(Cont’d from Part One…)
2016 saw the release of a good handful of titles which seemed to be stuck in the perpetual loop known as “Development Hell”. Games like Final Fantasy XV, DOOM, Owlboy, and even The Last Guardian all managed to sneak out and finally see the light of day, but there was another long awaited game that failed to escape the loop, a little game named Nioh, which has actually been in development longer than any of the aforementioned titles were.
Originally announced in 2004, Nioh’s development process has been marred by internal struggles and multiple revisions to the game’s core structure. Information about the game became sparse pretty soon after it’s initial announcement, leading many to forget about its existence, but the game resurfaced in 2015 with a new and exciting look.
Nioh’s narrative is based around the real life story of William Adams, an English sailor who landed in Japan during the 1600’s and went on to become the first Western samurai. Though based on real events, the game takes some liberties here and there by tossing in a few demons and other aspects of the supernatural ilk. The influence of Team Ninja’s prior work is easily apparent, as the level design and structure screams Ninja Gaiden, while the overall aesthetic has a heavy Onimusha vibe, and combat is clearly borrowed from the Souls series.
Sony was hoping for this PS4 exclusive to finally reach the hands of gamers the world over in 2016, but Team Ninja delayed the game one final time to make some tweaks after gathering information from the game’s two public beta tests held last year. It’s clear this game isn’t being rushed, and after playing the betas it’s also clear that Nioh is poised for success. If you’re looking for the next hard-as-nails combat-focused action-RPG, look no further. (Matt De Azevedo)
Persona 3 and 4 were minor hits, providing some old school JRPG action with a modern day twist. The relative lack of quality JRPGs gave Persona a chance to be noticed, one which Atlus have seized upon. After the minor success of Persona 4, they remade the game for Vita, sanctioned two anime series’ based on the game, released 2D fighter and dancing game spin-offs and topped it off with a Persona 4 stage play. There was also an unsanctioned porno, but the less said about that the better. The gaming world is ready for Persona to be a big hit, and given how popular the PS4 is right now, with the right push, Persona 5 could really surprise people in how it sells. Since Final Fantasy has gone off the rails in recent years, the Persona series has become my new go to JRPG. In 2017, there’s no other game I want to play more than Persona 5. (John Cal McCormick)
It could be the final race of a great athlete, or maybe the rebirth of the dying phoenix hoping to spread its wings once more. The precarious position the Nintendo 3DS finds itself in leaves the release of Pikmin 3DS this year as a curiously ambiguous prospect. Pikmin isn’t just a catalog implementation, but a universe that’s become a staple of the Nintendo lore. In other words, Nintendo hasn’t pulled the plug on the 3DS just yet. What makes this release more intriguing is the words of Shigeru Miyamoto four years ago. He said, “The truth is we were doing prototype tests of Pikmin for the DS and 3DS but it turned into unit management with only the touch pen and no matter what it just didn’t seem like Pikmin.” Essentially, Pikmin 3DS isn’t meant to work on the Nintendo 3DS.
But this is going to be a different Pikmin game entirely. Rather than bring the classic game to the 3DS, they’re bringing an action game to the 3DS. This won’t be the Pikmin you’ve grown to love. This has certainly upset a lot of Nintendo fans, and there’s even a petition on change.org to cancel Pikmin 3DS. This will obviously be futile, but it’s also rather small-minded. To coincide with the limitations of the handheld system, changes were always going to be made. This side-scrolling Pikmin adventure looks as beautiful as every Pikmin game, and a change of pace from the conventional should always be welcomed. Honestly, the petition reads like satire, and hopefully it is. But so many great games have taken different paths to utilize every strength each story could have. There was a bigger uproar when Toon Link arrived on the scene, but now he’s Super Smash Bros. certified. Olimar has certainly reached the same status and deserves his chance at a new style of adventure. This isn’t Pikmin 4, this is something completely different, a little unique, and anything that breaks a few boundaries should be given the chance to stretch its wings. (James Baker)
During Bethesda’s 2016 E3 conference, a new Prey game was the last thing on anyone’s mind. The original sequel to the 2006 sleeper hit was stuck in development hell until Bethesda shut the entire project down in 2014. This gave the studio a chance to establish a firm grasp on the property and create their own vision for the future of the series. It’s easy to see that this new Prey title shares almost no narrative relation to the original game save for the name. However, this does not take away from the fact that this game looks amazing. Set in an alternate timeline when JFK survived his assassination and poured more funding into the space program, the player controls Morgan Yu, a human stranded aboard a space station infested with a variety of hostile aliens. Using a diverse array of weapons and alien powers, Yu must fight his way through the station and uncover the reason behind the alien’s appearance. What really excites me about Prey is how open it will be. Encouraging exploration and backtracking, developers Arkane Studios made the entire station an open complex, meaning that the player is not restricted to areas only available through missions or levels. What’s more, the player will be able to alter everything from Yu’s gender to the decisions he makes throughout the story. While Prey is considered a first person shooter, the combat seems more tactical than just a simple run and gun shooting gallery. The enemy A.I. seems intelligent and cunning, and will keep the players on their toes. Prey looks to offer a unique and exciting story with solid gameplay and a memorable setting. If the game delivers on everything its promised, then we’ll all owe Bethesda and Arkane a massive thank you. (Carston Carasella)
Red Dead Redemption 2
Anyone who played Red Dead Redemption waited with baited breath for the announcement we’ve all been craving since the 2013 release date of GTA V. Finally at the tail end of 2016 Rockstar Games revealed their next product would be a return to the West and to add a cherry to this gritty western sundae, their first trailer came with a release window of Autumn 2017. For those who missed the first game, it is sort of what you’d expect. For the most part, it’s a pallet swap of the GTA series, but with cowboys and horses instead of gangsters and muscle cars. What really made the first game special was its amazingly well realized open world, memorable characters, and engaging story, on top of the refined open world gameplay from GTA IV. It shouldn’t really be surprising that Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the most anticipated games of 2017. Rockstar has constantly raised the bar when it comes to mature open world adventures, and many argue that Red Dead Redemption is still their best effort yet. Details are unfortunately sparse at the moment, with almost no story details revealed or even how it might relate to the other Red Dead games, but given Rockstar’s history and their recent work with GTA V, it’s a safe bet this trip back into the West promises to be wild. (Andrew Vandersteen)
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Resident Evil 7 promises to be the most radical departure for Capcom’s survival horror series since the seminal Resident Evil 4 was released ten years ago. After Resident Evil 6 misfired by delivering a stale and underwhelming action game, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard wisely brings everything back to what first defined the series. Make no mistake, Resident Evil 7 is a horror game first and foremost and those who have played the early 2016 demos have claimed it is utterly terrifying. Not only is this new installment a return to the series’ survival horror roots but it is also the first in the series that is fully playable in VR, adding an extra layer of suspense that will make the hair ion the back of your neck stand up. Taking on the first-person perspective of many modern horror games and combining it with the series’ penchant for puzzle-solving, is everything longtime fans want, and for this reason alone, Resident Evil 7 is a must have. (Ricky D)
Platinum Games is a name we associate with a special brand of hyper-kinetic, ridiculously-scaled action, crafting expertly-tuned action masterpieces like Bayonetta, Vanquish, and The Wonderful 101. Scalebound is Platinum’s attempt to outdo itself, while simultaneously embracing a new direction. It’s the studio’s first action-RPG, combining dragons, four-player co-op mode, and gargantuan monsters to do battle with. As one of the most memorable game announcements to ever stem from an Xbox conference, Scalebound certainly turned heads when it was first announced in 2014 and now the long wait is almost over. After a series of unfortunate missteps with recent games like Star Fox Zero and TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan, Scalebound promises a comeback for the studio best known for over-the-top absurdity. (Ricky D)
Sea of Thieves
Let’s be honest, Rare has been in a bit of a rut for a while now. A long while. It’s crazy to think about, but It’s actually been over 15 years since they’ve released a truly great game. How did one of the greatest development teams in the world just suddenly fall off the face of the planet? Well, Microsoft bought them, Perfect Dark Zero was horrible, and then they were slowly transitioned into a team that was forced to focus on making Kinect games. It’s been painful to watch. Many people, myself included, never really expected Rare to come out and announce anything of significance ever again, and then E3 2015 happened. Dubbed “the most ambitious game Rare has ever created” by Craig Duncan (Rare studio head), Sea of Thieves is an MMO style game where players take the role of pirates in a wide open world of swashbuckling and treasure hunting. How much do we actually know about the game at this point? Not enough, but what we do know has us chomping at the bit for more. Sailing a ship bound for adventure with a crew of friends? Check. Ship on ship combat? Check. Being able to make someone walk the plank? Check! No firm release date has been set, and expectations should be tempered, as the Rare of today isn’t run by the same people that made all those N64 classics, but the foundation for Sea of Thieves is solid, and it has the potential to be one of 2017’s sleeper hits. (Matt De Azevedo)
South Park: The Fractured But Whole
After a notoriously nightmarish development cycle, no one expected 2014’s South Park: The Stick of Truth to be one of the top games in recent history. However, it proved everyone wrong. Ubisoft and Obsidian Entertainment teamed up with Trey Parker and Matt Stone to create an epic story based in a fantasy world created by Cartman and the gang. It was a true embodiment of the spirit and humor of the television show while also delivering some remarkably fun gameplay.
It’s follow-up, South Park: The Fractured, But Whole, looks to be building upon all of the core elements of TSOT. The story, obviously making fun of the Marvel cinematic universe, looks to be another genius basis for an adventure in South Park. The boys’ “civil war” over who gets a movie in the “Coon and Friends” franchise is timely, relevant and hilarious, just like South Park. While it is yet to be seen whether this concept as an RPG will be as seamless as the fantasy world of TSOT was the comedic possibilities show promise. And, as much as we may laugh at how much they have taken over our pop culture, who hasn’t wanted to be a superhero? The upgrades in store for the already delightful combat are taking things to the next level, adding tactical strategy to your vicious fart attacks. It will keep its turn-based style, but movement and positioning on the battlefield will become much more important in your success. Based on everything that we have seen so far, South Park: The Fractured But Whole will be another spectacular RPG in a world that everyone knows and loves. (Sara Winegardner)
Smac Games’ debut, Tokyo 42, is an unknown. The two-man team of Maciek Strychalski and Sean Wright have no real history in video games, having in their own words only really worked ‘on the fringes’. So there’s no track record to look to, and making any prediction on the quality of Tokyo 42 would seem baseless. Yet the open-world isometric action shooter/bullet-hell/stealth game, inspired by the likes of Syndicate and GTA, has some serious talent in its production credits. Mode7 Games, who people may know from strategy game Frozen Synapse, is producing Tokyo 42. Mode7 might make really ugly games that appeal to niche audiences, but what they do make is original, with rock-solid core gameplay. Hence with Tokyo 42’s bombastic gameplay and art design (if the trailers are anything to go by) being tempered with Mode7’s veteran guidance, one can see a potentially thorough and enjoyable experience being delivered. Given how awash we are with open-worlds these days, it’ll be nice to get one with some character.
Potential and possibilities aside, it is a certainty that the game’s soundtrack will be killer. Vicente Espi, whom is scoring the game’s electronic soundtrack, may be known to obscure music connoisseurs as one half of ANIMA!. Only two tracks can be heard from the game’s limited released material, but both are damn good – if you can find any good in electronic, that is. Thus, I anticipate Tokyo 42’s 2017 release with quiet hope. With Mode7 and Espi at the wings, there is a possibility, maybe even a likelihood that Tokyo 42 will do a lot of things right. At the same time, this being Smac Games’ debut, means there are no assurances. (Liam Hevey)
Torment: Tides of Numenera
After a famously successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013, the spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment – perhaps the most beloved computer role-playing game ever made – was set to come out on December 2014. Yet it encountered a series of delays, as its stretch goals proved more time-consuming than expected. A beta version was finally made available to backers last year and, on February 28, it will be officially released on PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4. Why the excitement? Many members of the original Torment team are back, including composer Mark Morgan and designer Colin McComb. And thanks to met stretch goals, Chris Avellone, the earlier game’s director, joined as creative consultant while epic fantasy author Pat Rothfuss collaborated with the writers. But even more enticing is what Tides of Numenera promises to be: a journey into a world where characters don’t just have motivations and backgrounds, but profound philosophical positions and alignments.
That’s what made the 1999 classic so absorbing and why it remains an unmissable experience, despite having a battle system so perfunctory even Avellone has publicly shaken his head at it. Yet no one plays Planescape: Torment for the battles. It’s all about the dialogue, the story, and the characters. Unlike books or movies, videogames unfold their narratives in virtual space. Players can roam at will, falling into pockets of storytelling spread out over the land. To explore Planescape: Torment is to never know when you’ll stumble into a transdimensional portal or – far more often – into a spellbinding discussion on reality, existence, morality, and many other things besides. Tides promises to recapture that same narrative joy, albeit no longer in Dungeon & Dragons’ Planescape setting but rather in Monte Cook’s futuristic Ninth World of Numenera. If it succeeds, it should be one of 2017’s best videogames. (Guido Pellegrini)
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
It feels crazy that a year after Uncharted 4 masterfully closed the chapter on Nathan Drake we would be getting psyched up for more Uncharted. What was originally planned as DLC has been upgraded to a stand alone game, ala The Last Of Us: Left Behind. Naughty Dog has kept their promise, this isn’t an adventure about Drake and Elena, instead Uncharted 4 absentee Chloe Frazer takes the spotlight along with ambiguous villain Nadine Ross. How these two pair up is one of the most pressing questions we have about the game, especially considering their opposing affiliations with Drake. What’s most exciting is the prospect that this story will be a character study of these two independent women in the same way that Uncharted 4 was a character piece about Drake, Elena and his brother Sam.
There have been suggestions that this will feature even wider environments than those seen in Uncharted 4, an interesting move for a series that has perfected linear game design. There are some nagging doubts whether it’s a smart idea considering the company and the series’ strengths but there’s little chance Naughty Dog will resort to barren wastelands filled with tedious fetch quests after all, this is likely to be the last time we see these characters. Naughty Dog has time and again proven the power of interactive storytelling and any chance to see more of that is enough to make us feel giddy inside. After 2016 it’s easy to feel cynical about gaming promises but we can say with almost utter certainty that The Lost Legacy will be deserving of the Uncharted name. No Chloe, it isn’t an ancient Tibetan ritual dagger, this time we are just happy to see you. (Oliver Rebbeck)
Back in 2015, developer DONTNOD surprised everyone with their episodic series, Life is Strange. The choice-based slice of art school life was a welcome change of pace from the Telltale school of similar titles, and a whole host of gamers found themselves enraptured with the fictional town of Arcadia Bay. Now, they’re set for their next effort, with the oncoming release of Vampyr. Set during the Spanish Flu epidemic in early 20th century London, Vampyr focuses on a doctor who finds himself turned into a creature of the night. Facing his new reality as one of the undead, he must balance between his medical duty to save lives and his supernatural lust for blood. The dichotomy should make for an interesting experience, especially if DONTNOD can come up with more of those brutal choices we faced in Life is Strange. (Mike Worby)
What Remains of Edith Finch
Back in 2012, Giant Sparrow released The Unfinished Swan on PlayStation 3. It’s a short but stylized indie game with a compelling story about a little boy named Monroe, who chases after a swan that has escaped a painting. The game received glowing reviews and went on to win two BAFTA awards. Now the small studio is back with their follow-up – What Remains of Edith Finch, a “collection of short stories” about the deaths of various members of the Finch family. The game begins at the eccentric Finch house, where players can eventually unlock the bedrooms of each family member to reveal their fates. Similar to Gone Home, you’ll follow Edith Finch as she explores the history of her family and tries to learn about their troubled and mysterious past. (Ricky D)
It’s hard to talk about Yooka-Laylee without talking about Banjo-Kazooie. But hey, that’s kinda the point. After leaving their positions at Rare, the folks responsible for Banjo decided to take matters into their own hands. They created a company named Playtonic and ventured onto Kickstarter, attempting to gain the funds needed to develop its successor. In the spirit of its predecessor, Yooka-Laylee is a platformer/collection. The player controls a chameleon named Yooka, who is ridden by a bat named Laylee. They work together to perform acrobatic maneuvers, solve puzzles, and battle enemies. While that may sound very familiar, it’s clear that Playtonic is letting their mind breathe. No longer restricted by any “higher ups,” they’re free to implement any crazy ideas they have stirring in their heads, which is indescribably exciting.
From what we can see in the trailers, these mechanics and level designs look absolutely brilliant. Yooka and Laylee work well together as characters and even better as controllable avatars. They spin, fly, transform, and do much more based on their innate abilities. The worlds look sprawling and riddled with secrets. They’ve shown gigantic plains, a haunted house, and a dirty casino, all humongous and leaking personality. The characters within them also flourish in their charm. They vary impressively, even including Shovel Knight. They also speak in the kind of gibberish found in Banjo-Kazooie. One really has to admire Playtonic’s bravery on that one. The game is also gorgeous. For an indie game to reach this peak of graphical excellence is astounding. Oh, and we can’t forget the legendary Grant Kirkhope’s return. In true poetic justice, he is composing the soundtrack for Yooka-Laylee. The music sounds utterly whimsical and nostalgic, but it still feels new. It sounds as though Grant Kirkhope has only mastered his craft even further with his age, and that can be said for everyone working on this game. (Ricardo Rodriguez)