2017 Q1 Preview

In the world of gaming, time waits for no-one. With 2016 barely behind us, its time to look forward to the coming bounty of new releases. The first quarter of the year (Q1) has never been known for being packed with quality. But with a great number of AAA titles slated for release, could 2017 be the year to change that?

Gravity Rush 2
January 20th

Having slipped from last year, the sequel to the Vita classic promises more of what made the original such a unique proposition — dynamic combat, puzzle solving and a fun and well-implemented gravity-control mechanic. Lead character Kat returns, along with her weird gravity controlling cat-thing, Dusty, and her charmingly-dressed best friend Raven.

The sequel doubles-down on its game-defining gravity control mechanic by introducing new styles of manipulation called Lunar and Jupiter, which give Kat a lighter or heavier feel, respectively. It also brings a much larger, livelier version of the colorful game world of the original (made possible by the PS4’s hardware), and puts flesh on the bones of the RPG elements featured in the first game. 

There’s also a much healthier number of missions, which adds to the feeling that Gravity Rush 2 is shooting for grander scale, bringing more in-line with other modern open-world titles. While directly competing against the myriad other games in the increasingly crowded open-world space isn’t exactly advisable, here’s hoping Gravity Rush 2’s anime-flavored quirkiness and jazzy cell-shaded art style help it stand out from the crowd.

    
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
January 24th

It’s been billed as the game that will return the Resident Evil series back to its pure survival horror roots after the last decade’s muddled detour into third-person action territory, and, modest sales estimates aside, there’s absolutely no doubt that Capcom has a lot riding on Resi 7’s shambling shoulders.

A brand new first-person perspective is the biggest immediately noticeable change -- a change that makes comparisons with modern survival horror influencers such as Outlast and Konami’s PT demo impossible not to make. And it’s clear from what we’ve seen already that developers Capcom have definitely been inspired by these psychologically-inclined horror titles, mixed with and a very definite Texas Chainsaw Massacre-type vibe, and big dash of found-footage flair.

Despite the differences, and Capcom being keen to call this a fresh start, that classic Resi feel still seems present-and-correct, with the time-honored herbs still used for healing, and the inventory management-Tetris mini game still firmly a feature, like it or not.


Yakuza 0
January 24th

How do you entice new gamers to a long-established but largely niche franchise (at least in the West)? How about a prequel that also serves as an origin story for the series? That’s SEGA’s plan for Yakuza 0, the latest in the fan-favourite adventure series, and the game they hope will be a great jumping-in point for newcomers.

Set in a fictionalized late 80s version of Tokyo, the game promises a highly-refined take on the fun crime-centric brawling action which has popularized the series, and also all that Shenmue-type stuff like buying actual Japanese food from actual Japanese convenience stores and hitting the casino for a few quick spins of the roulette wheel.

The game’s was released in Japan last year, and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Fingers crossed, for the worldwide release, then.


Sniper Elite 4
February 14th

Now here’s a sleeper series if ever there was one. Not often talked about and never generating much buzz, British developers Rebellion have managed to forge a modestly successful third-person shooter franchise with Sniper Elite, and they’ve done so (appropriately) almost completely under the radar. With each game, they’ve added more features and refined their formula, and with their latest release, look to continue that trend.

If you want a plot, there is one: It’s World War II (still), and crack OSS special agent Karl Fairburne is back. This time around, the master sniper is out helping the local resistance in the lovely sun-drenched climes of mainland Italy, which would be tantamount to a delightful holiday if it weren’t for all those damn fascists. How inconvenient!

(If you’re still not quite sure which game we’re talking about here, it’s the one with the X-Ray Kill Cam. That’s it, you’ve got it).    


For Honor
February 14th

Like an unofficial adaptation of TV show Deadliest Warrior (which of course has a few of its own official game adaptations) this fascinating-looking game from Ubisoft Montreal has Viking barbarians facing off against medieval knights and samurai in the sort of epic fantasy three-way that you didn’t realize you wanted but now it’s all you can think about.

The third-person gameplay emphasizes what the developers have rather grandiosely entitled ‘The Art of Battle’, a highly strategic combat system which focuses on dueling combat, and allows for tactical placing of blows with your weapon of choice. Each faction has numerous classes, with whichever you pick affecting your speed, maneuverability, and the weapons you can use.

The detailed art direction is a draw, as is the developers’ implementation of an online shooter-style system of unlocks, perks and visual customization that they’ll be hoping will keep gamers playing the game well after launch.


Lego Worlds
February 21st

Since the launch of Minecraft in 2011, comparisons with a certain plastic brick-building franchise have been inescapable. It was inevitable, then, that toy juggernaut Lego would eventually come to try and claim a slice of Minecraft’s giant cash pie eventually. I mean they probably think they’re owed something, right?

Despite being an all-ages game, Lego World’s development has been far from child’s play — longtime Lego studio Traveler’s Tales has taken years to build a powerful and robust game engine that allows for limitless possibilities. Want to ride a dragon? Dive to the bottom of the sea? Create an erupting volcano? Have at it. If you can imagine it, you can pretty much build it using the two-hundred or so in game brick-types. Now if that’s not a fact that will please parents everywhere, I don’t know what is.

Let’s break it down: Lego is massively popular throughout the world. Minecraft is massively popular throughout the word. If even a small proportion of these audiences are tempted with Lego Worlds, then this could be the breakout hit of the year. 


Horizon Zero Dawn
February 28th

Giant metal dinosaurs. Let’s be straight, that’s is 100% the main attraction of Killzone developer Guerilla Games’ new property. But there’s more to it than just that…probably. No, there really is.

Horizon Zero Dawn is yet another open-world action RPG to add to the list, but this time set in a post-apocalyptic pseudo-primeval world populated by the aforementioned robot dinos, which are known as Machines. Playing as hunter Aloy, taking down these creatures is vital for your survival and that of your tribe, as each Machine’s electrical and metallic components can be use to craft stuff like weapons and other important doohickeys.

Truly enticing, though, is the prospect of a vibrant, populated open world with a real day/night cycle and dynamic weather, the entirety of which can be traversed without a single loading screen. And if that doesn’t do it for you, I refer you again to the opening line of this section.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands
March 7th

Ghost Recon has for a while been the somewhat more tactical arm of Ubisoft’s ‘Tom Clancy’s’ stable of games, giving players a huge amount of choice when tackling its missions.

Ubisoft Paris aim to take this sandbox-strategy to the next level by making Ghost Recon Wildlands an open-world game (I’m definitely sensing a theme here), and giving players a dizzying range of tools with which to approach each mission. Will you parachute headlong into the target hotzone, or send your trusty drone in first to tag the hostiles before waiting for the dead of night and infiltrating with your team?

Add to this a gripping story that involves taking down despicable drug cartels, and perhaps most interestingly, a four player co-op multiplayer mode that allows you and three friends to battle together, and this could be heaven for tactical military shooter fans. And judging by the recent enduring success of Ubisoft’s other tactical shooter, Rainbow Six: Siege, that particular audience is pretty sizeable.

Nier: Automata
March 7th

PlatinumGames’ Nier series hasn’t exactly set sales records, but it’s certainly well thought-of amongst its devoted fanbase, and, with the recent and wildly successful release of Final Fantasy XV dragging JRPGs back into the mainstream, there’s never been a better time to release a sequel.

in a distant-future open-world (gasp!) where a war with otherworldly robots, has caused humans to flee the wasteland that is now Earth and taken refuge on the Moon. Nier: Automata has you controlling the plainly named ‘2B’, a female android and solider in humanity’s resistance who fights alongside her robot-buddies against the alien threat. With a giant sword. Obviously.

As with other games in the franchise, the combat is particularly polished, with the android protagonists controlling in a that characteristically zippy way that PlatinumGames titles are known for (critically acclaimed action title Bayonetta and its sequel being the most obvious examples). Those pining for something with the flavor of a Devil May Cry wrapped up in a more complex RPG package could find Nier: Automata to be right up their street.


Mass Effect: Andromeda
21st March

Perhaps the most well-received trilogy in gaming history, the original three Mass Effect games leave a legacy that many believe is impossible to live up to. Well, series developers Bioware think they can build a sequel worthy of that legacy. And so here we have Andromeda.

Perhaps wisely, the new release distances itself from the original three games moving the action far into the future — 600 years to be precise. The new protagonist takes the role of a Pathfinder, an individual given the huge responsibility of finding humanity a new home in the Andromeda galaxy. This should give the gameplay a slightly more exploration based-slant than in previous games.

Different, too is the character generation, which previously had you choosing between various classes, with each class specialised in either combat, biotic or engineering skills, or a mixture of each. In Andromeda, players have free reign to assign whatever skills they please to their avatar, creating their own very specific skillset as the game progresses, with the ability to reassign skill points at any point during the game.

Innovations aside, you can expect the same slick brand of action, combat and galactic-gallivanting, with an epic sweeping story, and plenty of opportunities for fun side activities, like optional quests and the ever-entertaining opportunity to romance your fellow party members.


South Park: The Fractured But Whole
Q1 2017

A direct sequel to previous South Park RPG The Stick of Truth, this new title, which was delayed from 2016 in order to add more polish, promises more hilarious gameplay action that feels like it’s been ripped straight from the show.

The fantasy theme of the first game has been swapped-out for another achingly current subject matter ripe for lampooning -- superheroes. Echoing one of last year’s biggest blockbusters, the plot has the town of South Park’s community of superheroes (role-played, or course by the most foul-mouthed children in America) split into two groups by a disagreement over a proposed film franchise. Will you stand with Cartman and his Coon and Friends, or oppose him by joining Kenny’s Freedom Pals?

Also updated are the battles. Maligned by some in the first game, a grid-based system has now been employed, and it looks a little more robust that the simplistic combat of Stick. Also criticized by some was the original game’s meager length. Fractured aims to rectify this by having more than double the content of the original, giving fans plenty more of what they wanted. Also, that title — just fantastic.

 

Overall, then, a first quarter that’s uncharacteristically stuffed with potential goodies. Will they carry on the trend of top quality releases that ended 2016? We don’t have long to find out.

You can follow Andy on Twitter @AndyJHumphreys