Tuesday, 31 January 2012

5 Games For 2012

This year we've decided to do things a little differently for our preview of the year ahead in gaming. Instead of focussing on the headline-grabbing games which have already eaten up ample coverage - the likes of Mass Effect 3, GTA V and Resident Evil 6, all of which we're excited about - we've picked five forthcoming games that may not be amongst 2012's biggest-selling once all the units and dollars have been counted, but that are just as tantalising in smaller, equally significant ways. It's going to be another brilliant year, we hope.

Anarchy Reigns

If the idea that Japanese developers are increasingly looking to Western ideas of game design comes to be seen as one of the defining traits of the current era, then Platinum Games will take an even more important place than they already do in the story of this generation. From debut MadWorld through to the most recent Vanquish, Platinum Games have showcased a subversive approach to genre, twisting familiar mechanics and encasing them in a self-referential, occasionally gaudy bubble. Anarchy Reigns appears to continue this tradition. Platinum Games' forthcoming brawler sees the return of Jack from MadWorld in an arena-based brawler the like of which we haven't seen this effectively realised since the Dreamcast's excellent Power Stone games.

Although there's a single-player mode, word is that the skills and bonuses unlocked feed into the online component, which sees up to eight players battling each other. Although it sounds potentially messy, Platinum have shown themselves to be masters of harnessing chaos (it's not insignificant that even the most intense moments in Vanquish were frequently described as "balletic" owing to their gracefulness), while their 2010 masterpiece Bayonetta still has the most wonderfully layered combat system.

Expected in May, likely to be one of the year's best surprises. Oh, and Platinum Games have also recently been tasked with rescuing a certain Metal Gear Solid spin-off; the awkwardly titled Rising: Revengeance is also expected in 2012.

The Last Guardian

Well knowing team ico these are the possible endings i can think of. Kid dies. Cute pet dies. They both die. Kid and pet survive but one of them later on dies of a disease. Kid kills himself by sacrificing himself for the pet or vice-versa. They were dead from the beginning and you were playing their last moments of life. kid goes crazy or vice-versa Kid kills pet or vice-versa They get separated for whatever reason and they live a sad and lonely life. And i probably depressed you.
- YouTube user UnLokoLoquendero

Although the annual appearance of The Last Guardian in previews is already a running joke (we featured the game in both 2010 and 2011), there certainly wasn't anything funny back in December when, briefly, The Last Guardian and it's idolised creator Fumito Ueda were trending on Twitter amid reports that the game had been cancelled.

After the dust had settled it emerged that although both Ueda and executive producer Yoshifusa Hayama had in fact left Sony, The Last Guardian was still on track for a release in late 2012. Last year's re-masters of Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus were exceptional, reminders of the singular, ambiguity-laced gaming experiences at which Team Ico excels. But ultimately we just want to play The Last Guardian so we can tell others that here was a videogame, and it made us cry.

The Witness

Blue panels are scattered across a picturesque, if quietly sinister, island. On each panel there are lines of increasing complexity, from a straightforward right-angle to more knotted, maze-like patterns. You trace the path along one of these lines and a door opens, or another panel lights up. No doubt this is just the briefest glimpse of systems that are yet to unfurl before us. We're watching footage of The Witness from over a year ago, already the potential is clear:

A large part of the excitement stems from pedigree, from the knowledge that The Witness is the new game from one of videogaming's foremost commentators, Jonathan Blow. Whereas Braid first deployed and then confounded a 'traditional' videogame mode of storytelling, with emphatic success, The Witness looks to be going the opposite way: offering an unprecedented level of freedom and choice unburdened by the usual framework of an overarching and directed narrative such as found in, for example, Skyrim.

It's an exercise in self-determination in which the player will have to be motivated not by intangible rewards such as experience points or loot, but by the desire to work out their actual place in this strange world. This approach should, in theory, quickly make the setting of The Witness feel as vivid as other notable open-world titles. As Blow states: "If you play a linear game where you pick up a key and then get to a door and use it, then the door might as well not be there. So there's something about running into that block then coming back to it. It's structurally interesting". The Witness may not relinquish answers easily, but it's sure to be fascinating nonetheless.

Quantum Conundrum

Kim Swift may not be as recognisable a name as the aforementioned likes of Jonathan Blow or Fumito Ueda, but it was while a student at the DigiPen Institute Of Technology that she was part of a team whose senior game project was a little title called Narbacular Drop, from which the life-changing* Portal eventually emerged. After several years of working at Valve she left to become lead designer at Airtight Games, and Quantum Conundrum will be their first release.

Working with similar science-based puzzle mechanics, Quantum Conundrum swaps the portal gun for a glove and the ability to create portals with the power to shift between dimensions of varying physical-properties. Of those unveiled so far, slow-motion and reverse dimension are fairly self-explanatory, while the fluffy dimension makes certain items cute and, more crucially, lighter. It's through using a combination of these that progress around Professor Quadwrangle's mansion will be made, with memories of the beautiful learning curve of Portal likely to be recalled as the game continues and the problems start to grow in complexity. One to watch closely in 2012.

Here's a recently uploaded gameplay video of Quantum Conundrum, narrated by imminent videogaming legend Kim Swift herself:

*not an exaggeration.

Sumioni: Demon Arts

Sumioni, a stylish 2D platformer with a use of brush strokes and ink redolent of Okami, in itself looks very interesting, but it's place on this list is largely because it's a neat example of the pure innovations we're looking forward to in a year that promises two major hardware launches: those of PlayStation Vita and the Wii U. Both consoles will unlock new possibilities to developers: the rear touch pad of the Vita - used by Sumioni as the trailer below explains - and the tablet controller of the Wii U, are just two of the notable features in consoles that will herald an embrace of new control methods, continue the industry's ever-increasing focus on the downloadable space, and take the first steps away from the current generation. We already can't wait until E3. Until then though, it looks like there's plenty to be getting on with.

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