Pew! Pew! Preview! The year 2009

It is officially the first day of a brand new year, and you know what that means. Very soon, the game industry will set the hype wheels into motion for another twelve months of disappointment and despair! Hooray!

In all seriousness, 2009 is a rather exciting year, as it represents an unknown quantity. While we do know of a handful of very high profile games coming out this year, very few publishers have been too revealing about what’s in store. Hopefully a quiet industry is an industry with some surprises in store, not just an industry that has nothing to say. 

What do we know is coming in 2009, then? Quite a bit more than I’d expected, actually. If you want a quick refresher course in what this coming year has to offer, or if you’re just extremely hung over from last night and need distraction from the pain, read on for our look ahead at 2009.

While the Wii has itself a bit of a reputation as a dust gatherer, 2009 looks like it might be a bit of a better year for people who like videogames. Sega is easily the company responsible for putting out the best looking stuff for the Wii this year, with three games that might not suck — MadWorld, Sonic & The Black Knight, and House of the Dead: Overkill.

While Sonic will probably be as good/bad as Secret Rings, the other two titles have a lot of promise. MadWorld is coming courtesy of Platinum Games, a studio which has potential to become the next darling of the gamer community. Its striking visual style and commitment to brutality looks like a winner. Overkill is a game that should be difficult to mess up. Classic House of the Dead gameplay with a 70’s grindhouse horror movie feel — if you stuff that up, you’re very bad at making games. Also, if we’re lucky, we’ll get a Western release of the inventive and excellent looking Yuji Naka game, Let’s Tap.

Another Wii title that has gathered some attention, at least on Destructoid, is Deadly Creatures. Having a playable scorpion and spider as the main characters is an interesting idea, to say the least, and the fact that Dennis Hopper is in the game serves to make an abstract mental image for the kind of game we’re getting. A few horror titles are also making their way to the White Box o’ Waggle, with both Cursed Mountain and a Western release of Fatal Frame due for 2009. 

As for Nintendo, we don’t know too much, and will likely learn more at E3. The company focused heavily on the “casual” market last year, as was expected, and failed to turn heads with Wii Music. My prediction is that the company will provide a more balanced focus this year. We can likely expect more news about the long-awaited Pikmin 3, while a new Zelda has a high probability of seeing an E3 announcement. Wii Sports Resort is pegged for 2009, and WiiMotion Plus should also see a release. 

The Nintendo DS will continue to do what the DS does — have a shitload of RPGs. Sega is producing a whole host of them, from 7th Dragon to Infinite Space, while Square Enix has Crystal Chronicles: Echoes in Time (also on Wii) and the brand new Dragon Quest XI. That’s not to mention Konami’s Suikoden TierKreis and a brand new Mario & Luigi RPG, both of which we shall likely hear much more about at E3. 

Those are just a handful of the RPGs due to swarm onto the system. The one big non-RPG title to hit the DS this year will be Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. With its isometric perspective and cartoon-like visuals, this game will have more than a little taste of the old school GTA games about it, with some modern enhancements. It will doubtless be one of the system’s biggest sellers, and will generate a lot of hype in the coming week. 

The Xbox 360 is keeping itself pretty quiet with regard to big-name exclusives. There were doubts that Microsoft was even committed to the 360 this year, but the company has promised that more will be revealed, and that it will “break the bank” at E3. We shall see if that’s just hot air in a few months, but for now, there are only a few truly high-stakes games confirmed.

Alan Wake is a game that has gathered all sorts of press attention, despite the fact that we barely know a thing about it. We know it involves a writer going into very dark places, but otherwise, it’s somewhat difficult to understand why the title has so much hype. With a release finally due this year, more information is guaranteed. 

The other big title is Halo Wars, a Halo-themed RTS from Ensemble Studios. Despite its attachment to the Halo franchise, the hype train has been slow to gather steam. However, you can be sure that MS will make a very big deal out of the title at this year’s trade shows. It will likely be a hot seller, along with the Halo 3 expansion that we are also due. 

Other exclusives could go either way in terms of success. Ninja Blade looks slick, but derivative, and is so full of QTEs that gameplay seems thin on the ground. One obscure title to watch out for is Venetica, an action RPG set in Venice. Microsoft also announced Ninety Nine Nights 2, which follows one of the worst Dynasty Warriors rip-offs I’ve ever played, and this is coming from someone who played more than ten minutes of Spartan: Total Warrior. We’ll see if anything’s improved, although I have my doubts. 

Microsoft has been enjoying its reputation as the “second place” system, focusing entirely on beating Sony while trying to gently plagiarize Nintendo with “casual games” and a more friendly-faced 360 interface. You can expect more of that from Microsoft this year, as it tries to convince housewives that the Xbox 360 is for everyone, while producing half-hearted “me too” games like LIPS and more violent shooters that the people who own 360s actually want. 

As far as confirmed 2009 exclusives go, there is no denying that the PlayStation 3‘s hit harder. In the face of Halo Wars and Ninja Blade, Sony is delivering Killzone 2, God of War III and InFamous, three titles that are showing a lot of promise. 

First up, we have Killzone 2. Sequel to the somewhat mediocre PS2 game, this is a franchise locked in an eternal struggle with its own marketing. The original game was dubbed “The Halo Killer,” and it suffered greatly for such bold claims. Killzone 2, unfortunately, has not been helped by hype either. Its famous first “in-game footage” which was revealed to be CGI, and Sony’s focus on graphics over gameplay, had me worried at first. However, reports are claiming that the multiplayer is amazing, and from what I’ve seen, the graphics are enhancing the gameplay, with unbelievably believable environmental destruction and explosions creating a war-torn atmosphere. I never thought I’d see the day, but Killzone 2 is one of my year’s most eagerly awaited games.

Little needs to be said about God of War III. It’s God of War. The game will most likely feature no “innovation” for the series, and will simply provide the same level of gore-filled action from the PS2 games. However, that won’t matter, because Kratos’ willingness to tear the wings off harpies and beat the shit out of minotaurs is yet to grow old. InFamous is a slightly less guaranteed success. It promises an open world full of super powers, very much like Crackdown, but it looks almost too “dark” and “gritty” to have the same sense of fun. It has a lot of potential, but we’ll have to wait and see. 

A few PSN games have started to garner some press attention too. Look forward to Fl0wer and Fat Princess this year.

This year is possibly make or break for Sony. Every year was promised to be “the year of the PS3,” but so far we’ve not seen a delivery on that. Last year’s E3 conference was embarrassing, as Sony did little more than make excuses. In 2009, it needs to pull out some real surprises from the bag. We don’t need to hear more about God of War or MAG. We need some shockers. I’d like to say that Sony will deliver some surprises in 2009, but I just don’t know. I hope so. In the meantime, the confirmed games it does have all look like winners. That’s something. 

The PSP is … well, don’t laugh. It does have three whole videogames coming out next year. First up, Square Enix will be importing Final Fantasy: Dissidia. The game is pure fan service, but it plays rather decently and I expect it to hit charts hard. Prinny is also looking excellent, and is hotly anticipated by several Dtoid staffers. Finally, Sony can expect to clean up in Japan with the release of another Monster Hunter Freedom. However, will the arrival of Monster Hunter on the Wii put a dent in the PSP’s success?

PC gaming is not covered much by we blogs, but it would be wrong to deny the huge impace that Starcraft II is going to have. Despite dirty Activision Blizzard splitting the game in three, sales will be strong enough to kill an ox. In fact, the splitting of the game will help Starcraft II claim even bigger sales than it ordinarily would have. Very clever. 

Finally, we have the Multiplatform Games. Chief among them is BioShock 2: Sea of Dreams, which is pegged for late 2009. This is going to be a very interesting title. If it can match the original, I’ll be highly impressed. Call of Duty 6 will also be making its expected arrival, probably in November, where it will continue to make Activision money. Project Origin is another big shooter out this year, and it looks like it might be much improved over the original F.E.A.R. Black 2 is unannounced, but likely to appear this year, if the clues are all correct. Oh, and let’s not forget Deus Ex 3.

There are quite a few licensed games on the horizon, and surprisingly, they all look pretty good. Ghostbusters will finally be getting its long-awaited release, while The Godfather II is looking interesting. Batman: Arkham Asylum has received early praise for its loyalty to the source material, fan service, and accurate portrayal of a stalking, psychological Batman. My pick of the licensed games, however, is Aliens: Colonial Marines. While it may very well suck, my love for all things Xenomorph makes this one of my top games for 2009. 

Action games are out in full force this year. Capcom is bringing a jetpack flavored Dark Void to the table, as well as Bionic Commando. I’m personally looking forward to the steampunk-themed Edge of Twilight and the sequel to one of my favorite games of 2007, Overlord II. Darksiders: Wrath of War and X-Blades look like they won’t exactly turn heads, but I am eager to play them, along with Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires. However, Platinum Games is bringing the pick of the litter, with the gorgeous looking Bayonetta. The gameplay videos have made me want to puke rainbows in excitement. I shall be devoting much attention to this one in 2009.

There are some pretty oddball games due out as well. Brutal Legend is coming from Psychonauts developer Double Fine, rescued from limbo by EA and headed our way with voice acting from Jack Black. It will likely be many gamers’ most anticipated game of the year. Onechanbara is also headed to the Xbox 360 and Wii, with more bikini-clad zombie slaying. Ubisoft’s I Am Alive is mysterious but promising, and then we have Blood Bowl, a remake of an old Games Workshop tabletop sports game in which Orcs play violent football with Lizardmen. Yeah, I’m all about that.

There’s a lot to look forward to in 2009, but I’m mostly looking forward to the stuff we don’t know about yet. My hope is that this year’s E3 will make up for 2008’s by having some genuinely compelling announcements. Each of The Big Three have something to prove, and if we’re lucky, those things will be proven. I can’t wait to see what the next twelve months have in store.

Jim Sterling