As I sat on my couch during the wee hours of the morning on this fine May day, watching old episodes of Scrubs, I found my mind wandering to a handful of promising titles coming out this year. These projects each carry a unique appeal, and I am looking forward to indulging myself in each of them over the course of the year. L.A. Noire is due out early summer, Deus Ex: Human Revolution in August. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are slated for November, while Dark Souls and Silent Hill 8 continue to maintain ambiguous "sometime in 2011" release dates. Let's take a look at each, and I'll explain why you should care.
L.A. Noire - Circumventing the Uncanny Valley
At first glance L.A. Noire might resemble another Grand Theft Auto clone, but Rockstar has really broken from tradition with this interactive circa 1940's police drama. The design team has worked meticulously to produce a living, breathing recreation of post WWII Los Angeles and the result is truly impressive to behold. The gameplay strays from the traditional back-and-forth mission based formula in lieu of a more player-dependent participatory approach. Players will be given cases, which are solved through step-by-step police work. Crime scenes need to be diligently searched for evidence, witnesses are questioned through dynamic interrogation sequences, and suspects are arrested based on the player's discretion. Interactions with the 100+ characters are complimented beautifully by the game's unprecedented use of facial motion capture. The effect affords interactive characters an expressiveness unseen in any game before now.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution - A Swiss Army Knife of Playability
The Canadian development branch at Eidos Montreal have been hard at work finishing this versatile game in time for its August release date. Set in the not-too-distant future, this Blade Runner-inspired world is host to the controversy of "human augmentation," the practice of replacing body parts with cybernetic enhancements. This dark, cold and wonderfully stylized world is only a framework, however. The real magic comes from the developers' determination to eliminate any feeling that the game is holding the player's hand. As the above trailer shows, Deus Ex: Human Revolution allows the player to approach any situation in the manner they deem appropriate.
Want to go in like Rambo and make a mess of the place? By all means, go ahead. Maybe instead you (like me) feel a little bad for that poor security guard who's only doing his job and want to sneak past him, sparing him a grisly beat-down. Add to that the option to take down any human opponent non-lethally and your potentially overactive conscience can rest easy knowing that the security guard need not die even if you're discovered and backed into a corner. All the Metal Gear Solid fans out there know that it's no easy feat to get through an entire game without killing a single person, and is likely worth a nice little achievement or two.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception - An Interactive Blockbuster
In an industry where innovation and originality is king, Naughty Dog has remarkably formed a successful round table of borrowed mechanics and ideas with its Uncharted series. Seamlessly blending the duck-and-cover shooting style of Gears of War and the run-jump-and-climb level navigation of Tomb Raider, in a gorgeously rendered world full of rich characters and brilliant writing, Uncharted has proven itself to be a brilliant example of how games can be more about the experience than the button pressing. The series sports some
of the best graphics in the industry, and the level designers wield them to great effect in a series beloved for its hectic and imaginative action sequences. If ever you wanted to step into the shoes of an action movie hero, look no further. Uncharted 3 promises to up the ante, leaving us with pounding pulses and astonished expressions on our faces once again.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - A Brave New World Map
I have never been a fan of the Elder Scrolls games, and I'll be honest when I say I initially avoided reading any of the news concerning Bethesda's latest foray into the world of The Elder Scrolls. Then I read an article on Rock, Paper Shotgun outlining the many reasons why I should give it a closer look. I highly recommend that you give it a look, as I will be summarizing.
Elder Scrolls has been known for, among other things, having large open worlds to explore and manipulate. This time, the developers are using their resources to build a more immersive world, not a bigger one. You won't be the only one interacting with the world; it will be interacting with itself. You might come across a pack of wolves attempting to bring down a wooly mammoth, or you might be passed by a giant who ignores you to conduct whatever his own business might be.
What's more, the game randomly presents quests and objectives according to what's contextually relevant. This means that many quests will occur at randomized locations throughout the world and involve completely different circumstances for each different player. For example, someone asks you to find out who's been stealing his or her livestock at night. Depending on where the player encounters that person, the thieves may be raiders from a nearby encampment, werewolves from the forest, or even that giant you came across earlier. No two players will play the same game.
Dark Souls - A Virtual Gauntlet
The spiritual successor to 2009's Demon's Souls, developed by From Software, Dark Souls continues along a tradition of brutal difficulty combined with inexplicable addictiveness. Truly a game for the purists, Dark Souls features minimal plot and enough hack 'n' slash action to make Diablo jealous. Once again, players will be placed in the shoes of a stoic male or female adventurer and release them into a land of...what else? Demons. Lots of them. Unlike the separate levels of its predecessor, the world of Dark Souls is open and unified. You're going to appreciate all that added space, it opens up more places to run away screaming.
From the moment your boots touch soil, your goal will be to slay demons and harness their souls, adding to your own abilities. You will find, purchase and create wickedly cool new equipement, then use it to kill more demons. The game's elegance comes from its simplicity, and from the moments when you deftly outmaneuver your opponents to deliver a swift killing blow with your trusted weapon or a well-placed spell. Add to this the ability to better utilize your environment against your foes and you will be dropping down from castle walls onto your enemies, impaling them against walls, and triggering falling boulder traps until your fingers bleed. That is, unless they do it to you first. Welcome to Hell, you're gonna like it here.
Silent Hill "Downpour" - Cloudy With a Chance of Mental Anguish
What did I say about Hell? Scratch that; Hell is too rainy this time of year. At least it will be when Silent Hill Downpour comes out at the end of this year. This latest iteration of the macabre series, developed by newcomer company Vatra, plans to expand the small town and take us places we have never been before. Scrapping the familiar school and hospital locations, the navigable area will be large enough to warrant traveling on the town's never-before-seen subway system and is rumored to be open for exploration.
In terms of gameplay, side-quests will be making their first appearance in the series' tenure. The developers have expressed their desire to bring the series back to its gnarled and terrifying roots by disempowering the player as much as possible. You will only be able to hold one weapon at a time, and that weapon can break if abused. This time, when faced with a hideous demon resembling an armless burn victim, you're probably better off running. Once again, you will be faced with frequent puzzles and the ability to ramp up their difficulty will be returning.
More good news, presentation will be at its best. The game boasts the skewed, creepy camera angles and hellish landscape transformations that made the series stand out in its infancy, now rendered more stylishly than ever before. Expect to see water running upward along fleshy walls, peeling away to reveal those iconic metal skeletons characteristic of Silent Hill's deranged dark side. Unfortunately, the score will not be arranged by series veteran Akira Yamaoka. All is not lost, though; the game's soundtrack sounds promising, composed by Daniel Licht of TV's Dexter fame.
it looks like 2011 is going to be a good year for gamers. I, for one, have a full year ahead of me. Expect full reviews for each of these titles in the coming year. In the meantime, drop us a comment below. What are you most looking forward to? read