game.

It's a masterpiece."
-from the review-

And that, in 1080p 60FPS, is a day-one.  I can't wait to play it again.

CounterSpy - PS4, PS3, Vita - Summer 2014
Developer: Dynamighty

#6.  CounterSpy moved way up my hype list when I saw some straight gameplay footage at last month's E3.  It's a 2D stealth title with procedurally-generated levels that switches perspectives at a moment's notice - when you go behind cover, when it's time to shoot - with a heaping helping of cheesy cold-war style and some cool action mixed in.  Definitely day-oneing this, no matter what the reviews say.

Developer: Alfa System

#7.  The PS1-era weirdo JRPG Over My Dead Body never got localized, but that's okay, 'cause its much-better-looking sequel is coming west for PS Vita under the title Oreshika.  The game follows the short lives of a clan of demigods, cursed by a demon with a two-year lifespan for all their generations.  The gods took pity on the clan and permitted them to mature and bear children within that period, and part of the game hinges on marrying off your characters to bear more-powerful children.  Elsewhere, this is a traditional title with turn-based combat, a gorgeous overworld to explore and bright, colorful character and enemy designs.  A big traditional JRPG with a morbid hook and purely designed for the Vita?

Yes please.

Liege - PS4, Vita, Wii U, PC, Mac, Linux - Late 2014
Developer: Coda Games

#8.  Another Kickstarted title, we hear criminally little about Liege at trade shows, and I honestly suspect it won't make its professed 2014 release date - but I still want it to.  A pure strategy-RPG with lovely aesthetics, Liege follows the stories of four clans vying for power.  The narrative plays out in a completely linear fashion, and as your character wanders the world it transitions seamlessly into combat.  Like, you walk up to a bunch of enemies and gridlines appear on the ground, and now it's straight-up XCOM with swords.

That is a game my Vita needs.

The Evil Within - PS4, PS3, One, 360, PC - October 21, 2014
Developer: Tango Gameworks

#9.  Shinji Mikami, the legendary director behind the original Resident Evil, cult-hit God Hand and the hugely-influential, masterful third-person shooters Resident Evil 4 and Vanquish, returns to his genre roots with The Evil Within.  Little is known about the game's actual plot, but I'd bet will be excellent third-person shooting, crazy and painful-looking creatures, lots of mind-screws and buckets of blood.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number - PS4, PS3, Vita, PC, OSX, Linux - Q3 2014
Developer: Dennaton Games

#10. Hotline Miami was the indie darling of 2012, and its sequel promises more shocking ultraviolence, more ambitious sanity-cracking storytelling and a wider variety of player strategy and choice through masks which, this time around, have an absolutely massive impact on gameplay – from the ability to dual-wield machineguns to playing as two killers at once to an overpowered evasive maneuver.  Even ignoring the additions to their formula, if Dennaton's Hotline Miami 2 is merely more of the same, it’ll be a throbbing, blood-soaked fever-nightmare of sickening violence with one hell of a soundtrack.

The Rest
In Order of Hype

inFamous: First Light - PS4 - August 26, 2014
Developer: Sucker Punch

Following the (wildly) successful photo mode update for inFamous: Second Son is the stand-alone single-player campaign inFamous: First Light, which seems to explore the origins of ex-junkie supergirl Abigail “Fetch” Walker, and sees her into (and presumably back out of) Curden Cay prison, the ominous symbol of anti-conduit power and home to thousands of supernatural, imprisoned residents.  If First Light lives up to Second Son’s example, expect eye-wetting graphics, comfortable open-world platforming and third-person shooting and snazzy special effects, with a half-decent story and a strong performance from Laura Bailey.  When the prison first loomed in its announcement trailer, I imagined for a fleeting moment we’d get to see (the power-absorbing) Delsin walk in to the place like a conduit candy store, draining crazy new powers left and right – but Fetch is a far more interesting character, and charming enough to support her own stand-alone story.  If nothing else, it’s nice to see a lady front-and-center in a triple-A exercise, even if it is a smaller slice of gameplay.

How long has it been since Remember Me?

Developer: Klei Entertainment

Klei Entertainment’s surprise-hit, cartoony, procedurally-generated roguelike survival game finally lands on the Vita this year, and – while I liked the game on my PC and downright enjoyed it on my PS4 – I’ve never managed to fall in love with it, despite wanting to.  I suspect that, like Dead Nation, the Vita is where I’ll need to find Don’t Starve – a platform that excels in days-long gaming sessions broken by the quick tap of the suspend button and resumed just as casually, ad infinitum.

Perhaps, this time, I will ride the Beefalo.

Assassin's Creed Unity - PS4, One, PC - October 28, 2014
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

The first purely new-gen Assassin’s Creed title (after six core installments on 7th-gen consoles, one on Vita and one on PSP), Assassin’s Creed Unity needs to be the game that wholly realizes the series’ central ambitions.  Beautiful new platforming animations have already been noted, but it’s news that ACU will employ a lot of Far Cry 3’s open-world and stealth sensibilities that has me most excited - as that game was just constantly fun, all the way through.  The fact that it’ll let the player scamper and cut their way through revolution-era Paris is just icing on the cake.

Now, if only the small, struggling studio could afford female character models...

Velocity 2x - PS4, Vita - 2014
Developer: FuturLab

Sequel to Velocity - a PS Mini which became a hit before becoming the Vita-native Velocity Ultra and winning my icy heart, Velocity 2x will likely be one of the most sharply-designed games you'll play this year.  It combines Velocity's hooky top-down shooting, in which you can instantaneously teleport your ship to anywhere on screen with what looks to be some very fast-paced 2D sidescrolling platforming as Quarp Jet pilot Kai Tana hops in to alien bases for some running and gunning action with her palm-blaster (which appears to literally be a gun embedded in her palm).  Cool!

Shadow Warrior - PS4, One - Late September 2014
Developer: Flying Wild Hog

Flying Wild Hog’s (oddly) successful reboot of 90s FPS staple Shadow Warrior – 3D Realms’ spiritual sequel to Duke Nukem 3D, featuring a racist charicature of a lead, more boobs and awesomer weapons – was a surprise hit when it landed on PCs in 2013.  Reboots are rarely a golden ticket in gaming or anywhere else, but Flying Wild Hog’s Shadow Warrior’s reportedly old-school, arcadey shooting and classic sensibilities of ‘play over plot made it a fan favorite among gamers tired of the endlessly-somber, serious, sim-centric and drab modern military shooters that dominate the FPS landscape.

And this September, we get to play it!

Drifter - PS4, Vita, PC - 2014
Developer: Celsius Games

Celcius Games' Drifter has flown under a lot of radars, but after the deeply-disappointing Starlight Inception, I'm hungry for a space sim on my Vita.  Not a mission-based game, Drifter offers a "procedurally-generated galaxy 100,000 light years across made up of tens of thousands of star systems," which you wander across as a ship captain just trying to get by.  Want to be a trader?  Ship goods between systems or mine asteroids.  Wanna' be a bounty hunter?  Take some contracts and get to blastin'.  Of course, you could just take up piracy yourself...

Hell yes.  I'm in.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor - PS4, PS3, One, 360, PC - October 7, 2014
Developer: Monolith Productions

When it first appeared, Shadow of Mordor was quickly frowned upon for (blatantly) ripping off what appeared to be both the movement system and animations of Assassin’s Creed, to the point that AC devs insisted they could see code they wrote driving the gameplay footage.  Subsequent to that inauspicious debut, developer Monolith have impressed with everything in the game that’s not AC-like – its setting, its arsenal of supernatural powers and most intriguing, its “Nemeis System,” which reflects player choice in the enemies you face, and narrative.

Cut out the eye of an Orcish sergeant early in the game, and he may reappear later as a captain in Sauron’s army, who remembers the mark you made on him.  Get wounded by a savage lieutenant, and you may meet him later – after he’s worked his way up the ranks to command a battalion of his own.  It sounds cool, and suggests an interesting new twist on the concept of a directed but still emergent narrative.  Plus, it’s a Lord of the Rings game that doesn’t look like bum.

Destiny - PS4, PS3, One, 360, PC - September 9, 2014
Developer: Bungie

After their unbelievably-successful run with the Halo franchise, Bungie have detached from Microsoft to make a new IP - a sort-of-MMO not-really-RPG multiplayer FPS that has all the trappings of an MMO RPG without the wide-open freedom of exploration those games generally offer.  I was able to go hands-on with the game's alpha and can assure you it plays beautifully, in all the ways you expect a Bungie title to. 

Considering the developer's pedigree and the half-billion dollar budget publisher Activision have committed to Destiny, you can pretty much guarantee one of the most polished, triple-A titles of the year. 

Secret Ponchos - PS4, PC - 2014
Developer: Switchblade Monkeys

In the same way Galak-Z made folks sit up and take notice, Secret Ponchos is another indie from Sony’s E3 2013 presser that jumped off the screen with its jazzy, bold, isometric spaghetti-western presentation.  A competitive multiplayer action game, it offers a small roster of vastly different gunfighting (or in some cases, blade-fighting) antiheroes, like the redheaded Kid who dual-wields pistols or the vicious PhantomPoncho, who reels his prey in with the precisely-landed yank of a whip before unloading an off-hand shotgun into them.  Big on style and with some clever little mechanical choices (you are invisible to enemies when hidden behind cover, for example), Secret Ponchos’ showdown of the old west’s most wanted is one to watch.

Grand Theft Auto V - PS4, One, PC - Late 2014
Developer: Rockstar North.

One of the last great gasps of the 7th generation of consoles, Grand Theft Auto V pushed at the boundaries of its own formula with a three-pricked narrative that ensured its story never got stale and the hugely ambitious Grand Theft Auto Online, which actually got me into multiplayer for a while – that alone, it should be noted, is a supernatural accomplishment.  The excessively-gorgeous state of San Andreas, with its choicely chosen lighting and weather effects strained what was possible on the last generation, and I’m very much looking forward to see what Rockstar’s RAGE engine can do when given room to stretch its legs.

Also, to blasting on fools.

Rogue Legacy - PS4, PS3, Vita - July 29, 2014
Developer: Cellar Door Games

Cellar Door Games' celebrated accessible-Roguelike is bound for the Vita in 2014, and – between this and Don’t Starve, I’m hoping this is the year I finally get into the genre.  Rogue Legacy’s simple, nostalgic art direction, sharp gameplay and limitless replayability make it an excellent match for Vita, and there’s always something to be said for exploring trap-encrusted castles and killin’ monsters.

Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition - PS4, One - August 19, 2014
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment

The further we get from Diablo III’s controversial launch (back in May of 2012), the less excited I find myself for a console version.  Like any console gamer, I was desperately jealous of the PC version at launch.  Sure, opinions were decidedly mixed on the game, but remember Diablo II?  It was awesome – and no matter how you muck with a formula, running around an isometric fantasy world and beating on minions of the ultimate evil until they explode into saucy bits while you mash the attack button has always been a good time.

With everything else coming this Fall, I’m not sure I’ll be able to find time (or money) for Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition – but if I once again fail to play it, I’ll doubtless still feel jealous of those who have.

Lords of the Fallen - PS4, One, PC - October 28, 2014
Developer: CI Interactive

A pure action-RPG, Lords of the Fallen is most notable for journalists constantly comparing it to Dark Souls – which is exactly what you want your game compared to, when you’re making an ARPG.  Whether or not CI Games can pull it off remains to be seen – Dark Souls’ remarkably balanced, wholly unforgiving design doesn’t just appear out of thin air – but they’ve rather proudly shown off quite a bit of the game, including some exceedingly challenging boss battles that offer very different rewards depending on how expertly you dispatch them (keeping a boss from entering its “rage mode” for an entire battle, for example.)

This will, perhaps, tide us over until Bloodborne happens.

Helldivers - PS4, PS3, Vita - 2014
Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios

Between Super Stardust Delta and Dead Nation, twin-stick shooters work beautifully on the Vita, and Helldivers – a top-down co-op space marine title in which friendly fire is always on – looks like a flavorful addition to the genre.  Developer Arrowhead promise a supremely challenging game, and it’s always fun to set sci-fi weaponry to the task of blasting alien monsters into ludicrous gibs.

Driveclub - PS4 - October 7, 2014
Developer: Evolution Studios.

Evolution's come a long way since MotorStorm.  Driveclub has captured an inordinately large amount of the gamer mindshare due to that most-prized of all racer attributes – it’s really, really, ridiculously good-looking.  It’s not like photorealistic, it is photorealistic.  Its position as a PS4-exclusive title further fans the fires of discussion and hype, to the point that even I – not a racing game fan by any stretch of the imagination – will likely pick it up at launch, just for the sake of putting my hot new-gen console through its paces, and discovering just how gorgeous gorgeous can be.

Ratchet & Clank Collection - on Vita! - This Year, I Hope.
Developer: Insomniac, ported by Mass Media Inc.

There are few who would deny the innate pleasures of roaming an imaginative and brightly-drawn universe as a tinker-prone anthropomorphic space wombat, armed to the teeth with an increasingly ridiculous array of sci-fi weaponry.  The PS2's Ratchet & Clank trilogy is awesome, let us agree on that.  

The Collection for Vita has already landed on European shores, on July 2nd, but let me terrify you a tad when I advise you that it has never been confirmed for a North American release

The horror.  The horror. 

Bayonetta 2 - Wii U - October 2014
Developer: Platinum Games

Bayonetta is the gold standard of brawlers and a modern classic.  In 2010, director Hideki Kamiya sharpened and redefined the genre he essentially created with 2001's Devil May Cry, and expectations for the Umbra Witch's return are high - but it's worth noting that he's now off directing Scalebound for Microsoft, and Bayonetta 2 is being helmed by first-time director Yusuke Hashimoto.  We could be looking at a Devil May Cry sequel situation, in which the rotating directors create subsequent titles that rarely live up to the original - but are you willing to take that risk?

The sequel to what is perhaps the best brawler ever made drops this October, and I'll probably be picking it up - with or without a Wii U to play it on. 

Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed - PS4, Vita - August 5, 2015
Developer: Acquire

An open-world brawler, Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed permits the player to run around a painstakingly-recreated version of Tokyo's Akihabara neighborhood - the Mecca of all geek-kind.  But all is not as it seems in otaku-ville!  Genetically-engineered vampires are taking over the populous, and only by beating on their clothing until it weakens enough for you to strip them naked (thus exposing them to the rays of the Sun) can they be defeated.  Obviously.

The game offers a wealth of content and some nicely zany customization options (you can wear every single piece of clothes you strip from your foes, you can customize your walk animation), but I'll be curious to see if its brawling - which looks a bit too simple - holds up over time.

Murasaki Baby - Vita - September 2014
Developer: Ovosonico

Ovosonico’s Murasaki Baby is a weird, creepy/cute, Burtonesque paternal puzzler, which sees you guiding the titular bizarre child through the symbolic trials and tribulations of life as she gains confidence and comes into her own.  Her tiny hand will hold your fingertip when you press it to the touchscreen as you lead (and sometimes drag) her forward, the backdrops will switch with the swipe of the rear touchpad, and so on.  Murasaki Baby’s unique style and mechanics – a very personal project for director Massimo Guarini (Shadows of the Damned) – make it one to watch.

Minecraft: PS Vita Edition - Vita (and everything else) - August 2014
Developer: Mojang, port by 4J Studios

The ubiquitous Minecraft comes to a handheld (along with PS4 and Xbox One) this August.   Perhaps now, finally, I'll play it.  Maybe not, though.

* * * 

And that... just about exhausts my hype for 2014.  There's thirty-one games to care about - but it's worth noting, there are yet more games to care about, if you can find enough childlike hype within you.  Not listed here but worth being aware of are...

Skullgirls Encore (PS4, Vita), Road Not Taken (PS4, Vita), Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited (Vita), Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (Vita), Hyrule Warriors (Wii U), Forza Horizon 2 (One), Battlefield: Hardline (PS4, One, PC), Evolve (PS4, One, PC), Sunset Overdrive (One), Killer Instinct Season 2 (One), Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (PS4, One, PC), The Crew (PS4, One, PC), The Master Chief Collection (One), LittleBigPlanet 3 (PS4), Fable Legends (One), Super Smash Bros (Wii U, 3DS), Apotheon (PS4, One), Axiom Verge (Vita, PS4), Skulls of the Shogun (PS4), Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk (Vita), Tales of Hearts R (Vita), The Swapper (PS4, PS4, Vita), Energy Hook (PS4, Vita), Soul Saga (PS4, Vita, Wii U, PC), Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!!! (Vita), Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition (Vita), Hotaru No Nikki: The Firefly Diary (Vita), Race the Sun (Vita), Risk of Rain, Shantae: Half-Genier Hero (Vita), The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (Vita), Project Spark (One), Nuclear Throne (PS4, PS3, Vita, One).

* * *

So the next time someone tells you "all the good games are coming in 2015," slap them.  You slap them right in their dirty, lying mouth.

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