Friday, January 20, 2012

My Top 10 Upcoming Games For 2012

I've already gone over my favorite games of 2011, and now (in keeping with tradition) I've decided to list my top 10 upcoming video games that are scheduled for release in 2012. Keep in mind that all dates are tentative. Very few of these games even have set release dates (only two to be precise) and you never even know what could happen with those, let alone the ones that are just "2012" or something similarly vague. It is more than likely that several of these games will wind up getting pushed back into 2013, but for the purpose of this list I'm using games that as of right now (January 2012) are supposed to be coming out sometime this year. Also keep in mind that the world is going to end in December, so if you decide to get/play any of these games set your schedule up to have adequate play time before that happens. You're welcome.

10. South Park: The Game - Xbox 360, PS3, PC - "Second-half" of 2012
I am excited for this game, but with some major reservations. Don't get me wrong, I love South Park. It's definitely one of my favorite TV shows of all-time. What I'm worried about is whether or not the game will stay true to the South Park spirit, and more importantly whether or not it will be a good game. It's an RPG, which is an interesting format for a South Park game, and so far it looks like Obsidian (the company developing the game) is going about making it the right way. But Obsidian does not have my full confidence: they've made some okay games based on other people's game engines (Knights of the Old Republic II, Fallout: New Vegas), but they've also made some pretty bad games when using their own tech (Alpha Protocol). Overall I'd say their history of game development over the past few years has been mediocre at best. Hopefully Obsidian will knock this one out of the park, but for now I'm (very) cautiously optimistic.

9. Tomb Raider - Xbox 360, PS3, PC - Third Quarter (Fall) 2012

I've never been a huge Tomb Raider fan, but I appreciate the franchise for the impact it's had on gaming, and from what I've seen of this reboot so far it looks awesome (mainly the preview they showed at last year's E3). It looks a lot more like a survival-horror game (think Resident Evil-ish) than your normal Tomb Raider game, which I think is a great direction to take a franchise that has gotten pretty stale in recent years. The game features a much younger Lara Croft who is just getting started on her tomb raiding career, and the preview they showed was very gritty and downright scary at some parts. We'll see if they can keep that up for the course of a whole game and not just one 10 minute demo, but if they can it will make for one hell of an action/adventure/survival-horror game.

8. Journey - PS3 (via PSN) - Spring 2012

Journey is a semi-indie game from the makers of the indie hit Flower, which (like Journey will be) is only available on the PS3 by downloading it from the PSN. While there's still a lot of mystery about this game, it seems like it's a third person adventure game with a very cool art style (see the picture above - that's actually a screenshot from the game). You are making a journey through a massive desert to reach something at the end, and along the way you'll encounter puzzles, obstacles, and even other players. There's an interesting co-op feature where you will occasionally randomly come across other players in the same area as you. You cannot connect with your friends or even use any kind of voice chat or text chat, but (if you like) you and this other random player can try to figure out a way to help each other with some of the puzzles in the world. This game will probably only be a few hours long, seeing as how it's a downloadable game, but that also means that it will probably only cost around $15.

7. Borderlands 2 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC - End of 2012/Beginning of 2013

Borderlands was a game that was great if you were playing with two or three of your friends and you were all almost exactly the same level. That being said, it had some problems too. Hopefully Borderlands 2 will keep the good things from the first game and fix most (if not all) of the problems. From what they've revealed and what I've heard so far things are looking pretty good though. Either way, assuming you have a couple of friends that will be picking this up too, a good time is all but guaranteed. Plus, I would pay $60 just to hear Claptrap talk for like 20 hours. Nice.

6. Guild Wars 2 - PC - 2012

As I've stated before I'm not usually a big MMO fan (besides my current obsession with Old Republic), but this game looks like it's really trying to innovate in the MMO genre, perhaps even more so than Old Republic has. Besides just the graphics and gameplay looking really nice, this game looks like it will be taking interactive storytelling to the next level for an MMO. Choices you make during missions not only affect your own story down the line (like Old Republic), but they can also affect entire areas around you. For example, while you're in town someone (a computer controlled character) might run up to you and beg for your help: his village is about to be attacked by goblins and they won't be able to fight them off. The goblins are almost ready to attack but his village is the next one over, so if you hurry you may be able to make it in time to drive them off. But if you choose not to go, the village can actually be taken over by the goblins, meaning that you and other players will have to fight them off before you can rest there, use shops, turn in quests, etc. If that game mechanic works the way it's supposed to it will make Guild Wars 2 incredibly interesting to play. Also, with Guild Wars 2 there is no monthly subscription fee. You pay the $50-$60 up front for the game but then you never have to pay again to play it. Subscription fees stop a lot of people from playing MMOs, so the fact that this doesn't have one means you'll probably get a lot of people buying the game who don't normally play MMOs (like myself).

5. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning - Xbox 360, PS3, PC - February 7

This is the game that's being made by famous MLB pitcher Curt Schilling and a bunch of other "big names". Besides Schilling, who's the head and founder of 38 Studios (the company developing the game), he's recruited R.A. Salvatore (one of my favorite fantasy authors from back when I used to know how to read) to write the story and the lore for the world (Amalur); Ken Rolston, who's claim to fame is being the lead designer of both Morrowind and Oblivion, and Todd McFarlane (who worked for Marvel and created the comic series Spawn) to be in charge of the art style. As far as fantasy video games go that just about as close as you can get to a star studded cast. Besides all the hype, what I've seen from the game does look very cool and promising, so I'm definitely excited for this one.

4. Diablo III - PC, Mac; Possibly Xbox and/or PS3 - 2012

I've only played a little Diablo in the past, but the quality of Blizzard's games makes anything they put out command attention, and Diablo (like all of Blizzard's other current franchises) has been beloved for decades. Diablo III looks like it will be no different in terms of quality and addictive hack and slash fun. A lot of the new ideas they're implementing seem pretty interesting and will most likely raise the bar for the hack and slash/RPG genre. It also seems that as time has gone on Blizzard has become more and more interested in telling a good story in their games (StarCraft II being a great example), and I would expect Diablo III to keep pushing forward with that.

Also, while this game is obviously coming to PC, there's been a lot of talk recently that Blizzard might be making it for consoles as well. Blizzard has admitted they've been looking into the possibility of making it for consoles, but beyond that it's all rumors and hearsay. So as of right now no one knows for sure whether it'll also be coming to Xbox, PS3, or both.

3. BioShock Infinite - Xbox 360, PS3, PC - 2012

Coming from the makers of the universally acclaimed BioShock (not BioShock 2, which was created by another developer), BioShock Infinite leaves behind the dark, damp hallways of Rapture and takes us to a literal city in the clouds: Columbia. Not only are the storytelling and characters guaranteed to be top notch, the atmosphere of the game, although much different from past BioShocks, seems like it will be just as intriguing as the first game. The gameplay also looks fast paced and like it will be a lot of fun. I've seen numerous interviews about the ideas behind this game and the direction they wanted to go in (including a live discussion with Ken Levine and some of the development team at last year's PAX East), and every time I get more details this game just gets more and more fantastic looking. Definitely can't wait for this one.

2. StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm - PC, Mac - 2012 (maybe)

There's no definite release time frame for this game yet, and while Blizzard has said it will be out sometime this year I wouldn't be surprised to see it get pushed back into 2013. Even if it does come out this year it will most likely be at the end of the year. Even so, I am still extremely excited for the next chapter in the StarCraft saga. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (the Terran campaign) blew me away and consumed a lot of my time in 2010/2011. Most of this was time playing the online multiplayer, but the single player campaign was also fun and very well made, which is something you don't often find in a RTS. My hopes are that not only will Heart of the Swarm (which will be the Zerg campaign) match the quality of Wings of Liberty but will even exceed it. To be honest, although I'm very excited for this game, the one I'm really waiting for is Legacy of the Void, which (as of right now) is the name for the Protoss campaign that will be the final one released. But that is still years away, so the Zerg will have to keep me busy until then.

1. Mass Effect 3 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC - March 6

Mass Effect 2 was my favorite game of 2010, and now Mass Effect 3 is my most anticipated game of 2012. That's not a coincidence. I really enjoyed the first Mass Effect, but Mass Effect 2 really set a new standard for cinematic action/RPG games. The RPG elements were present but not complicated or intrusive enough to have to spend hours learning the rules and sorting your inventory, and the action was smooth, visceral, and satisfying. Those two elements, combined with a great story and superb characters combined to make one of my favorite games of all-time, and each of these elements should be even better in Mass Effect 3. If that is indeed what happens, then this game would (in my mind) have to be the best game of this console generation (which will probably be coming to an end in another year or two). The expectations (at least mine) are ridiculously high, so this game has a lot to live up to. And that could very well be its downfall. But I have faith that the people at Bioware will end the story of Commander Shepard and the Reaper invasion with a proper farewell. Commander Shepard and his team aboard the Normandy deserve no less.

With any luck, 2012 should be another great year for video gaming enthusiasts (which I'm assuming you are if you actually read this far into this post). When I look back at My Top 11 Upcoming Games For 2011, there were definitely several disappointments. Brink, Duke Nukem Forever, Dragon Age II, and Rage turned out to be letdowns, and while Battlefield 3 was decent it wasn't exactly the revolutionary modern war shooter I was hoping for. But there were some great games that more than made up for the bad ones. There's a good chance that one or more of the games on this list won't live up to the hype, but overall I'm convinced that 2012 will have at least a few gems (especially games number 1-4 on this list).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My Top 5 Games For 2011 (and more!)

The year 2011 has come and gone, and was a great year for video games. We saw a lot of great releases throughout the year and, as usual, especially around the holiday season. Unfortunately my free time was tragically cut short around halfway through the year, so I don't have nearly as much time to play video games as I once did. Because of this I've had to limit my selection based on free time (and money) to certain games (pick and choose my battles, if you will). So instead of a top 10, this year I present you with my Top 5 Games of 2011. Out of all the games I played this year, these five are my favorites. Keep in mind that I only include a game in lists like these if I feel I've played it enough to adequately review and judge it (which usually means "beating" it). The below are ranked in order, with #1 being my "Game of the Year". After the top 5 list I'll also give a few honorable mentions, some games that may have made the list if I had had time to play them, and a few of the letdowns from this year (there were unfortunately several).

We'll start with my Top 5 Games of the Year:


5. Dead Space 2 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC - January 25

I'm not usually a fan of the horror genre, but I've come to realize that that may be the reason I'm so drawn to the Dead Space franchise. Besides the fact that they're great games with good stories, great atmosphere and setting, and very fun gameplay, a game like Dead Space 2 wouldn't normally be something I'd enjoy. It's outside of my comfort zone, and while I naturally like my comfort zone, it's nice to try something different once in a while. It's almost like a personal mark of pride for myself that I can say I've beaten every Dead Space game that's come out so far (yes, even the on-rails one for Wii). And while they're great games and I thoroughly enjoy pretty much everything about them, I do have to admit that I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I beat Dead Space 2. Playing games where you don't always have to worry about aliens popping out of dark at you is much easier and much less stressful. Dead Space 2 is not one of those games.

4. Batman: Arkham City - Xbox 360, PS3, PC - October 18

"Gimme yo' heads!"

Following up on the hit game Batman: Arkham Asylum, Arkham City puts you in a larger, open world, adds more classic characters, and improves on the (very) few flaws from Arkham Asylum. My one complaint about Arkham Asylum was the combat, and I felt that it flowed more smoothly and was easier to master in Arkham City. The setting, story, side missions, characters, voice acting, and gameplay are all great... and I mean, come on, it's Batman. What more could you ask for?

3. Portal 2 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC - April 19


Portal 2 has the distinction of being the funniest game I've ever played. As someone who loves humor and comedy, that's a big deal for me. And when you add that and the great characters in the game (most of them new) to the awesome gameplay mechanics and puzzle design you get something really special. The new co-op mode is a lot of fun and works really well too. I played through this game almost three times this year, and while it admittedly isn't as long as most of the other games on this list (especially after you beat it the first time), that really says something about the kind of experience you get when you play this game.

2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Xbox 360, PS3, PC - November 11

One of the most epic games I've ever played. The world is beautiful and perfectly constructed. The stories and quests are very good, and the combat, while still a little rough in spots, is definitely a step up from Oblivion. And while that stuff is all great, the main reason I play the Elder Scrolls games (and Fallout for that matter) is for the expertly crafted huge open world. Most RPGs are all about going from quest to quest, advancing both the story and the side missions, and leveling up in the process. And while that is a big part of Skyrim, the beauty of this game is the ability to just explore the world and see what secrets you can find hidden away in the mountains of Skyrim (the name of the game is also the area in which it takes place). The game has a quick travel option to go from place to place, but I often find myself not wanting to use it. I'd much rather spend the extra time walking to my next destination and seeing what kind of awesome stuff happens along the way (like defending myself from a dragon attack), or what I can discover (like another hidden dungeon). This game is truly a masterpiece in an already fabled franchise.

*another, more dramatic drumroll*

1. Star Wars: The Old Republic - PC - December 20

Deciding between this and Skyrim for my #1 game was a tough decision that took me several weeks to come to. Both games earned the right to hold that title, and in fact when I first drafted this list I had Skyrim number one and Old Republic number two. But as I continued to play Old Republic I gradually changed my mind. Because it's an MMO, Old Republic has a built-in advantage of being able to play with your friends, which is always a good thing. All MMOs have that going for them, but what really sets Old Republic apart is that I find myself wanting to play it even when none of my friends are online (even over Skyrim, which is made to be only a single player game). I messed around with WoW back in the day, and more recently played Rift and a few other free-to-play MMOs, and while they're all fun in their own way I never experienced this with any of them.

Old Republic mixes all that's great about MMOs with a story that works a lot like Mass Effect does (another game by Bioware). There are still your usual MMO fetch quests (i.e. go here and kill 15 of these, or collect 6 of these and return to me), but where the game really stands out are its "class quests". These quests advance a story and introduce supporting characters that stay with you the rest of the game. And your choices in these quests matter: like Mass Effect you usually have a choice to be good or evil, and whatever you pick affects what happens in your story down the road. There are 8 different classes (4 for each faction) all with original and unique stories that span from level 1 all the way to level 50 (the max level right now). I haven't beaten any of them yet, but I'm a good chunk into 2 of them (out of 8) and they're both really good so far. And from what I hear from other players and online, all 8 are very well made (in the Bioware tradition). You basically get 8 Mass Effect-type stories in one game, and best of all it's set in the Star Wars universe (which I'm also a big fan of). All that mixed with the space combat (which is a fun diversion) and the ability to play with several friends makes this my choice as my favorite game of 2011.

Honorable Mentions:

Rift - Wasn't as captivating as Old Republic, but was fun and had a lot of good ideas I wish other MMOs (including Old Republic) would steal.

L.A. Noire - A very interesting game; it tried a lot of new things and they worked out. Some parts were repetitive, but the interrogations, the story, and most of the action was great.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - This game had some problems, but overall I really liked it and found most of it to be a lot of fun. Here's hoping for a sequel where they keep all the good stuff and iron out all the problems.

Games that may have made my top 5 list if I had had time to play them:

This is my way of giving props to games that probably deserve a spot on the list but that I unfortunately haven't gotten a chance to play yet.

-Dark Souls
-Gears of War 3
-Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
-The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

The Letdowns

And, last but definitely least, the letdowns. Every year there are a few games that I (and many others) look forward to but unfortunately fail to meet most expectations. These aren't necessarily bad games (although many times they are). They're just... well, letdowns.

Brink - Bought this game for like $10 on sale about two months after it came out. That should tell you something.

Duke Nukem Forever - This game has been $10 for months now, and I still haven't bought it. That should really tell you something.

Dragon Age II - Not a terrible game, but for the most part it was overwhelmingly average. The characters (Bioware's specialty) were still good, but that was probably the only real bright spot in the game. The story was only okay and the environments and combat were damn near terrible. Definitely did not live up to expectations or the standard set by the first game.

Rage - Another one that wasn't all bad; in fact it started out really well. The graphics and gameplay were great, but the story started out decent and only got worse and worse until the ending, which is one of the worst endings for any game ever. The game just ends. Like stops. All of a sudden, you just win. And for a game that was in development for like five years, it's insultingly short. The "open world" is a lie and the multiplayer is not worth playing. The racing is an okay diversion but is pretty shallow and gets old pretty quick. Rage had a lot of potential but ultimately failed to reach it, or really even come close.

And there you have it: my list(s) for 2011. As always I value and appreciate any feedback, so feel free to post any comments or opinions you might have.