Lead image from Konami's 'Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain', released on September 1st
Back in January I wrote about how I felt video gaming was entering a new golden age. Yes, the industry, the medium, has its share of problems, kinks that we're all trying to work out, but what a wonderful time to be a gamer, a player, a fan of these fantastical interactive experiences. Almost every kind of digital adventure is available to consumers, to audiences, in 2015, and the year's already produced some truly special releases that will last long in the memory, from the widescreen fantasy of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to the strikingly original gothic vision of Bloodborne, via bewitching indie gems Ori and the Blind Forest, Her Story and Axiom Verge, and unexpected addictions like Rocket League. (Feel free to click any of those names for more on the game in question.)
And yet, there's so much more to come, enough to make me think that 2015 could be the best year for video games in (my) memory. Not only do we have fresh opportunities to play previous-generation classics in better-than-ever-before style to look forward to between now and Christmas, but there are also several original titles that demand to be investigated, ranging from new entries in fantastically popular franchises to wholly unprecedented productions of incredible ambition. Here are ten of the titles to come that I, for one, am massively eager to drop whatever work I'm doing for. I always end up with plenty of leftover holiday to use up at the end of any year, so I might just reserve a week of it for one or two of these.
I appreciate that it probably doesn't need saying, but I'll say it anyway: these are just the top ten games that I'm most excited to get my hands on (again, in some cases). Other pretty-much-a-big-deal games are coming between now and the end of the year, and I've no doubt that a lot of them will be very good indeed. The stealthy Volume and arresting horror game Until Dawn are imminent, I'm looking forward to playing the lonesome space game ADR1FT, and then there's the small matter of a new Halo, of course. But I've limited myself to ten, because why not.
SUPER MARIO MAKER (WII U, SEPT 11)
As regular VICE readers know, having kids can be one of the crappiest things to happen to you. However, as your kids grow up, they can begin to take interest in the things you like – which can be problematic when it comes to video games, as my four year old is constantly asking me when I'll next play The Witcher 3. It's entirely my fault – I played the game for up to 13 hours per day ahead of release, to cover it for this very site, so he caught the odd section of it; and now I'm playing through the whole thing again, slowly, he's keen to sit beside me, asking answerless questions about what Roach does when I'm gallivanting around Skellige and just why is that stuffed unicorn so very stained.
Anyway, another game he's been pestering me to start – not that I have it yet, as it's not released until September 11th – is Super Mario Maker. I told him about it ages ago, and once I'd played it for myself, at a recent Nintendo event in London, I was sold: this is something that son number one and I are going to have a great time with, sat beside each other on the sofa as his summer holiday is pissed away by foul weather and parental indecision on what to do on any given "day off". You make your own (2D) Mario levels, and then share them with the world (well, those ten million other people who own a Wii U, assuming they all buy this, but why would they not?), and the whole thing is incredibly easy to use – you simply drag assets into your stage using the GamePad's touch screen, testing things as you go to make sure what you're making is actually beatable. You can select from four aesthetic styles, from old-school Super Mario Bros. right up to New Super Mario Bros. U, and before you've even begun to get confident with your own builds, Nintendo's powers that be are going to give you 100 levels to challenge yourself with.
I can't say I ever drew my own Mario designs on scrap pieces of graph paper or the back of envelopers as a kid, but I know a few people who did and they are so buzzing for Super Mario Maker – like, this is Dreams Come True stuff. And with Nintendo's mascot (and his friends, and enemies) essentially a Mickey Mouse sort of figure to very young kids today, to nascent gamers, this might well prove the gateway to a new(-to-them) world of amazement for absolute beginners to proven-timeless platforming.
PRO EVOLUTION SOCCER 2016 (MULTI-PLATFORM, SEPT 15 ONWARDS)
I've played a good few matches of the Pro Evo 2016 demo now, which features a handful of club teams alongside the French and Brazilian national squads, and I still feel the way I did after first getting my hands on Konami's FIFA-challenging football sim at this year's Gamescom: maybe, just maybe, EA's license-magnet might find itself the second-best soccer game of 2015. It's impossible to know that for sure without actually playing FIFA 16, of course – that's out on September 24th in Europe, with a demo of its own out around the middle of next month – but everyone I've spoken to about the new PES is in agreement: this is a substantial step forward for the series, with vastly improved player responsiveness and a solid sense of physicality to the on-pitch action – when bodies collide, you can almost feel the bruises on yourself. I didn't fall heavily for either PES or FIFA last year, but what a difference 12 months could make.
'Pro Evolution Soccer 2016' E3 2015 trailer
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FALLOUT 4 (MULTI-PLATFORM, NOV 10)
One man* and his dog, against the world, long after the bombs have fallen. The fourth main entry – fifth, I suppose, if we're counting New Vegas – in Bethesda's post-apocalyptic adventure series is the most rabidly anticipated yet amongst fans, and even as someone who's never completely clicked with VATS and all that, I must admit to being somewhat swept up in the hype, too. The game will play in much the same way as its immediate predecessors, although combat has been tweaked for speed – as its press showing at Gamescom emphasised, along with highlighting the lack of a level cap – and the customisation options available for guns alone should keep the easily obsessed glued to their screens until this time next year. (*Or woman, obviously.)
MAD MAX (MULTI-PLATFORM, SEPT 4 IN EUROPE)
Avalanche Studios' open-world take on the Max Max franchise isn't directly based on either the Mel Gibson movies or the most recent of director George Miller's post-apocalyptic action flicks, Fury Road (although there are some tenuous ties to the latter). Instead, Mad Max, the game, stands proudly on its own terms as a movie license release that might do for the wasteland scrapper what Rocksteady's Arkham games did The Dark Knight. There's on-foot scrapping, vehicle combat, a shitload of exploring to do and, ultimately, a final destination of serenity to reach through fair means or (mostly) foul.
I've played around four hours of Mad Max so far, and while I went into it expecting not much more than Just Another Third-Person Adventure, I was soon sucked into the vision that its Swedish makers have realised, one of human survival against incredible odds and savage natural beauty. The game unlocks in a Ubisoft manner – scan the horizon from the vantage point of tethered balloons to leave a marker for said spot on your map; clear out enemy strongholds to use the shelter for perks-providing friendly camps; tick off smaller objectives to bring a sense of peace to pockets of this hostile world.
The fisticuffs is, let's say, Arkham light – which is no slight, as it operates just fine, but the influence is clear to see. Where Mad Max excels against Arkham Knight, though, is in its highly customisable car combat, which is more like aeroplane dogfighting than the tedious tank-busting demands of the most recent Batman game. I've had a taste, and I'm thirsty for more – which may prove unfortunate, as water is hard to come by out there in the Big Nothing.
Watch a complete mission of 'Mad Max', via IGN Live at Gamescom 2015
TRANSFORMERS: DEVASTATION (MULTI-PLATFORM, OCT 6)
I'm keeping fingers and toes crossed that this delivers on its awesome promise: generation one Transformers in a combo-frenzy fighting game from the good people of Platinum Games, who know a thing or two about amazing action titles having previously produced Vanquish, Bayonetta and its sequel, and the breathlessly bombastic Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. What I'm not doing is holding my breath, because I'm not a bloody idiot. Let's be honest: this could be a stinker. But having wanted an original Transformers game built for modern systems forever, I'm going to lean on the sunny side of expectation and say right now that Devastation will be alright. Probably. Can't be any worse than this, can it? Oh god oh god let it be better than that, at least.
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RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER (XBOX ONE & 360, NOV 13 IN EUROPE)
Is it just me, or is this threatening to just drop under the radar a little? It may be because it's a timed Xbox exclusive, not coming to PS4 until late 2016; or perhaps because footage so far doesn't seem to place Rise as all that different from the Tomb Raider series reboot of 2013. It might also have something to do with the competition: Rise comes out at the same time as Fallout 4 and just before Star Wars: Battlefront, both of which have multi-format releases in their favour to guarantee wider preview coverage.
However, 2013's Tomb Raider was excellent, made better still in its current-gen Definitive Edition releases, and there's no reason to believe that developers Crystal Dynamics won't deliver another electrifying adventure for the famous Lara Croft to get completely lost within, taking the player with her. Rise is game two of what will ultimately be a trilogy, and with Uncharted 4: A Thief's End delayed until March 2016, it represents the one chance for fans of Indiana Jones-inspired action to go on an exotic ramble this side of next year. Is it enough to buy an Xbox One if you don't have one already? Perhaps not alone, but when you consider what else is imminent for Microsoft's scrapping-in-second-place system...
GEARS OF WAR: ULTIMATE EDITION (XBOX ONE, AUG 28 IN EUROPE)
I appreciate that Epic's Gears of War first came out nine years ago, but it is a must-play today, too. It comprehensively nailed its formula of rollercoaster sci-fi shooting-baddies-in-their-ugly-faces awesomeness first time, and laid down a blueprint that countless other developers used to produce greatly inferior end products. From its never-bettered active reload system to its Hollywood-worthy plotline, Gears really was the first "blockbuster" experience I had on a previous-generation console, and the first game I played on 360 that genuinely convinced me that the machine I'd dropped a sizeable stack of cash on was something special.
This Ultimate Edition has taken 18 months to bring together – it's no quick cash-in while developers The Coalition work on the fourth Gears game proper, due out in late 2016, but a project undertaken with a great deal of love and respect for the game's original qualities. Three-thousand art assets have been given the once over, controls have been polished to fit today's increased multiplayer demands and the overall facelift – 60FPS, 1080p – has resulted in Gears never looking better. Which you might say is a bad thing, given leading man Marcus Fenix looks like an accident in a processed meat factory; but since you only really ever see the back of his head, nightmares are unlikely. I'm well up for some more gratuitous Locust slaughter (up until RAAM ends me, at least), and while I remember well enough how this Gears story ends, that won't stop me powering up the Xbone for however long it takes to see it through.
'Gears of War: Ultimate Edition' E3 2015 trailer
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NO MAN'S SKY (WINDOWS & PLAYSTATION 4, TBA)
Is it even coming out this year? Tentatively, yes, although recent radio silence from its makers at Guildford's Hello Games suggests either crunch time, panic stations or both. The procedurally generated universe of this sci-fi exploration game has delighted since its day-one reveal back in 2013, and now that we have some idea of the game behind the gorgeous visuals – there is alien shooting, species naming, star seeking, space combat, resource mining and so much more, on an infinite scale (this game will outlive you, a million times over) – anticipation is about as high for No Man's Sky as it's going to get. I know VICE readers are up for it – this piece on the game's soundtrack is one of our most-read games articles of 2015 so far. Whenever it emerges, I'll be ready to dive right into one of the most unique-looking games of its generation.
ACTION HENK (MULTI-PLATFORM, SOMETIME THIS SUMMER APPARENTLY)
When I last spoke to anyone in a position of informative importance about this terrifically fun arcade sprinter – think Sonic the Hedgehog meets Hot Wheels, only with a tubby action hero of the late-1980s in a starring role, looking like Rambo slipped into a downward spiral of nacho cheese and doughnuts – they said there was no firm date on Action Henk's consoles-wide release (you can play it through Steam now, PC types). But over at Eurogamer, they're saying this summer, and that'd be nice. Real nice. The work of small Dutch studio Rage Squid, this was the standout game of my Gamescom 2015: effortless to pick up and play, but I already know it's going to take months to master all of its courses. But damn it, I am going to do just that. The voices in my head, they tell me to. "Buttslide," they demand. Who am I to say no?
METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN (MULTI-PLATFORM, SEPT 1)
Does the below video say it all? No. Nowhere near. But all the same: watch the video below. If you don't smile, friend, you are an ex-human. (You can read plenty more about The Phantom Pain right here. It's in-depth and everything, with nary a mention of horse plop.)
Those are ten that I'm well up for, then. And you? Looking good, isn't it, the rest of the year. Albeit not for a Proper Social Life.
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