In the first two posts of this 2012 preview package we looked at software coming to specific systems, and many of these exclusives deserve some excitement. However, multiplatform releases will deliver most of the coming year's video game magic.
With six or seven years of experience developing for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (and porting these games to PC), many studios are primed to pump out high quality software for current generation hardware. This is one of the reasons we see annual instalments in popular franchises like Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed (both of which are on track to receive new entries next fall), and why 2012 could prove the most bountiful year for multiplatform gaming yet.
Topping the list of titles I'm anticipating most over the next 12 months is 2K's vividly coloured and viciously creepy BioShock: Infinite, which is set a century in the past on an airborne city possessed of strange technology and even stranger ideologies (like American exceptionalism taken to extremes). It's safe to say this fantastical, high-concept action game, which is coming to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC, has a good shot at being the most imaginative mainstream video game of 2012.
Second is BioWare's Mass Effect 3, which will see the alien menace that loomed over the first two games in this epic sci-fi RPG series finally come crashing down onto mankind's home world. Gamers who've been with Mass Effect since the start will see decisions they made in the first two games play a significant role in this concluding chapter. It lands March 6th.
Also set to arrive this winter is Vancouver-based Radical Entertainment's Prototype 2, a sequel to 2009's open world action game that will star a new superhuman protagonist who can do things like destroy helicopters with his fists. But the real treat for open-world game lovers will likely come in Rockstar's recently unveiled Grand Theft Auto V, a new crime saga that, according to some reports, could launch as early as the summer.
Max Payne 3 will likely be another Rockstar blockbuster. No one knows yet just how much our prophetically-named protagonist has changed as a result of the franchise's transition from Remedy Entertainment to Rockstar Games, but the new edition looks set to feature the same sort of cinematic "bullet-time" acrobatics seen in its predecessors.
Fans of shooters will have plenty of other games to sink their teeth into, too. Ubisoft Montreal's Far Cry 3 will return the visually sumptuous series to its roots, providing players a vast, open tropical island setting to freely explore. The French game maker will also fire up a classic FPS franchise we haven't seen since the mid-aughts via Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Future Soldier, a tactical shooter that reportedly provides players unprecedented weapon customization options. It's expected in March.
If you're looking for a bang-bang with more of a sci-fi bent, Starbreeze Studios is set to release the dystopian and anti-corporate Syndicate in February. Human Head and Bethesda Softworks, meanwhile, are in the final stages of producing the extraterrestrial-infested Prey 2.
Gearbox Software will have a busy year, too. The Texas-based developer is currently working on Aliens: Colonial Marines, a first-person shooter set between the films Aliens and Alien 3, as well as Borderlands 2, a sequel to its 2009 surprise hit "role-playing shooter." It should release in the fall and looks to build on its precursor's successful fusion of twitchy action, satisfying character growth, and open-ended exploration.
A more traditional role-playing experience will come in Electronic Arts' Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, a new intellectual property with an extraordinary pedigree. It was designed by the man who developed the third and fourth entries in Bethesda Softworks' Elder Scrolls series, written by notable fantasy scribe R.A. Salvatore, and brought to visual life by graphic novel legend Todd McFarlane. The biggest threat to its planned February launch could be that much of its target demographic will likely still be playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
On the less serious side of fantasy role-playing, Obsidian Entertainment's recently revealed South Park: The Game looks to meld deep, turn-based RPG combat with the television show's trademark irreverence (series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are writing and performing all of the game's dialogue). Apparently, one of the game's more powerful character classes is the "Jew." No joke.
Turning east, Square Enix's decidedly Japanese Final Fantasy XIII-2 – a direct sequel to 2010's Final Fantasy XIII – will apparently address some of the complaints fans had about the original, such as its severe linearity and lack of free-to-explore towns. It's set to touch down by the end of January.
Square Enix subsidiary Eidos, meanwhile, is hard at work on Tomb Raider, a cinematic prequel to the iconic adventure franchise that stars a younger Lara Croft. It looks to be heavily influenced by Naughty Dog's Uncharted series and could prove one of the biggest holiday games of the year.
Konami's Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (such an unfortunate name), meanwhile, will likely take video game narrative into uncharted territory by somehow reconciling its extreme violence – players can literally slice enemies into dozens of tiny bits in slow motion – with the franchise's signature anti-war messaging.
Some of 2012's bigger action games, including Tecmo's sword slasher Ninja Gaiden 3, Vigil Games' apocalyptic Darksiders II, and Suda51's Lollipop Chainsaw (a new license featuring a zombie-hunting cheerleader voiced by prolific Toronto-born voice actor Tara Strong), seem satisfied to simply deliver as much hack-and-slash gore as possible.
Others, like Digital Extremes' The Darkness II, Konami's Silent Hill: Downpour, and Capcom's Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, will try to mix a few psychological chills into their buckets of blood.
We've only touched on some of the most notable multiplatform releases slated for 2012. There's also Activision's comic book-y actioner The Amazing Spider-Man, 2K's reimagining of the classic strategy game XCOM as a first-person shooter, Namco Bandai's giant mech simulator Armored Core V, and more.
Clearly, we're in the golden age of the current generation systems, and the pickings over the next year will be anything but slim.
Our 2012 gaming preview concludes with a look at some indie gems that could be headed our way in the New Year. Also check out the first two parts of the series: PlayStation Vita and Wii U, and platform exclusives.