From Project Natal to Halo Reach and beyond, we chart the year ahead.
It's going to be an expensive year for the hardcore gamer that owns an Xbox 360, but that's about the only negative thing you can say about the outlook for Microsoft's console. The games are rolling in. The hardware finally has a decent failure rate. Xbox Live just keeps getting better. And soon we'll be able to play games and more without even holding a controller.
Now, the good stuff. The Xbox 360 games we're most looking forward to in the months to come. From shooters to RPGs and everything in between, Microsoft's system is looking hot in 2010.
What it Is: Imagine waking one day to find out that a book you don't remember writing is coming to life. And no, this isn't a happy book that involves you winning the lottery. This is a horror story and it stars you and your wife. Evil has taken over the Pacific Northwest town of Bright Falls and the only way to stay safe is to stay in the light. Unfortunately, night has a way of creeping in and that's where things start getting dangerous. Everything from your average citizen up to giant logging machinery can at any time become an enemy in this psychological thriller.
Why It's Hot: Remedy made a name for itself with the Max Payne franchise, but it has been hard at work on Alan Wake for over five years. We haven't seen much of it during that prolonged development cycle, but everything we have seen looks downright stunning. Taking inspiration from The X-Files, Twin Peaks, and many other thrillers, Remedy has put together a game that oozes atmosphere and tension. The wait has been a long one, but everything we've seen so far makes it feel like it was worth it.
- Erik Brudvig
What it Is: B Company returns in EA's second offering of the newly revitalized Battlefield world. Combing through dense jungles, war-torn villages and ice-capped mountaintops, players will take to the field in the industry's biggest vehicular warfare title to date. All new multiplayer modes debut, bringing back not only the gold rush mode from the original Bad Company, but also a more traditional take on Battlefield warfare.
Why It's Hot: As a huge fan of tactical military games, Bad Company is a highly anticipated shooter for yours truly. Mixing in deeper destruction, refined controls (that proved to be all the rage during my time with the pre-release build) and a huge scale of warfare, Bad Company is looking to be on the right track. The first game was a good starting point, EA's revitalization of 1943 was a gigantic success on XBLA, and Bad Company 2 is setting itself up to be a must-play FPS this year. Plus, blowing crap up is fun.
- Steve Butts
What it Is: The underwater world of Rapture was the setting for one of the best modern games. Then things changed. The sequel was announced, but no longer was Irrational Games handling development. Instead, BioShock 2 was handed to newly formed 2K Marin, which included a few staff members that had traveled over from Boston, where Irrational is based. The new game takes place roughly 10 years after the original and follows along with a new story. You play as a Big Daddy this time and come across a range of new weapons, abilities, and enemies. Now you can have weapons and plasmids at the ready simultaneously, allowing you to dish out punishment more rapidly, and more effectively combat some of the deadlier foes walking around.
Why It's Hot: There are a few specific things I think work better in the sequel, particularly the research and the way Little Sisters are dealt with. Instead of simply snapping photos, now the camera has a basic video function. Start the camera before you start attacking and it'll record the conflict and grade you based on performance, a system that lets you research without slowing down the action. The Little Sister mechanic has also been changed. Since you're playing as a Big Daddy, you get the option to adopt the girls and walk around with them as they harvest Adam from corpses, adding a new dimension to one of the more peculiar and twisted relationships in videogames. Even with a number of improvements, will Rapture still be as interesting a place the second time through?
- Charles Onyett
What it Is: Think God of War meets Castlevania -- that's interesting enough to pay attention to, but Lords of Shadow also happens to be headed up by none other than Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear Solid fame. The footage that we've seen looks pretty intense, and any classic franchise that is helmed by the director of a second major franchise is going to get second and third looks, especially when it's this pairing.
Why It's Hot: Hideo Kojima working on a Castlevania game? What's likely to be a good 3D Castlevania game? That's pretty much all I needed to hear. Of course, I don't simply want it to be God of War with a different art direction and Dracula; I'd love to see a 3D Castlevania game that has an interesting story, great presentation and combat that involves a number of new and unique twists. For my money, Kojima is one of the few that might be able to pull this off well, so I'm pretty excited about it.
- Chris Roper
What it Is: Remember when you bought that game Crackdown because it came with the Halo 3 beta only to find out that it was great? Yeah, that game is getting a sequel. The huge Pacific City has gone into disarray in your absence and it's now up to you and a few friends to restore order in this massive, open-world cooperative action game. Add in some adversarial multiplayer, super-hero skills, and even a helicopter or two and you've got all of the toys you could ever want.
Why It's Hot: Crackdown was a bit of a sleeper hit, but there is no way this sequel can hope to fly under the radar. The most intriguing part of this sequel is that it is being made under new management. A splinter group of developers from RealTime Worlds (the makers of the original Crackdown) left to form their own group, called Ruffian Games, to continue work on the franchise. Though there are plenty of Crackdown veterans working on the next installment, it will be interesting to see how it turns out. From what we've seen so far, the guys at Ruffian definitely know what made Crackdown a hit in the first place: freedom, action, awesome skill orbs to collect, and plenty of big explosions.
- Erik Brudvig
What it Is: Welcome to Fortune City. A bustling metropolis not too far removed from modern day Vegas, this epicenter of activity has a new attraction standing (or shuffling) at center stage: Zombies. Taking the role of Chuck – forget Frank. Frank… isn't here. – players run rampaging through the streets of Fortune City to rid the world of the infected in this comedic survival horror game. The franchise is seeing a new lead character, an all new dev team under Capcom's wing, and a whole lot of over-the-top action. You'll have to wait until later this year to get it, but Dead Rising 2 is a no-brainer for everybody's wishlist.
Why It's Hot: Why is it hot? Is that really a question? Uh… the game is about chopping up zombies, running through Vegas (er… "Fortune City") with create-your-own weapons and modded motorcycles that look like they're pulled out of some freakish Harley Davidson-sponsored Death Race 2000. Yes, I'm anticipating this game. Hell I'm anticipating a real zombie apocalypse. Plus, after three days in Vegas you're about ready to kill everything in sight as it is, am I right? Just bring on the American Gladiators Altraspheres and let's do the damn thing already.
- Mark Bozon
What it Is: In the latest Fable, eventually you'll be king of the land of Albion. First, though, you'll need to prove your worth. The game will read your save, if you've still got it, from Fable II, and when you begin you'll be playing as the son or daughter of the hero from Fable II. It sounds like in the opening sections of the game you'll need to play the role of a politician, campaigning to the population and making promises of what you'll do when you climb up to the throne. This will still be an action game, though, so don't worry about your character getting all lazy and obese from sitting on the throne and downing beer and oversized chicken legs.
Why It's Hot: In a role-playing game, it's always interesting to see how your actions can affect the world around you. After all, more so than simply manipulating statistics and picking from amongst a selection of hats to put on your head, you're supposed to step into a role. Are you a benevolent leader? A ruthless power monger? Or are you moody and unpredictable, tossing coins to the poor on one day and tossing cats off the roof the next? It sounds like the types of decisions you make in Fable III will go a long way to affecting the overall game world since you'll actually be ruling the population and people tend to notice when things aren't going so well. We're all hoping for another winner from Lionhead.
- Charles Onyett
What it Is: The next Halo game from Bungie sounds like it could actually be the most interesting. In Halo: Reach, you're part of a squad of Spartans battling the Covenant on the planet Reach. If you're familiar with Halo fiction at all, you'll know this means bad things are going to happen. Events on Reach didn't exactly go so well for the forces of humanity, which then leads into the events of the first Halo game. With an all-new single-player mode and as-of-yet unannounced multiplayer features, this could be a Halo experience with a different kind of feel and combat on a gigantic scale.
Why it's Hot: Well, it's a Halo game made by Bungie. That pretty much guarantees it'll be an entertaining game experience with tight and responsive controls, an excellent soundtrack, and robust multiplayer features. Bungie says it has made a lot of tweaks to the visual presentation of the game, which should help make this the prettiest Halo yet. Co-operative play through the single-player portion could also be really cool since it looks as though each Spartan is built as a specific class (heavy weapons guy, sniper guy) instead of each being a super powered, all-purpose soldier. Best Halo yet? I certainly hope so.
- Charles Onyett
What it Is: After releasing the enormous post-apocalyptic RPG Fallout 3 in 2008, developer Bethesda Softworks is taking a breather from the franchise. But that doesn't mean your 2010 will be Fallout free. Bethesda has passed the torch to Obsidian Entertainment for Fallout: New Vegas, an entirely new installment in the Fallout saga. Both companies have been tight-lipped about the details, but we know it won't be a continuation of Fallout 3. Expect new characters, a new setting and a standalone storyline. Obsidian is no stranger to sequels. They're the development house responsible for both Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords and Neverwinter Nights 2, both quality RPGs.
Why It's Hot: It's more Fallout. Expect most of the things you loved about Bethesda's effort to return in New Vegas. Bethesda and Obsidian would be crazy to move away from V.A.T.S., S.P.E.C.I.A.L. and all those other kooky acronyms we grew to love so well in Fallout 3. We're looking forward to seeing the new world Obsidian builds inside Bethesda's re-imagined Fallout universe. Five-dollar all-you-can-eat giant rat buffet, here we come!
- Ryan Geddes
What it Is: Final Fantasy XIII is the long-awaited, current-gen entry to Square Enix's legendary franchise. Starring the stoic heroine Lightning and a band of strong-willed rebels, Final Fantasy XIII looks to bring back the Japanese role-playing game in a big way, after games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age brought Western RPGs to the gaming forefront. Besides the emotional narrative that the Final Fantasy games are known for, Final Fantasy XIII will feature a complex battle system and several character customization mechanics that will allow players to develop each of their characters in a very individual way.
Why It's Hot: I was originally concerned about Final Fantasy XIII, as the game seemed much more linear than I would have liked. After a recent preview event, however, I came to see just how much effort was put into polishing the game. Although players are only able to control one character at a time during battle, there seems to be more than enough to do in order to customize that battle to suit the player's tastes. This includes developing classes for each character, building up particular skills and modifying weapons and armor. If Final Fantasy XIII's story can live up to the hype, this could be one of the finest JRPGs we've seen during this generation of consoles.
- Ryan Clements
What it Is: We all remember the racing circuit part of the first Mafia, right? Such an incredible game with great writing, a powerful story and characters, stylish third-person gunplay, unmatched atmosphere and thematic cohesion, stunning visuals (at the time), and then you got to that damn racing circuit and it all came crumbling down. Then you got past it and it was like a clear sunrise after a hurricane. With the sequel, it's February in 1945 in Empire City, and you'll follow along with a decade in the life of mobster Vito. Like before, Mafia II will be an open world game mixed in with story-focused missions that mix third-person combat with driving sequences.
Why it's Hot: Open world third-person action games aren't as rare as they once were, which means Mafia II's got more competition to outclass if it really wants to stand out from the crowd. Anyone who played the original, like myself, is greatly looking forward to 2K Czech's game, as I'm hoping for the same mix of strong characterization, a well-presented story, and excellent attention to detail as it relates to the time period in which the game is set. The way the characters are clothed, the design and sound of the vehicles on the street, the soundtrack, and the overall feel of the world will hopefully contribute to making this an entertaining experience that's matched by a sense of authenticity most games don't even bother to try for. We'll see.
- Charles Onyett
What it Is: The Max Payne franchise, at least when you're talking about the games, is about two things: being incredibly angry and killing an insane amount of enemies with a preposterous amount of bullets. To do that, Max can dive and roll all around the dark, dilapidated environments in which he frequently find himself. Using his slow-motion 'bullet-time' ability, wiping out multiple foes with stylistic sweeps of high-velocity projectiles. All the while pieces of the environment are splintering and shattering amidst the chaos, and you're having a great time at the controls. Remedy isn't handling the third game in the franchise, but Rockstar Vancouver is hard at work on what we all hope is another action epic.
Why It's Hot: Max Payne has, for me, been one of the best examples of an action game done right. It was brimming with personality, embraced and toyed with its genre's clichés, and served as an entirely unmistakable experience. No title since the first two games has managed to strike the same kind of balance of story, character, and unrelenting action entertainment. With the third game, Rockstar's changing things around a little, and to me that's great since I don't want to play something that's exactly the same. Max Payne is now older, presumably even more bitter, and the dark, rainy streets of the first few games has been scrapped entirely for the bright and sunny setting of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Will it be able to recapture the mood of the first games? Not much of the game has been shown so far, but I think Rockstar knows exactly how to deliver an experience like this.
- Charles Onyett
What it Is: EA reboots its Medal of Honor franchise with the first ever M-rated shooter in the series. Very little is known about the game thus far, outside of the fact that it's coming later in the year, and it's going to be a big change from the standard MOH design. The series is said to introduce a new central character, taking the role of a Tier 1 Operator. Taking on black ops missions, apparently centered around real-world terror threats including possible Taliban storylines, players will get an up-close look at real world battle through the eyes of actual soldiers.
Why It's Hot: The Medal of Honor series has always pushed realism at the forefront. While EA is obviously trying to capitalize on the success of the Modern Warfare boom, Medal of Honor has always been about a true-to-life experience that often centers around real soldiers and war stories. If this is the case once again, players will have the closest took into modern war ever experienced in a videogame, and that alone is pretty intense. Oh, and hopefully EA brings back the latest analog crouch system, as it blows every other first person cover controls out of the water.
- Mark Bozon
What it Is: Peter Molyneux, the creative director for Microsoft Games Studios Europe, described Milo and Kate as a "super tamagotchi." That's a simple way to describe a not-so-simple game. Milo was one of the stars of last year's E3 press conference as Molyneux showed how Project Natal will create new experiences on Xbox 360. Milo was shown talking with the player and reacting to motions, even going so far as to recognize the color of a player's shirt. If you've ever wanted a true digital friend, this might be as close as you're going to get.
Why It's Hot: Everything with Project Natal, Microsoft's controller-free 3D camera peripheral, is hot right now. We don't know a whole lot about Milo and Kate aside from what was shown at E3 last year, but we do know that it has the potential to be a game changer. This sort of game has been tried before, with relative success, in games like the Dreamcast's Seaman. The limiting factors have always been weak AI and technology. With Lionhead on board using Project Natal, this could truly be a breakout experience.
What it Is: A new action title from id Software, Rage is a post-apocalyptic first-person shooter that includes racing sequences, vehicular combat and RPG elements. Set after a giant asteroid crashes into Earth, players attempt to explore this devastated world, discover what happened to the rest of humanity, and survive the lawless threats that roam the land. In an open-ended but directed story, players will be able to pick their path through mutants, raiders and other hazards that want to destroy everything in front of them.
Why It's Hot: At first glance, the premise of Rage sounds like Fallout 3: a post-apocalyptic adventure where you emerge from underground bunkers to search for survivors. However, Rage includes Mad Max styled vehicular sequences, along with Running Man-influenced gameshow fights against hordes of mutants. Shootouts aren't typical either, as you can use turrets for fire support, or drive RC cars packed with explosives into enemies. With an adventure set in the American Southwest and cobbled together weaponry, Rage should stand out from other disaster action games.
- Jeff Haynes
What it Is: One of the things that's never been done very well before is the videogame Western. Rockstar is hoping to change all that with Red Dead Redemption, and action game set in an open world. Of course many associate Rockstar with its Grand Theft Auto franchise, and while many similar elements are at play in this world, it's looking like a unique kind of experience. You play as John Marston, a former outlaw whose past has caught back up to him. So he sets out on horseback to shoot and gamble and steal as he deals with death and carves his own path on both sides of the law and the Mexican-American border. With a giant world, plenty of towns and interesting NPCs to interact with, loads of content and some beautiful visuals, Red Dead Redemption could very well wind up being a bullseye.
Why It's Hot: When it comes to open worlds in video games, I like to play the bad guy. What'll be interesting to see is how the effects of saving a town versus slaughtering its residents will affect how the world reacts and treats your character afterward. Will I eventually be able to walk back through a town after I've eliminated its populace, or will I have to stay out in the barren plains, moving by night on horseback and hunting wild animals in the twilight while planning my next move? I can't wait to find out how this virtual world works.
- Charles Onyett
What it Is: In the fifth entry in the stealth-based series, Sam Fisher returns in a story that rewrites all previous ideas in the franchise. While investigating his daughter's death, Fisher discovers that his former agency, Third Echelon, has betrayed him. Abandoning their orders, he continues on his own mission, and discovers that he must defeat a terrorist plot that could kill millions of people. Players will use a new assortment of weapons and espionage skills to defeat their enemies in this dangerous new world.
Why It's Hot: Conviction introduces us to a grittier, darker Sam Fisher (think Jack Bauer from 24, just unshackled from his government handlers). Seeking to eliminate his enemies by any means necessary, Sam ditches the infrared goggles in favor of brutal interrogation methods and automatically targeting enemies. What's been shown so far is much faster paced than previous games in the series, and since Sam no longer cares about hiding bodies, you'll have a much deadlier special operative on your hands. Looks like the government messed with the wrong man.
- Jeff Haynes
What it Is: Very little is known about this sequel to 2008's "physics-demo-posing-as-a-game of the year". What is known for sure is that it will feature Starkiller, one or more lightsabers, probably a Rancor, and almost certainly several different iterations of the force. The rest is purely conjecture based on the teaser from December's VGAs which, funnily enough, featured Starkiller in an arena, fighting a massive tusked beast with two light sabers, next to a dead Rancor. Also he used Force Lightning.
Why It's Hot: The original was pretty underwhelming, but LucasArts has had almost a year and a half to learn from their mistakes, and to improve further on the bits they got right. I wish I could say more, but there is literally no information about this game. Therefore, I am going to make things up: Starkiller is really Luke's cousin. Starkiller kills a star at some point (possibly with two lightsabers). The Force Unleashed II is in fact just a remastered version of the original, but with more CG aliens in the background.
- Nick Kolan
What it Is: We expected that Street Fighter IV would make a big impact on the fighting game community when it launched last year, and we also expected that a sequel would be in the works soon afterwards. Lo and behold, Capcom revealed Super Street Fighter IV, an update to the immensely popular fighter. While the original Street Fighter IV rekindled the dying 2D fighting genre, Super Street Fighter IV looks to improve that formula with new characters, modes and more. Street Fighter veterans like Dee Jay and T. Hawk return to expand the already robust roster, making this game one of the most complete Street Fighter experiences to date.
Why It's Hot: Street Fighter IV was an awesome fighting game and a great reemergence of the Street Fighter legacy. Super Street Fighter IV will be just as good, if not better, thanks to the new characters and intriguing new modes. But perhaps the most exciting aspect of Super Street Fighter IV -- at least for the hardcore fans -- are the inevitable gameplay tweaks that come with each of Capcom's updates. This is great for the devoted tournament fighters that want the most balanced experience possible, and Super Street Fighter IV will be another step in the right direction. Besides, the car-bashing mini-game is back. How could you go wrong?
- Ryan Clements
What it Is: There has never been a grade-A Transformers game, despite the fact that the universe of the Autobots and Decepticons is ready-made for the videogame treatment. Hopefully, War for Cybertron does for Optimus Prime what Arkham Asylum did for Batman – finally provide the complicated hero with a videogame and storyline that befits the power of the mythology. Fan-favorite heroes and villains battle it out for control of the Transformers' home world in their own unique campaigns, set in the sunset years of the great Cybertron civil war. Developer High Moon describes it as a rollercoaster action game like Gears of War, so expect lots of firefights, big explosions, and even bigger bosses. Was that Omega Supreme we spied in the teaser?
Why It's Hot: Hardcore Transformers fans – the kind that openly wept at the death of Optimus Prime in the original animated flick – were devastated by the fast and loose revisionism of the movies. War for Cybertron could undo the damage. The return of Generation One designs is also welcome, although expect to see the robots transformer into otherworldly vehicles. (Remember – they have not yet been to Earth to scan our car and trucks yet.) High Moon Studios also promises a dark, gritty storyline that drills into the Transformers mythos, such as the complex, Greek tragedy-esque relationship between Megatron and Starscream. How cool is that?
- Levi Buchanan