It's that time again, folks. Welcome to the Games I'm Looking Forward To editorial, where I discuss games I have on my radar, as well as the industry as a whole.
The gaming industry never ceases to surprise and interest me. I've seen two new major trends develop since I last wrote a discussion post; game quality consistency and motion controls. I'll start with the latter.
I hear people complain and scoff at the Wii all the time. From what I've heard, it's attach rate (amount of people that actually continue to regularly play the console months after buying it) is incredibly low compared to other consoles, which makes sense since the system was essentially pitched on a single gimmick (it's surpassed by other platforms in pretty much every other way); motion controls. Complain all you want people, that idea Nintendo managed to evoke through a gigantic marketing push has stuck, which is why the Wii has been soaring over other consoles since the very beginning of this generation, in terms of sales, despite the 360's one year head start. While it is starting to wane significantly (the PS3 surpassed it in sales once or twice in the past couple months), there's no doubt that this has been a very profitable little venture for Nintendo. As a result, we've also seen a change in the Big N, one that's not so necessarily positive. Having apparently grown fat from their success, Nintendo seems content to spend most of their time remaking and reiterating on their classic franchises. Money that could have been spent on development resources for more innovation, or new IPs is instead dumped into advertising, making sure everybody on the planet and their grandma has heard of the Wii. This is an unhealthy thing, because compared to other platforms, the Wii's 3rd party support is very poor. AAA games made by devs outside of Nintendo only come once in a blue moon, it seems, and with the Wii's own 1st-party support losing steam as well, the other reputation it's gained (for spawning mostly poor-quality motion games) will also stick. If Nintendo doesn't step up their game, the Wii will become a sinking ship. With its fad-like status dying out, the system's flaws (stripped down online multiplayer, lack of processing power, etc.) are beginning to tug that much harder.
Nevertheless, the Wii has had the same effect on gaming that the iPhone had on mobile devices. Now we have Sony and Microsoft jumping on the motion control bandwagon, trying to get a piece of Nintendo's success. Microsoft is at least going bold with Project Natal, which promises hands-free gaming, while Sony makes their own version of the Wiimote with the Playstation Move, which uses the PSEye in combination with a wand-like controller for 1:1 precision. Personally, I think they're both going to flop. The reason Nintendo's strategy worked so incredibly well is because they worked hard at giving the Wii a friendly and casual image, making it highly approachable by even the most technology fearing of consumers. The PS3 and Xbox 360 don't have that image, though they're both working at it. While Microsoft replicates Nintendo's advertising approach, trying to draw users in an idyllic setting, Sony's been getting some success with their comedic "It Only Does Everything" ad campaign.
But both of them jumped on a little too late, I think. Neither systems have the wide public appeal to match the Wii's, and the limited number of consumer dollars (particularly in the current economy) indicates they never well.
Another concern I have is support. Whereas the Wii remote is the Wii's primary control accessory, both Natal and Playstation Move are accessories, meaning it's highly likely that support for them will be limited at best after the initial wave of software. Sony in particular is noted for releasing peripherals and not pushing to support them later on (EyeToy, PS Eye, PS2 Net adapter). Both are also releasing at a fairly high price, with Natal supposedly looking at a $100-$200 price point, and Playstation Move probably looking to be around $60-80. Not a good thing in the eyes of the casual audience, who probably look at the price tag first and the experience second (another reason the Wii excelled; it was and still is the cheapest console of the generation, and is low maintenance).
Software is what will obviously make or break Sony and Microsoft's motion control solutions, which brings me to my other observation. You just can't afford to make a bad game anymore. The guys on Joystiq have said it a few times, and I agree. Games are taking longer to develop, leading to larger costs. Most companies can't afford to dump resources into a game and have it tank, so their only option is to make quality games. We've seen evidence of this with EA and THQ, both of which have shaped up significantly this generation. EA, which used to be disliked almost as much as Activision is now, has started taking in new IPs, and making larger strides to improve on their already existing franchises. The result is a truly quality sports release once or twice a year, and fantastically innovative games like Army of Two, Mirror's Edge and Bioware's Dragon Age: Origins. THQ is precisely the same way, with interesting new games like Darksiders and the Saboteur.
Just look at this past spring; we had Final Fantasy XIII. We had Bad Company 2. We had Mass Effect 2, Heavy Rain, God of War III, and Splinter Cell Conviction. To a lesser extent, there's the afore-mentioned Darksiders, and incredibly fun Bayonetta, and we've got excellent games like Red Dead Redemption just around the corner. There's so many games of excellent quality being released within such a relatively small time frame, it's astonishing. And with games like Assassin's Creed II, Modern Warfare 2 and Uncharted 2 releasing last fall, there's been no downtime. People like myself are finding themselves with a backlog full of AAA games just released within the least six months. We don't have time to even bat an eyelash at mediocre releases, much less spend our money on them. And it doesn't look like the torrent is going to let up. Going into summer, we have Metroid: Other M, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Alan Wake, Lost Planet 2, Modnation Racers and Split/Second to look forward to, taking us right back into the fall/holiday season, which is always known to be the prowling ground for the best games the industry has to offer. I'll say it again; if your game doesn't stand out, it tanks, and you lose significantly. It's a sad thing to see a studio close or go under, but current industry standards demand a high level of quality, at least in retail releases.
Some think this may become a hurdle for Japanese developers in particular. I think developers like Square-Enix, Capcom and Koei are having some trouble striking a balance between Japanese and Western influences. Prime examples of this are Resonance of Fate (or Star Ocean, come to think of it) and Final Fantasy XIII. While I consider both to great efforts, and probably great games, the former is sometimes criticized for it's blatant Japanese tendencies, while the former was seen as SE trying too hard to please Westerners.
Finally, one last discussion point: downloadable games. Digital Distribution has introduced a new, cost-effective method of making a decent game and not risking being completely financially overwhelmed if it does't sell as well as you hoped. While most people still favor having full-length games in boxes, the lack of retail costs (disc manufacturing, box licensing, retailer fees, etc.) makes selling smaller, value-priced games a safe proposition. As a result, we've also seen a lot of innovation on the downloadable game front. As they cost much less to develop and sell, devs are able to take bolder, more creative approaches to games without fear of being devastated by low sales. The epitome of this, perhaps, is the iPhone App Store, which features games of literally all kinds of flavors at prices that make $10 seem outrageous.
Anyway, here's the list.
-Lost Planet 2; Mechs, 3rd person shooting, engaging co-op and competitive multiplayer..the only thing holding this game back is Capcom's stubbornly old-fashioned gameplay tendencies. Your character moves as slow as molasses, and takes forever to get even the simplest things done, like climb into a mech, or activate a data post. While I have no doubt it'll still be a blast to play, here's a game that could do with some more modern gameplay styles.
-Modnation Racers; If Mario Kart and LittleBigPlanet had a baby, you'd get something pretty close to this. It's a kart racer that gives you the freedom to make your own characters, your own karts, and even your own tracks! That alone is awesome in itself, but the devs also promised a full multiplayer suite, featuring 12 player online races, 2-4 player splitscreen, and even splitscreen online. Like LittleBigPlanet, you'll also be able to upload and download custom made karts and tracks. I don't get what's not to like, unless you don't like kart racers.
-LA Noire; Done right, this game should be nothing short of splendid. And so far, it looks like it's being done right. From what I understand, you basically play a detective in the mid-20th century, solving dark cases and such, looking for clues. I dunno, the mere concept seems great, so I don't need a lot of details just yet for this make my list.
-Castle Crashers; An original XBLA-exclusive, Castle Crashers is a wacky 4-player hack n' slash that sports a surprising amount of replay value. Can't wait to take it for a spin.
-Split/Second; Bluntly put, this looks like Burnout, with more explosions. You race through a multitude of urban environments while building up energy to initiate "powerplays", which trigger [possibly] track-altering explosions, that can also interfere with your opponents, or destroy them altogether.
-Red Dead Redemption; While I have my reservations about a shooting game set in the Wild West, RDR seems to have all the trappings of a good game: Interesting multiplayer, a convincing and well-realized game world, and overall plenty of things to do.
-Transformers: War for Cybertron; As very little as I know about the game, I so dearly want it to be good, because mechs beating the crap out of each other is always a great thing to see and play.
-Armored Core 5; Once more: Mechs beating the crap out of each other is always a great thing.
-The Grinder; As generic as it sounds, the Grinder will have co-op, so it's already getting points with me. And I've known HVS to make fairly quality stuff recently, even though they seem to operate on a schedule similar to Valve time.
-Batman: Arkham Asylum 2; Since there's still no real footage or solid info about the game, I can only build my anticipation of how good the first one was. Good thing the first one was excellent.
-The Last Guardian; From the same people that tugged on the heartstrings of gamers everywhere with Shadow of the Colossus and Ico, we have the Last Guardian. If nothing else, the game's visual fidelity was beautiful, and that was just in an early build shown at last year's E3. I've no doubt this'll be another experience to remember.
-Sonic 4; I wouldn't mind picking this up for sheer nostalgia. Besides, it looks like basically Sonic Rush adapted to HD. Heck, why not?
-Assassin's Creed III; Ubisoft was dropping hints about this a few months back, but now it's completely dropped off the radar. Deep in development, no doubt. After AC2 though, I'm more than willing to take another dip in the Animus.
-Resistance 3; It's coming, we all know it is. Just a matter of when Insomniac decides to announce it.
-Uncharted 3; Making a sequel to what is literally the PS3's killer app and system seller right now is a no-brainer, though I suspect it'll be at least a year before we start hearing real stuff about it, if they don't mention it at E3.
-Final Fantasy Versus XIII; This game looks badass, so get it done SE. Or at least start talking more about it. They've already indicated that VersusXIII is what the FF team has moved on to though (what with XIII out of the way), so I think we'll be hearing a lot more about it in the near future, particularly at E3. I'm still curious what the heck happened to Agito. Not that I really care, but are they still even making it?
-EDIT**LittleBigPlanet 2; It was worth editing this post just to add in this spectacular entry. The first game let you make your own levels; the second game will let you make your own GAMES. That's not an exaggeration.
-Sin and Punishment: Star Successor; Nothing particularly special about this game. It just looks like a really good time. After all, a shoot em up with co-op is always a good time.
-Metroid: Other M; Whenever I contemplate selling my Wii, this is really the only thing that stands in defense of keeping it. A game set to show both Samus's more personal side, and her more brutal side? Sign me up. There's still a lot about this game that's still up in the air, I think. Like how well it balances 3rd person action, classic Metroid side scrolling, and typical shooting. And then there's the plot..
-Epic Micky; I get the same vibe from this game that I get from Kingdom Hearts; that is, classic Disney characters portrayed in a new and interesting way. The Wii could certainly use more twisted games like this.
-Super Mario Galaxy 2; Like the first SMG, I'm having a lot of trouble generating any interest at all for this game. To me, it's just another Mario. It'll have excellent graphics, charming gimmicks, and interesting gameplay, but at its core it's still just a lot of running and jumping.
-Zelda; Besides Metroid Other M and the possibility of a new Star Fox game, this is the only thing from Nintendo that is pulling my interest. And it is pulling it quite fiercely, I might add.
-Mass Effect 3; Bioware has cursed themselves with a reputation for making awesome games. If Mass Effect 3 is a flop, gamers everywhere will cry endless tears, and I will be among them.
-Guild Wars 2; Still waiting, NCSoft...
-Dragon Age 2; I still haven't finished Origins (and haven't even played Awakening), so I don't know if its story can serve as a jumping off point for a sequel, or if Bioware is spinning something fresh. Either way, when you're dealing with Bioware, things can only get better, so I don't see why I shouldn't be looking forward to this.
-Crysis 2; I'm not actually sure whether I'm going to get this on console or PC. On one hand I have more friends to play with on the console, but it'll be cheaper and probably look better on PC. But I think it looks like it'll be a novel game to play on either platform.
-RUSE; For a game with its head buried deep in tactical trickery and strategic decoys, RUSE is surprisingly simple to get into. I played the beta, and it was actually quite fun, and I picked up on most of the game elements very quickly, unusual for an RTS game, and pleasantly surprising for a game with RUSE's premise.