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Our 10 Most Anticipated Titles of 2014

by on January 2, 2014
 

2013 is over.  The next generation of consoles is here.  Now what?

If the past year in this industry were to be given a title, then “Much Ado About Nothing” would be an eerily appropriate moniker; we heard about the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, we speculated about the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and then we bought the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, all of this in spite of the fact that neither platform had a marquee title planned for release this year.  In 2014, the hope is that “Much Ado About Nothing” ceases to be a fitting descriptor and instead becomes a funny memory similar to ancient cognitions about the early futility of the 3DS, but is that hope anything more than wishful thinking?  Maybe.

When approached to write a column about 2014’s 10 most major releases, I panicked; are there even 10 games releasing in the next year that are worth noting?  Is everything coming out in 2014 like Tomb Raider: Remastered, a sad reminder that many of the “new” experiences heading for new consoles in 2014 are conservative modifications of the last generation’s most recent successes?  Luckily for me (but mostly you, because I have yet to purchase either of the new systems), the answers to these two questions, respectively, are as follows:  yes and no.

Certainly, 2014 will see the typical front of new rehashes, with Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed both planned to return to store shelves during the holiday season as they have done every year for a little less than a decade.  2014 will also, as expected, see the second effort of developers who in 2013 released next-generation sports games.  Most importantly, though, 2014 will see new intellectual properties that could well set the tone for the industry for years to come.  2014 will even see a new Super Smash Bros., which is generally a sign that good days lie ahead for all of us who enjoy this medium.

Below are the top 10 games to look forward to in 2014, listed in no particular order and with descriptions that describe my personal expectations of them.  Now, let us bask in the presumptive glory of a new calendar year.

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Assassin’s Creed V: A new year, a new Assassin’s Creed, as the saying goes.  In spite of a troubling decline in quality with Assassin’s Creed Revelations and Assassin’s Creed III, this series persevered and revived itself in 2013 with Black Flag, a game that wisely traded the franchise’s token renaissance artists and historic battlegrounds for pirates and sea shanties.  That transition seemed questionable at first, but in the end the decision proved to be a prudent one for Ubisoft’s flagship (get it?) property. Assassin’s Creed has always been ludicrous, and Black Flag was the first game to accept that fact and sail with it.

Assassin’s Creed V will be interesting if only because it occupies the precarious position of following up a game that is already so treasured by the franchise’s fan base.  Pirates worked this time, but to rely on them again would go against the inspired nature that made Black Flag such a joy to play.  If Ubisoft were to ask me what to do with Assassin’s Creed V, I would tell them to continue to push the envelope of absurdity by falling further down the rabbit hole.  Pirates?  Child’s play.  There are plenty of other groups that deserve recognition in this new game: Samurai, robots, samurai robots.

History favors the bold, but in this industry it often favors the stupid.  Saints Row made a name for itself by embracing that logic.  In 2014, I hope that Assassin’s Creed continues to follow that suit just as it did so well in 2013.

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Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS:  Super Smash Bros. is back, and while it may not have an inspired name it does carry with it the same excitement that it has since debuting in 1999; every reveal, whether it be for a new character or even a new stage, is greeted by the Internet with an unmatched excitement. Such rabid behavior is understandable given the nature of the game’s roster, a proverbial who’s who of the industry’s past. Sonic and Mega Man have already been confirmed to be joining the cast of Nintendo greats, creating a vibe around the game that communicates the idea that anything can happen in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS.

The only aspect of Super Smash Bros. more fascinating than its constantly growing cavalcade of fighters is its portable counterpart, a port of the game launching simultaneously for the Nintendo 3DS.  For years, fans have clamored for the series to receive a handheld iteration; as a child, I fantasize about what a portable version of the series might look like.  Though it doesn’t look as good visually as the console original, it does possess a unique art style that prevents it from looking cheap.  Nintendo has also suggested that it will interact with the console version of the game in some way, shape, or form, a feature that gives hapless consumers such as myself impetus to buy the same game twice.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS might not feel very new, but it won’t need to in order to become one of the major releases of 2014.  Luckily for Nintendo, this release across multiple platforms will give them two chances to cash in on this fighting phenomenon.

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Broken Age

Broken Age: The Kickstarter that kick started it all.

In 2012, Tim Schafer broke the Internet and its occupants’ wallets with the announcement that Double Fine would be making a new adventure game which, then simply titled Double Fine Adventure, using the generous donations of fans from around the world.  Shortly after breaking every established Kickstarter record, Schafer and Double Fine Adventure disappeared into the ether with everyone’s money.  This year, he returned with new details and a new title for his mysterious, crowd-funded product:  Broken Age.  Broken Age is now controversial, though, because the absurd sum collected by Schafer was quickly exhausted, causing the famed developer to split the game into two acts with the first act being released as a part of Steam’s Early Access program in January.

So, where did all of your money go?  Broken Age does, to its credit, sport a rather inventive art style.  It also features the voice acting talents of such famous names as Elijah Wood, Jennifer Hale, Wil Wheaton, and, of course, Jack Black (if only there were a Kickstarter funding goal to keep Jack Black out of the game).  Whether or not all of that money went towards building a solid point-and-click adventure game remains to be seen, but, at the very least, it has all of the bells and whistles of a major release.

Personally, I am skeptical of any game that begins its life as a humble endeavor and evolves into a Hollywood-level production.  Double Fine Adventure was to be a return to form for Schafer, but Broken Age appears to be a new form for Schafer that takes cues from the likes of Brutal Legend, a notoriously mediocre game that hid behind its talented voice actors.

Personal inclinations aside, it’s hard not to at least be fascinated by the game.  This, above all others, will be the game that people look towards to validate the prevalence of crowd funding in the industry.

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Destiny: The last two generations of consoles saw first-person shooters completely consume the market, and that doesn’t appear to be stopping with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.  Fittingly it’s Bungie, the developer who seemingly birthed this trend that has taken over the industry with Halo: Combat Evolved, is at the center of one of the year’s most anticipated shooters.

Destiny is new in a number of senses.  It is <i>literally</i> new. It is also a new intellectual property, a rare species that was rumored to have been lost in space many moons ago.  Foremost, it is new in that it is a new type of experience that hasn’t yet been fully explored; it is a massively-multiplayer first-person shooter with role-play elements (MMFPSRPG).  Players will be instantaneously matched with others players without their knowing and partake in experiences that alternate between being scripted and being entirely organic.  There will be moments where players collide with one another, just like any other shooter, but, ideally, it will be seamlessly integrated with the rest of the game.

The idea of always-online shooters is, at the moment, the trend of the new generation, with both Destiny and its Xbox-exclusive counterpart Titanfall clinging to the new play style as a key part of their marketing campaigns.  Initially, I was troubled by the development due to my general distaste for multiplayer video games, but I see potential in Destiny that I didn’t see in the countless death matches I played in on Modern Warfare 2.  I see potential for something fresh, something with a little more meaning than a kill-death ratio.  I’m optimistic.

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Metal Gear Solid V:  Ground Zeroes: Part, if not all, of my interest in Metal Gear Solid V is based on how much it has confounded me since being announced last year.  Ground Zeroes was shown off as a singular entity, and then Metal Gear Solid V was announced.  Then, Ground Zeroes was a prologue for Metal Gear Solid V, but it wasn’t a separate product.  Now, Ground Zeroes is very much its own thing and it is coming out next year.  Did I miss anything?

Though it seems to be running the risk of alienating long-time fans with alterations being made to the stealth action, I believe that Ground Zeroes will pick up right where Metal Gear Solid 4 (and, to a more bizarre extent, Metal Gear Rising) left off in terms of momentum.  After all, part of the appeal of Metal Gear Solid 4 was what it did different than the games that preceded it; the new, easy-to-use controls made sneaking and shooting less of a chore.  In Ground Zeroes, players will have even more control over the action with twitch reflexes that allow them to shoot down guards before triggering a fun-ending alarm.  I understand that this takes away from the tactical espionage action that the series was originally built upon, but I don’t honestly think that the action has ever been what has brought players to the series in droves.

Ground Zeroes will be all about the cinematic experience, the tale that will fill in the gap between Peace Walker and the original Metal Gear.  The stories haven’t been especially well crafted in recent years, but they have always been entertaining enough to excuse the lack of coherence.  So far, Ground Zeroes doesn’t appear to be any different, making it a worthwhile entrant into the franchise and a serious adventure to look forward to in the next year.

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Donkey Kong Country:  Tropical Freeze:  Does any developer have as solid of a track record as Retro Studios?  Since debuting with Metroid Prime, Retro has completed an exceptional trilogy in the Metroid universe and made one of the best platformers of all time, Donkey Kong Country Returns.  Fans of the Big N were disheartened when they found out that Retro was returning to the jungle with the strangely named Tropical Freeze, but I believe that this return will be even better than the one that Retro propagated in 2010.

New to Tropical Freeze are a slew of side characters that players will be able to use to make the task of platforming across the game’s many worlds an easier and more enjoyable feat.  In Returns, players could only team with Diddy Kong, Donkey Kong’s nimble sidekick who helped the tie-wearing ape cross large chasms using his patented jetpack accessory.  Tropical Freeze will bring back Diddy, but the chimp will be joined by other characters from the franchise’s past including Dixie Kong, a female chimp who uses her hair to prolong her time in the air, and everyone’s favorite curmudgeon, Cranky Kong, who uses his cane to hop along the scenery.

With the inclusion of new characters and new, winter-themed courses, I expect Donkey Kong Country:  Tropical Freeze to be the fun, frantic platformer that its predecessor was; however, it will have extra polish and high-definition graphics to improve the experience. A noteworthy improvement that might well make it surpass Donkey Kong Country Returns.

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inFamous:  Second Son:  No game announced for the PlayStation 4 left as strong of an impression as this, the latest game in the super-charged franchise about regular people imbued with extraordinary powers.  Where the last two games cloaked themselves entirely in their mechanics, this latest game appears to have a renewed emphasis on storytelling to accompany the new hero and his impressive abilities.

Gone is Cole McGrath, the protagonist of series’ past, and in his place is Delsin Rowe.  Rowe maintains a seemingly directionless life in Seattle, Washington, an existence that sees a dramatic shift when his powers are awakened by a freak encounter with another hero character (referred to in the inFamous series as a Conduit).  Rowe is accompanied by his brother, a police officer, and in the debut trailer the two were seen sharing meaningful conversation that seems to be a centerpiece of the game.  Past games in the series did sport a cohesive narrative, of course, but they never felt like anything more than a distraction from the action.

I look forward to this transition because inFamous has always felt trapped at the bottom of Sony’s exclusive library.  Even inFamous 2, a sequel that proved to be a dramatic improvement over the first game, couldn’t earn the series the same mind share that even lesser titles like Resistance and Sly Cooper possess. An improved narrative focus and the technology of a new generation seem poised to do just that for inFamous.

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South Park:  The Stick of Truth: Obsidian couldn’t have picked a better role model than Paper Mario to emulate with South Park:  The Stick of Truth.  Nintendo’s quirky role-playing game is known for its unique graphics and sense of humor, two traits that it has very much in common with South Park, the cartoon that has for years traded on its quick wit and paper-thin characters.  The two worlds will finally collide in 2014 when, after enduring a troubled development cycle that saw their original publishers, THQ, eviscerated, South Park:  The Stick of Truth will finally launch on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Unlike some of the past games bearing the South Park name, The Stick of Truth isn’t a gimmicky board game or a kart racer.  Instead, it is a role-playing game that hinges on inputs made by the player at key moments.  Users will conduct these actions among other characters from the television show using their own created character.

What truly makes The Stick of Truth a must-see in the year 2014 is its use of the program’s patented brand of humor; whether or not that is a good thing is entirely up to you.

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Diablo III:  Reaper of Souls: Diablo III is turning into a surprising redemption story right before our eyes.  When the game launched during the summer of 2012, it was widely panned by fans who felt that it strayed too far from what the series had done well in the past.  When Diablo III launched on consoles earlier this year, many jumped back on the franchise’s bandwagon if only because the new control scheme proved an improvement over the standard keyboard-and-mouse setup.  In 2014, Diablo III’s universe expands with Reaper of Souls, and many are heralding it as a return to form for the previously-maligned entry into the legendary Diablo franchise.

Like typical Blizzard expansions, Reaper of Souls adds a new character class, the Crusader, new items, a new act for the game’s campaign, and an increased level cap; however, it is the game’s new mode of play, Adventure Mode, which makes it a standout in 2014’s release calendar.  With the new Adventure Mode, players will be able to explore Sanctuary in a way that they haven’t since Diablo II.  This move removes the shackles that some say limited the value of Diablo III beyond its campaign, a shortcoming of the game that I largely ignored when I reviewed the game for this website.

We all make mistakes, right?

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Titanfall: The big one.

Sometimes the industry is unpredictable, but more often than not it follows a pretty predictable pattern.  Titanfall is one of those predictable instances.  Respawn Entertainment, formed from the ashes of Infinity Ward, has been laying in wait for years to unveil their new product.  Their last big hit was with the Call of Duty franchise.  I probably don’t need to say much more.

Titanfall takes place in a world full of Titans, which are giant mechs equipped with an incredible array of weaponry.  The vast array of Titans should make for a varied experience that differs greatly from the mostly-homogeneous experiences that have defined first-person shooters for years since Call of Duty first took over as king of the genre.  Much like Destiny, this world full of mechs and men will only be available to players as an online experience, with the emphasis in Titanfall being on the competitive aspect as opposed to the cooperative play that Destiny is built around.

I have little personal excitement for Titanfall, but it is impossible to ignore the imminent phenomenon that it seems bound to produce.  When 2014 is said and done, I can’t imagine Titanfall not coming up as one of the year’s most important titles.

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