From abandoned space stations to drug-fuelled dystopias, here are 25 reasons why 2016 is going to be a fascinating year for games
This article titled “The 25 most anticipated video games of 2016 – Dishonored 2, Uncharted 4, XCOM 2 and more” was written by Keith Stuart and Kate Gray, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 30th December 2015 11.52 UTC
Of course, gamers go into every year filled with excitement and anticipation. This is a medium that thrives on slow burn hype, with even tiny indie projects using months of teaser shots and YouTube trailers to garner interest. The good news is, there’s usually enough brilliant, innovative and compelling fare to justify that enthusiasm – and 2016 looks to be no exception.
Although you could fill a dozen ‘most anticipated’ lists with all the grandiose sequels and blockbusting franchises due out this year, there are also dozens of smaller-scale independent projects, keeping the idiosyncratic and experimental heart of video game culture beating.
Here, then, is our pick of the biggest, smallest and strangest titles to look out for in the coming 12 months.
Space exploration and construction games are as plentiful as planets these days, but this one from Seattle studio System Era, looks like a truly compelling and graceful combination of Kerbal Space Programme and No Man’s Sky. Explore procedurally generated worlds and terraform them for fun (and profit).
Cities: Skylines was last year’s breakout urban construction sim, but in 2016, it could all be about Block’Hood. Described by its creator, architect and game developer Jose Sanchez, as a neighbourhood building game, it’s a more modular, environmentally aware take on the Sim City concept, with players building small, self-contained spaces that balance nature and amenities. It’s beautiful to look at, too.
Crackdown 3 (Xbox One)
The classic sandbox shooter is set to return under the guidance of Dave Jones, DMA Design founder and father of Grand Theft Auto. The big sell right now is the game’s use of cloud computing to allow for totally destructible city environments. It’s going to be huge with YouTubers.
Dishonored 2 (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
The return of Arkane Studio’s steampunk stealth adventure brings a new lead character, Emily Kaldwin, and a fresh upgrade system. It also promises to take us beyond the grim, plague-ridden city of Dunwall, which should mean intriguing new environments to learn and navigate. (Disclosure: Guardian contributor Cara Ellison is a narrative designer on the game.)
Fabulous Beasts (iOS)
Best described as a cross between a creature simulation, a virtual pet and Jenga, Fabulous Beasts gets you to stack model animals on a RFID-powered plinth to inhabit a virtual world represented on your iPhone or tablet. The more animal blocks you balance the more fabulous the world you create. Developer Sensible Object successfully demoed its innovative game at a series of festivals throughout 2015 and is launching a Kickstarter campaign at the end of January.
Fire Emblem Fates (3DS)
The Fire Emblem series of romanticised role-playing games allows you to play puppet master with your troops, both corralling them into battle strategies – and also making them kiss. It’s like doll houses meets Action Man, the ultimate combination of childhood fantasies. The latest instalment is split into two versions, each giving you control of a different army in the same epic war. It promises a wonderfully written story and a gorgeously illustrated world populated with characters that you really, really want to force into marriage. In a … nice way?
Firewatch (Mac, PC, PS4)
Set in a vast rural area of Wyoming, this first-person mystery adventure puts players in a remote watch tower, looking out for forest fires. But then weird things start happening and your only link to the outside world is a walkie talkie and a disembodied voice that you may or may not be able to trust. Developer Campo Santo was formed by Jake Rodkin and Sean Vanaman, who previously oversaw Telltale’s excellent Walking Dead games, so expect plenty of creepy atmosphere.
There have been several attempts to teach the principles of coding through a game, but this is one of the most genuinely interesting. Created by independent team Space Budgie, Glitchspace is a first-person platformer in which you effectively reprogram the world around you to progress through levels. The stylish, minimal visuals provide a sort of cyberspace environment and from the demo we played at GameCity in 2013, it really does make you think like a coder.
Home Free (Mac, PC, PS4)
Previously with experimental New York studio area/code, designer Kevin Cancienne has spent the last two years developing this canine simulation where you play a stray mutt lost and alone in a procedurally generated city. Similarly to cult hit, Tokyo Jungle, you have to use your animal instincts to survive, find food, and perhaps even companionship. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, it’s clear a lot of dog lovers see something moving and compelling in this new slant on the open world adventure.
Horizon: Zero Dawn (PS4)
You can kind of imagine the brainstorming session that led to this action role-playing adventure from Amsterdam-based PlayStation veteran Guerrilla Games: “Hmm, so robots are cool, dinosaurs are cool, so, wait a minute, how about …” Hey presto – a game where you’re a hunter on a post-apocalyptic planet battling robot dinosaurs. It looks beautiful though, mixing open world exploration and survival with varied combat techniques. Killzone meets Skyrim? Yeah sure, why not?
The Last Guardian (PS4)
Most of us gave up on ever seeing Fumito Ueda’s follow up to legendary PlayStation titles Ico and Shadow of the Colossus – then came that E3 presentation. We’re expecting another atmospheric, ennui-driven adventure, this time following a young boy and his … giant bird-fox thing, as they seek to escape a crumbling city. Get ready to be heartbroken.
No Man’s Sky (PS4)
Procedural content generation is the future we never realised we wanted – but it’s the one we’re increasingly getting. So throw away your dreams of hoverboards and flying cars and start imagining No Man’s Sky instead: a vast space exploration adventure filled with gorgeous deep-pink and teal candy worlds filled with creatures and spacecraft. At a time when our troubled planet seems ever more chaotic and weather-beaten, it’s little wonder this bright vision of the future has enraptured so many.
Persona 5 (PS3, PS4)
Often described as a combination of traditional Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) and Pokemon, the Persona series has been a cult hit since the original spun off from the Megami Tensei series of RPG adventures in 1996. These tales of high school romance, murder, friendship and occult power are idiosyncratic and often daft (there was a dancing game instalment), but they’re richly imaginative and Persona 5 promises to live up to the series that’s spawned musicals, fan fiction and many crushes on creepy dudes dressed like an ovoid teddy bears.
Routine (Mac, PC)
What is it about abandoned bases? Last year, Frictional Games terrified us with Soma set on a remote underwater research facility and 2016 should finally see the release of Routine, a chilly horror adventure set on an abandoned moon base. The work of four-person UK studio Lunar Software, Routine uses a “perma-death” mechanic, which means you get no health packs or lives, as you explore the dark confines, trying to work out what has happened. Very much an edgy, low-budget 1980s sci-fi movie reimagined as a first-person adventure.
Scalebound (Xbox One)
Kamiya, headphones, dragons. Someone could have come on stage at E3 a couple of years ago, said these three words and we’d be sold, just like that. If you need more detail, Hideki Kamiya is the creative genius behind Devil May Cry, Bayonetta and Viewtiful Joe and Scalebound is his latest project, an action roleplaying adventure that looks like Final Fantasy’s modern revamp crossed with How To Train Your Dragon, featuring a hero who fights monsters while listening to music on his headphones. As long as this isn’t some surreptitious tie-in with Apple Music it could be a runaway hit.
Tacoma (Linux, Mac, PC, Xbox One)
The brief: Gone Home in space. The reality: probably still Gone Home in space. But is that such a bad thing? Tacoma is by the same team, Fullbright, with significantly greater backing after their first runaway success. Think Gravity meets Portal meets, uh, Gone Home – and as quiet, exploratory indie stories like this one are the Big Thing in games right now, this could be a breakout success.
That Dragon, Cancer (Mac, Ouya, PC)
It may seem odd, looking forward to a video game that deals with the creator’s true story of losing a child to cancer. But what Ryan Green is building with his small team is a touching, quiet experience that takes you through both the joys and the struggles of his son Joel’s life. If games like Depression Quest and Actual Sunlight can help people understand their struggling loved ones, then this can, too. It also looks absolutely beautiful, a fractured polygonal jumble of shapes and colours, soft lighting and shadows hinting at the darkness to come.
Tom Clancy’s The Division (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
A deadly pandemic has hit New York so naturally what the city needs is a crack squad of spec-ops warriors to restore order by sort of shooting everyone. OK, that’s the plot out of the way, the interesting part of this latest Tom Clancy franchise-’em-up is that it’s a co-op role-playing strategy shooter set in a persistent online world inhabited by other player teams that you can fight or trade with. The result looks like an urban survivalist take on Destiny, and if the server tech can handle the load, this could be the military shooter evolution we’ve all been waiting for.
Though the Uncharted series has its detractors, developer Naughty Dog has consistently pushed the envelope in terms of epic cinematic storytelling, and this fourth and final Nathan Drake adventure looks set to continue that legacy. It’s the classic “one last job” story: Drake is married and retired but then his desperate brother emerges with tales of a vast pirate fortune and our hero is pulled back into the fray. Expect huge set-pieces, sassy wisecracks and actual emotions.
Unravel (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
It’s hard to tell whether we’re more in love with Yarny, Unravel’s handicraft mascot, or his creator, Martin Sahlin, who came on stage at the E3 conference in LA last year to pour his heart out about his incredibly personal development journey. The cute platforming game has you using your slowly unraveling yarn-body to explore a wilderness based on the Sahlin’s homeland of Sweden. It’s about love, he told us, as his hands shook from nerves. Hearts melted. If this is the future of marketing, we’re all doomed.
Way to the Woods (PC)
Existing as little more than a demo right now, there is already much interest in this visually poetic game about the adventures of a deer and her fawn in a stylised forest. The work of 16-year-old coder Anthony Tan, the concept and look are inspired by Studio Ghibli classics like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, rendered into interactive life using the advanced Unreal 4 engine. A 2016 release may be a little optimistic, but we wanted to flag this intriguing project anyway.
We Happy Few (PC)
Described on its website as “a game of paranoia and survival in a drugged-out, dystopian English city in 1964”, We Happy Few is not short on interesting ideas. Like Bioshock Infinite reimagined by George Orwell and Stanley Kubrick, it puts you into an alternative retrofuturistic Britain where you must appear to confirm, while investigating a weird collapsing society. It’s also a “survival roguelike”, which means there are no respawns or save points: if you die, you have to start again in a newly generated city.
The Witness (iOS, PC, PS4)
We’ve waited years for Jonathan Blow’s follow-up to Braid, the Xbox Live platformer that is often credited with kickstarting the modern indie scene. Set on a mysterious island, the object is to solve a series of oblique environmental puzzles, unpicking the secrets of the isle as you go. It’s like the PC classic Myst reimagined as a Jorge Luis Borges story.
XCOM 2 (Linux, Mac, PC)
Set 20 years after the critically acclaimed turn-based strategy sim was, XCOM 2 takes place on an Earth that has fallen to the alien invasion. Now acting as a resistance movement, the XCOM team has a new set of soldier types and specialisms, with missions taking on a guerrilla warfare feel. Plus, environments are now procedurally generated to add surprise and variety to the tense, tactical fun.
Yooka-Laylee (Linux, Mac, PC, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One)
Last year a group of veteran Rare employees set up their own studio, Playtonic, and set about developing a spiritual sequel to Banjo Kazooie, immediately answering the prayers of N64 nostalgics everywhere. The co-op characters at the centre of this appropriately bright and playful platform adventure are a chameleon and a bat rather than a bear and a bird, but the humour, setting and story are unmistakable in their origin.
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