Brace yourself: Based on what we know right now, the Wii, Xbox 360, and, to a lesser degree, PlayStation 3, are all set to have somewhat sterile years in terms of exclusive software.
All three hardware makers are in the process of readying new consoles, and it seems they've shifted their internal studios' attention away from current-generation games and toward next-generation projects.
That means most notable games coming out in 2012 will be multiplatform releases developed by third-party studios. I'll explore these games tomorrow.
Today we're going to look at some of the platform-exclusive releases expected to arrive over the next 12 months.
While it will be difficult for Sony to match 2011's parade of polished PlayStation 3-only games (remember LittleBigPlanet 2, Killzone 3, Resistance 3, Infamous 2, SOCOM 4, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, and Motorstorm: Apocalypse), Sony's system still seems to have the strongest line-up of exclusives for 2012.
The Last of Us, which was just announced at the Spike Video Game Awards and apparently has a chance of arriving by next Christmas, looks like it could be the start of an extraordinary new movie-like saga. Designed by Naughty Dog (the team behind the similarly cinematic Uncharted games), the announcement trailer shows us a girl and her father exploring a gorgeous but harrowing post-apocalyptic world.
If The Last of Us fails to arrive before the end of the year, PlayStation 3 loyalists still have The Last Guardian and Starhawk to look forward to. The latest from Team Ico, a studio renowned for bleakly beautiful adventure games filled with brilliant puzzles, The Last Guardian is an artsy actioner that's been in the making for years. It missed its 2011 launch window, but ought to arrive sometime in 2012. Starhawk, meanwhile, is a slightly strange third-person shooter-cum-tower-defense sci-fi action game made by the same team that designed 2007's Warhawk. Expect it come spring.
Also on Sony's 2012 slate: Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (a long overdue new entry in Sony's beloved, kid-friendly stealth platformer franchise); a reboot of notorious PlayStation car crusher Twisted Metal; and Sorcery, an action adventure game for PlayStation Move that many hardcore gamers have been looking forward to since the peripheral's announcement in 2009.
If you're searching for evidence that Microsoft intends to announce its next-generation console sooner rather than later, look no further than its dismal schedule of exclusives for the coming year.
343 Industries' Halo 4, which will finally bring the franchise's iconic Master Chief back into the equation, will be the biggest Xbox-only game of the year. That's assuming it arrives in 2012. Little is known about the game, and a firm launch date hasn't been set.
Other known Xbox 360 exclusives for 2012 consist primarily of Kinect games.
The long-anticipated Kinect Star Wars, which is designed to let kids wield virtual lightsabers with a high level of precision, should come this spring. Also expected is Lionhead Studios' Fable: The Journey, a Kinect-based RPG adventure that promises players the ability to freely move about open environments minus a controller. Many are still wondering just how this will work.
Microsoft also managed a minor coup in securing Xbox-exclusive 2012 ports of a couple of popular PC titles: CD Projeckt RED'sacclaimed RPG The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and Mojang's Minecraft, both of which will probably land this winter or spring.
Still, it's a little bleak. Expect the next Xbox – and perhaps a slew of launch games – to be unveiled at E3 2012 in June.
Nintendo's Wii is in an even worse position than Microsoft in terms of compelling exclusive experiences, though the Japanese company can perhaps be forgiven given its focus on the soon-to-launch Wii U.
I'm aware of only three titles of any significance slated to arrive on Wii in 2012: a new entry in Nintendo's always-popular Mario Party series; a decidedly Japanese fantasy RPG called Xenoblade Chronicles; and Rhythm Heaven Fever, an odd looking musical mini-game compilation inspired by an acclaimed Nintendo DS title.
None of these games will help the Wii reclaim the glory it enjoyed in its early years. For Nintendo's sake, Wii U can't come quickly enough.
Things look better for the Japanese game giant on the 3DS front, at least in terms of software selection. Its stereoscopic handheld got off to a slow start in the spring of 2011, but finished strong with the likes of Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land in November and December. It looks like Nintendo will build on this momentum in the new year with plenty of high profile releases.
I'm aware of four major first-party games slated for release in the near future, including: the next entry in Nintendo's popular Paper Mario series of simple role-playing games; a spooky new haunted house adventure starring Mario's bro in Luigi's Mansion 2; and Kid Icarus: Uprising, a long-awaited actioner based on a decades-old classic. Younger players can also look forward to a new addition to Nintendo's successful Animal Crossing town simulation series.
Nintendo 3DS partner studios are stepping up, too.
Capcom is working on Resident Evil: Revelations, a brand new story in the famed survival horror series that early previews have labeled one of the best looking games yet made for 3DS. Other third-party releases include a spruced up remake of Konami's Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater, a North American version of Level-5's Japanese puzzler Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracle, and a new entry in Square Enix's Dragon Quest series. Ubisoft has a port of Rayman: Origins and a new Rayman Rabbids game in the works, and Atlus is set to deliver a 3DS entry in its Shin Megami Tensei: Persona franchise of role-playing games.
Nintendo and its partners are being coy about release dates for most of these games, but most – perhaps even all – will arrive in 2012.
PC and Mac
Moving to computer games, Blizzard Entertainment, a bastion of the PC platform, will provide at least one 2012 highlight, and perhaps two.
Diablo III, a fantasy action RPG set for release this winter, will almost certainly prove the top PC-exclusive of 2012. Its extended development cycle and related controversies (fans have taken issue with its artistic design and always-online single-player mode) have only heightened public awareness and interest. It doesn't hurt that it will likely release simultaneously for Mac and PC.
There's also a chance StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, a sequel to one of the best real-time strategy games in recent memory, will arrive this year. However, considering Blizzard's history of extended development cycles it seems more likely we'll see it in 2013.
Valve Corp., another PC gaming stanchion, is also slated to release a couple of games in 2012, though neither are likely to prove as popular as Blizzard's games. Counter Strike: Global Offensive, a new entry in iValve's ever-popular online shooter series, will likely arrive first, followed by DOTA 2, a game of tactics that cleverly combines elements of real-time strategy and role-playing.
Another action RPG likely to be a hit on PCs this year is Torchlight II. Its simple, instantly accessible predecessor experienced unexpected success, giving its small developer, Runic Games, the resources to create a follow-up that, with any luck, will be just as addictive as its forebear. Expect it on both PC and Mac.
Tomorrow we'll look at 25 multiplatform games on our radar in 2012, followed by a peek at the indie scene on Friday. Also make sure to check out Part 1 of our 2012 gaming preview, which focuses on PlayStation Vita and Wii U.