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Five Games That Could Go Either Way in 2012
These titles should be amazing, but they could just as easily disappoint.
2012 is shaping up to be another strong year for gamers, with plenty of high – and low – profile titles to be excited about. We all know, however, that not every one of those games is going to fulfil its potential, or be the masterclass in game design we'd like it to be. In fact, a few of the games we're excited about could easily turn out to be crushing disappointments. With that in mind, I've selected five games that should be awesome, but that – for one reason or another – I'm not entirely sold on yet. So, let's get to it.
This Tomb Raider reboot mostly ticks the right boxes. It puts players in the shoes of a much less experienced, much more vulnerable 21-year-old Lara, who's just trying to survive after being shipwrecked on a mysterious set of islands. This origin story will both reveal her strength of character and show her to be a more believable, relatable character than in previous games. So far, so good. A heroine that's flawed and human gels well with what we expect from modern video games.
The obvious comparison is, of course, with Uncharted, and that's not the only cue taken from Naughty Dog's series. The sequences we've seen so far are very directed, with many of the things that made the Uncharted games so special, such as custom animations for one-off situations, like squeezing through a narrow gap. There's no doubt the result is highly cinematic, but it also inevitably raises questions. Will the rest of the game be more open, with multiple paths? How heavily will Tomb Raider lean on quicktime sequences?
Check out the first sequence of the Tomb Raider demo Crystal Dynamics was showing in 2011.
Thankfully, Crystal Dynamics has indicated that there will be multiple routes through the world, as well as areas that Lara can return to - and explore again - once she has new abilities/tools. That's certainly the direction we hope the game will be taking, with the existing demo sequences serving as a more focused introduction to the world and character.
Until we've played a decent slice of the game for ourselves, however, we can only take Crystal Dynamic's word for it. The temptation would definitely be there to ape Uncharted, and while that series is hugely successful, the trade-off for its cinematic intensity is certainly freedom. Outside of shoot-outs, the player is entirely led by the nose. While we'd like to see a more realistic, relatable Lara, and an intensely cinematic, polished world, I'm not sure that it would be worth it if the game holds the player's hand too much. Here's hoping it finds the right balance.
Silent Hill: Downpour
Downpour, the latest Silent Hill game, is being developed outside Japan, by little-known Czech Republic studio Vatra. It's consciously being designed as a return to the roots of the series, which you'd hope means rich atmosphere, sparse weapons and freaky content, but in this case also seems to mean rigorously old school, often clunky design.
Before we get to that, the game definitely has some good hooks. Lead character Murphy Pendleton (who has the fakest sounding name since Reginald Charming) promises to be an interesting protagonist: a convicted criminal, his greatest fear is water, and when the rain starts to come down, sh*t starts to get messed up. It's a neat idea that sits well with Silent Hill's traditional real world/other world dichotomy. The game's not lacking in atmosphere or scares, either, and players will forever be low on ammo, which means making the most of the many items that can be used as weapons in the environment.
So that's the good stuff. What we're worried about, however, is that this game isn't going to bring the series into the modern age. Convoluted puzzles, poor enemy AI and clunky mechanics were fine in the survival horror genre's infancy, but we need more now. Vatra needs to put its own stamp on this series, and that's done by making a game that embraces the spirit of the series, while avoiding its pitfalls and taking it forward. Here's hoping the team can do it.
Brothers in Arms: Furious 4
In what can only be described as a bizarre fit for Brothers in Arms, Furious 4 sees Gearbox eschewing the slow-paced tactical gameplay and realism of previous titles in the series, and instead ushering in zany characters and Inglourious Basterds-inspired gung-ho Nazi killing, with four player co-op the gameplay foundation. Players are charged with rampaging across wartorn Europe with the aim of taking down Hitler himself.
Could be fun, right? Well, initial impressions weren't good. This is a game that revels in its bloodletting – chainsaws, hatchets and cattle irons all come into play, as do score multipliers and bonuses – yet it's nominally set in the real world, which makes the entire thing feel a little off-colour and in poor taste.
That said, I haven't played it, nor have I seen it since E3 last year. Could be that Gearbox will shift the focus a little to give it a less repugnant spirit, and it could be that the four player co-op is riotously fun. Guess we'll have to wait and see.
This one has had a chequered past. Development was originally headed up by relatively junior designers at Kojima Productions while Hideo Kojima worked on Peace Walker, but the auteur wasn't happy with what they'd done and effectively cancelled the game. Enter Platinum Games, the studio behind Bayonetta and Vanquish, who picked up the pieces and took over development duties.
The studio's a good fit for the sword-based action of Rising, but the reality is that the team started with a failed project, and were given the task of whipping it into shape, and fast. During a Q&A in December, Hideo Kojima stated that "The game is high speed action, but the development is also high speed development," a sentiment echoed by Platinum's Atsushi Inaba, who said "I'm having a lot of fun, but the scale is really tight, we have to work really fast and Kojima Productions has been demanding a lot of us."
In the same session, Hideo Kojima says that Platinum is realising what his team originally wanted to do, which is all well and good, but what makes Platinum such an exciting studio is that it has its own distinct style and vision. How well will the team on Revengeance be able to marry that original design with their own sensibilities, and get it all done in record quick time? We'll have to wait and see. From an action perspective, the trailer below looks very cool, but this is definitely one title that could go either way.
The Last Guardian
I want to love this game, I really do. And not just because of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. I want to love it because games like this don't come along very often. Imagine the pitch: "So, players control a feeble young boy, who partners up with an enormous cat-bird creature, who can help him navigate a mysterious, ancient-feeling fantasy world. The closer their bond, the more they can achieve." Can you imagine this getting greenlit outside the crucible of first party innovation within Sony Japan? Me neither.
The footage looked mesmerising too. Just as Ico built an emotional attachment between the player and Yorda through peril and the simple act of holding hands, so too does The Last Guardian promise to create a bond between players and their semi-autonomous companion.
It was all looking good, but clearly there have been major difficulties behind the scenes. Last year – after a lengthy development process – the game was delayed, then it was a no-show at TGS. More worrying, however, were the two departures in December. First, the game's executive producer left Sony, then visionary designer Fumito Ueda left and is now finishing the game on a contract basis. Given what a labour of love previous titles have been for Ueda, and how long it has taken to finish them, this last piece of news is incredibly worrying. Will we get the game he dreamed of making, or will it be compromised?
Do you think these games will turn out to be amazing? And what other titles do you think could go either way this year? Sound off below.