As a general rule of thumb, previews for games are written or presented with a certain level of optimism. Cautious optimism. But optimism nonetheless. It’s not a bad rule -- we can’t effectively assume a work-in-progress is going to be indicative of the final, retail product (even post-release, these days), so everything needs to be gauged on a bit of trust and familiarity -- especially where game criticism is concerned. Obviously we’d be remiss not to talk about our concerns, but they’re almost always tagged with something along the lines of “hopefully this is addressed before release”. We're certainly no stranger to the form here and are happy to do it, but most of the time our media preview sessions are in very controlled environments and we'd be kidding ourselves if we didn't think publishers and developers were showing us the best slice of their product during such exposures.
So as we’ve said our goodbyes to 2013 and set our sights firmly on the year ahead, every publication and its dog has been presenting their own list of what to get excited about in 2014, likely with a very large amount of the aforementioned optimism.
So we wanted to do things a bit differently. We have a list. We’ve checked it twice, and while we hope everything here is going to be nice, there’s a lot of potential for naughty (read: problems) too. Below you’ll find our list of games on the horizon for 2014 from the big Triple-A camp right through to Indies and everything in between. If the game is listed here, it’s safe to assume we’re actually pretty excited about its release, but rather than glowingly blanket the year’s manifest with optimistic enthusiasm, we’re presenting these games to you in a critical light of concern and, in some cases, even trepidation.
Bungie’s first release post-emancipation from Microsoft is all the buzz, and we’re just as to blame as everyone else for being a bit excited. But it does look awesome, that much can’t be denied.
One thing that concerns us is networking, especially for the geographically-challenged like Australia or New Zealand. Bungie has also stated that it’s built its own proprietary networking engine and that it shouldn’t matter where you live, but for a persistent online title, we’re just not convinced. How will friends from three vastly different regions connect and what sort of latency can the group, or an individual, expect? It’s just not very clear right now (even across something like competitive multiplayer, or how it connects to the persistent space -- is it all running off the same system?). We’re also worried about activities and if there will be enough to keep players engaged as long as Bungie appear to be hoping for. And will the single-players side of the equation prove fruitful? It’s just a matter of time before we know more, but these are all genuine concerns.
There’s no denying the anticipation of Respawn’s debut title. The basic, yet natural evolution of mechanics and gameplay in the online shooter here is what sets it apart. Even more than having giant pilotable mechs.
But we’re worried about a few things. First of all, balance is key and with both pilots and mechs, and unlockables for both, there’s a chance the game could become a lockout for late adopters. Moreover, the idea that the battlefield will also be littered with AI soldiers as well as human players doesn’t really make sense. Unless a Drivatar system similar to that of Forza 5 can be used to give said AI more human-like reactions and behaviours, we can’t really see them adding much to the fray. New news of the capped 6v6 has a lot of people up against the wall as well. There’s also the very real concern that it just won’t live up to the hype.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
BioWare’s redirected openform play in Dragon Age II, which seemed to stem from the success of the Mass Effect formula, really didn’t gel with fans. And now the studio is promising a huge open-world with all the RPG bells and whistles we’ve been asking for.
However, an open-world potentially hamstrung by too linear a story (the same could be said for The Witcher 3, mind) is still a very real threat given the narrative lineage of the studio and let's not forget that DAII essentially only had one city to explore. Also, ensuring a balance between action and traditional role-playing combat is a paramount directive, and one BioWare hasn’t managed to nail in any of its last efforts (with ME3 proving more action oriented than any of the previous games) leaving us with a bit of an anticipatory sour taste in our mouths. There’s a real concern the fantasy-RPG component will be cosmetic at best.
Tom Clancy’s The Division
That the Snowdrop engine is being put over as one of this game’s biggest selling points could go either way. Ubisoft does have a good track record of nurturing engines and new technology though, and next-gen games really do need a poster-child.
What we’re worried about is that all the Snowdrop stuff we’re seeing won’t be consistent in the final product. There’s also a good chance that platform parity will be as lost as it has been across Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on a number of first-gen releases so far. Second-screen integration is yet to prove stable in a lot of games too, which is a major component of the co-op and multiplayer experience for The Division. And finally, networking is always an issue, and Ubisoft doesn’t have a perfect record in this department, leaving a lot of question marks around much of what is being touted about here.
We actually brought up the question of how the team reacted after the release of GTA V, given Watch_Dogs is also an open-world free-roam title, to which we were told there’s nothing they regret in regards to the finalised content of the game and that things were on-track for that November release. Then the game was pushed right
So concerns begin to stem from a potential lack of peripheral game-world activities or engagements in Watch_Dogs, and that this delay was enacted to craft new open-world off-mission content for the game. If this is the case, there’s a worry about a lot of content feeling “tacked-on”. The companion app second-screen experience is also a cause for concern here as well. More often than not a delay is usually good for a game, but the length of this delay in the wake of the confidence Ubisoft had for its 2013 release (PS4 bundles, for example) doesn’t instil the greatest of confidence, despite how promising the game was looking in a controlled environment at events and during media play-sessions. More info ASAP please Ubi.
InFamous: Second Son
As one of Sony’s flagship console experiences, InFamous has gathered a loud and proud audience of ardent fans, but even fanboyism has its limits, and there’s a rather big risk involved in not only serving up a new character for players to work with, but one that isn’t immediately likeable.
SuckerPunch is hoping you’re going to play the game as a jerk to get the most out of the experience, and this isn’t necessarily something people aren’t used to -- just look at GTA for example. The problem is this is a superhero game and despite a delineation between good and evil, there’s a very real issue with you dynamically affecting the game based on your decisions, as is one of its big selling points, and it really only being binary. The team has also struggled in the past with believable pedestrian AI (read: open-world peripheral life: cars, peds etc), which came across feeling vacuous and binary. A colourful game with no real sense of dynamism or lasting player impact is the main concern here.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
It’s clearly fitting that the third and final installment in this series be open-world. CD Projekt RED has proven itself a constructively open studio and there are more than a few top examples in the space to draw influence and parallel from. Plus it looks gorgeous.
What’s concerning, however, is whether or not their previously locked-down multi story threads can thrive in an emergent environment. Skyrim’s biggest strength is in how you craft your own journey, and while The Witcher is clearly not The Elder Scrolls a move to open-world might dilute the strong story elements the Witcher series has nailed. Moreover, as awesome as Geralt is, there’s the idea that you’re not really building the ideal character for yourself -- another facet of TES’s success, but that depends on what you play a Witcher game for in the first place. Finally, as a preeminent PC developer, will The Witcher 3 play as well on next-gen consoles as its desktop counterpart? And will multi-platform development equally dilute the team’s clearly grand vision? We hope not, but it’s a very big possibility.
Thief’s place in gaming should not go unnoticed (or, in keeping with its theme, should it?). The fan reaction to a new game in the series was loud and proud, but in the wake of Deus Ex’s rebirth, people have become a bit trepidatious.
This comes with good reason too. Much of what’s been shown of the game is very blockbuster action-heavy, and no amount of dark art-direction is going to change the idea that your hand could very well be held the majority of the way through the new experience. Stealth games continue to take a backseat to over-the-top bite-sized chunks of linear, often on-rails gaming, leaving the most important component of any stealth experience in the dark -- player-choice. Systems should be designed to be stacked in any order you please, but Thief reeks of breadcrumb game-design. And let's not forget the chilling example of the most recent Hitman. Similar style of gameplay heritage, same parent company, similar depressing departure from the style of game it was supposed to be. We are definitely very weary of this one. Dishonored 2, please.
Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes
Already, clarity is an issue for Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes. Is Ground Zeroes MGS V? Is The Phantom Pain actually MGS V? Which one comes first? This sort of confusion can't be healthy for the game, but it's an easy one to clear up. Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes serves as a sort of prologue to MGS: The Phantom Pain, and together the games make up what Hideo Kojima wants to call MGS: V.
While the naming confusion is simple to solve, the convoluted plot of the series might prove too much for many--and that doesn't even account for the gameplay, where a player sometimes needs to hold up to three buttons at once to accomplish even basic things. Further problems stem from the team's lack of experience with an open-world style game, an ambitious goal that might clash with the game's deep stealth mechanics. Kojima himself stated "I don't think our "V" can reach that level. Rockstar's team are the best." after seeing Grand Theft Auto V in action.
Mario Kart 8
It’s arguable the Mario Kart series across both handhelds and home consoles is actually two separate entities. The more mobile version is the hardcore MK -- serving up balanced and competitive gameplay fuelled by racers who know how to double-boost through corners with perfection and would rather drop a blue shell, than use it for an unfair advantage on the home-stretch. The console run then, is the party game offering -- it has long, often arduous tracks with myriad gimmicks and blue shells used in abundance. It is meant to be fun, not fair and that where problems with the forthcoming Wii U Mario Kart immediately rear their head.
Anti-gravity tracks are the new gimmick here, along with the usual flying/underwater offerings and while there’s no denying it’ll be fun for some, and even F-Zero-nostalgic for others, these types of things take away the core of what made the SNES original so damn compelling in the first place -- speed, balance and the subsequent competitiveness that stemmed from those. That controller is likely to be a comfort issue, too. Sorry, but HD
Luigi’s Mansion tracks just aren’t going to be enough for the series’ legacy here.
Genres and Categories at a Glance
Wolfenstein: The New Order -- A lack of multiplayer in the new Wolfenstein has definitely irked fans of some of the original titles, but linearity could be this game’s achilles heel. It’s definitely telling a specific story, which is fine, but too many action-blockbuster moments over solid gameplay is a modern shooter plague, let’s hope it hasn’t spread too far.
Alien: Isolation -- If you’ve played an Alien(s) game in the past decade, chances are you were let-down. So there’s that hurdle for Creative Assembly to get over, but probably the biggest is that outside of the Total War series, the studio doesn’t have the best track record and they’re not really known for their first-person experiences, either. Naysayers will be all over this, until proven wrong.
Evolve -- That the studio and its game was saved by 2K doesn’t really matter, the fact is Turtle Rock had to face months and months of wondering if their product would ever see the light of day during THQ’s slow and painful demise, and there’s a chance this could come through in the final product. Add that to the game being held up against Left 4 Dead until it’s finally in consumer hands and you have a barrier of entry (and release) that is going to be hard to shake.
Dying Light -- Heritage is a funny thing, and in Techland’s case, Dying Light will have to combat the idea that people are calling it Dead Island meets Mirror’s Edge, but that Dead Island isn’t that well a received game doesn’t bode well for that comparison.
Halo 5 -- 343 Industries did a stellar job of taking the beloved Halo franchise and delivering goods. But they cheated a bit: to boost graphical fidelity, they turned open environments into fauxpen sections, with clever funnelling techniques. Now that the Halo series has the power of the Xbox One behind it, 343 will have to drop the cheats and prove they can balance open levels just as masterfully as Bungie, all the while adding enough new features to maintain interest.
The Evil Within -- Despite the best of intentions, is it too late for the father of survival-horror to save the genre? Will The Evil Within top Mikami’s best work -- Resident Evil 4? The game has an uphill battle against it, that’s for sure.
The Telltale Adventures (Game of Thrones, Tales from the Borderlands, Walking Dead) -- Could this possibly be too much for a single developer to handle? One of the factors that killed the adventure genre as a big player in the 90s was an oversaturation of titles and what many perceived to be the same thing over and over. In order for this to be a banner year for Telltale these games will need to differ not only in story and setting but in pacing, action, and player interaction.
Mad Max -- Taking into account the voice-actor uproar that accompanied this game last year, which we were proud to be part of changing, there’s a question of reverence and just how much Avalanche care about this IP’s roots and heritage. Will it just be a large, open-world car combat game, or can it capture the true spirit of The Road Warrior?
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 -- Quick Time Events and invisible walls were a huge problem in the first game, and there's a genuine chance the team will make similar mistakes again and just follow the same formula. A lack of next-gen port support is a missed opportunity as well.
The Order: 1886 -- Not a lot is known about Ready At Dawn’s all-new IP, and as exciting as it looks there’s always a concern that story might take precedence over gameplay, or that the four-player co-op might lack tactical depth. That it’s been in development since 2010, is due out this year and so little has been shown is slightly troubling also.
The Elder Scrolls Online -- That this is going to be one of the first high-profile MMOs to appear on a home-console is definitely cause for celebration, but when we look at the locked-out manufacturer experience, it’s hard to see it being a huge success. For one, MMOs thrive on player-numbers, and the fact that Sony and Microsoft still can’t play nice effectively halves the multiplayer factor across both machines. And on PC, does a traditional subscription-based model have the modern chops to survive among anything else in the field? Finally, how will newcomers to the series feel if they think they're buying the next Skyrim, only to be faced with an entirely different gameplay beast?
World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor -- This will be the fifth expansion for Blizzard’s behemoth MMO, though the big question is can it bring back the diehard fans who have since moved on? With the introduction of a new level cap, rebalancing of rampant gear stats and a storyline that isn’t expanding on tales already told, this expansion may just be Blizzard’s biggest gamble on staying relevant in the ever-growing MMO field.
DayZ -- With over one million sales after just a month since launch, the mod-turned-standalone definitely shows that it has the potential to stay relevant, but how long can it keep that momentum going? Bohemia Interactive and creator Dean “Rocket” Hall need to ensure that updates are fresh, that players feel included in the development cycle and those currently playing in the Early Access version aren’t burnt out and not willing to come back. Support for additional maps and modes will also help keep things going, though that will need to be balanced with the vision of Hall and team.
WildStar -- A new entry from Carbine Studios, WildStar could be one of the more successful titles of this year. Combining what made previous MMOs like World of Warcraft successful with their own twist on the genre, the dev team has to prove that WildStar isn’t just be another clone of the past. With offerings of unique fast-paced combat, high-level PVP and PVE that encompasses a more explorative side the potential is there, but we’ve seen unique new offerings come and go (The Secret World), and there’s no major hook for the masses just yet.
EverQuest Next: Landmark - When you take one of the oldest and most well known MMOs and bring it into the current gen there are a couple of ways to go about it. With the market now full of numerous MMOs and 2014 seeing the release of a few high profile ones, the only way to stand out it seems is to be different. Landmark is an interesting turn for the series as it introduces open construction mechanics similar to Minecraft and ties directly to the next installment of the series proper. Though to be a success it will need to stand on its own as a viable product regardless of having the ability to import a three story castle into a standard RPG world.
South Park: The Stick Of Truth -- We’ve already been hit by harsh Australian censorship where this game is concerned, and while the idea that “questionable” scenes are being replaced with a crying Koala -- visually -- while the scenes play out from an audio perspective is completely on-point for South Park, it’s not the game as it was intended. Then there’s the fact that Obsidian have not released a bug-free game in, well, ever, making its delay both telling and alarming. Not shipping on either of the next-gen machines as part of the delay is also a very big missed opportunity. Can its classic South Park humour make up for all concerns above?
Dark Souls II -- With news that director Hidetaka Miyazaki would only be helping in a supervisory capacity on this sequel, red flags were immediately raised. Dark Souls II is a hotly anticipated sequel to a notoriously difficult game. It resonated with gamers to such a degree that many people are putting this in their most anticipated lists well above much bigger budgeted efforts. If the game isn’t as difficult, or its watered down in anyway, people will be let down. But then again if the experience is pretty much the same they’ll be let down just the same.
Child of Light -- This is a game that looks incredibly charming, with an amazing handdrawn art style and rich old school RPG mechanics drawing from classic Super Nintendo titles and lesser known entities like Grandia. This also means that being the sum of such amazing individual parts, for some, anything less than a perfect end product will seem like a letdown.
Final Fantasy XV -- Square
Enix has always had cinematic ambitions, they even put this to the test with a failed film attempt. Final Fantasy XV looks like their most cinematic project yet, but this comes at a cost with very little that looks like the RPG gameplay the series is known for. If the right balance isn’t struck this could alienate quite a large portion of their fanbase.
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls -- Not only an expansion but a complete revamp of the entire game, and one that may upset many current players in the process. New high level content has always been problem number one for many players and Blizzard will need to ensure they have a plan to keep the momentum going well after release.
Nintendo (yep, gets its own category here)
Hyrule Warriors -- Take a franchise with an almost completely unblemished record and combine this with a franchise, Dynasty Warriors, that became a sort of poster-boy for generic repetitive gaming, and the end result is a scary proposition.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze -- The platformer proved to be a success on the Wii, with classic old school fun that also brought with it some great new ideas. But platformer sequels, especially in the Donkey Kong Country franchise, tend to have diminishing returns with each new entry. And we’ll need more than Cranky Kong to get us excited.
Bayonetta 2 -- The first Bayonetta was very well received by most of the gaming press, but more importantly it became a fan and cult hit overnight, so the choice to release the sequel exclusively on Wii U -- a floundering system is an odd one. That being said, it could be just what the platform needs to get out of its rut, but we don’t see that happening, nor the greater audience at large being able to play the game.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U -- The Smash Bros series of games have a hardcore following for good reason, they’re great brawlers with distinct multiplayer focused gameplay. The success of this new entry will lie heavily on how well Nintendo implements the online components, and with an online track record that raises more than a few doubts, this could very well end up as a mere HD revision of an existing template.
X -- Developer Monolith Software has a long history of releasing very Japanese-influenced RPGs on Nintendo consoles, with varying success. X is no different, but when you add a large fantasy world filled with giant dinobots, mechanical contraptions, giant swords, and lush vibrant landscapes, expectations are going to be a lot higher than usual. It’s going to be a hard task to ensure the actual story and RPG mechanics can live up to the premise.
No Man’s Sky -- There's a risk, as with any sandbox game, that the entire experience might be exceedingly hollow after you get over the initial awe. It’s also a very, very small team with lofty goals -- could a lack of manpower be its undoing?
Entropy -- This one could have nestled in the MMO area, but its indie status was too much to ignore. It’s also a game with very lofty goals which makes its indie standing a slight concern, but most worrying is how Art Plant are clearly hoping to capture some of the success of EVE Online, by empowering players to command the game. The thing with this is, EVE’s player-control happened organically -- as a goal from the outset there could be some serious teething problems.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number -- The first Hotline Miami sang to gamers everywhere and was a critical success, leaving a small risk that players will already know the formula and that a sequel might feel too much like a cash-in based on the popularity and street-cred of the first.
Transistor -- As a follow up to the well-received Bastion, Transistor, although looking similar thanks to the isometric viewpoint and hand drawn visuals, will play very differently. With battlefields broken down into grids, cover mechanics, move planning, and some turn-based elements the end result is definitely more ambitious than its predecessor. The action looks chaotic and confusing, which could be detrimental to the end product if the game doesn’t ease players into the combat.
The Witness -- On paper one way to describe The Witness would be a modern indie take on the classic island-puzzle exploration game Myst. It looks fantastic, with a bright vibrant visual style that feels instantly iconic. One of the more curious aspects of the game seems to be that the entire puzzle focus relies on what looks like drawing maze-like patterns on panels. Without any other environment interaction the island could ultimately serve as mere window dressing.
Broken Age -- DoubleFine's foray into crowd-funding set a record for support when it appeared on Kickstarter, but since the scope of the game has increased in correlation with the funds, the end result will be an incomplete product. The biggest worry is that when we do get to play it, it may feel too short and light on promised gameplay.
Dreamfall Chapters -- Built with funds garnered from fans of the series this has a pretty good chance of alienating everyone other than those who have fond memories of playing Dreamfall. So far it features fantastic visuals, great dialogue, and an intriguing story, lets hope there’s also a great game in there somewhere.
Pillars of Eternity -- Obsidian has a great track record of releasing games before they should have been. With their own engine and a throwback to the style of RPG made popular with Baldurs Gate, here’s hoping they spend the time they need to finish this ambitious project.
Wasteland 2 -- With a glorified preview masquerading as a beta currently available on Steam, developer inXile will have a lot of work cut out for them to ensure the end product runs at a stable frame-rate, and is glitch and bug free.
Torment: Tide of Numenera -- Although it raised an insane amount of money on Kickstarter, Torment is another project with enough stretch goals to blow what looked like a relatively straight forward project into one that is pretty massive in scope. Perhaps too big for its own good, only time will tell.
We'll likely garner some hate from purists for their most anticipated of 2014, but we can't reiterate enough that everything on this list is worthy of being here for having huge amounts of potential where great gaming is concerned. But with marketing machines being what they are, we couldn't, in good conscience, present anything like this without a critical edge and the more we delved, the more we realised caution needs to become as much a part of gaming hype as the hype itself. Use the links for each game and track our own coverage for each title -- you'll definitely find a lot of positive content, but with this, the year of a new generation of gaming in home consoles, PC and the indie and kickstarter boom, we all need to look for greater transparency.
Now, Games of 2014 presented here, prove us wrong.