As 2011 shuffles grumpily into 2012, it’s time to start looking forward to the year of gaming treats ahead. Despite vigorously bemoaning unoriginality in my 2011 round-up, the list of games I’m anticipating in 2012 is made up almost exclusively of sequels, so I suppose in some ways I’m a flagrant hypocrite. But in other ways, shut the hell up, it’s my list.
1) Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 2 is easily one of the best games of the past five years. BioWare got everything right: a textured, powerful story, wonderful characters and writing, slickly streamlined gameplay and a vast, inventive game world you could explore with great freedom. The sequel looks like it’s going to up the ante in every way possible, and the London-set first trailer tantalisingly teased of some truly epic space battles to come. Yet Mass Effect is a franchise with a very human core, and I’m looking forward to all the great new characters they’ll introduce, as well as the welcome return of some familiar faces. With Mass Effect 2 BioWare took everything that didn’t work about the first game and stripped it out, creating a finely-honed yet original sequel. If they pull the same trick on Mass Effect 3 then I think the game of the year honours for 2012 may have already been clinched.
2) Max Payne 3
2012 is the year we see the oft-delayed return of the time-warping bullet disco Max Payne series. The first two games were the kind of true film noir that L.A. Noire sadly couldn’t seem to reach – a gritty, mournful shotgun holiday through the darkest territories of human nature. I’m interested to see how Rockstar Vancouver will retain the franchise’s trademark noir leanings after transporting the action to Brazil. I doubt the gameplay will suffer greatly, in fact, I reckon the innovative bullet-time mechanics will benefit from a next-generation spit-and-polish. Fingers crossed Max Payne 3 keeps the unique comic-book storyboard format that was such a visually arresting and tonally unique way of conveying the game’s cutscenes.
3) Bioshock Infinite
It’s hard to rave enough about the seminal philosophical gene-cocktail Bioshock, which was basically a game-length treatise on politics, gaming and choice. Few games have such a powerfully-realised game world, and it is rarer still to see a game so comfortable with confronting players with ideas and questions. In Bioshock Infinite, developers Irrational Games are going from the murky depths of sub-aquatic Rapture to the cloud-based utopian airship city Columbia, where former Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt must locate the enigmatic Elizabeth. Any game that grapples with ideas of exceptionalism, liberty, and economic imperialism is always going to be heavy-going, so how well they bring these ideas alive in the game world is going to make or break Bioshock Infinite. Hopefully, with some fun new abilities and the same championing of narrative that Irrational are now famous for, the game could well be one of this year’s best.
4) Borderlands 2
The original Borderlands is a game that everyone seems to have played except me, and anyone I talk to about the game raves about it endlessly. In theory, it sounds like exactly the sort of thing Fallout 3 should have been – a fun, free-roaming shooter RPG romp that let you endlessly customize your weapons to get new, exciting hybrids. I will soon bow to peer pressure and play through the original game, and if it’s as good as I’ve been told, then I’m sure the sequel will be worth getting excited about.
5) Bonus Wish: Half-Life 3
This is more of a distressed, clamouring plea than an item on the list, as in 2011 the gaming equivalent of mana from heaven managed to elude us for another year. Valve have been busy over the past few years doing the sequels for Left 4 Dead and Portal, as well as rolling around in the giant hills of cash that Steam makes them, so perhaps they haven’t had a chance to get round to Half-Life 3. But given how Half-Life 2: Episode 3 still hasn’t dropped despite being promised what seems like a decade ago, I think it’s time Valve got a move on. Every time Valve make a Half-Life game they revolutionise the industry, and I think we’ve never before been more starved of gaming evolution.
Ever the bastion of integrity, on Friday I’ll be talking about a game I haven’t even played.