12 Games to Watch in 2012

2012 is going to be a big year for gamers, and these twelve games exemplify why. These are twelve of the most innovative and exciting games expected this year.

Unless specific dates are given, all release schedules are estimates.

Assassin’s Creed III

Release Date: November 2012

Ubisoft is notorious for playing its cards close to the vest when it comes to its most profitable franchise, so no one really knows what 2012 will bring for Assassin’s Creed. Here are the few things we do know: there will be a new AC game in 2012, and the story of Ezio Auditore ended with Revelations. Since II, Brotherhood, and Revelations constituted essentially three parts of AC‘s second chapter, logic dictates that it’s time for Assassin’s Creed III. But who knows? Maybe Ubisoft will surprise us.

Assassin’s Creed is due for a revolution. Revelations pushed the Renaissance setting to its limits; the next game in the series has more riding on it than any other, requiring a reinvention that brings us a new assassin, a new setting, and lots of new gameplay mechanics. Personally, I’m pondering  what it would be like to play as a modern-day assassin (aka, Desmond Miles). Imagine an assassin running along the rooftops of a modern metropolis, climbing the sides of skyscrapers with a retractable grappling hook. Cars and trucks on the streets that Desmond could leap atop as they speed by. Modern weaponry like pistols and sniper rifles added to the mix. Plus, Desmond’s story arc needs to wrap up by the end of this year, to beat the whole “end of the world in December 2012” deadline.

All eyes are on Assassin’s Creed‘s next move, because it has to be the biggest, baddest entry yet. [Image credit.]

BioShock Infinite

Irrational Games
Release Date: TBD

Easily the most anticipated game of 2012. BioShock seemingly popped up on everyone’s radars from out of nowhere, produced by a company that had never had a major, triple-A hit game. By the end of 2007, everyone knew who and what Irrational Games was, and fans watched with baited breath to see what they would do next. While a second BioShock game was produced by another studio, Irrational plugged away at its next big title that furthered its philosophical commentaries on culture while introducing brand new ways of playing modern video games.

The world was stunned when Irrational unveiled BioShock Infinite, which traded the murky underwater city of Rapture for a steampunk city in the sky called Columbia. Irrational isn’t saying how Infinite is connected to the original game, beyond thematic elements, but the in-game footage they’ve shown off so far has been absolutely stunning, revealing entirely new depths of emotional development and player immersion than anything the medium has before produced. It’s also got some crackling, original gameplay mechanics that completely defy description.

If there’s a bigger or more universally buzzed-about game in 2012 than BioShock Infinite, I don’t know what it is.

Diablo III

Release Date: March 31, 2012

Eleven years. That’s how long fans have been waiting for the next chapter in the bestselling, acclaimed Diablo series. Blizzard may have taken its time to get back to the world of Sanctuary, but it looks like the perfect mixture of the familiar elements that fans love, and a whole slew of new features that bring the series into the new millennium.

Diablo III’s new features include, among other things, fully destructible environments, drop-in/drop-out co-op, an enhanced quest system, random level generator, and lots of re-imagined interface elements that are intended to speed up gameplay. With five character classes (barbarian, demon hunter, monk, witch doctor, and wizard), two auction houses, three artisan types, skill-modifying items called Skill Runes, and loads more, Diablo III is certain to be the source of many sleepless nights.

Right now, the game is planned only for Windows and Mac OS X — the two platforms Blizzard makes most of its games for. But this gamer is wondering if, when, and how Blizzard might jump to the console world by streamlining the controls of some of its most popular titles. Do you think it could be done?


Arkane Studios
Release Date: May 2012?

Just when you think there are no more original ideas in gaming, along comes Dishonored, one of the most “out there” concepts I’ve ever heard. The fictional city of Dunwall, where Dishonored is set, is part of a parallel reality where the main fuel source is whale oil (yeah, I really just said that), an oppressive government is entering its industrial revolution, and man-eating rats are ready to feast on wayward travelers. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. There’s also an engrossing storyline; a mysterious being called “The Outsider,” who gave Corvo his abilities; and a persistent open world where events take place whether you’re there to witness them or not.

As protagonist Corvo, an infamous assassin, you’ll have access to a strange array of powers and weapons, including teleportation, time manipulation, possessing the bodies of animals, and a collection of blades and guns. Despite these powerful tools at your disposal, the game values stealth above all else.

The biggest headlines surrounding Dishonored have revolved around the talent behind it. The game’s masterminds include Harvey Smith (Deus Ex, Thief), Raf Colantonio (Arx Fatalis, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic), and art director Viktor Antonov (Half-Life 2‘s City 17). The deeper you dig into Dishonored, the more you see how Smith and Colantonio are creating nothing less than an entirely new fantasy myth, with the potential to have the breadth and scope of Middle Earth or Westeros.

Gotham City Impostors

Monolith Productions
Release Date: February 2012

With no new entry in the Arkham Asylum series planned for 2012, how will gamers get their Batman fix this year? Gotham City Impostors to the rescue!

A purely online multiplayer game, Impostors imagines a Gotham City where wannabe Batmen and Jokers battle it out night after night, not so much for the ideological stances of their idols, but more out of a Fight Club kind of catharsis. The difference is that Impostors‘ players use guns. The game blends a colorful, over-the-top art style with serious blood and violence. Players will get to customize their on-screen avatars, and fight in teams of up to eight players against opposing teams in all-out deathmatch, though there are other modes as well, such as “Fumigation” and “Psychological Warfare.”

Gotham City Impostors, which is a download-only title for Windows, Xbox Live Arcade, and PSN, is expected to be as fun as it is controversial. For its part, DC Comics is embracing the idea fully, with a series of comic books releasing to support the new game.

Halo 4

343 Industries
Release Date: October 2012

343 Industries is an internal studio, created by Microsoft specifically to carry on the Halo franchise after Bungie made its exit. Which makes Halo 4 the first game in the series to have zero involvement from Bungie. 343 hit all the sweet spots with Halo: Anniversary, and their downloadable multiplayer maps have been solid. But those were just their warm-ups.

For their opening act, 343 must convince gamers everywhere that Halo is bigger than its creator. One can only imagine the sweat dripping from the brows in 343’s offices, with the pressure they’re under to not screw up Xbox’s signature franchise. Halo 4 finds a newly awakened Master Chief — with Cortana, ever at his side — taking on a brand new threat (read: not the Covenant or the Flood) that could devastate the entire universe. Scuttlebutt says the new threat comes straight from the Forerunners (the mystical creators of the Halos) and a massive, hollow, artificial world (a Dyson Sphere). Might Master Chief stumble upon the Forerunners’ homeworld?

Halo 4 is expected to up the ante with a huge, epic scope, and a stronger focus on storytelling and exploration. It’s also the start of a new trilogy. The stakes for 343 Industries could not possibly be higher.

I Am Alive

Ubisoft Shanghai
Release Date: February or March 2012

A year after some mysterious cataclysm decimated the Earth, a male survivor wanders the desolate cityscape of what was once a metropolis called Haventon, scavenging for supplies, fending off malevolent attacks from surviving gangs, and searching for his missing wife and daughter. But the hero’s biggest antagonist is not the surviving humans, it’s the city itself, which has become one big death trap, filled with toxic dust and dilapidated structures that collapse dynamically around him.

I Am Alive got my attention due to its unusual gameplay (for a third-person title) that puts its focus on survival more than gunplay, and because of its unique setting. Haventon’s city streets are filled with dust that can’t be breathed, so the player will need to acquire a gas mask and climb up skyscrapers to get some fresh air. It’s also a wide open playground, where you can search and scavenge, and where you’ll be faced with lots of hard moral choices. What do you do when, after spending significant amounts of time getting your hands on needed medicine or food, you encounter a sick child who can’t fend for herself and needs the supplies more than you do?

Another download-only title, this one is planned for XBLA and PSN.


Release Date: May 2012?

Jenova Chen, the creator of Flow and Flower, will this year deliver his next mind-altering drug game, Journey. You “play” as a nondescript robed figure in the desert, walking ever onward toward a mountain in the distance. Along the way, you’ll find bits of cloth you can use to fly, briefly, as well as various magical objects and mysterious ruins. All of this is expected to play into the story somehow, but no one but

As with all Thatgamecompany titles, Journey is more of an experience than a game, meant to induce a particular state of mind. The crux of the game lies in the other player(s) you’ll encounter as  you walk. The twist is that while these other lonely, robed figures are real players connected to you via multiplayer, you will never know who they are or anything about them. You’re both identified only by a symbol on the front of your robes, and no form of communication is possible. This anonymity intentionally strips players of all but the most basic of human connections, giving you only the choice of whether to help one another or not.

Yet another download-only title (noticing a trend?), this one will be a PSN exclusive.

Mass Effect 3

Release Date: March 6, 2012

The end has come, and the fate of Earth itself lies in the balance. Only Commander Shepard and his/her elite crew can raise an army from civilizations all over the galaxy to fight the Reapers and stop Earth’s total annihilation. Yes, variables from your saved files from the first two games will work directly with the new game to determine how your own personal storyline is completed. But there’s another wrinkle: Cerberus, the secret organization that Shepard worked for in Mass Effect 2, has turned against you, and is now actively hunting you down.

Combat in Mass Effect 3 has been greatly refined, allowing for a much faster-paced, more intense experience. You’ll travel to a host of all new worlds, including a massive city on Earth. The difficulty level will increase and adapt to you as you play. And for the first time, multiplayer is being added, allowing for four-player co-op in a specialized missions.

Mass Effect was planned by BioWare from the beginning as a trilogy, so at last we’re going to see how the whole thing ends — or rather, we’ll determine for ourselves how it ends (it’s even possible to lose to the Reapers) — in March.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Platinum Games
Release Date: TBA

This spinoff of the Metal Gear Solid series puts you in the cyborg ninja shoes of Raiden, several years after the end of the fourth game. Unlike the flagship series, where stealth is the main focus, this new title instead is about action. You’ll wield a special sword that can cut through literally anything — including your enemies, in a variety of ways. You can select which direction you want to slice, and the on-screen action will show the result of cutting in that exact direction. Expect loads of blood and gore.

Other details are scarce, as Platinum — who famously took over from Kojima Productions, though Kojima is still producing — is keeping plot details under wraps.

Prey 2

Human Head Studios
Release Date: July 2012?

Prey was an interesting, if rather old-school, scifi shooter, but it was hardly memorable. So gamers everywhere were scratching their heads when Bethesda announced that a Prey 2 was on the way. And then came the explanation, screenshots, and a trailer.

Ain’t nobody scratching their heads anymore. Prey 2 departs from the original game so completely, it might as well be a new IP. The new game is set on the alien world Exodus, which is basically Blade Runner with aliens. Lots and lots of aliens. You play as Killian Samuels, a U.S. Marshall who found himself on Exodus after a mysterious airplane-vs.-UFO event, and years later now works as a bounty hunter on this alien world. What has me excited is the darkly stylish, moody atmosphere of the living, breathing open world you play in, and the fast-paced combat that’s every bit as vertical as it is horizontal.

If Human Head pulls it off, Prey 2 could set a new standard for “sandbox” shooters. If not, it could turn out to be just another Doom 3 or F.E.A.R. clone. I know what I’m rooting for.

Tomb Raider

Crystal Dynamics
Release Date: October 2012

If any gaming franchise is in desperate need of a makeover, it’s Tomb Raider. The character is beloved by gamers everywhere (her high class pedigree and her… other assets… made for an unexpected combo), but her games have been extremely hit-and-miss. Developer after developer have tried new takes on the character again and again, shifting her adventures in wildly varying directions. But it looks like this full reboot might have finally found the magic formula to reviving Lara.

A far darker, more serious take on the character’s origin is presented in the new Tomb Raider, where Lara finds herself in survivor mode while shipwrecked on a dangerous island. It looks like a frightening, intense experience that promises to mold this young Lara into the adventurer we know, and early impressions have been downright glowing. The newly serious tone has removed the tongue entirely from cheek, and you need no more evidence than to look at Lara’s visage in the new game: she’s dirty, she’s tough-but-fragile, and her proportions are remarkably normal.

This is the Lara Croft you’re looking for, and she’s coming to a screen near you this Fall.

Honorable Mentions

Borderlands 2 (Gearbox, July 30, 2012)
Bigger, badder, more more more. Borderlands 2 takes everything gamers loved about the original and gives it new complexities. Gearbox is smart enough not to fix what wasn’t broken, so fans of the first game are sure to devour this one.

Max Payne 3 (Rockstar, March 2012)
An older, even more world-weary Max shaves his head, develops a spare tire, and heads to exotic Brazil, where he’s (surprise!) double-crossed and out for revenge. Upgraded graphics will deliver more realistic physics for bullet time than ever before.

Twisted Metal (Eat Sleep Play, February 24, 2012)
Looks like a fun update of the original manic driver/shooter, but I’ve not seen much evidence of it doing anything particularly new or innovative.

Coming… When?

Grand Theft Auto V
It goes without saying that anytime Rockstar releases a new iteration of its juggernaut series, it’s a big honkin’ deal. But other than announcing GTA5‘s existence, Rockstar is keeping mum on when players will get their hands on it. This year? Next year? Considering all the work that goes into developing the massive open worlds that GTA is known for… it could be a while. Depends on how long it’s already been in development.

The Last Guardian
Team Ico’s expected third masterpiece about the relationship between a human and a colossal creature has been delayed so many times, who really knows when it will finally see the light of day? Perfection doesn’t happen overnight, people. We just have to be patient. A lot.

The Last of Us
No idea if Naughty Dog’s brand new IP will release in 2012 or 2013, but it looks terrific. And since Naughty Dog has expanded its staff to accommodate two teams, this game doesn’t mean that there can’t be an Uncharted 4 (though U4 has yet to be announced).

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Robin Parrish

Unathletic, uncoordinated tall man with endless creativity stampeding through his overactive brain. Comes with beard, wife, and two miniature humans. Novelist. General blogger and main Gaming Geek for ForeverGeek. Lead Blogger, Apple Gazette.

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