On the Shelves or On the Horizon: 2017’s Most Anticipated Video Games
BY CHARLES BATTERSBY | In the film industry, January is used as a dumping ground for movies too embarrassing to be released alongside year-end Oscar bait. However, the video game industry often saves some of its most promising titles for the new year, to avoid competing with blockbusters during the holiday rush — and so, 2017 is off to a great start with a roster of new intellectual properties, and long-delayed sequels that reinvent classic franchises. Here are a few games already on shelves, and some of the most intriguing games on the horizon.
NIER: AUTOMATA | The first “Nier” game had a multi-layered story that required players to go through it several times in order to fully understand the plot. It had moderate success when it launched in 2010, but it developed a cult following due to its dark story, unconventional characters, and wonderful soundtrack. The long-awaited sequel — “Nier: Automata” — arrives soon.
Many members of the original design team returned for the sequel, and an impressive demo is currently available to download for free. The combat is fun and challenging, but the real draw is its world and characters. This is a game for people looking for an action game that isn’t afraid to stand out from the crowd of cliché fantasy and generic sci-fi settings. “Nier” is coming to PlayStation 4 on March 7, with a possible PC release later this year.
PREY | A game that spent even longer in development limbo is the reboot of “Prey.” The first “Prey” game came out in 2006, and there was an attempt at a sequel several years later, but the new “Prey” game has little in common with its ancestor, being more of a “re-imagining” of the franchise.
The protagonist, Morgan Yu, is trapped on a space station that is overrun with aliens. Although the “kill aliens” theme is rather common in video games, “Prey” is made by Arkane Studios, the same team that created the acclaimed “Dishonored” series. Yu doesn’t just blast aliens with a laser gun; this game allows players to use a wide variety of alien superpowers, including the ability to shapeshift into a coffee mug. “Prey,” brings its unique brand of sci-fi adventure to PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on May 5.
FOR HONOR | Another big game that hit shelves early in the year is “For Honor,” a new franchise where players take control of medieval knights, vikings, and samurai, then battle online using a complex hand-to-hand combat system.
“For Honor” has the ruthless combat of a competitive shooter like “Call of Duty,” but the fighting is much more refined than blasting away with a gun. Projectile attacks are extremely rare, and this forces combatants to square off face-to-face in honorable combat with swords, axes and shields. It’s easy to block a clumsy attack, so players can’t rely on brute force. To win a fight, they have to use finesse to get around an enemy’s guard, and this requires quick reflexes along with the ability to spot patterns in their fighting style. It’s a brutal new take on the familiar online killing formula, and something that hardcore competitive gamers will enjoy. “For Honor” is out now on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
MASS EFFECT: ANDROMEDA | This made our list of the most anticipated games of 2016, but it was delayed until this year, now arriving with a hard launch date in March. It began development in 2012, right after the last “Mass Effect” game was released — so fans have been champing at the bit for five years. The “Mass Effect” series had a trilogy of epic space adventures on the last generation of game consoles, but the new game, “Andromeda,” has a different protagonist, and takes place in another galaxy (hence “Andromeda” as the subtitle). This makes it a perfect choice for people who who have heard of the series, but don’t want to catch up by playing through the original trilogy.
For many people, all they need to know about this game is that it is the new title from BioWare, the creators of some of the best stories in the game industry, like the “Dragon Age” series, “Baulder’s Gate,” and “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.” It arrives on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on March 21.
SYBERIA 3 | Another sequel with a ludicrously long development period is the third “Syberia.” This series of puzzle-based adventure games began 15 years ago. A sequel showed up a mere two years later, but the third game wasn’t announced until 2009. After the developer missed its 2016 launch date, the game industry was surprised this month when it was announced that “Syberia 3” will arrive in April.
Aside from the excellent writing, the series uses a steampunk aesthetic (before steampunk was all the rage), along with a quest to find a prehistoric “lost world,” where mammoths still walk the land. The new game features the return of series protagonist Kate Walker, along with designer Benoit Sokal and the composer of the second game Inon Zur. It also has “Snow Ostriches!” It hits PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on April 25.
RESIDENT EVIL 7: BIOHAZARD | Many fans of this venerable zombie series were disappointed with “Resident Evil 6.” It was less of a zombie horror game, and more of an action game where the zombies sometimes shoot back! The new game takes the series back to its roots, making the player an underdog who must scrounge for ammo and healing items, especially on the cruel “Madhouse” difficulty level.
“Resident Evil 7” also has a more engaging story than most zombie games. Rather than controlling a tough soldier or police officer, players become an ordinary married couple trying to escape the clutches of a family of mutated swamp dwellers. It is a great game for newbies to try out the franchise, and a reason to return to it for older fans who dropped out of the series after the last installment. It is out now for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, with more downloadable content coming this year.