2007: Games to Watch
I've got a stack of unfinished games so tall that it threatens to collapse upon me, suffocating me with its weight. But does that prevent me from looking forward to next year's releases? No! Because, dear readers, it is our duty here at GWJ to prognosticate, predict, and prophesy with enthusiasm, especially as the new year begins.
Read on for a selection of upcoming 2007 games that you may want to keep your eye on, lovingly handpicked by Certis, Chiggie, and myself. Not a definitive list by any means, but it should be enough to convince you to stash away some cash, and finish up all those 2006 games.
Adam "The Fly" LaMosca:
If you're a PC Gamer and you haven't heard about Crysis (PC), you may very well have been living on a deserted island in the South China Sea. An achingly beautiful island, in fact, featuring the crash site of an unidentified alien object, to which a contingent of North Korean soldiers have been dispatched to investigate. And the island is rendered with the most technologically advanced graphics known to man and Holy Cats, is this game ever beautiful to look at. When Crysis is released, PC gamers will be divided into two camps: those who will sit agape before their expensive new PCs, basking in the glory of its visual excesses, and those who will weep for want of updated hardware. Will the game itself be any good? Probably. The folks at Crytek seem like smart people, and they say they've learned from the gameplay missteps they made with their debut release, FarCry.
The first two releases in the Chikyuu Boueigun series never made it to North American shores. It's probably just as well, because honestly, I have no idea how to pronounce that title and if it's up to me I'll never type it again. Released as budget PS2 titles, by nearly all accounts they were chock full of satisfying run-and-gun, arcade style 3D shooter action. The premise is simple: defend Earth's cities from massive swarms of giant insects, crowd-stomping robots, and the like. The series supposedly sold like hotcakes, well enough that an Xbox 360 sequel, Earth Defense Force X, is due out early this year. It supposedly features 53 stages to fight through and an arsenal of 150 weapons. If it's released under the same budget pricing as the previous titles, it ought to be worth a look.
STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl: There's supposed to be a period after every letter in the first word of this game's title. Screw that. Anyway, I wept with joy when GSC Gameworld showed this game at E3 2003. It was to be a vast, near-accurate, fully explorable recreation of the Chernobyl disaster area, transformed by a second mysterious nuclear event into a no-man's land populated by brilliantly AI-controlled foes. I could go on and on about how incredible this game looked. Sadly, its development process apparently went off the rails, and it garnered bonafide vaporware status well before publisher THQ finally stepped in to get GSC to push the game out. Rumors abound as to the quality and content of the finished product, and it worries me that the game's seen so little press of late. It's supposed to be due out for the PC early this year, and I'm hoping it hasn't been completely gutted. If it retains its core features, I'll be thrilled. If it's simply a decent shooter that still allows me to explore an amazingly accurate Chernobyl site recreation, I'll be satisfied.
Finally, is there anyone out there who isn't interested in seeing what boyish wonder Will Wright finally cooks up with Spore? I'm a bit weary of the hype surrounding Wright, justified though it may be, but I'll admit that the promise of a God game that actually allows players to evolve life from single cells into space-populating species is absolutely captivating. This is one game I'm tired of hearing about but still can't wait to play.
Shawn "Certis" Andrich:
There is no doubt that Assassin's Creed (Xbox 360, PS3) is one of the most intriguing upcoming releases this year. There is a certain intangible quality to the game that defies our usual attempts to pigeon hole it. What we've seen of the crowd mechanics (hiding in plain sight amongst a group of wandering monks, for example) is new. Locating your target and casually making your way toward him without drawing attention has the potential to show us a big leap in A.I -- or a cruel look at how far we still have to go. Mob mentalities, people freaking out over the weirdo climbing the side of the building, or how guards react to the player will all require new levels of programmed NPC behavior to work. After Prince of Persia made such a big splash in 2003, I can't wait to see what the team has in store for us with this new franchise.
With such a strong pedigree, it's no surprise that Bioshock (Xbox 360, PC) is one of the most anticipated games of the year by those lucky enough to have played the System Shock series. Ken Levine, the lead designer of the game, had a hand in both the original Thief: The Dark Project and System Shock 2. After stunning the press at E3 last year, Bioshock is poised to draw a whole new audience into a game style that PC players have known and loved for years. A deep, creepy story coupled with an underwater city and a splash of RPG elements is more than enough to sell me on the game. It remains to be seen if this particular mix, made popular among PC aficionados, will have the legs to popularize the genre on a simpler, more streamlined platform.
We first started to hear about Hellgate: London back in April 2005. The announcement that a team of former Diablo developers lead by Blizzard's own Bill Roper would be producing a game under the Namco banner (for the PC, no less) was a surprise. Since then, we've been teased with playable builds at E3 and, more recently, some of the first CGI movies done for the game. The movies easily rival anything Blizzard has produced and it's obvious Flagship Studios are sticking to their roots. Despite the FPS/3rd person action trappings, this would appear to be a spiritual successor to Diablo II, with randomly generated levels and multitudes of gibbering demon spawn. Swords, guns, and women in skimpy armor in a post-apocalyptic London? Sign me up. In recent interviews, Roper has suggested that the game would be released before the year is out.
We still don't know nearly enough about Remedy's Alan Wake to be sure if it's coming out this year. After blowing us away two years ago at E3, Remedy has been coy about showing off any new gameplay footage or even details on exactly what we're getting ourselves into. Slated as an Xbox 360/Windows Vista title, we do know that you will play an author haunted by unknown dark things in a coastal village. There's also sexy graphics tech and some amazing use of light and darkness to affect gameplay. One thing I know for sure, Remedy hasn't let us down yet with either of the Max Payne games and they're obviously approaching their latest with a great deal of care. Here's hoping we see it by next Christmas.
Stephen "Chiggie" Failey:
Ubisoft promises to keep its latest trend of placing "Tangos" in the "down" position with another addition to one of the most recognizable tactical shooter franchises ever: Ghost Recon. Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 is the direct sequel to the 2006 title G.R.A.W. This new installment promises to keep the continuity of the story intact (for the 3 or 4 of you out there that would notice) by remaining in Mexico. I'm finally going to have an excuse to get a flat screen after another Ubisoft game goes the extra mile to washing the entire color palette of brown out of my television from overuse. After a while it will just become black and white and it will be like watching that old silent movie. You know the one; where robots from the future come down to Earth and shoot all the Mexicans.
On an extreme upside it looks as if most of the gameplay that made the first G.R.A.W. so fun has also made the jump to the sequel without much change. From the screen shots I glanced at briefly while researching this blurb I noticed that the squad interface for your teammates and support devices is still there. That means more flying cameras to help you sneak up on potential targets and the addition of a big armored car to carry all your crap around.
Of course this will really just be a hold over while we wait for the big enchilada for 2007: Halo 3. Anybody that is excited about Halo 3 already probably knows more than I do about the upcoming title so instead of previewing it I'm going to throw out a word of warning for those of us ranked as "devout followers" of those giant metal rings in the sky. Consciously waiting and obsessing over Halo 3 without having a hard release date is like knowing your are going to get ice-cream some random time in the future and deciding to focus your entire life around frozen treats. You can't just sit around and think, "Oh god this ice-cream is going to be so damned good!" You'll go insane and you'll take people with you. You just have to calm down and go about your life as usual and let the ice-cream be a surprise. Halo 3 is coming, hardly a force in the universe could cancel this juggernaut's release, so just take a deep breath, clear your mind, find something else to do, and let the good men and women of Bungie work in peace.