The end of year crush will bring us a huge pile of great sequels, but even as the current generation’s star fades it brings us plenty of new properties to get excited about.
New properties are always a chancy bet, especially without the excitement of new hardware to fuel sales, but there’s a handful of publishers brave enough to back fresh franchises even at this stage of the console cycle. Here’s our pick of recent and upcoming efforts launching without the security of established fanbases.
Quantum Conundrum – Airtight Games (Square Enix)
Quantum Conundrum doesn’t pull you along by the slavish fanboyism the way Portal 2 did, but in some ways this makes it a superior experience to its distant cousin. Skipping out on self-referential jokes and established characters, the emphasis in Quantum Conundrum is on mind-bending – and mind-blowing – puzzle gameplay, which highlights some of if not the best level design of this generation. If you found yourself zooming through Valve’s latest with barely a check at each new environment, Quantum Conundrum will remind you why Kim Swift is a name we speak with reverence. Grab it now on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
The Secret World – Funcom (EA)
In many ways, The Secret World is just another MMORPG, and one with some nasty teething issues to boot – but where it differentiates from this formula, it shines. Building your character into a monster-mashing machine is incredibly satisfying once you hit on one of the game’s hundreds of synergistic powerhouse combinations. Investigation missions really do depart from the fetch-this-kill-those quest spam of rival titles. Most importantly to this discussion of new properties, the setting and storytelling offer rocking nerdgasms to anyone keen on supernatural or conspiracy theory fiction – and there’s more on the way. Visit the game’s website or fire up Origin to grab the PC exclusive.
Dragon’s Dogma – Capcom (Capcom)
Capcom is often accused of being too conservative with its development choices (see: angry Darkstalkers fans) but it took a couple of serious risks this generation. We’re probably never going to see Asura’s Wrath 2, but the future of Dragon’s Dogma seems more secure – which is why it’s so puzzling to see it go under the radar. Yes, it’s a very traditional fantasy setting, but Dragon’s Dogma is no generic RPG. It’s full of small, innovative touches, like the way cinematics adjust to account for the wild variation in height enabled by the character customisation, or indeed the inclusive and technically impressive customisation itself, which allows you to set your limb length and tailors equipment to match. It’s also full of quite big things, like a weirdly effective blend of action and RPG which allows for either playstyle, and a system of trading NPC characters which rapidly becomes a key aspect of your character progression strategies. Pick this up on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 if you have a good 20 hours to spare.
Dishonored – Arkane Studios (Bethesda)
Let me put my cards on the table: this entire feature was conceived as an excuse to talk about how excited I am for Dishonored. Far more Skyrim, Hitman or BioShock than Call of Duty, and perhaps more Deus Ex and Thief than any of those, Arkane’s first-person RPG takes player freedom and emergent gameplay to a whole new level. Channeling the spirit of Warren Spector through a filter of pure sandbox gaming love, co-directors Harvey Smith and Rafael Colantino are happy to give the player a set of varied, synergistic tools and let them loose on the environment – even when doing so breaks their own carefully laid mission funnels. A thinking man’s shooter, perhaps, or maybe just a mad sandbox for those of us still young enough at heart to prefer a toybox and a free head over handholding and endless corridors. Dishonored arrives in October on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360; you’ll notice its arrival as games media all over the world quietly shuts down for a week.
The Last of Us – Naughty Dog (Sony)
Sony’s Next Big Thing is one of a trio of games which were among E3 2012′s most discussed. The confronting violence of the stage demo paired with Naughty Dog’s polished cover combat both impressed and appalled audiences, and in the interim much has been said about some genuinely interesting AI behaviour and survival gameplay mechanics. It’s hard to say whether The Last of Us will reproduce Uncharted’s success when it arrives on PlayStation 3 next year, but we’ve reason to trust the Dogs know what they’re doing.
Beyond: Two Souls – Quantic Dream (Sony)
The PlayStation 3′s bizarre architecture was a disadvantage when it first launched, but as the ageing tech approaches succession developers have really learned how to make the old beauty sing. Heavy Rain was astonishing on first release but Quantic Dream’s latest effort, Beyond: Two Souls, makes it look as stiff and poorly-jointed as a creepy doll collector’s spare bedroom. David Cage’s branching, cinematic adventure gameplay may not be to everyone’s taste but you can’t deny his team is doing some astounding things with graphics tech, much to Sony’s credit. Expect the bar to be raised for the last time this generation sometime next year.
Watch Dogs – Ubisoft Montreal (Ubisoft)
Ubisoft pulled a massive swifty by suddenly unveiling a brand new IP in the dying throes of the generation. The French publisher has plenty of experience nursing new ideas from birth to weighty transmedia powerhouse – alá Assassin’s Creed – but with so many established properties on the go and at least one other still up its Toronto sleeve, nobody expected Watch Dogs’ sudden appearance, making it the first E3 surprise since about 2007. Some clever social media and mobile device tie-ins seem to fit well with Ubisoft’s action adventure pedigree, making the whole thing rather intriguing. We know it’s coming to current-gen platforms, but don’t be surprised if it spills over to next-gen too; new IP benefits hugely from the release drought when a new console launches, so we could be looking at a 2014 release.