Friday, January 12, 2018

It's 2018. Get hyped.

The boys and I covered this in the podcast this week, but I felt compelled to do a post about it.  I don't know why!  So heeeere we go...


Darkest Dungeon on Switch - January 18th!

Darkest Dungeon is nothing less than one of my favorite games of the past decade.  A deliciously deep turn-based, tactical RPG with Roguelike elements – a bit like XCOM – where the heroes you fall in love with will die and there’s nothing you can do about it.  It centers around the basic conceit that if you sent a party of stalwart knights, pious battle nuns and murderous rogues into a deep, dark dungeon full of monsters – if they survived – the best-case scenario is they would emerge vibrating with post-traumatic stress disorder. 
It’s a game about managing the stress of your team as much as their health bars, and slowly learning the secrets of a world of procedurally-generated dungeons filled to the brim with the cruellest of enemies and the most tempting of traps, all ready to seize your heroes by the psyche and deliver a crippling knuckle sandwich.  It bursts at the seams with style –  beautiful, Mike Mignola-esque low-fantasy art direction and a creepy-but-kinda’-rockin’ soundtrack that has, after hundreds upon hundreds of hours, failed to wear on me – but that style is merely the beautiful wrapper of one of the deepest, most satisfying, most perfectly-designed gaming experiences I have ever had in my fucking life
And it’ll be out next week, so yes, I’m buying it a third time.  Happily.  Proudly.  Still on a handheld, now with a bigger screen!
Iconoclasts - January 23rd - PS4, Vita, PC, Mac, Linux

A gorgeous 2D action-platformer, Iconoclasts is a story-driven tech/fantasy adventure with lovely sprite animation and a color palette that looks at the rainbow and says “yes, all of that, please.”  Being a good-looking 2D sprite-based action-platformer is generally all I need to know to be sold on a game, and knowing that this one boasts over 20 huge boss fights and a big focus on narrative makes it a day-one.  That, and the fact that it’s launching on Vita. 
Celeste - January 25 - PS4, Switch, One, PC, Mac

Celeste is a pixel-art pure 2D platformer from the dev team behind celebrated multiplayer indie TowerFall.  What it lacks in resolution it makes up in lovely animation, and the promise of hundreds of stages of cruelly demanding, razor-sharp platforming.  Will it be a pleasurable Rayman Legends or a punishing Super Meat Boy?  I’ll find out soon.
Bayonetta, and also Bayonetta 2! - February 16th - Switch

Bayonetta is one of the best brawlers of the last decade, full stop – and I say this having only played the first game’s sub-par PS3 port back in the day.  In my gamer heart its only competition for the genre’s throne is Ninja Theory’s underrated DmC: Devil May Cry, but it’s easy to lean towards Bayonetta when you consider its insanely vibrant, weird art direction, silly tone and frame-perfect, insanely deep combat system.  I – like many – never played the critically-acclaimed Wii-U exclusive Bayonetta 2, and both will be running on my Switch in a liiitle over a month. 
God, yes.  This one’s at the very pinnacle of my hype list.
Far Cry 5 - March 27 - PS4, One, PC

Ubisoft have consistency problems, it’s true (Assassin’s Creed, Rayman), but their Far Cry franchise hasn’t let me down since they gave it a new coat of paint and a bunch of satisfying RPG mechanics and combat abilities with Far Cry 3 in 2012.  Far Cry 4 was pleasurably more of the same, and they’ve stretched the name out of its comfort zone with the zany 90s love letter Far Cry: Blood Dragon and the satisfyingly polished and gorgeous Far Cry Primal, which moved the series’ basic structure to caveman days, gave you a bow and a spear and said “go nuts.”
I’ve yet to find myself disappointed in a Far Cry title and muscle memory in Overwatch be damned, I’m gonna’ have to check this out. 
Dark Souls Remastered - May 25th - PS4, One, PC and Switch

Dark Souls remains the most-perfect title in the Souls series, in competition only with Bloodborne for the very pinnacle of From Software’s now-legendary subgenre of hardcore action RPGs, and in four short months, I will be able to play this thing on a handheld I am freaking out
 
God of War - Q1 2018 - PS4
Chamberlain and I both cited God of War as hypeworthy on the podcast this week, but if I’m being honest, it’s fairly low on my list.  I kind of begrudge Sony’s recent spate of story-and-presentation-over-gameplay that we see in the pretty-darn-good Uncharted 4 and Lost Legacy, and the shitty narratives of David Cage games – and I fear that will be applied to literally the only western franchise that could compete with Devil May Cry or Bayonetta for the brawler throne
What little gameplay we’ve seen has a bit of promise to it, but I won’t know how good it feels to kill monsters in 2018’s God of War until I go hands-on with it.  Worth noting – this is the first game Sony’s legendary Santa Monica studio has produced for the current gen.  The studio’s been mostly-silent since the middling God of War: Ascension on PS3, acting instead as an incubator for pretentious indies like The Hidden Swan or whatever that stupid game was.  In the Good News category, though, this year’s God of War is helmed by Corly Barlog – the creator of the best God of War stories in the series (2, Ghost of Sparta) – so that, at least, is very promising. 

...and I've gotta' say, I have a real soft spot in my heart for Kratos.  
Red Dead Redemption 2 - 2018 - PS4, One, PC

Every time we talk about Rockstar on the podcast, the company’s hellacious working conditions tend to hang heavy over the conversation – and it’s true, Rockstar are awful to their employees, by all accounts – but it’s also true that Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Bully, Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto V are standard-setting games that no other development studio in the industry can even begin to compete with.  They’re too huge, too grand, too beautiful, too ambitious and generally too well-executed for any other studio to compete with, and you can bet your ass I’ll be playing RDR2 day-one like everyone else.   If nothing less, the last game absolutely nailed the romance of the spaghetti western, and I anticipate this one will, too. 
The studio’s weakness has always been its action, relying more on context and visual style than pleasurable mechanics, and in the wake of absolutely excellent-feeling open-world action games like Dying Light and Horizon: Zero Dawn, I imagine that’ll be harder to ignore, this time around – but what if they’ve actually risen to the occasion…?
Hollow Knight on Switch - 2018

Alex was first to this particular party and his love for it has no end.  My cheap laptop can’t quite do the game justice, so I’ve been waiting patiently for Hollow Knight’s console debut on the Switch, which is absolutely my ideal place for it. 
A cute-yet-mournful cartoony aesthetic, somewhere between Studio Ghibli and an old Tim Burton cartoon, belies Hollow Knight’s towering challenge and the razor-sharpness of its controls, platforming and combat.  It’s a 2D sprite-based game with luscious hand-drawn animation (!), it’s a platformer (!), it’s got a heavy emphasis on combat (!), it’s an action-RPG (!), a Metroidvania (!), and whenever anyone talks about it, they bring up Dark Souls (!!!).  If any game in 2018 is in competition with Bayonetta on Switch for the highest heights of personal hype, it’s Hollow Knight on Switch.
Can’t bloody wait. 
Darksiders 3 - 2018 (apparently) - PS4, One

There are very few modern riffs on Zelda that I genuinely love – Okami is the only other name that belongs in the same sentence with Darksiders, in my opinion.    I strongly doubt Darksiders 3 will actually drop in 2018, but if it does, I remain absolutely ravenous for a dark, bloody pulp-90s-fantasy-comics take on the Zelda formula of action and adventure. 
 
Indivisible - 2018 - PS4, One, Switch, PC

I was unable to fall in love with the by-all-accounts-excellent fighter Skullgirls from Lab Zero, but the studio’s ambitious single-player follow-up Indivisible is precisely my cup of tea.  A 2D hand-drawn RPG with a combat system pulled from Valkyrie Profile and modernized with floats and aerial combos, I was sold on Indivisible mere moments after booting up the PS4 demo that appeared halfway through the game’s crowdfunding campaign.  I’ll be a little surprised if this gorgeous adventure actually appears this calendar year, but if it does I and my Switch will be all up in its biz. 
 
Children of Morta - 2018, they say - PC, PS4, Vita... but probably not Vita...

A top-down action-RPG Rougelike with pixel-art sprites, Children of Morta follows the exploits of a single family tasked with keeping the peace on an evil mountain infested with creatures of the night.  Its Kickstarter campaign hit its Vita stretch goal, but the dev has been silent the last few years on whether or not the game will actually come to Sony’s handheld.  If it doesn’t?  Screw it.  If it does – or if it ends up on Switch?  Day one.  This looks awesome. 
 
Guacamelee 2 - 2018 - PS4, PC

Toronto’s  Drinkbox Studios have kind of become luminaries of the Canadian Indie scene, worthy of standing alongside studios like Capybara Games and Tribute, and perhaps one day even the venerable Klei Entertainment.  Their games have always been good (Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack!!!) when they’re not absolutely excellent (Guacamelee, Severed).  After striking out into left field with last year’s incredible-but-not-quite-successful Severed, Drinkbox is returning to what is undoubtedly the most uniformly pleasurable name in its library with Guacamelee 2.  Guacamelee remains one of the best, funnest, most beautiful and enjoyable Metroidvanias in years, shaming modern contemporaries like Shadow Complex and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet with how consistently delightful and rewarding a game can be. 
I anticipate Guacamelee 2 to simply be more of the same, and if it merely manages that it’ll be one of the best games of 2018.
Days Gone - 2018, apparently - PS4

We’ve seen two fairly large gameplay demos that were mostly about how the zombies in the modern-survival-post-apocalypse world of Days Goneare an (un)living force of nature, with hundreds of dashing freaks flowing over the landscape like crashing waves of flesh in pursuit of our heroes or led into our foes – Chamberlain called it “a tech demo” for the World War Z style zombie flood – but what always interested me, more, was the fact that it seemed like a story-driven action-adventure with survival and crafting aspects in a triple-A open world with, yes, zombies. 
I wanna’ see more gameplay, but the last time Sony invested heavily in triple-A open-world games (Gravity Rush 2, Horizon: Zero Dawn), it worked out very, very well, thank you very much. 
Dragon Quest 11 - 2018 - PS4, 3DS, Switch

Full disclosure: I’ve never played a Dragon Quest game in my life.  I don’t count Dragon Quest Builders
Full disclosure: Look at this screenshot.  Look at it.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 - 2018 - PS4, One, Switch

Valkyria Chronicles 4 largely reeks of too little, too late for me after the universally-panned Valkyria Revolution last year that I didn’t even deign to taste.  This, I imagine, it what Sonic fans experience on an annual basis – I am currently in the “hope” phase of the cycle, imagining all the ways Valkyria Chronicles 4 could be awesome (an actually-mature plot!  A thoughtful meditation on cost of war, not just to humans, but to our humanity itself!  Gorgeous manga-lookin’ presentation!  A deep, satisfying mix of turn-based action and military tactics!  A richly-drawn squad of interesting characters!  Heartwarming comedy!).  But this is Sega, and if Sega is best at anything, it’s disappointing its fans. 
…but I want to believe.  I want to believe. 
 
Metro Exodus - 2018 - PS4, One, PC

I abandoned Metro 2033 at the infamous “Big Mama fight,” where the game autosaved right before an absolutely brutal bossfight with no way to source the necessary ammo for the punishing encounter ahead.  Then, after snarling and snapping at Big Mama for an entire evening, finally defeating her, and moving on to the next section, I shut my PS4 down for the night, satisfied.
The next day I booted it up again, and discovered my save put me… right in front of that goddamned fight, again, with the same pittance of ammunition I’d suffered the night before.
Uninstalled it.  F that noise. 
But
But Metro remains a very rich and interesting post-apocalyptic world.  But it’s so gorgeous.  But its weapons are these weighty, physical, barely-held-together homemade monsters, with hand-pressed bullets and wax-sealed shotgun shells that are always in far-too-short supply.  It’s on the list, but I’ll… probably wait for reviews of this one. 

And finally, an honorable mention...
 
Anthem - Q4 2018, apparently - PS4, One, PC

After BioWare Montreal offered the tepid Mass Effect: Andromeda, we learned what the original BioWare studio (Mass Effect 1-3) was actually up to – Anthem, an open-world co-op third-person sci-fi shooter action-RPG.  At first blush, Anthem looks like the game Bungie insisted Destiny would be, and while Chamberlain would rightfully point out that BioWare’s shooting couldn’t possibly find itself on par with Bungie’s, I think I’m also correct in suggesting that if anyone is going to nail the romance and fantasy of a colossal space opera, it’s gonna’ be BioWare.
Fingers crossed. 
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Disclaimer: I'm sure there's tons I forgot but Bayonetta on Switch oh my gorsh!

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