Posted February 12th 2011 by Jordan Mammo.
With 2010 looking increasingly distant, the New Year is well underway and the videogame industry is preparing for what will undoubtedly be an important and prolific time. Nintendo will be launching a 3D handheld system while Sony and Microsoft will need to supply their Move and Kinect add-ons with titles to ensure their staying power, but take a look at most lists promoting 2011's line-up and two things remain constant: Nintendo franchises and a baffling number of big-name, blockbuster titles heading into trilogy territory.
Fortunately, alongside giants such as Gears of War and Uncharted there is already a significant amount of original work that looks just as exciting. There is still so much to be learned about many of these projects, but at this point they are what you should keep your eyes peeled for in the coming year.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (Nintendo DS)
After transforming the courtroom into one of the most compelling stages on the Nintendo DS, Phoenix Wright creator Shu Takumi turns his attention to the crime scene. Ghost Trick centers around the soul of a murdered man named Sissel. His soul comes to but cannot remember who he was or why he was killed, and so he sets out to rediscover himself and help others avoid the same grisly fate he couldn't.
Upon arriving at a crime scene, players can interact with the deceased and travel back in time to four minutes before a murder takes place. Since Sissel can't really do anything directly as a soul, he uses his ability to inhabit and manipulate inanimate objects. These powers can be used to maneuver around the environment, but they can also be used to distract and/or influence the actions of people that are still alive. If the characters and writing are as slick as what we saw in Phoenix Wright, then Ghost Trick will likely be another great blend of puzzle-solving and storytelling. The game has been reviewed really well and is already on shelves so check it out!
Bulletstorm (February 22 - PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
Something action games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta have been offering for years is variety. Their dynamic combat allows enemies to be dispatched in a range of ways that has so far been unseen in first-person shooters. Bulletstorm is going to change that.
Hyper-violent to the same degree that Bayonetta is hyper-sexualized, Bulletstorm is all about trying to find the most destructive ways to maul opponents. Players can get creative by using leashes, kicks, a wide variety of gigantic guns and, most importantly, the environment to cause as much mayhem as possible. Consecutive headshots won't score nearly as many points as roping in a mutant, kicking him in the face, and then shooting him into an exploding car, so unleashing your inner monster is key. The more destructive you are, the more points you're awarded, and with those points you can earn new skills an abilities. With its over-the-top attitude and thoroughly cheesy dialogue, Bulletstorm looks just about pitch-perfect.
The Last Guardian (Holiday 2011 - PS3)
In all honesty, I could know absolutely nothing about this game outside of its title and it would still make this list. Team Ico's latest remains shrouded in mystery for the most part, but if their past work is any indication, you want to go in blind. What we do know is simple: you play as a young boy who is trying to escape a setting marked by old and crumbling ruins. He befriends a huge griffon-like creature that he tries to coax into helping him move around environments he couldn't otherwise. Presumably, there will be a blend of exploration and puzzle-solving, and the relationship that develops between your character and the animal you encounter will take center stage. With Ico and Shadow of the Colossus under their belts, Team Ico have proven remarkably adept at creating cohesive, imaginative worlds and powerful connections between the player and the characters on-screen; I fully expect The Last Guardian to be another wonderful, if not emotional, experience.
Journey (TBA 2011 - PS3)
Since the release of flOw and Flower, thatgamecompany has become the premiere developer on Playstation Network, and with Journey they're taking their ambitions online. Set in a sprawling world, players in Journey are traveling and "surfing" through deserts and snowy lands toward a huge mountain in the far-off distance. Along the way you can meet up and travel with whoever happens to cross your path. There is no voice chat, however, and you'll never know who you're playing with because there are no usernames shown on-screen either. To communicate, players are limited what has so far only been described as "a very primal form of communication" and their ingenuity.
Are there puzzles? Challenges or obstacles? The developers want to instill a kind of awe and wonder in players as they travel with, and depart from, strangers for an unknown period of time, but at this point the game is still a little hard to envision. Even so, Journey's ambition and beautiful art direction are more than enough to warrant any discerning gamer's attention this year.
From Dust (TBA 2011 - PS3, Xbox 360)
From Dust throws you into the role of omniscient caretaker for a small tribe of people, but you won't have direct control over any of them. Instead, you must manipulate the environment in order to help your people survive. Form lakes by sucking up ocean water and dropping it onto land. Roll up a ball of land covered in plant life, toss it in a deserted area and watch trees sprout to life, spread around the landscape, and stop erosion. Lava can be cooled to form hard rock. Help the people reach sacred stones by forming an accessible pathway. There are many ways to change the environment, but what's clear is just how vulnerable people are to the elements. When natural disasters threaten your tribe, you must find ways to head it off and minimize its impact. If your tribe prospers, they can build multiple villages and, eventually, send members on migrations to new areas. Potentially, they can meet and recruit other tribes (you'll be responsible for their lives too), or simply exchange beneficial materials. The technology and themes behind From Dust look impressive at this stage of development; add in the fact that it's the first project by Out of This World designer Eric Chahi in over a decade and there's definitely something to be excited about.
Shadows of the Damned (Second Quarter 2011 - PS3, Xbox 360)
The last time Shinji Mikami and Goichi Suda teamed up together they unleashed Killer7 upon the world, a psychedelic brain twister of epic proportions. This time around, it looks like Suda's trying to meld his much-touted punk rock sensibilities to the excellent gameplay foundation that Mikami's Resident Evil 4 introduced. Shadows of the Damned tells the tale of Garcia Hotspur, a man determined to save his true love from the demons who've kidnapped her, but that's not important. The real draw is the flashy, deranged aesthetic married to (hopefully) great gameplay. Its early similarities to Resident Evil could be seen as disappointing, but after the so-so Resident Evil 5, another take by two of the best minds in the industry is more than welcome.
L.A. Noire (May 20 - PS3, Xbox 360)
Yes, Rockstar and the developers at Team Bondi went to great lengths to recreate 1940's Los Angeles for L.A. Noire, but an open-world game this won't be. Noire is much more focused on story than past Rockstar efforts, pitting you in the role of police officer Cole Phelps as he investigates crimes. Unlike characters in Grand Theft Auto, Phelps is a man whose moral compass doesn't change directions based on the whims of players. Instead of being able to simply create chaos in the streets, you'll have to work for those adrenaline-boosting sequences. Potentially, this will make L.A. Noire all the more rewarding, especially since the way you question suspects is one of the game's most impressive features.
Using new motion capture technology, Team Bondi has managed to create characters whose facial expressions are eerily realistic. Players must pay attention not only to what suspects say but also how they say it. Do they look nervous? Are their eyes shifty? By picking up on these clues and more, you can decide how you want to go about questioning. Question suspects effectively and you'll be given more clues, furthering the development of your case. The developers hired over 300 actors to use in-game, and if the script and voice-acting come together well with the gameplay, L.A. Noire could end up being one of the great experiences of the year.
El Shaddai (TBA 2011 - PS3, Xbox 360)
Amidst other high-profile departures, no one really batted an eye when Sawaki Takeyasu left Capcom a few years ago. This year, though, the lead artist behind Okami will make his directorial debut with the Biblically-inspired El Shaddai. Loosely based on a story from the Dead Sea Scrolls, you play as Enoch as he tries to round up seven fallen angels who are wreaking havoc on earth. Combat looks fast-paced but deliberate, since Enoch will need to dodge attacks and time his strikes correctly in order to steal his opponent's weapons or shields and use them himself. It's not all combat though, as El Shaddai will blend together exploration, fighting, and platforming.
Still, the art direction is what first catches the eye. The edgy watercolor-like, surrealist style stands in sharp contrast with most other titles, and it looks particularly cool in motion. The visuals are used for other noteworthy aspects as well, because the title doesn't feature any kind of heads-up display or health meter. Instead, the game will depict damage through armor degradation. The more Enoch and other characters are hit, the more their armor starts to fall apart, and they're left shirtless as the killing blow is struck. This kind of visual representation of information is something I think more games should be experimenting with. There's a lot going on with El Shaddai, so here's hoping its execution matches its ambition.
Child of Eden (TBA 2011 - PS3, Xbox 360)
The spiritual successor to Rez, Child of Eden is so far the standout title in the upcoming Kinect line-up (Playstation Move support is also being considered). Players use the palm of their hands to direct the on-screen reticule and aim to shoot various targets as they travel through a smorgasbord of abstract visuals and electronic music. Clapping your hands switches between lock-on and free aim, and throwing both hands into the air lets you drop bombs that hit various targets. Hitting targets causes each of them to produce some kind of sound effect, adding texture and rhythm to your musically synthesized journey. Technically speaking, Child of Eden may not end up being the most impressive use of motion technology, but if the controls are as responsive as I think they'll be, the marriage between their simplicity and the beautifully designed aesthetics will make for a trippy, wonderful experience. And if you get tired of standing up and waving your arms around, the game will also be playable with a standard controller.
Xenoblade (TBA 2011 – Wii)
Role-playing fans are undoubtedly paying attention to the release of The Last Story (the latest from the creator of Final Fantasy), but here is another RPG they should keep in mind. Xenoblade attempts to blend traditional JRPG's with MMO's and even some first-person gunplay to stand out in a declining console RPG arena. There is no loading between cities and overworlds, no strangely-scaled overworlds. Simply put, there is no "overworld;" there is simply the environment in which the game is set. In addition, battles take place seamlessly throughout. If you see an enemy on-screen, you can engage them right then and there in real-time. Battles are more focused on strategy management and timing than strictly controlling each party member. Clearly Xenoblade is taking a lot of cues from Final Fantasy XII, but it's looking like a formidable counterpart to the Wii's other big RPG.
Ni No Kuni (TBA 2011 - Nintendo DS, PS3)
I'm of two minds on this one. Anticipation for this project is based almost entirely on its art direction, and on one hand that's completely justifiable. Working in collaboration with Studio Ghibli (the animation studio behind Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro), the developers at Level 5 have created what resembles an animated movie that you control. The setting is lush and beautiful, and the style is distinctly Ghibli. On the other hand, a lot of what we know about the gameplay at this point doesn't do much to set it apart from the RPG pack. Even then, I've been playing enough Dragon Quest IX lately to sabotage any claim I might have in railing against this game for adhering to tradition. If Level 5 can deliver solid gameplay with a whimsical story, Ni No Kuni will probably be one beautiful scoop of comfort food for RPG veterans.
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