As much fun as I had with “Dishonored,” the whole time I was playing it I found myself craving the classic stealth series “Thief.” Far from a knock, it’s a credit to “Dishonored” that it borrowed from a franchise that not enough have, as the “Thief” games, and their open approach to the stealth genre all set in a well fleshed out, and stylistically diverse world, are some of the most satisfyingly creative in all of video games.
Unfortunately since the release of 2004’s “Thief: Deadly Shadows,” the series has gone quiet, and except for a vague announcement around 2009 of a sequel, only rumblings of “Thief 4” have existed, as news of a new “Thief” installment has been somewhat appropriately elusive.
Now though, updates to the Linkedin profiles of a game developer and artist reveal recent work on an “Unannounced” and “really cool” project at Eidos Montreal. Outside of some work on the upcoming “Tomb Raider,” there are very few possible titles Eidos Montreal could be working on, and though “Thief 4” has had loose reveals before, and may not technically be classified as unannounced, considering that the logo for the game has been even floating on the Eidos Montreal website for some time without updates, the odds are still strongly in “Thief’s” favor that this pertains to real work finally being done on the dormant series.
This may just be a reach formed from desperate hope for a new “Thief” game causing people to see things that aren’t there, but gaming can always use another great stealth title, and if the revival of the “Thief” franchise can be handled with the same care seen in “Deus Ex: Human Revolution,” and make full use of the advancements since “Deadly Shadows,” then maybe the wait will have been worth it.
While individual game releases will always (deservedly) get most of the love, there is nothing like a truly great overall year of gaming. Even though it’s never an intended effect, it’s amazing when a group of independent properties come together to create an incredible 365, or 366 if we’re talking leap years, days of gaming. Years like 2001 (“Halo: CE,” “Grand Theft Auto III,” “Final Fantasy X”), 2007 (“Bioshock,” “Portal,” “Mass Effect”), and, of course, the greatest of them all, 1998 (featuring the holy trinity of “Metal Gear Solid,” “Half-Life,” and “Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”) represent some of the best times ever to be a gamer.
And 2013 has the potential to join, or even exceed, all of them. Thanks to some fortunate timing, and a few delays, it’s looking to be a landmark year of video gaming that will be remembered for many, surely lesser, years to come. While there are many, many reasons for this, here are five that lead me to believe that 2013 in gaming will be one for the ages.
Mobile Gaming is Coming Into Its Own
“Serious” gamers may look down on the mobile gaming market, but it’s time that all gamers realize that we’ve come a long, long way from “Doodle Jump”. Now, instead of being an outlet for puzzlers, tower defense titles, and slightly lesser console ports, mobile gaming is producing intriguing and inventive titles at a rapid pace, due in large part to a sea of developers making use of the simpler programming on mobile devices, and the still interesting touch controls, to provide a constant, and often cheap, flow of amazing games on the go. Since the explosion in tablet sales over the last couple of years, we’re even starting to see more titles developed specifically with their larger sized screens and more powerful abilities in mind.
There hasn’t really been a truly noteworthy traditional handheld gaming system since the Nintendo DS, but thankfully an ever growing community has slowly turned a platform that was only used for brief sessions of “Snake” in your downtime, to one of the most exciting fields for surprising high quality video game releases. Expect this to continue in 2013.
The Next Generation Begins
As the Wii U is proving, a new console doesn’t have to blow minds to still produce some genuine excitement and huge sales numbers. While nothing from the other major gaming companies is official, it’s looking more and more likely that 2013 will bring gamers the next generation of Xbox and Playstation consoles (even if it is only a preview at the least). While that means that gamers will have to soon be plucking down some serious cash on new consoles, accessories and games (not to mention still trying to keep up with the releases still to come for the previous consoles), there is nothing more exciting than the promise of a new gaming generation.
Soon battle lines will be drawn once again as gamers choose their alliances, and new specs and features will again re-shape what we thought was possible in the medium. This has been a great console lifecycle, but it’s gone on for longer than usual, and it’s time for a new day to begin.
People Are Choosing the Games They Want, and What They Want in Games
One of the biggest changes to gaming over the last year or two has been the influence of sites like Kickstarter (or more recently Steam’s “Greenlight” program). Now, developers have open forums where they can present their ideas and let the community decide their interest in them, and even help by directly funding the titles. Even though the road to success is not guaranteed, it’s now easier than ever for a good idea to see life, and for gamers to help make sure the games they want get a chance.
But this isn’t just about sites like those. It’s also about events like “Mass Effect 3’s” optional new endings, or “Bioshock: Infinite’s” alternate cover. Now, more than ever, gamers have the ability to directly influence the decisions of major developers, and have a word about the final product. While this is a controversial move, the fact that the average gamer now has so much power to directly influence the titles available to them will have some major, and intriguing, implications in the coming year.
Influence of 2012’s Biggest Games
2012 was not one of those all-time great years of gaming I mentioned, but it did have some all-time great games. It’s natural to build off of what came before, and in the case of 2013, that could mean some exciting and sweeping changes across several genres.
Particularly, look for the success of “The Walking Dead” to lead to a revival of the traditional point and click genre, as well as a greater focus on the effect of storytelling in games. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the indie hit “Slender” put horror game developers back to the drawing board to come up with some fresh ideas for the genre (and veer it away slightly from the growing action elements), and if the praise that “Far Cry 3” is garnering expands the aging FPS market into more of the sandbox gaming territory. Other less likely, but equally welcome innovations would be if more all-star developers got together on independent properties like in “Dishonored,” or if other long dead franchises get exciting resurrections like “XCOM,” or even if “Journey” inspires people to look towards developing with art, and not violence, more in mind.
Whatever the final influences may be, 2012 showed there are still some exciting places for gaming to go. 2013 might just take us to all of them.
Of course, that’s just some of the games that we actually know about. Many of the best games of this year came out of nowhere, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the best game of 2013 is one that no one is talking about yet. Even in an ever expanding industry, at the end of the day games are still king, and the games set for 2013 are some of the most exciting that I’ve seen in a long time.
2012 in gaming isn’t a year that is easy to sum up with hyperbole, or one sweeping statement.
It was far from the greatest year in gaming (very, very far), but even still, when I was compiling this list, I had to make some heartbreaking cuts, and felt I was disrespecting some very good games. For every cheap money snatching blockbuster we got this year, we were also gifted with some genuine surprises and accomplished franchise extensions (many of which make up this list). The end result of one step forward and one step back for an entire 12-month period may not have moved gaming ahead, but the constant motion made choosing the best of the year a dizzying experience.
Somehow, though, I was finally able to narrow it down to 10 games that I feel comfortable saying are the best of 2012.
10. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
On the surface, it looks like all there is to “Kingdoms of Amalur” is a standard RPG coat of paint and a souvenir of the high profile closure of “38 Studios.” It’s not the type of game that makes its first impression with its looks, but rather its personality. The game’s speedy free flowing combat system never ceases to be entertaining throughout the very long adventure “Amalur” provides.
An all-star team of developers and outside talent (fantasy great RA Salvatore penned the story) may have been behind “Amalur,” but nothing feels old hat about the game, and it instead comes across as something closer to a fresh faced group of young talent, with heads full of new ideas creating something against the grain. It’s one of the more surprising, and certainly among the most pure fun, releases this year.
9. Xenoblade: Chronicles
If “Amalur” looks standard and done before on the surface, then “Xenoblade” is practically a fossil upon first viewing. It’s a member of the dying JRPG genre, and was featured on the outdated Nintendo Wii, which would normally spell either doom or obscurity at best. Yet after a wave of hype from the Japanese market, and several thousand petition signatures later, audiences everywhere were greeted by something that felt like meeting an old friend, and finding out that you have just as much fun with each other as you used to.
“Xenoblade” pays tribute to all of the great JRPG conventions that shaped it, but it just as carefully takes note of all the things that made those game’s grow stale as well, and manages to mold new forms for them so you are left with a game that somehow makes you nostalgic for things you never knew before. Your party becomes your family thanks to a great relationship system, and the character building and combat mechanics keep things fresh as you explore one of the more unique worlds available for the genre all in pursuit of finishing an equally gripping story. The era of JRPGs may be over, but “Xenoblade” reminds us why it had a dynasty in the first place.
8. Sound Shapes
I love new, bold ideas in gaming, and “Sound Shapes” may have been among the newest and boldest this year. It has nothing to do with its basic gameplay either, as “Shapes” traditional 2D side scrolling system is fairly ho-hum. Much like a new “Mario” release though, the real draw doesn’t lie in the mechanics, but rather the design. “Sound Shapes” employs a minimalist graphic style that is charming, but only serves to give substance to the soundtrack that defines the experience. Several different musical artists contributed to the music (and the design) of the levels, and as a result we are provided one of the first games since the brilliant “Rez” that feels like an organic and physical product of the soundtrack. It’s more of an interactive soundtrack than a fully loaded video game, but it’s artistic value is unquestionable, and I wouldn’t want to know the person who couldn’t have fun with it.
I usually try to avoid the mass hysteria of Black Friday, but in the case of video games, I too fall victim to the beautiful deals and throw myself into the madness with open wallet, and little regard for common financial sense.
Luckily when it comes to games you can find a lot of great deals online that don’t require you to arm yourself and push some fellow human being on the ground to take advantage of. In that spirit, here is just a small sampling of the best online deals available right now.
*Note: Don’t be surprised if some of these are gone by the time you get to them as deals move and sell out quickly. Be sure to act accordingly then and as always consult the great Dealzon for the best finds.
Grand Theft Auto IV Complete Edition, GTA: San Andreas, and LA: Noire Complete (PC Download) – Amazon – $14.99
Have you ever eaten a food that was too rich and decadent? Same thing with this deal. Countless hours of Rockstar Gaming greatness for under $20 is almost too good a deal, as you’re basically forfeiting your life by buying it.
Dishonored (PC Download) – Green Man Gaming -$22.50
Anytime you can get a game that’s barely a month old for under $25 it’s a deal worth checking out. When that game is one of the best of the year by a mile, you should probably stop what you’re doing right now (including reading this) and pursue it.
Mass Effect Trilogy (PC Download) – Gamefly – $23.99
I once bought a Rolex watch in Chinatown that was an absolute perfect knock off, but broke later that day. It was a valuable lesson on something being too good to be true, and is the only reason I wouldn’t recommend jumping on this deal. It’s so mind-blowingly cheap, there almost has to somehow be a catch.
Xbox 360 250GB Bundle with “Skyrim” and “Forza Motorsport 4” – NewEgg – $189.99
If you were somehow waiting to buy a 360 until just the right moment, then getting one for under $200 with one of the best RPG’s and one of the best racing games of all time, would finally be that moment.
Finally it is once again time for the Steam Autumn Sale, which is running until 11/26. With almost too many good games to list, and deals rotating constantly, as well as mark downs of some kind on pretty much everything, it’s the first place any PC gamer should go.
Fun Fact: There are only three months out of the year.
If you’re saying duh right now, then you must be a major video game developer.
This week brings us the highly anticipated releases of both “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” and “Dishonored.” While two Triple-A incredible games in one week is usually a cause for celebration, it does highlight one of the problems the industry has where the majority of the best games come out sometime between October and December. Like clockwork, it seems that every year the 4th quarter takes our last dollar.
In a way it’s kind of fun as every single week seems to bring us one great game after another, until the holidays roll around and you hope to suddenly get caught up with the gaming blitzkrieg. In another way, though, it’s a principle that really works best for either people in the industry or kids who still make Christmas lists. For the rest of us, it kind of forces you to suddenly have a lot of free time, and a lot of money just to keep up.
It also hurts games like “XCOM”. “Dishonored” and “XCOM” are both amazing titles, but there’s little doubt that between the two “Dishonored” is the much more appealing title for the mass gaming public. A game like “XCOM” that’s a resurrection of a semi-obscure PC franchise, and features a fairly strict learning curve and about a third of the advertising budget of “Dishonored,” has a much harder road to sales success than is necessary for such a stellar game. When you factor in the upcoming releases of sequels to established franchises like “Halo IV” and “Assassin’s Creed III,” you’re looking at snowball’s chance in hell type prospects.
Maybe a game like “XCOM” coming out in July doesn’t guarantee its financial future, but it would be nice to not have to have to choose between two incredible full price games in the same week, only to have to keep doing so throughout the rest of the year.
So would you rather see big releases spread evenly during the year, or are you a fan of the holiday rush?