Looking back, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t agree that 2011 was a great year for video games. It was a year that brought us Portal 2, Batman: Arkham City, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Minecraft finally left beta, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 slugged it out in a grudge match for military shooter supremacy, and soon hundreds of thousands of Star Wars fans will be able to visit Tatooine and blast a few Sand People in Star Wars: The Old Republic. But now that the year is coming to a close and we’ve all done some science, improved our kill/death ratios, and filled our Skyrim houses with severed heads, it’s time to start looking forward to 2012. Here, in no particular order, are ten of GamesBeat’s picks for most-anticipated titles of the new year.
The original BioShock, developed by 2K Boston (now known as Irrational Games) in 2007, was an instant classic that introduced gamers to the dystopian underwater city of Rapture, an Ayn Randian experiment in Objectivism gone horribly wrong. The 2010 sequel BioShock 2, developed by 2K Marin, had the unenviable task of living up to the high standards set by its predecessor and was met with generally positive reviews. But with creative director Ken Levine and the team at Irrational back behind the wheel, there is a definite buzz surrounding the development of BioShock: Infinite, which trades the dark ocean depths for the blue skies and American Exceptionalism of the early 1900s.
In Infinite, players take on the role of Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent tasked with rescuing a woman named Elizabeth from the floating, weaponized city of Columbia. Levine says in order to bring Columbia to life, Irrational needed an entirely new game engine, along with brand-new animation and AI systems. It also had to rebuild and expand the arsenal players will use in the game to accommodate indoor and outdoor firefights at 30,000 feet. “The only thing gamers can be certain of is this: the rules of the BioShock universe are about to change,” Levine said.
An ancient alien race called the Reapers is destroying everything in its path. Earth has been captured. The galaxy is on the verge of total annihilation and Commander Shepard is the only one who can save it. No pressure.
The third and final installment in BioWare’s critically-acclaimed sci-fi trilogy will be the culmination of a journey many gamers began four years ago. As Commander Shepard, players will lead a counter assault against the Reapers, deciding along the way which planets to save and which alliances to form or abandon as they battle the alien threat – and they won’t be doing it alone. For the first time ever, multiplayer is coming to the Mass Effect universe. The game will feature a 4-player cooperative mode that lets players take on the role of elite soldiers sent to protect resources and assets needed in the war effort. It will also feature a new system called Galaxy at War, which will link all Mass Effect games and applications back to the single player campaign and the BioWare Social Network.
There should be a giant asterisk next to this game because, hey, it’s Blizzard. This is the same developer that took 12 years to release a StarCraft sequel…and hasn’t finished it yet. Blizzard is a company infamous for taking its time, so I won’t be surprised if Diablo III’s release date gets pushed back. With the game already in closed beta, however, more delays seem unlikely. It shouldn’t be long now before gamers everywhere are once again dungeon delving for shiny loot and challenging the fiends of the Burning Hells. The Diablo series is the granddaddy of point-and-click action role-playing games and Blizzard says it wants to build on everything it’s learned since the release of Diablo II to create the best experience to date.
Master Chief is back!
Although details on the game are scarce, we do know that Halo 4 will supposedly kick off a whole new trilogy for the franchise called the “Reclaimer Trilogy.” It will also be the first game in the series not developed by Bungie. Microsoft Game Studios subsidiary 343 Industries is taking over. According to the official description at Xbox.com, events in the game will take place during the aftermath of Halo 3 and Master Chief will have to “confront his own destiny and face an ancient evil that threatens the fate of the entire universe.”
Gearbox Software’s Borderlands became a breakout hit in 2009, selling several million copies. It was notable for its cel-shaded art style and shoot-and-loot gameplay, as well as its threadbare storyline and dim-witted AI. However, Gearbox says Borderlands 2 will be an epic sequel, and it has an ambitiously crafted story in the works for those who make the return trip to Pandora. The game will also feature all-new characters, skills, environments, enemies, weapons, and equipment. Don’t worry, though, Claptrap and his sexy dance will be back. I know you missed it.
The years have not been kind to hard-boiled New York City detective Max Payne. Sporting a bald head, a dirty wife beater, and what appears to be the beginnings of a beer belly, Max has left the Big Apple to work for a wealthy industrialist and his family in Sao Paulo, Brazil. But when that family is targeted by gangs, the former cop will have to save them, clear his name, and rid himself of the demons of his past. Rockstar says Max Payne 3 will utilize cutting edge technology to create a cinematic action experience, incorporating the latest advances in Natural Motion physics and a brand new iteration of the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine. The game will also feature an extensive range of realistic weaponry, an intelligent cover system and, of course, Bullet Time.
Like Mass Effect 3, Max Payne 3 will be the first title in the series to introduce a multiplayer component. Rockstar says its multiplayer aims to deliver a compelling experience that dynamically alters maps and mode progression for all players in a match, and will include traditional modes along with a deep reward and leveling system, persistent clans, and multiple strategic load-out options.
All we’ve seen of Grand Theft Auto V so far is one teaser trailer, but that hasn’t stopped gamers from already salivating over the thought of causing vehicular mayhem and punching out prostitutes. Rockstar says the fifth entry in the GTA franchise will be a “radical reinvention” and a “bold new direction in open-world freedom, storytelling, mission-based gameplay and online multiplayer.” Players will return to San Andreas, specifically the city of Los Santos, as a former criminal trying to retire from a life of crime. You can guess how well that will go.
The Last Guardian is being developed by Team Ico, the studio responsible for critically-acclaimed cult hits Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Both games are known for their visual aesthetics and their immersive game worlds, and this latest title will likely share the same style, theme, and gameplay mechanics of its predecessors. The Last Guardian is a story about a young boy, a bizarre creature, and the bond they form as they make their way through an unfriendly world, but recent events have gamers wondering if they’ll ever have a chance to experience it. The game was originally scheduled to be released this year, but Team Ico decided to push that date into 2012. The project also recently suffered another blow when its executive producer, Yoshifusa Hayama, left Sony to work for social games developer Bossa Studios. However, Fumito Ueda, the leader of Team Ico and the director of all three of the studio’s games, says he is committed to finishing The Last Guardian.
Lara Croft is a gaming icon. The Guinness Book of World Records has named her the “Most Successful Human Virtual Game Heroine.” She’s even appeared on the cover of Playboy magazine. Developer Crystal Dynamics gave the gun-toting archaeologist a needed shot in the arm with last year’s well-received isometric cooperative adventure Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Now, it hopes to repeat that success with a new reboot.
Tomb Raider will introduce gamers to a young and inexperienced Lara Croft out on her first adventure. The game will be grittier than its predecessors and Crystal Dynamics says we’ll find out just how far Lara will go in order to stay alive. “Forget everything you know about Tomb Raider, we are exploring things that have never been done before in this game,” said studio head Darrell Gallagher. “This is an origins story that creates Lara Croft and takes her on a character defining journey like no other.”
Japanese role-playing game Xenoblade Chronicles has been a critical darling in Japan and Europe, and soon American gamers will get to experience it for themselves. A group called “Operation Rainfall” campaigned for the game’s release in the States and, finally, Nintendo announced earlier this month that it will hit store shelves as a GameStop exclusive sometime in the spring. With the Wii U scheduled to launch next year, Xenoblade Chronicles just might be the original Wii’s swansong.
What’s your most-anticipated game of 2012? Cast your vote in our poll!