So we return to Wild Speculation Corner, where this week I’ll round up a few of the other incoming games of 2012 that for whatever reasons I am – or am not – looking forward to.
Irrational Games’ BioShock (2007) had a profound impact on me. From beginning to (not quite the) end it was one of those experiences, like the first time I watched Jean-Pierre Jeunet et Marc Caro’s magical The City of Lost Children, where it felt like the creators had tapped in directly to parts of my imagination – even my psyche – in a way that few other creative people had ever managed to. 2K’s 2010 BioShock 2, while entirely competent, proved that a return to the decaying majesty of Rapture wasn’t enough in itself to stir up those feelings once more. Though I am less enthused for Infinite’s skyward location than I was for the undersea setting of BioShock, I have every faith in Ken Levine and his team to serve up a truly worthy follow-up in terms of the quality of narrative and emotional engagement. I fear that many critics will be anticipating The Big Twist as with an M. Night Shyamalan movie, or the Jonathan Coulton song at the end of Portal 2, to the detriment of their experience. This is one game I may even attempt to go into self-imposed ‘blackout’ for. I want every moment spent as Booker DeWitt in Columbia to be mine first.
Thatgamecompany’s Flower (2009) is one of the precious handful of videogames to engender an overwhelming surge of emotion within me. With that in mind I am concerned that this high concept piece of esoterica can only fall short of my fragile heart’s lofty expectations. I’m hopeful that the protracted development time is an indicator that the game is being properly finished and polished rather than that the product was coming up short as a game.
Originally due to launch in 2010, Xbox Live Arcade puzzle-platformer Fez is essentially the work of just two people: designer Phil Fish and programmer Renaud Bédard (augmented crucially by a third, musician Rich Vreeland). As with the not-so-dissimilar PSN obscurity Where is My Heart? it’s easier for you and me both if you simply watch the video below rather than struggle through me failing to explain the nifty concept – the game’s defining mechanic – to you. Suffice to say that the game looks and sounds adorable and ingenious and like it will hurt your brain in that pleasurable way that only the cleverest and most well-intentioned videogames do.
It seems to me that nowadays publishers are trying to sneak what would once have been been new IP’s onto the market under the cloaking device of ‘rebooting’ a dormant franchise from a few generations ago within a totally different genre (usually first or third person action) to that which the series made its name with in the first place. As a huge fan of both the original titles in these series’: Mythos Games’ UFO: Enemy Unknown (a.k.a. X-Com: UFO Defense (in the US) a.k.a. X-Com: Enemy Unknown (on the PSone)) – a deep, complex and atmospheric future turn-based strategy game – as well as Bullfrog’s Syndicate – a deep, complex and atmospheric future real-time strategy game – I initially baulked at the announcements of these sacrilegious aberrations. However, time has passed, builds and pre-release word of mouth have both improved and each game comes from a studio with a reputable past. 2K’s X-COM comes from the Marin based team who achieved something remarkable by making a well-received sequel to Irrational’s magnificent BioShock. At this point I’m mildly optimistic that X-COM will not besmirch the saga’s great name and instead will offer a slightly unusual take on the usual FPS perhaps akin to Raven’s under-regarded Singularity (2010).
As for Syndicate, this is in the hands of Swedish former demo coders Starbreeze, who have a decent track record of dark sci-fi and Stealth (Chronicles of Riddick, The Darkness) and while it bears little resemblance to Bullfrog’s seminal 1993 original other than a (now twenty years more) hackneyed cyberpunk setting, I am open to the possibility that Syndicate 2012 may provide something along the lines, and potentially quality, of last year’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Far more exciting than either of these to me however is the news that Sid Meier’s Civilization developers Firaxis has been tasked with creating a new X-COM: Enemy Unknown strategy game. It seems unlikely that this will emerge in 2012, though I’ll be keeping my eye on this one for as long as it remains in development.
The Last Guardian
Anticipation for this title is such that the news of lead designer Fumito Ueda’s departure from Sony incited much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the many fans so affected by his previous masterpieces ICO and Shadow of the Colossus (SotC). Upsetting rumours of the game being cancelled soon followed Ueda-san’s leaving, however Sony has since insisted that these were spurious and that Ueda remains committed to the project until it is completed. While The Last Guardian doesn’t necessarily complete a trilogy it appears to carry core themes, mechanics and stylistics over from Team ICO’s previous games. The game world could certainly be the one which ICO and SotC appear to share based on the costumes and architecture on display in the footage we’ve been allowed to see so far. I harbour concerns that the game’s lengthy development has been to do with the producers being unable to deliver upon the ambition of the concept either mechanically and/or emotionally. Where the studio’s previous games more than compensated for occasionally irksome controls by delivering sad yet ultimately sweet-natured and fulfilling narrative content, it would be as heartbreaking as the conclusions of ICO and SotC combined if The Last Guardian fell short in both key areas.
These are just some of the, for me, notable releases coming up in 2012. As ever I hope and expect to enjoy a cornucopia of as yet undiscovered/unannounced gems to play, and that in twelve months time many of my most vivid gaming memories of 2012 will be of titles that I haven’t even considered at the time of writing this.