It’s roughly that time again, to hesitantly cast a squinting eye to the shining future and stab randomly at what might by chance be worth looking forward to. My selection of the most anticipated games last year ended up being less than dead-on; half of them were average-at-best or outright soggy disappointments, and a handful of them have still yet to materialise. But at least Flower was pretty cool.
I’m obviously hoping for a better hit rate this time, but that’s for the whims of fate to dictate, cruel though them may sometimes be. At any rate, a few caveats; if it was on my ’09 list I’m not going to list it again, you can just go ahead and assume I’m still looking forward to it. I’m also disinclined to include sequels on the list; if you played and enjoyed the first then we’ll just assume your jonseing for the next one. Lets try to cast our gaze just a tad further.
And so, with an abysmal record behind me and misplaced faith in the older-wiser truism, here are my hopes for the most interesting games of 2010:
Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360, Platystation 3) – due April 2010
I’ve already been fortunate enough to have a peek at Rockstar’s upcoming sandbox western, and I very much like what I’ve seen. Admittedly anything wester-themed tends to get my spurs jangling, but that fanatical devotion to the genre is clearly shared by the creators of Redemption, its painstaking details simply ooze passion.
With the technical foundations of Liberty City translated to a turn-of-the-century western frontier, scope pushed further than ever, urban bustle replaced with rustic ecosystem, and the whorish excess of Scarface traded for the stoic bravado of the Man With No Name; Red Dead Redemption has expectations stacked.
A reliable developer, exciting premise, and bold attitude towards technical limitations make Redemption one of the easier picks for 2010.
Joe Danger (TBA) – due Spring 2010
Mating the phenomenally successful user-generated excitement of LittleBigPlanet with the frenetic stunt-legacy of Excitbike, UK indie Hello Games have created an adorably dangerous monster.
With beautiful, Pixar-esque visuals, a brazen disregard for sensible physics, and a tight level of control throughout the mayhem, Joe Danger looks as solidly professional as it is cartoonishly insane. The rock-solid stunt-racing mechanics are probably enough to base a successful game upon but the developers look to be putting equal emphasis on user-generated track-building and stunt construction, hopefully resulting an entirely new interactive beast.
The game has a vague release date of spring 2010, but look out for more at the upcoming Independent Gaming Festival in March.
Heavy Rain (PlayStation 3) – due February 2010
Quantic Dream has been teasing us with the prospect of Heavy Rain for so long that I almost feel like leaving it off my list out of spite. But I’m just not that guy, and this latest stab at fully realised interactive narrative is far too fascinating to bluff indifference.
I’ve gone on about the game before, with its thorough reappraisal of how we interact with games, be it controller schemes, character interaction, conflict, or narrative progression. The ideas that have gone into the mix are just effervescent with potential, but whether or not they will come to fruition is far too difficult to call without a little hands-on evidence.
For now I give the developers the benefit of the doubt, in the past they’ve pushed the creative boundaries for real mature content in games with their excitingly unconventional Fahrenheit. And if nothing else Heavy Rain seems set to break all kinds of technical benchmarks, it looks absolutely gorgeous.
Spelunky (Xbox Live Arcade) – due 2010
If you’re attracted to the domain of weird and obscure gaming treasures then you’re likely already familiar with Spelunky, its online beta having quickly built a reputation as one of the meanest sons of bitches in the indie gaming kingdom.
In 2010 the brutality of the 2D dungeon-crawler will be unleashed upon an unsuspecting console populace via Xbox Live Arcade. On the surface it doesn’t look like much, a mere throwback to 80’s-era 2D platforming, but in spirit Spelunky is an entirely different matter. Randomly generated levels unleash a wealth of enemies and traps that kill instantly, deaths that will seem unfair and infuriating, especially with a complete absence of savepoints.
Evolving from the rouguelike tradition, Spelunky is the leading example of an emerging wave of games that are unapologetically difficult, punishingly unbalanced, and just a nightmare to play. Like a habit that appeals despite, or because of, how bad it is for you, I can’t wait to see what Spelunky does to the earnest console crowd.
Dante’s Inferno (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3) – due February 2010
I’m torn on whether I want to see this succeed. On the one hand it’s a ludicrous and borderline treasonous idea to turn one of the finest examples of 18th century epic poetry into a stupid hack ‘n’ slash video game. On the other hand there’s a certain luddite audacity, a repugnant perversity to it, like a spot of rebellious inter-generational literature-vandalism. Maybe I’m just not well.
Either way, I’m interested to see how it turns out, and that’s what really matters. Having seen the early snapshot I’ve got to say I don’t see it diverging much from God of War-clone expectations, but I’d happily eat those words if it did turn out to be some kind of weird bastardised piece of genius.
I got a chance to interview the game’s Executive Producer and Creative Director David Knight a few months back, and to my petulant surprise discovered him to be quite a scholar of the original text (and I felt like quite an ass for having assumed otherwise). Still, it seems like some kind of strange dissonance exists there, surely if you’re that big a proponent of Mr. Alighieri's work then the last thing you would ever want to see is have it debased in videogame form.
Regardless, if the title manages to convert even a single poetry scholar to gaming or gamer to poetry I’ll consider it an unprecedented success.
A Slow Year (Atari 2600, PC, Mac) – due 2010
And speaking of the impossible marriage of poetry and gaming; how about some interactive haikus? I’m not sure you could conceivably get any more obscure than creating zen-inspired interactive Japanese poems on a console over three-decades old, but since it comes from designer, critic, intellectual, and all-round gaming guru Ian Bogost it automatically goes into my interested basket.
A collection of four games requiring the player to thoughtfully concentrate and systematically act, A Slow Year asks its audience to slow down and contemplate the way we experience and observe things through interactive media. Not an immediately appealing prospect for much of the gaming populace perhaps, but certainly worth a look for those interested in stretching the media beyond conventional pigeonholes.
Plus, the game is going to be available on a limited edition Atari 2600 cartridge (as well as on PC and Mac via an emulator), that’s just ridiculously neat.
Check out Mr. Bogost’s website for more fascinating artefacts, beyond developing intriguing games he is also one of the sharpest gaming culture commentators in the biz.
Metroid: Other M (Nintendo Wii) – due 2010
While I’m a big fan of the Metroid series in general, it’s the development team that really mark Other M as a title of interest. Known collectively as Project M, the group behind Samus’ latest outing is a combination of Nintendo SPD and Team Ninja, the developers responsible for the excellent resurrection of the Ninja Gaiden series.
Abandoning the First-Person exploration of the Prime series, Other M is said to return the series to its earlier 2D platforming roots. Which is not to say the new title will be trading solely of retro gameplay and nostalgia, Other M allegedly ties 2D and 3D gameplay together in a way that encompasses both the exploration and action emphasis of the series’ past iterations.
It’s always nice to see an established series getting a shake up, and the developers have certainly been talking a good game as to how well the partnership is working out. I just hope Team Ninja can control themselves for once and not have Samus’ breasts become the stars of the game.
Limbo (TBA) – due 2010
This lovely looking indie game first appeared on the scene in 2006 and then, rather fittingly I suppose, just sort of disappeared. Luckily the project has resurfaced for this year’s IGF and, while there’s not exactly a wealth of information about the game still, the sneak peaks are as exciting as ever.
Delving into a black-and-white nightmare world players are tasked with overcoming physics-based hurdles while scrambling for survival in the danger-filled environment. The title’s most striking feature is its ambient setting that hits that pitch-perfect Alice in Wonderland vibe of being both playfully fantastical and creepily antagonistic.
Nominated for Excellence in Visual Art and Technical Excellence in the festival, Limbo seems like one of the most accomplished indie adventure games in a long time, hopefully we won’t have to wait for too long into the year to see for ourselves. Check out the trailer here.
MAG (PlayStation 3) – due January 2010
The venerable ‘shooter’ genre tends to illicit a gut reaction of resistance within my gaming constitution, but MAG looks just madly ambitious enough to eschew the usual creative black hole of military pastiche.
The titular acronym stands for Massive Action Game, and the blunt sentiment couldn’t be more accurate. Zipper Interactive, who have proven their technical, though dull, chops on the SOCOM series, have purportedly re-jiggered server architecture so that 256 gamers can simultaneously take part in online battle.
There aren’t too many cultures in so desperate need of an overhaul as the cesspit of competitive online shooters, but the invention of the MMOFPS might just create the opportunity to lift standards and create something more friendly, open, respectful, and exciting. One can but hope.
Diamond Trust (Nintendo DS) – due 2010
Indie game darling Jason Rohrer releases his first ever retail gaming project this year on the Nintendo DS. One might well expect something rather thoughtful and expressive from the man behind such art game favourites as The Passage and Between, but a turn-based strategy game based on the modern day Angolan blood diamond trade must have taken everybody by surprise.
While it might seem at odds with the DS’s family-friendly image, the game’s deeply problematic material is certainly in well-informed hands; those following Rohrer’s Twitter feed will be well aware of the deep research the developer has done on the subject, and he has made sure that every single element of the game will be crafted by his own hands.
Volatile, complex, and relevant, Diamond Trust sounds exactly like what anybody who has ever lamented the lack of truly mature games might wish for. Other than an enigmatic teaser site and photographic evidence of a pen-and-paper, coin-and-chickpea prototype of the game, there’s not a great wealth of info available for the game. But for fans of Rohrer that will be more than enough to have them on edge until launch.
Right, that’s me for the clairvoyance this year. As ever, here’s hoping these picks turn out rather well, but even more so lets wish for a cavalcade of previously unheard titles coming out of nowhere and knocking us off our feet. I’ve got a good feeling about this decade, people.
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