Hello 2011! Part 1: Games of the New Year

2010 was an eventful year, but 2011 promises to be even more exciting. Here are some of the upcoming games that I think bear watching:

Dead Space 2: The year starts with a bang. A scary, scary bang. On January 25 Visceral games releases Dead Space 2, sequel to 2009′s fantastic sci-fi survival horror game. It seems everywhere you look these days you see a new zombie game; the undead are in vogue, and not just effeminate stalker vampires. But frankly, I’ve already had my fill of world-ending plagues set in modern times; sure, its fun to mow down zombies with machine guns, but lets face it, the undead belong in space. Everything is better in space, right? So it would seem, judging by the original.

In the first game, faceless protagonist Isaac Clarke (obviously named to honor sci-fi greats Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke) traversed the huge, derelict starship Ishimura while using a variety of futuristic tools to quite literally tear reanimated corpses limb from limb. Low ammo, dwindling health, and way too many dark corners between you and safety were the order of day in Dead Space, and the ending left us with far more questions than answers. For the second game, we’ve been promised more character development, and we finally get to see Isaac’s face. Worried that the focus on narrative will make this sequel less frightening than the original? Judging by the demo, already out on Xbox Live and the PSN, there’s nothing to be concerned about. I almost peed myself.

Black Prohphecy: This free-to-play sci-fi MMO essentially looks like an updated, upgraded Freelancer running in a full MMO universe. For free. Sign me up. Sign me up NOW. This dark horse MMO boasts some of the best space combat graphics I’ve seen since EVE, but it appears to be much more accessible (if shallower). I can’t wait to get my hands on this one; according to the developers, open beta is imminent.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution: Of all the games on the list, this one fills me with the most trepidation. On the one hand, it could potentially be an earth-shattering, game-changing er… game. Or it could turn out to be a total mess. The original Deus Ex was an incredibly innovative game; technically a first person shooter, but it could truly be played in many different ways. Brute force, stealth, diplomacy, etc. Many games promise us non-linearity and multiple solutions; Deus Ex delivered. Unfortunately, its graphics and aesthetics have not aged gracefully.

All the sequel has to do to be amazing is to recapture the gameplay of the original while bringing the production values up to date. Certainly what’s been shown so far has been very impressive; the art style seems to evoke a cross between Blade Runner and Renaissance Europe; the released CG trailers have me drooling for more. But gameplay-wise it remains to be seen if it can juggle the various play styles as well as its illustrious predecessor did. Best of luck to Eidos Montreal. Expect this one around summer.

Firefall: Global Agenda has recently proven to me how great a sci-fi shooter MMO can be. Sadly, for all its commendable attributes, GA is in many ways only superficially an MMO; in actuality its more of a map-based shooter game with some persistent objectives and character building. Sandstorm teased us with the potential of open world areas and more story content, but it remains a single area for relatively low level characters. Hopefully Hi-Rez will continue to evolve GA, but in the meantime, another contender has entered the ring.

Like GA, Firefall is a sci-fi shooter with RPG elements and character building; unlike GA, the focus seems to be creating a huge, epic open world PvE sci-fi world to explore and battle over. Like Black Prophecy, this free-to-play action-based MMO is a bit of a dark horse ind the industry but it has a lot of potential. The gameplay walkthrough on their site certainly looks appealing.

Guild Wars 2: Guild Wars is the un-mmo. This heavily instanced online cooperative game went head to head with WoW and did rather well. The first big western game to offer MMO-style content without requiring a monthly fee, Guild Wars is huge, detailed, and fun. Its graphics run silky smooth with modest requirements and have aged remarkably well given that the game is over a half decade old now. It remains my one refuge whenever I’m thinking of lapsing back into World of Warcraft. And now, its getting a full-blown sequel.

GW2 is much more of a true MMO than the first game, but its still being marketed as the MMO for people who hate MMOs. Much of what ArenaNet wants to accomplish with this game seems remarkably ambitious, but so far anyone who’s played it has come away very impressed. I’m not sure we’ll see it release in 2011, but if it does it will likely be amongst the biggest games of the year.

Mass Effect 3: We started 2010 with Mass Effect, and it looks like we’ll end 2011 with another. ME3 promises to be the last in the trilogy, ending Shepherd’s story and deciding the fate of the galaxy. The awesome trailer that debuted at the VGA’s reveals that the Reapers have brought the fight to Earth, and its up to Shepherd to put together a force powerful enough to oppose them and rescue the planet. The most intriguing aspect about ME3, aside from continuing all the epic sci-fi goodness of the previous installments, is Bioware’s promise that the choices we’ve made in the previous games will finally bear fruit. All through Mass Effect 2, the game seemed to be telling us “I remember what you did last time… wink-wink” while heaping on new momentous choices one after the other. Bioware had their hands tied, however, since all playthroughs of ME2 had to be similar enough to allow the character to be in the right place to launch ME3. But this time, with no direct sequel looming over the horizon, all our decisions will be free to play themselves out to their ultimate and varied conclusions, or so has been hinted by the dev team. Here’s hoping.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Like Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls (TES) had their next entry revealed in a short CG teaser at the VGAs. Also like Mass Effect, this cause a great deal of excitement for many RPGers, myself most definitely included. The teaser was very vague and showed nothing of the game. It did have, however, an awesomely ominous voiceover by Max Von Sydow, and a chanted version of the Elder Scrolls theme. More importantly, it had a release date: 11/11/2011. In TES lore, Skyrim is the frost-bund province north of Cyrodil (the land where Oblivion takes place), home of the viking-like Nord.

Given that the previous two Elder Scrolls, Morrowind and Oblivion, are two of the most beloved fantasy RPGs of recent years, great things are expected from Skyrim. We do know that it will be a direct sequel to Oblivion, and will feature an all new engine. Hopefully it’ll also feature more Max Von Sydow, too.

And thats it for now. Stay tuned; tomorrow I’ll discuss some of the non-game “events” that have me excited for 2011.

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