Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Big Ones Of 2011

By popular demand (ok, one person asked about it) I thought we'd take a look at next year's proposed heavy hitters.  Some of these you might recognize from last year's list (part 1part 2) but hey, blame the developers who need more time to "polish their game" and "remove the bugs" and "invent flying cars".  Ok I might have lied about the bugs, but the other two are definitely true.

Starting us off, and in no particular order, it's...

Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expected: December 2011

The direct sequel to Mass Effect 2, many people's Game of the Year for 2010 (including myself) and the final game in the Mass Effect trilogy, Commander Shepard has to finally finish off those pesky Reapers, the scourge of the galaxy, once and for all.

I've already spoken elsewhere about how good a game I think ME2 was.  I think in ME3 we will mostly be seeing more of the same, together with the likely addition of some kind of multiplayer, as BioWare have been hinting for a while now.  Exactly how this will be implemented remains to be seen as BioWare are not talking details at all just yet, but I think in the New Year we will start to get more information revealed, as was done very well with the class videos that were released for Mass Effect 2.

I would expect to see ME3 be one of the cornerstones of EA's lineup for E3, and rightly so.  ME2 improved on the original ME in almost every single way (with the possible slight criticism that perhaps they dumbed-down the inventory system a little too much, but that's close to just nitpicking for nitpicking's sake).

The synopsis for Mass Effect 3 was briefly posted to the EA Store by mistake, and thanks to the miracle of the Internets we know that it stated the following:

"Earth is burning. Striking from beyond known space, a race of terrifying machines have begun their destruction of the human race. As Commander Shepard, an Alliance Marine, your only hope for saving mankind is to rally the civilizations of the galaxy and launch one final mission to take back the Earth."

The only caveat here is that I think December 2011 is being somewhat ambitious, since that would be only a year and 11 months since the release of Mass Effect 2.  I wouldn't be surprised to see ME3 get pushed back to sometime in early 2012, but who knows.  Either way, I think ME3 is going to be a worthy sequel to the first two games, and will be more of the BioWare RPG goodness that we have come to know and love.

Developer: People Can Fly / Epic Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expected: 22nd February 2011

An over-the-top FPS from Epic Games-owned Polish developer People Can Fly (of Painkiller fame), Bulletstorm looks set to be an M-rated gorefest complete with massive weapons, skillshots and more explosions than a redneck's Saturday night.

The following video narrated by Epic's Cliff Bleszinski will show you why this is a game you should be interested in:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcIesjXSqAc&hd=1 (embedding messes up the HD, just click the link instead)

PCF and Epic really seem to have just straight up got the idea of a sci-fi action shooter without many other frills, and seem to want you to have as much fun blowing things up as is legally possible, at least in the lower 48.

The developers have only just gotten around to talking about Bulletstorm's multiplayer component, and confirmed that while there will be online co-op (a la Borderlands) there will not be team vs. team online play available, at least not in the beginning.  It's possible this might be added in down the line if fans clamour for it, but right now multiplayer seems to be concentrating on co-op team play and nothing else.  Whilst my first impression was that this was a ball dropped by Epic and PCF, I can sort of see where they are coming from.  Borderlands really did a great job at online co-op in a sci-fi setting and Bulletstorm seems to promise more of that, just ramped up to the nth degree.

Expect Bulletstorm to do very well come its release in February, as it seems to push all the right buttons for most gamers.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expected: Q2/3 2011

I've already written extensively about ToR in the past, so won't rehash what I've said there (warning: BioWare changed some of their site around so the linked article may have some missing screenshots, you can click through them to see them though).

Simply put, The Old Republic is BioWare's take on the WoW-killer.  If it can't put a dent in WoW then I'm really not sure anything can.

ToR promises to be the first fully-voiced MMO in existence.  While this will certainly help to maintain the immersion (and let's face it, most people just skip reading the damn quest text in the first place), it does represent an enormous amount of work that has to be done, and is something that every MMO to date has chosen not to do, probably for quite a good reason (i.e. the time and cost).

The idea of a more story-driven rather than action-driven MMO is one that has been doing the rounds for a while (Guild Wars 2 is also talking much the same thing) but ToR seems to be the first MMO to put its money where its mouth is and try it out.  Based on BioWare's experience creating deep story-driven universes for Mass EffectDragon Age and even Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic then if anyone can pull it off it would be them.

Let's hope that the leaks coming from a purported insider at EA stating that ToR will flop turn out to be false, because if it does fail then good luck finding someone else to drop over $300million into trying to push the boundaries of what an MMO is expected to be.  Instead, the WoW clones you see today will double and treble in number until they are the only thing you see in the market next to WoW itself, and nobody wants to see that, right?

Portal 2

Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve
Expected: 21st April 2011 (NA/AUS), 22nd April 2011 (EU)

A standalone sequel to Portal, the unexpected breakout hit from 2007's The Orange BoxPortal 2 was originally slated for December 2010 before being pushed back to February 2011 and then pushed back again to its present date of April 2011.

You reprise your role as Chell from the first game, an unwitting participant / hostage (the game never reveals which) forced to complete a series of bizarre experiments at the Aperture Science enrichment centre.  While the success of the first game caught Valve (and many others) unawares, this time around they are putting more resources into Portal 2 as well as adding online co-up (likely its only form of multiplayer).

It's known that the second game is set "several hundred years" after the first, so presumably Chell has been preserved in some way at the Aperture Science facility, which is now overgrown and quite dilapidated with neglect.  GLaDOS also survived (somehow) and is made aware of your presence early on in the game.  In addition you have at least some help from a robotic AI known as Wheatley who will help to guide you through the 
abandoned labs of Aperture Science.

You can see an introduction to Wheatley, as well as GLaDOS' reconstruction by hitting this video:

One of the things that makes Valve stand out as a developer is the personality and emotion they put into their games.  From Gordon Freeman to Alyx Vance to GLaDOS to the Heavy in TF2, you almost believe that these are real people.  Wheatley (voiced by British comedian and writer Stephen Merchant) seems set to add to that list, bringing a much-needed human element to an environment so inherently mechanical.

I expect nothing less than for Portal 2 to become one of the smash hits of 2011.

Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Expected: March 2011 (maybe?)

I've written previously about how PlanetSide in its prime was the most fun you could have with your clothes on, gaming or not (here and here).  As a franchise though, the game seemed dead in the water until an email survey sent to current and past subscribers of the original PlanetSide started doing the rounds at the tail-end of 2009.  This email stated that Sony wanted to expand the PlanetSide universe but requested feedback from players of the original game as to how to proceed.  Should there still be three factions, should it be pay-to-pay, what setting should a sequel be placed in, etc.  From that point onwards there was nothing...until about two weeks ago.

On the 8th December The Escapist put up an interview with John Smedley (President of Sony Online Entertainment) which essentially confirmed that PlanetSide Next (its working title) was coming, and it was coming soon, possibly as early as March 2011.

This is great news for several reasons.  One, getting this game out so quickly likely means that the core gameplay mechanics (vehicles, factions, weapons, etc.) have been carried over largely unchanged.  This is a good thing, as they were the strength of the original game and not the reason for its failure (Sony's mismanagement was all that was required there).

Two, it will give them a heads-up on Blizzard's rumoured MMOFPS currently known as Titan.  I've already mentioned Titan here, although there is not a great deal of information available regarding it as Blizzard are keeping their cards very close to their chest on this one.

Three, sooner is always better.

In recent days Smedley has posted on his blog that a beta for Next will debut early next year, and that current PlanetSide subscribers would be at the top of the list for spots in that beta.  I would say that actually, current PlanetSide subscribers are probably the worst people that Sony could choose to have test the game for them.  How about throwing out some love for the old subscribers, Sony?  Heck, I was the beta for the original PlanetSide and I've been beating the drum for a long time, telling people how great a game the first was at its height, even before there was any talk of a sequel.  You see that email address at the top-right corner?  Toss me a beta invite (or preferably a few, for me and some friends) and we'll say no more about it.

Look out the second half of my 2011 preview, coming soon to a series of tubes near you.


  1. You wrote about Planetside 2 " the core gameplay mechanics (vehicles, factions, weapons, etc.) have been carried over largely unchanged. This is a good thing, as they were the strength of the original game and not the reason for its failure (Sony's mismanagement was all that was required there)."

    While the vehicles, factions, weapons, etc. may be fine (though not very balanced) what's not fine is the game code - particularly the hit detection. Those of us who have played since beta and continue to play today would prefer to see a complete code re-write -- something we doubt has been happening in the background.

    Frankly, it's appears highly unlikely that a new Planetside will be released in March with not one person who plays the game having participated in alpha or beta.

    While yes, PS is certainy the most fun video game ever, we've been dissapointed before and are taking wait and see attitude.

    If you'd like to experience true teamwork in Planetside -- even at this late date -- join us in-game or at http://azuretwilight.org.

  2. I'd agree with you on much of that.

    By game balance I assume you're talking about the Jackhammer (for infantry) and the Vanguard (for tanks) being slanted in favour of the NC. I agree that I think some of the NC equipment did need to be toned down just a touch.

    I was a member of Warrior Nation in the original PlanetSide, under KiddPark, one of the most organized and group-oriented outfits on Markov.

    If the sequel is even 1/10th the fun of the original then I think we'll be ok.

    Like you though I would very much like to see some hard details: gameplay mechanics, screenshots, videos, etc.

    If I had to make a list of what killed the original PS it would likely be:

    1) BFRs
    2) A poor and rushed expansion.
    3) Netcode / Hitcode and the generally poor servers.

    Frankly, given all those three it's somewhat of a minor miracle that the original did as well as it did, at least for a time.

    I'm hoping we get some solid details on Next early in the New Year.

    Thanks for the comment!