By Andy Humphreys
It’s that time again when publishers unleash their biggest guns and wait with crossed fingers for the money to start rolling in. Which will triumph, which will fail, and which will simply be lost amongst the crowd?
Battlefield 1 - 21st October
Few could have predicted DICE’s decision to take their relentlessly popular big-battle simulator back to its 19th century roots, a risky move that raised more than a few eyebrows when the game was unveiled back in May. However now, post E3 and the recent ‘tech test’ beta (read: buzz generator) the decision seems entirely justified. With the gadgetry and generic modern weapons stripped right back, the franchise can breathe again, looking like it has found a new groove in decidedly old warfare.
Battlefield 1 throws the player into the middle of huge, chaotic battles just as it always has. Only now, paper-winged bi-planes soar overhead, bombs cratering the beautifully realised scenery; prehistoric tanks trundle purposefully through swirling sands before spewing forth their cargo of troops onto an objective; and soldiers on horseback cut enemies down with the well-timed swing of a gleaming rapier. It’s a gloriously mad, kitchen-sink take on the attritional reality of WWI that puts fun first at every opportunity.
A refocused, reinvigorated take on large-scale warfare that will please long-time fans (even the skeptical ones) while attracting curious newcomers. With the wealth of unlockables and upcoming add-ons, gamers will continue to enjoy this title into the new year and beyond. Don’t expect this to be the last time current-gen games return to last century’s battlegrounds, either.
Predicted Average Score: 8.5/10
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare - 4th November
The Call of Duty circus rolls back into town in November, peddling its now familiar (some would argue overly-so) near-future setting. Only this time it’s in space! Well, at least some of it is.
Of course, the four-or-so hours of gruffness and faux-realistic military lingo of the campaign hasn’t been the main attraction for most fans for a decade, and the game promises to be just as jam-packed with multiplayer goodies as ever, including a return for the increasing wacky zombies game mode, which this time takes in a lurid 80s campy horror movie setting and features voice work from David Hasselhoff, no less.
And speaking of a decade ago, there’s also the small matter of Activision bundling Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remastered in with the Legacy Edition of Infinite Warfare -- for many the never-bettered highlight of the series and nothing less than the pinnacle of the console multiplayer experience. You can almost hear Activision whisper, “Hey, buddy. All these jet packs and lasers getting a bit much for you? Well here’s a comfortable blanket of UAVs, Ghillie suits and Captain Price’s reassuring moustache. Feel better now? Of course you do.”
Although there are many who decry the series’ continued sci-fi leanings, Call of Duty is still an absolute behemoth with a devoted fan base itching to get their hands on a copy of the latest. Expect razor sharp mechanics, and maps of superior quality. The choice between this or Battlefield will most likely depend on whether you prefer to do your shooting whilst riding on a giant space cruiser, or the back of a horse.
The strength of the competition will mean Call of Duty may perhaps not be quite as wildly successful this year, but the fact is most of those who complain about the series’ sci-fi trappings will likely buy the game anyway, meaning it will still be an incredibly lucrative title. And that’s even without taking into account the extra sales guaranteed by the presence of the Call of Duty 4 remaster.
Predicted Average Score: 8/10
Final Fantasy XV (15) - 29th November
The venerable series continues with a brand new setting, as is customary (or used to be, before the XIII universe stole the show for the last few iterations). This time, you play as a prince on his last road trip before being crowned king of a nation, a sort of ‘bro-simulator’ set in a vaguely fantasy-tinged world. Different? Sure. And the innovations don’t stop there. Taking obvious influence from western-style RPG successes such as The Witcher and The Elder Scrolls series, XV is being pitched as the first proper open-world Final Fantasy. There’s actual real time combat too rather than the kind of hybrid monstrosity Square-Enix have dabbled with in the past. And even a jump button. An actual jump button. In a Final Fantasy game. Consider the implications!
The innovations shouldn’t put diehard fans of the series off, as there’s still plenty of larger-than-life Japanese RPG silliness, like swords three times the size of their wielder, characters with names like Gladiolus, and of course, Chocobos. You were worried there wouldn’t be Chocobos, weren’t you?
In the end, this balance between innovation and series staples could make this one of the best games in the series, and a reinvigoration of one of gaming’s true evergreen franchises.
Predicted Average Score: 9/10
Forza Horizon 3 - 27th September
The latest in the younger sibling-series of the Forza family, Horizon 3 promises more of what made the previous entries so popular, with the action this time taking place in an all-new (and largest ever) Australian setting. This, coupled with greatly improved weather effects and impeccably detailed car models and physics, means that it’s already obvious that this will easily surpass the franchise’s already stellar graphical benchmarks.
Developer Playground Games has been generous with new features too, including a series-first four player co-op mode, and the introduction of weekly challenges which feature unlockable rewards ranging from comedy horn sounds to, incredibly, the Warthog from Halo.
A slam-dunk of an exclusive for Microsoft that will appeal to hardcore car-fanatics and standard gamers alike. The gameplay may not revolutionize the genre, but this crossover appeal, along with the incredible visuals and long feature list, may be enough to make Horizon 3 the most successful Forza title to date.
Predicted Average Score: 9/10
Gears of War 4 - 11th October
For a new game in a beloved franchise, Gears 4 drew surprisingly little attention during its early development. Even after the game’s showing at this year’s E3, where the developers stressed a renewed focus on storytelling in the single player game, reaction was oddly muted, with many remarking how similar the game looked to iterations on previous-gen hardware.
However, since the revelation that the E3 build was considerably short of the level of polish that the final game will display, excitement has begun to build. Each new reveal trailer -- the footage now looking considerably more ‘current-gen’ -- garners more interest. The latest of these trailers, showcasing the fan-favourite Horde game mode, now has devotees salivating at the prospect of once again tackling wave-after-brutal-wave of challenging enemies, both familiar and new.
he Coalition, a developer new to the series but shepherded by experienced Gears talent, are undoubtedly the right people to take the series forward. Even before the game has even been played, the team’s passion for the Gears universe has reignited many people’s love for the characters and setting of a series now more than a decade old. Result #1: a quality single player campaign buoyed by modern storytelling, coupled with the tried-and-true Gears multiplayer formula fans have come to expect. Result #2: another huge financial success for Microsoft.
Predicted Average Score: 9/10
The Last Guardian - 6th December
Ignoring Playstation VR (as many gamers may well do) it’s a quiet season for Sony exclusives. Left to carry the torch is The Last Guardian, the long anticipated (and frequently delayed) follow up to classics ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. Billed as a story-driven tale of a boy and his…well, giant hyena-bird-type-thing, the game has an intriguing visual style and a quirky, indie flavor. Unlike most other impending releases, The Last Guardian has not been glimpsed too often, perhaps preserving some of its mystique. On the flip side of this, there are few who have any idea what exactly you will spend your time doing in-game, which makes predicting how successful the final release will be decidedly tricky.
An emotionally charged and thought-provoking story marred by less-than-sturdy gameplay mechanics. Long-time fans of the team’s previous work may take the plunge, but of all the top titles populating the year’s end, this seems the most niche, and will likely be overlooked in favor of louder (and probably just plain better) competitors. A cult classic of the future, perhaps.
Predicted Average Score: 7.5/10
Titanfall 2 - 28th October
‘Call of Duty with giant robots’ returns with a richer single player (in that, there actually is one), and a much more refined multiplayer experience. For instance, the promise of a more focused, more controllable feel to the play-style will please those who found the original game’s fights far too chaotic and reactionary, while six new, more customizable titan types are also incoming, each with unique special abilities. Better, more useful pilot abilities and a raft of new game modes complete a list of feature tweaks that should have every gameplay style covered.
The single player promises a short-lived but amusing diversion, and the multiplayer mechanics will be as strong as you’d expect from a team with the caliber of Respawn. Saying all that, and despite its now multi-platform nature, this title may struggle to find an enduring audience amongst the deluge of multiplayer-focused shooters released during the season, with strong initial sales falling off sharply. The key question for any multiplayer-centric shooter is this: Will anyone still be playing it six months later? The answer is yes…but not nearly enough.