The release schedule this year is packed with massive blockbusters – highly publicised and sure to shift millions. But what about the games likely to go under the radar? Don’t miss this lot.
Video games is about so much more than triple-A. You are, of course, looking forward to this year’s major releases (check out 2012’s super games), but what of the “gap” titles that go unpushed by eye-boggling marketing budgets and PR assault plans? There are thousands. Here are some picks.
Sabre Interactive is yet to really make a splash, and is probably hoping Inversion will be a turning point. It’s certainly ambitious, giving gamers twists on third-person shooter action with gravity shifts and destructible environments, while wrapping it up in a dramatic alien invasion plot. There’s room for a shooter which lets players get creative with encounters, and if Inversion delivers it’ll prove itself the thinker’s run-and-gun of choice. Last time we heard anything, we had it pegged for both HD consoles in early February, but Namco Bandai has gone a little quiet recently, so watch this space.
Sega made an attempt to capture the shooter crowd last year with Vanquish, but the Platinum Games effort took too many liberties with the usual formula, dashing along at a spanking pace and turning the difficulty up to eleven. Binary Domain may fare a little better, but it’s equally guilty of refusing to stick to the recipe. The game has an emphasis on character relationships and human drama, but, unlike many RPGs, your relationship with your teammates will actually affect their performance; piss them off too often, and they’ll be reluctant to follow orders, while strong bonds result in increased performance.
That said, the reverse is also true – if you fluff a mission with your miserable shooting or poor tactics, your party is unlikely to think much of you. It’s an interesting answer to the divorce of gameplay and narrative. The characters are different enough that you’ll need a number of different strategies to get them on your side, and as the game features voice command support on both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, you’ll have to work out for yourself what to say to charm them. Vocal commands won’t be detailed in the game’s manual or tutorials, and will unlock secrets and bonuses too, making the whole package very compelling. Watch for it in mid-February.
Let’s get one thing straight – plenty of people reckon Dear Esther isn’t a game. It doesn’t contain any shooting and there’s not really a quest to fulfil. Instead, players wander a luciously beautiful island environment, piecing together a fractured story from discovered snippets. There’s no high score at the end and nothing to motivate you besides your desire to find out what happened, but if you’re at all keen on storytelling you’ll find that desire strong indeed. Originally a Half-life mod, the full release has been years in the making and is expected on Steam on February 14.
Gravity Daze – or Gravity Rush – is the Vita launch title voted Most Likely To Be Seriously Undersold Because It’s About A Girl. The perceived selling power of splashing a generic space marine on your cover shouldn’t be underestimated, and Gravity Daze can’t do that. What it can do is show you its astoundingly beautiful cel-shaded graphics, and take you on a physics-bending adventure which will capture your heart – and not in the Disney Princess way, either. Nobody’s going to laugh at you if you sneak this in between bouts of Unit 13, so consider putting it on your February 22 shopping list.
The first of two Capcom games which are yet to kick into full marketing, Asura’s Wrath is a strange beast headed to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 at the end of February. Although some critics have already dismissed the brawler as a quicktime extravaganza, Asura’s Wrath has a couple of interesting features for those that look closely. Important combat encounters eschew button mashing, plumping instead for an emphasis on evasion and precise timing – complicated by random on-screen button prompts, it is true – which results in a unique gameplay style. The unfamiliar never goes down well, so this aspect of the game, along with its brazenly kitsch J-drama stylings and Buddhist inspirations, mean Asura’s Wrath is unlikely to get the second look it deserves. A demo of the energetic, comfortably uproarious adventure is available now on both console networks; give it a go.
Gotham City Impostors
If you enjoy games squad shooters like Team Fortress 2 or Brink, Gotham City Impostors is something you should be taking seriously. A multiplayer-only title is still a big no-no at retail, so it’s coming via download only, something which may explain its lukewarm reception so far. But Monolith’s take oin the genre is truly interesting, starting with an impressive level of character and clan customisation – both aesthetic and practical – and an emphasis on gadgetry to navigate the environment. Plus, it’s set in Gotham City, and everyone is one or another mad civilian with allegiance to a particular hero or villain, which is an awesome premise. The shooter was recently pushed back to the end of February, probably as a result of beta feedback, which must be emphasised is a good thing. Keep watching.
The extreme sports trends of the late 90s mean you may well be sick to death of snowboarding et al, but EA Sports remains undeterred. SSX arrives on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on the cusp of February and March, and looks far beyond your average sports game. All the arcade features are there, but turned all the way up; real topographical maps of impossible slopes were used to generate the mountains you’ll visit, before being judged not extreme enough and thoroughly worked over. Each will feature dynamic events which change your ride, too, along with music which goes through live mixing to match your performance – including your own, imported tracks.
At the end of March, Capcom’s going to fire off Dragon’s Dogma, the most expensive game it has ever produced – and yet, many of us have no idea what it is. Stable-mate Monster Hunter may provide a few clues, and marketing so far has shown off some epic bosses roaming the wilderness, but the most intriguing part so far is the strange multiplayer component. Players are accompanied on their quest by “pawns”, AI companions. One of these is a unique character customised at the start of the game, while others are met and recruited in-game. Now the fun bit: you import pawns from the parallel game worlds of other players, and send your own off to fight with strangers. Pawns carry their experience with them wherever they go, so it’s possible they’ll know a lot more about upcoming encounters than you do, and will advise you on tactics and likely weaknesses of enemies. Capcom is still keeping quiet on other multiplayer features, should they exist, so stay tuned as this one approaches.
Sony’s likely to pump this one up once a release date is locked down, but Starhawk suffers by being the spiritual sequel of a game to which only the PS3 faithful paid much attention. The multiplayer-only Warhawk is a big fish in a small pond; it still commands a strident player base but the Xbox audience isn’t even aware it exists. Starhawk not only adds a single-player campaign, it also lines up a strategic element, with players able to build and place various structures and units. If that takes too much brain you can always just enjoy the quasi-franchise’s trademark feature: vehicular combat.
Another TBA 2012 release, Project Draco may be what finally motivates you to pick up a Kinect. Developed by members of the Panzer Dragoon team, Project Draco has players riding dragons over the surface of alien worlds, shooting down enemies with Child of Eden style controls. It’s beautiful, and ticks a lot of boxes for those disappointed by Sega’s refusal to spit out another Panzer; this one is worth waving your arms around for.
The Oddworld titles well deserve their reputations as some of the most engrossing games of the last two generations, but what they don’t deserve is their repeated sales failures. British developer Just Add Water has done a sterling job of bringing the series back with modern polishing, and expects to continue doing so throughout the year – there are Vita releases of Munch’s Oddysee and Stranger’s Wrath, for a start. But that’s not all – the company is also plugging away at new games for what was initially conceived of as an ambitious multi-media franchise. We know of at least one – Hand of Odd, based on a shelved strategy game conceptualised by the original Oddworld Inhabitants team. But Just Add Water has also hinted at something called Slig Storm, The Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot and the planned final entries of the core quintology. All of these are things that need to happen – but will be endangered if the HD re-releases go under the radar on the back of a tiny indie marketing budget. Talk.
Fez’s biggest problem is that we’ve been waiting for it for approximately ten thousand years. Every now and then we get a look and everyone gets excited, and then the Polytron team gets on with the things they do to actually make it money. As well as the adorable graphics, the game’s core mechanics are similar to those of Paper Mario – switching between 2D and 3D. It’s clever, charming, and can’t release soon enough. Don’t be struck by amnesia when (if?) the game finally surfaces this year on Xbox Live Arcade.
These are just a few of the titles likely to miss the hype train this year – what did we miss?