'Horizon Zero Dawn', E3 2015 trailer
Thousands of new video games are released every year. 2016 will be no different. You can't hope to play them all. Nobody can. I struggle to get all the way through, like, a dozen games a year, and this is my job. I start bloody loads though, and to help you decide which games to begin and which to bin before you've even considered installing them, here's a guide to some of the new titles expected across the coming 12 months. If a game you're looking forward to isn't here, go read about it somewhere else, I guess.
The Games That Will Probably Be Quite Good, Perhaps Even Excellent
Let's begin with a trio of the big guns for 2016. Horizon Zero Dawn (release date TBC) is the does-it-or-does-it-not-have-a-colon PlayStation 4 exclusive by Killzone studio Guerrilla Games that attracted more hype at 2015's E3 than an unattended chocolate cake does toddler fingers at a family Christmas, and with good reason – it looks absolutely tremendous. Pitched as an action role-player, it features enormous robot dinosaurs roaming a post-apocalyptic world that's been reclaimed by nature alongside these AI-driven metallic beasts. You are the hunter Aloy, who must destroy the monsters that constantly threaten what humans remain in this future world, by any and all means available, in order to retrieve survival-essential materials from their remains.
'Dark Souls III', Darkness Has Spread trailer
Two further action RPGs stand out as being likely to impress when they're released. FromSoftware's new-gen-only Dark Souls III (released in March or April, depending on where you are in the world) is a game I've had my hands on twice already, and it feels like a fairly effortless bridging of the methodical combat that characterised the original Dark Souls and the faster, more aggressive gameplay of the same studio's 2015 hit, Bloodborne. I'm utterly useless at it, but even in multiple deaths I could tell this is shaping up to be a special game. And then there's the Wii U Zelda game that may or may not also be heading to Nintendo's next console, provisionally called the NX. The previous Nintendo Direct, of mid-November, promised a 2016 release date, but I'm not going to hold my breath just yet.
'Hyper Light Drifter', trailer 2
A rather smaller-looking, but most likely testing RPG, is Heart Machine's multi-format Hyper Light Drifter, which matches gorgeous pixel art and eerie electronic sounds to top-down hack-and-slashing action. It looks like something that could have existed on the SNES, albeit only in your early 1990s wildest dreams. Its most recent trailer, which you can watch above, claims a "spring 2016" release date – but that dates from August 2015, and this is a game that's been plagued by setbacks. It'll be ready when it's ready, basically. Eitr, by the two-man team of Eneme Entertainment, is also looking incredibly promising. The isometric adventure draws on Norse mythology for its storyline influences, and looks to the Souls series for its level of difficulty. It'll be playable on PC and PS4 as soon as publisher Devolver declares it done.
'Eitr', gameplay trailer
If all this darkness and dread is giving you the willies, Giant Squid's Abzû might be the perfect tonic for your terror. With art direction from Journey's Matt Nava, and music by that same game's composer Austin Wintory, this new studio's debut game, ostensibly a diving adventure, promises underwater immersion and utmost relaxation. If the deep blue does nothing for you, but the blackness of space certainly does, an alternative meditative distraction is Three One Zero's ADR1FT, a violence-eschewing first-person experience where the greatest threat is your dwindling supply of oxygen. Relax, sure – but remember to breathe.
'ADR1FT', official gameplay footage
If you need firmer-defined objectives and more linear play in your colourful escapes, original members of the team behind the Banjo-Kazooie games have reformed as Playtonic for Yooka-Laylee. (We spoke to them in 2015.) This Team17-published 3D platformer might well stir memories of classic N64 escapades when it's released, hopefully in October. Strategy fans will get their kicks when XCOM 2 rolls out for PC and Mac on February 5th – my advice is not to get too attached to any of your squad members, as once they're dead, they're dead. Firaxis' sequel proper to 2012's series reboot, Enemy Unknown, promises faster play than its predecessor, as well as more objectives per mission.
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The rhythm action genre, revived so unexpectedly wonderfully in 2015 by the overhauled Guitar Hero Live and, albeit to a lesser extent, the mechanically sound but compromised-on-delivery Rock Band 4, gets a couple of potential crackers in 2016. First up is the new, crowd-funded Amplitude, a remake of Harmonix's loved-by-some, ignored-by-millions PS2 title of 2003. You can play that as soon as January 5th, on PlayStation consoles. Rather more exciting is Thumper by Drool, a studio set up by former Harmonix programmer Marc Flury and Lightning Bolt drummer and game artist Brian Gibson. I first wrote about it in April 2015, and while there's no release date just yet, this "rhythm violence" experience gets me pumped just by watching footage.
'Amplitude', launch trailer
Scares-wise, three indie games have my absolute attention. Night School's Oxenfree and Campo Santo's Firewatch I've already written about in detail in 2015 – the first is all teenage hormones and ghostly presences on a former military base, while the latter, not a horror game by any conventional means, turns the Wyoming wilderness into a stylised but super-tense environment of shadows and suspense. At least, I hope there's some of that to proceedings. And then there's Routine, a (what feels like) several-years-in-the-making survival horror set on an abandoned Moon base – one now home to what appears to be a variety of mechanical nasties. Made by a small team at LunarSoftware, it's currently in its crunching stages, adding the smaller details that'll make the finished game so enveloping, hopefully. I swear I shit myself slightly every time I watch the now-ages-old alpha trailer.
'Routine', official alpha gameplay trailer (from early 2014)
The Games That'll Be OK, At Least, But I Don't Know, Some Might Stink
A whole bunch of triple-A titles slip comfortably into this category of anticipation, purely because of precedent screaming that not everything is likely to be rosy. The fourth main Uncharted game, A Thief's End, was struck by a few delays, moving its release date from 2015 to April 2016. If it adds little to the existing formula for the series, it'll still be an enjoyable Hollywood-aping romp – but likely terrifically hollow with it. There was a real sense of finality, of loose ends being tied, to Nathan Drake's story come the climactic cutscene of Uncharted 3, so whatever this follow-up has to add to his tale, beyond the return of a presumed-dead brother, it really needs to be substantial or else the familiar gunplay will pale well prior to the game's final stages. Two words of warning: Crystal Skull. (And some more that it'll need to trump: Rise of the Tomb Raider.) The prehistoric Far Cry Primal, due in February, needs to mix up its more modern precursors' tried-and-tested mechanics, too, for it to feel like a significant step forward for Ubisoft's shooter series. Just replacing semi-automatic firearms with bows won't be enough.
'Uncharted 4: A Thief's End', PSX 2015 trailer
Hitman (March) and Mirror's Edge Catalyst (May) are two more high-hopes affairs, from super-publishers Square Enix and EA respectively, that have slipped back in the schedule to allow for further development time. Both seem promising based on preview footage, but the real test of their merits will come when players proper get their hands on these franchises-furthering releases. Hitman will succeed or slump based on just how flexible its contract killings are – a recent Edge magazine cover feature talks of myriad routes to each of Agent 47's objectives, many of which require a great deal of planning. Sounds like a YouTuber's dream. Catalyst, meanwhile, demands that its first-person free-running movement is super responsive – which makes October's update from EA DICE that this exact element of play needs plenty of tweaking ever so slightly worrying.
'Mirror's Edge Catalyst', gameplay trailer
Hello Games' procedurally generated space epic No Man's Sky could be the great beacon that attracts millions more gamers to the indie sector, or a title disastrously crippled by too many months of teasing. I'm hopeful that it'll be a uniquely engaging sci-fi affair quite unlike any Elite-shaped peers, on account of the art style and 65daysofstatic's soundtrack; but just how long people stick with it will depend on the variety that emerges from the sexy maths driving its world- and creature-building. The long-awaited PlayStation exclusive The Last Guardian, from Shadow of the Colossus creator Fumito Ueda, could go either way – will its puzzle-solving aspects feel dated, due to the time it's spent in development? Will it fail to connect with the player on the same emotional level as SotC and the hugely celebrated game that came before it, Ico? As if so, many a critic will deem it a failure.
'Dishonored 2', official E3 2015 announcement trailer
Simply more of the same won't work for Dishonored 2, and while Arkane's follow-up to its Thief-ish hit of 2012 offers the option of choosing between a male or female protagonist, it's how that selection works within what'll presumably be a similarly structured campaign for both characters that'll really make its world either feel alive or flat. The Xbox One exclusive Crackdown 3 is largely selling itself on the promise of spectacular environmental destruction – like Just Cause 3, then, but without sticking explosives exclusively to objects marked with red paint, as Reagent Games' revival of a series on the furthest-back burner since 2010 is promising that anything in the game can be blown to smithereens. Which sounds like fun for 15 minutes, but without a compelling story, sessions are sure to be curtailed, for me at least. (Again, just like Just Cause 3.)
'Persona 5', Tokyo Game Show 2015 trailer
With very little prior experience of its parent series, I can't confidently comment on whether the Altus-made RPG-cum-dungeon-crawler Persona 5 is going to be a guaranteed winner or not – but I know plenty of people who loved Persona 4 with every ounce of their blackened hearts, so what the hell, let's say it'll feature in 70 percent of the top ten lists come the end of 2016. (I probably should restart Persona 3 to work out what all the fuss is about.) Assuming it comes out in 2016, Final Fantasy XV is likely to be more divisive amongst followers of Square Enix's long-running role-playing series, abandoning as it does turn-based combat for real-time scuffles and casting the player as a dude who looks like a depressed boyband reject. That said, I quite liked the game's "Episode Duscae" demo, with its dazzling battles and massive summon, so I'm remaining optimistic about this one. They should probably fix Ci(n)d(y)'s clothes, though, as that getup's going to get her arrested.
'Unravel', official story trailer
Unravel, a physics platformer backed by EA money, looks incredibly cute but may prove to be complete bobbins – we only have to wait until February 9th to find out if it'll make a star of its lead character Yarny, when it's released for PS4, Xbox One and PC. PlatinumGames' Xbox One-only Scalebound looks like a one-bro-douche-and-his-dragon buddy adventure that could be one long dubstep-soundtracked Beats By Dre commercial dressed up as a video game. It's been shelved a few times in the past, ahead of both Bayonetta and The Wonderful 101, but it'll get its time to shine (or not) in late 2016. I dunno about this one. It's doing nothing for me in its trailers.
'Scalebound', Gamescom 2015 gameplay trailer
Tacoma is The Fullbright Company's follow-up to Gone Home, due out for Xbox One and PC sometime this year. It shifts its setting from 1990s Oregon to a space station some 200,000 miles from Earth, but it mustn't be a mere reskinning of the same gameplay ingredients – poke around here, stroll about there. Previews at Game Informer and Polygon have been positive, but there's plenty riding on Tacoma to prove that Gone Home wasn't a one-hit wonder for its makers – and the same can be said of imminent Myst-inspired puzzler The Witness, Jonathan Blow's first game after the runaway success of Braid. It's out for PC and PS4 on January 26th.
'Tacoma', E3 2015 gameplay trailer
And, um, throw Remedy's Quantum Break and Ubisoft's The Division in here for the time being, too. The former's video game meets TV show approach sounds a lot like 2013's Defiance, and that was so much hot garbage – but perhaps the end product here will be rather different. We'll find out in April. As for Ubi's new Tom Clancy-branded shooter, its mixing of MMO features with third-person cover play and RPG elements could be a too-many-cooks recipe for mediocrity, though its premise is appealing – a bank note-spread pandemic beginning on Black Friday as good as obliterates the United States in five days, leaving the titular department of tactical agents to bring order back to the shattered country. Accompanying asset cancellations – an app was planned and scrapped – and several release delays have put The Division on the spot, though, as both one of 2016's most anticipated titles, and one that'll receive a considerable amount of critical scrutiny. It's out on March 8th.
'Quantum Break', Gamescom 2015 trailer
These Games, Yeah, I'm Not Too Sure About These Games
I played Star Fox Zero, Homefront: The Revolution and Battleborn in 2015 and, to cut an already short story shorter, they weren't very good in the states I saw them. Nintendo's first Fox McCloud game proper for the Wii U was hamstrung by terrible controls, which is unexpected from developers Platinum – hopefully it'll have been retuned come its April release. Dambuster Studios' sequel to 2011's original Homefront sees a resistance force striking back against the USA-occupying Koreans, but it played – at Gamescom 2015 – like the most tired kind of first-person shooter anyone could have the misfortune to sit through in this day and age. It was like the worst Far Cry game imaginable, in the blandest urban environment. And Battleborn, Gearbox's next great hope after the Borderlands games, is one of several multiplayer "hero shooters" coming out in 2016, and for me lacked identity enough, despite its colourful collection of playable characters, to really leave an I'd-play-that-again impression. It was alright, likes, but alright isn't going to cut it at the tills.
'Battleborn', PSX trailer
The zombie masses will get their share of run outs in 2016, with Dead Island 2 – the sequel that I'm pretty sure nobody asked for – and Resident Evil spin-off Umbrella Corps both forthcoming. The latter, more straightforward shooter than horror experience, sounds depressingly like 2012's Operation Raccoon City, a game so bad that your local Cex store manager will personally punch you in the face for trading it in. (It's not all bad, though, because he'll also give you one whole English pound to numb the pain.)
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There hasn't been a decent Sonic the Hedgehog game for absolute eons, so don't expect Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice to be all that much to write home about when it's released for the 3DS sometime this year. The new, crowd-funded Friday the 13th video game doesn't have a lot to do in order to improve upon the awful NES game of the same name, released back in 1989, but the pitch – a one versus seven multiplayer – is surely reliant on there always being enough willing victims in any single session. And what happens when everyone wants to play as Jason? Blood, guts and buckets of gore is promised, but I just don't see this being a heap of fun. (Though I am very prepared to be proven wrong.)
'Friday the 13th: The Game', official announcement trailer
Finally, just a word or some on Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, the wobbly breasts beach volleyball game by Team Ninja that's not being released in the West. If you're legitimately so upset that a game's own publisher, in this case Koei Tecmo, put the brakes on distributing a teenagers-titillating T&A "sports simulation" overseas, that you're somewhere on the internet ranting about how the left-leaning Western media has ruined your fun, get a grip. No, no, not on that. Not right now. I mean, whatever you do in the privacy of your own home is up to you; but if you're going to jerk off to some bikini girls, do you really need to do it while pressing circle and square buttons with your spare hand? Get it on import in February if you must. Nobody's stopping you, and doing so will definitely teach those gosh-darn "SJW"s you love to hate so very much a lesson. And before you get onto YouTube (again) to have a pop at me, I'm just as much into boobs as the next person who's pretty much into boobs. Boobs are brilliant. Hooray for boobs. But DOAX3, even considering its new "butt battles" and squidgy Soft Engine physics, looks boring as fuck, so I'll pass.
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