The videogame industry is a recursive beast, that’s a simple truth. Videogames that are successful will be remade into eternity—a process we’re already irrevocably engaged in. To say that my most anticipated game of 2016 is XCOM 2, a sequel to a remake, is almost parodic. But XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a game of significant depth and craft, in a tactics framework that I adore, and I can say confidently that everything I’ve seen of XCOM 2 has brought nothing less than excitement. Not only has developer Firaxis Games taken the XCOM setting and evolved it to something fresh—an alien police state versus the human insurgency—they’ve taken the tactics gameplay of XCOM and reworked its systems of combat and roleplaying.
Video games can and will continue to be cyclical. However, conceptual evolutions handled with skill, as XCOM 2 seems positioned to be, can truly transcend an industry of repetition. If the only option of big budget gaming is iteration, competent and intelligent iteration will be the key. In a similar fashion that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain had something to teach us about our industry, the complex lineage of XCOM 2 can do the same in its tangled web.
I have been a fan of FromSoftware since I played its bizarre action-RPG Lost Kingdoms on the Nintendo Gamecube in 2002. I had no idea the company would later go on to develop my favorite game of all time, Dark Souls, nine years later. Since then I’ve completed every game in the SoulsBorne series and have patiently waited after each installment for the next game announcement. During the development period of Dark Souls II, the original Dark Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki was working on a spiritual successor to the Souls series, Bloodborne, which released last year on PS4 to critical acclaim. It was a departure from the Dark Souls series, yet contained the same clear ‘DNA’ at its core that I loved.
Finally, in June 2015, while I was innocently walking through the mall with some friends during summer vacation, the reveal screenshots for Dark Souls III leaked. My phone blew up with messages from a friend that I introduced to the Dark Souls series a year or so prior; “HOLY SHIT DARK SOULS 3 AAHHHHHH YES, YES”—an unreserved anticipation I still feel now. Dark Souls III will be released worldwide on April 12, and I couldn’t be more pumped.
In Gone Home, the simple act of exploring a large and vacant house delivers moments of laughter, dread, and empathy. In Tacoma, developer Fullbright’s sophomore effort, you’ll get to probe the Lunar Transfer Station “Tacoma” in the year 2088. Gone Home’s nostalgic encapsulation of 1995 is part of the reason it was able to touch an array of emotions. I’m excited for the chance to explore a space station floating 200,000 miles from earth and to see what Fullbright is capable of accomplishing with the futuristic potential of 2088.
Horizon Zero Dawn features a badass, post-apocalyptic, cavewoman with a bow and arrow hunting robot dinosaurs. I have no idea what else you could probably want from a videogame. There’s nothing else to say except this game is going to be great.
We Happy Few is a first-person survival roguelike set in Wellington Wells, a retro and futuristic, dystopian English town where citizens don eerie painted faces and enjoy life doped up on happy-pill “Joy.” You’ll need to dive deep into town without drawing attention to yourself as a “Downer”—a rebel group who refuses to adhere to a delusional society and effectively takes a beating for it. With procedural generation and permadeath, a new version of the city is created with each play. You’ll need to learn survival and stealth skills and adapt to blending in, rather than simply tracing their previous steps. Consequently, sometimes taking “Joy” is necessary to get players out of a pinch, but penalties to health, hydration, and hunger make it a last resort. With the “Drug Paradise” stretch goal reached on Kickstarter, Compulsion Games has added creatable drugs each with unique audio and visual effects.
While survival games that rely heavily on crafting may seem all too common nowadays to PC gamers—with the popularity of DayZ, Rust, and The Forest—Xbox fans have only recently gotten a taste of the genre with indie games like The Long Dark. We Happy Few is slated for a spring early access release on Steam and Xbox One before a full Xbox release for Summer 2016.
The Long Dark has already created experiences in my household—my girlfriend, who had only ever picked up a controller to play Minecraft, sent me texts about her hours with The Long Dark’s survival mode while I was in class. Since its successful Kickstarter campaign (the first in Canada, and the first and only game my mom has ever backed) in October 2013, The Long Dark has released some of the most polished and frequent hotfixes and patches to an Early Access game since Minecraft. More than anything, it’s been a testament to the skilled development team; a plethora of veteran game makers who have done nothing but under-promise and over-deliver in terms of substance and quality so far. Looking back at the Kickstarter campaign and viewing how far The Long Dark has come already, it’s impossible not to be excited about the future of the game—especially its upcoming story mode, a dual-protagonist episodic written by an old-school Vancouver developer and a BAFTA-winning female writer.
The Long Dark also sets a precedent for digital collaboration; the Hinterland studio headquarters is located in a small town on Vancouver Island, Canada, but much of the ever-growing team works remotely with the occasional fly-in staff meeting. I’m looking forward to seeing the impact the game has on the fluctuating Canadian game market, and if it will inspire game developers in more remote areas to start creating. The Long Dark has already drawn in an audience typically resistant to the medium, but it has further potential in so many ways. It was an inaugural title on the Xbox One Game Preview platform that ties console players to the Early Access platform on Steam. Where the console Minecraft is still many versions behind the PC one, The Long Dark is currently the same on both platforms. As well, Hinterland touted Oculus Rift support during its Kickstarter campaign. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Long Dark story mode finds a release on mobile or tablets before the end of the year. The Long Dark is the game with single most potential going into 2016, and is my pick for most anticipated game of the year.