With 2012 drawing to a close, we look at the best upcoming games of the new year, including BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V.
2012 has been an interesting year for videogames. After starting off with a string of impressive indie hits like Journey, Dear Esther and Fez, the spring months were quite dry, with only superb shoot 'em up Max Payne 3 and Brechtian war game Spec Ops: The Line making major waves on consoles.
Spec Ops The Line
The latter half of 2012 picked up considerably thanks to brainy stealth game Dishonored, flawed epic Assassin's Creed III and the second-half of Telltale Games' brilliant The Walking Dead Season One.
But with this year more or less over as far as game releases are concerned, it's time to look forward to 2013 and some of the most anticipated AAA games of the next 12 months.
Crysis 2 was an excellent game, treading the line perfectly between Call of Duty's straight cover shooting, and Bulletstorm's points-based hyperbole. The sequel, Crysis 3 is expected in February and picks up where the second game left off. You play Prophet, a former US Marine, turned super-soldier thanks to a high-tech body armour called the Nanosuit.
It's 27-years since an alien race called the Ceph tried to infect North America with a flesh-eating virus, and New York City has been cordoned off inside a gigantic glass bubble. That gives Crysis 3 a varied, halfway aesthetic, combining the lustrous tropical fauna of the first game with the concrete jungle of the second.
It'll also make for some dynamic combat set-ups, mixing the CQC abilities of the Nanosuit with the long-range, stealth capabilities of Prophet's bow and arrow. The third instalment in a brilliant series of first-person shooters, Crysis 3 looks like a promising start to 2013.
After dominating the conversation around E3 2012, no more information has surfaced on Ubisoft's Watch Dogs. But what we do have, a ten-minute gameplay demo showcasing a near future where everybody's connected to the dataverse, with violent consequences, is enough to whet the palette.
You are Aidan Pierce, a hired killer that can hack the Grid to download personal information about his targets (and the people around him) and disrupt electronics. In the trailer, he listens in on a phone conversation to learn that his mark is on his way over in a car. Heading outside, Pierce hacks the traffic lights to cause a pile up and whacks his target in the confusion.
Ubisoft hasn't said so yet, but Watch Dogs looks open-world, the mini-map in the corner of the demo being pockmarked with several mission icons. It's very pretty, too; the way Aidan moves, and the way his trench coat flaps in the wind shows a keen attention to detail.
Information on Watch Dogs is thin, but it's set to arrive in mid-2013.
Rhianna Pratchett and Crystal Dynamics are reinventing Lara Croft with this Tomb Raider reboot. No longer a chesty, gung-ho pinup girl, Croft is a naïve teenager stranded on an island with no experience of using guns.
But it doesn't quite gel - not yet anyway. After an extended hands-on with Tomb Raider, there's a problem between Lara as written and Lara as played. The attempted rape scene that caused so much controversy earlier this year is excellently handled, emphasising just how difficult Lara finds it to kill people. But then you start getting XP points every time you score a headshot, and the whole inexperienced, reluctant protagonist angle gets skewed.
Nevertheless, this will be an interesting experiment. Taking the game industry's most indicting sexual stereotype and trying to humanise her is a worthy endeavour in of itself; when March rolls around, it'll be interesting to see if Tomb Raider can pull it off.
Beyond: Two Souls
A PS3 exclusive, Beyond: Two Souls stars Ellen Page as Jodie Holmes, a mysterious young woman with psychic powers who is being pursued by the US government. The game follows Jodie for fifteen years of her life, from age 8 to 23, as she develops her telekinetic abilities and goes on the run from the shady forces that want to capture her.
It's directed by David Cage, whose previous work includes Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit. He's known for treading the line between games and films, focusing more on slow, dialogue heavy drama than action sequences. Along with his studio Quantic Dream, Cage has devised increasingly tactile ways for players to toy with mundane situations, such as shaking the PlayStation's Sixaxis controller to brush a character's teeth.
Beyond doesn't have a launch date yet, but the trailers we've seen so far make it look like a cross between The Fugitive and Free Radical's Second Sight. There's definitely a hint of Fahrenheit's later stages in there, too, with Jodie battling cops in the middle of a busy street.
Beyond: Two Souls is set to continue the trend of Quantic Dream games that are heavily inspired by movies. The troubled psychic on the run premise feels a bit tired, but with PlayStation Move support confirmed, David Cage and Quantic Dream have the scope to once again push the boundaries of how we interact with games.
The Last of Us
The other big PlayStation exclusive, this post-apocalyptic survival horror comes from Uncharted developer Naughty Dog, and is inspired by the BBC's Planet Earth series. A spin on the typical zombie game, The Last of Us sees you fighting people that have been mutated by a bizarre, cordyceps type fungus. You'll also be up against fellow survivors, scrapping over the world's dwindling supplies of food and water.
The Last of Us follows Joel and Ellie, who are making their way across post-outbreak America from one safe zone to another. Joel is grizzled, forty-something ex-bandit who grew up before society collapsed; Ellie is an inexperienced teenager born after the fungus spread. They have a similar dynamic to the father and son in The Road, it seems, whereby Joel is trying to protect Ellie while at the same time, educating her on how to survive by herself.
Despite a sickly moment at E3 2012, when the crowd watching The Last of Us trailer cheered at Joel blowing someone's face off with a shotgun, this is a game set to take a sideways look at violence. The few skirmishes we've seen so far look scrappy and chaotic, and the human enemies seem more characterised than the usual goons in third-person games. The presence of the fungal zombies will create an interesting dichotomy, too, whereby killing a person will feel different to shooting the undead fodder usually associated with videogames.
At least, that's what we hope. We'll have to wait until 7 May to find out.
Grand Theft Auto V
Swapping the gunmetal grey of Liberty City for the palm trees of the West Coast, Grand Theft Auto V is set to redefine the scope of open-world crime games by using three player characters instead of one. Trevor, Michael and Franklin each occupy a different tier of Los Santos society, and rotating between their perspectives will offer a diverse portrait of contemporary LA culture.
It's due out in May and has so far been confirmed to feature planes, quad-bikes, parachutes and speedboats. The social and mini-game features from GTA IV have been streamlined, and there's a greater focus on interior locations, with Los Santos promised to be bigger than Liberty City, the original San Andreas and Red Dead Redemption's western frontier combined.
As for specifics regarding the story, details are still scarce. Disappointingly, Rockstar has said the game will focus on "the pursuit of the almighty dollar", a narrative drum that GTA has been banging since Grand Theft Auto III. Of course, it's way too early to make any judgements on GTA V whatsoever, but it's no doubt going to be one of the most interesting games of 2013.
The best way to create buzz around BioShock Infinite (other than linking to our full hands-on preview, here) is to simply say that everything shown in the gameplay videos thus far is real. It's not doctored; that is actually what the game looks like.
With the original BioShock, Ken Levine and Irrational Games tested the boundaries of videogame narrative, designing a story that could only be discovered through player's engagement with the game world. In Infinite, it's about questioning whether games can talk to real-world issues, like religion, racism and American politics.
Unlike anything we've played until now, Infinite tackles these topics head-on, laying them out and discussing them in a way that only a computer game could. It's beautiful, too - actually beautiful. The first reveal of Columbia, a floating city above the clouds where the game takes place, is one of the most breath-taking sequences in modern videogames.
Like nothing else on this list, BioShock Infinite has the potential to change computer games, and the discussion around them, forever. For that reason alone, 2013 is the perfect time to own a games console.
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