Now that the holidays are over and gamers perhaps have a bit of extra money to burn, pubs are making press releases right and left. Titles are being announced, release dates are being finalized (and changed, and re-finalized…), and gamers are chomping at the bit to get the slightest peeks at upcoming projects. 2011 is already looking to be a ridiculously exciting year for PS3 games, particularly with so many curiosity-inducing teasers hovering on the periphery of my ISP's sad bandwidth in streaming HD. Here are ten titles, some exclusive to PS3 that I'm really enthused about for 2011.
I have to confess up front that I think Jenova Chen is a genius. Having played through Flower in one sitting and then conducted fiendish experiments in my own living room, forcing gamers and non-gamers alike to do the same (well, I wanted to see the whole "dynamic game balancing" idea in action) for a pittance of chips and salsa, I came to appreciate the magnitude of brain that must have come up with the idea in the first place, and the subtle manipulation of emotions that tended to occur with most of the subjects over the course of the game. Same with Flower's "spiritual predecessor", Fl0w. So when I found out Chen was working on a new game, one that incorporated multiplayer in a much more involved way, I was psyched beyond words.
The Last Guardian
This action-adventure puzzler from Team Ico, formerly referred to as Project Trico looks exciting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that previous titles from Team Ico have proven to be both visually beautiful and quite unique in terms of gameplay. While the exact scenario and mechanisms have still not been made clear, this game is rumored to be slated for release in late 2011.
The story, from what little we've been told, involves the player taking on the role of a young boy, who appears to be trapped in the ruins of a palace and is trying to escape. Also contained within the ruins is a giant creature resembling a griffin, named Trico. Trico will be dangerous and hostile at first, and the player must try to win him over in various ways, potentially including healing various wounds, to build trust. As a relationship develops between creature and human, cooperative efforts will come into play with regard to solving the various puzzles that are encountered, which sounds like it could prove to be a very powerful use of applied psychology within a game. If nothing else, this game may reveal a lot to us about our own brains by virtue of the fact that in addition to the usual physics of game puzzles, we will have to consider an emotional relationship which changes over the course of the game.
Early last year, new achievements appeared in Portal. This is not necessarily indicative of much, as sometimes developers throw these out like scraps to hungry street dogs in lieu of a full expansion or a sequel. Portal was, after all, only ever intended to be a bonus game, based on a fairly experimental and obscure project called Narbacular Drop. But the burning, delirious devotion to Portal by its fans was such that a sequel was all but demanded.
Human beings have a natural tendency towards apophenia, the seeing of patterns in information where none truly exist. This was probably an evolutionary advantage at one time, but if the trait is too prominent in individuals today, they are often dismissed as conspiracy theorists. Which is why Valve announced Portal 2 in the best possible way: Encoded Top Secret Message. Of course, an official announcement was made later on, and on that day, paranoid wing-nuts were vindicated.
Portal 2 will feature a single player mode, in which everyone's favorite passive-aggressively murderous AI, GLaDOS returns. All of the old architectural elements are back, along with new physics-bending technology such as gels which accelerate objects, or cause them to bounce. To be completely honest, Portal 2 looks like it's going to be pretty dang hard. There will also be co-op play featuring two robots, though it could merely be versus that is disguised as co-op, based on some of the mean things that GLaDOS says in the demo. In any case, this is one of the most globally anticipated games of 2011, and by the looks of it, this distinction is well-deserved.
InFAMOUS protagonist Cole MacGrath makes a return in this sequel to the original title, also developed by Sucker Punch, and picks up almost right where he left off, battling The Beast in Empire City, and subsequently moving on to New Marais, a city modeled after New Orleans. Like the original, InFAMOUS 2 is in open-world format, but with more attention to detail in Cole's ability to affect objects and landscape elements in his vicinity, as well as the reactions of people to his presence. Melee combat has reportedly undergone a redesign process to make fighting more streamlined, with the added ability to create and use ice as a weapon.
While all of these points are exciting, the big question here will be how the choice-dependent ending of the first title will affect the opening and plot of the sequel. InFAMOUS 2, perhaps taking a cue from BioWare's Dragon Age and Mass Effect titles, will supposedly feature the ability to import decision data from the previous title, as well as an option for players that either did not play the original, or do not wish to factor their decisions into the sequel (hey, maybe Evil Cole is starting to show some remorse, you never know). Either way, it will be interesting to see how Sucker Punch's method for this concept compares to BioWare's, given that BioWare's has been rather impressive.
Mass Effect 3
This highly anticipated chapter of Commander Shepard's story sees Earth invaded by giant machines, which appear to be both sentient and aggressive. The people of Earth and the civilizations of the galaxy must be called to arms to drive them out, or mankind may perish forever.
With the PS3 port of ME2 out in early 2011, this installment of the series is sure to do particularly well on this console. Decisions from the previous two games can be imported, and will affect gameplay. This will provide added dimensions of deployability, in that players can not only change the course of the game during pivotal moments, but ostensibly start out with a completely different game, based on import data.
This highly anticipated first person shooter represents another chapter in an alternative Earth's struggle against the aggressively invading Chimerans. Picking up in 1957, four years after the events of Resistance 2, a disgraced Joseph Capelli, formerly a sentinel, has returned to Oklahoma to be with his family, only have to live in hiding, with a cluster of other survivors. Dr. Fyodor Malikov shows up with a plan to oust the Chimeran forces once and for all, and enlists Capelli to aid him on this quest, which involves traveling to New York City, and dealing with the fragmented cells of humans in hiding and the aftermath of the Chimeran savagery along the way.
Gameplay will remain generally consistent with previous titles, although there will be more of a construction element to weaponry, which makes sense, given that resources would be severely depleted by this point. Bombs must be assembled from nails and leftover cans, and in an interesting twist on the typical degradation of weapons, many weapons found in this game are upgradeable and actually become more powerful the more they are used. This would suggest, as it is contrary to most realistic scenarios, that combat is going to be extra difficult. Many of the old weapons will still be available, as well as newer ones which feature enhanced damage, but which come at the cost of splash damage if players linger too closely. It sounds as though Insomniac Games has stuck to a formula that they know will be successful, and not tried to revolutionize too many aspects of gameplay, instead taking the opportunity to play more with types of weaponry and objects within the game. Although a revolutionizing of a series can sometimes be a good thing, many gamers are quite content to simply carry on in a mode that has been proven enjoyable, while pursuing a new story, and by all accounts, this is exactly what we will get with Resistance 3.
Alice: Madness Returns
I'm particularly excited about this title, as the Alice mythos never quite seemed to be given its macabre due before the original game. There's something particularly compelling about games (and stories, in general) which take us from a purported real world setting to someplace else entirely, because so many games are set in fictional places to begin with.
When last we saw Alice, she'd returned from Queensland victorious (sort of), and it was never quite clear whether the entire thing was a guilt-induced hallucination or not, though what the alternative might be is difficult to say. Reported to take up eleven years after Alice has been released from the Rutledge Asylum and into the care of a psychiatrist, Madness Returns sees Alice return to Wonderland, this time in search of familiarity. Of course, she's probably still completely mental, and this brings all sorts of trouble to the land. No details have been revealed as to what shape the madness will take this time, but there are hints (and by hints, I mean tentacles) that the Queen of Hearts is back, duly evidenced by the whispered words, "What have you done?"
Little Big Planet 2
When LittleBigPlanet was first announced, it looked cute, if a little bit of a novelty. The idea of user-generated content was intriguing, but I assumed that I would stick to the canon levels and probably leave the rest alone. It turned out that the user creations were astonishingly good in some cases, and the customizable nature of the game was key to its wild success. From the previews that have been released so far, LittleBigPlanet 2 appears not only to keep up with this tradition, but to take it further, and all the DLC from the first game, as well as user-created levels will be usable in the sequel, so if you've not played LBP before, it's no problem to simply grab the sequel when it's released on January 18th and basically have twice the content. No word on whether Stephen Fry's delightful tutorial narration will factor in, though.
This PS3 exclusive FPS will be the first in the Killzone series to incorporate the Playstation Move into the motion controls. Players jump right back into the role of Sev, picking up right after the ending of Killzone 2. As a member of a Special Forces unit in the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance, Sev has just defeated Radec, while his fellow operative, Rico, has killed the Helghast dictator, Visari. This throws the empire into turmoil, with Sev and Rico stranded in the middle, left to their own devices to fight their way to safety.
Killzone 3 is intended to be a bit lighter in terms of plot, and will provide more insight into the Helghan way of life, which is a distinct departure from the marked darkness of Killzone 2. Also different in the third installment is the reported lack of swearing. While the strategy of the developers is clear, this could be risky, as fans of the Killzone series may view these moves as "going soft". However, the game appears to be worth checking out, if for no other reason than the stellar graphics, and any changes made to the spirit of the game are intended only to drive the focus more towards the story.
Having just gotten around to playing Uncharted 2 recently, I cannot possibly overstate my enthusiasm regarding news of a third Uncharted game. Uncharted 3 will take place largely in a desert, and will feature Victor Sullivan, Nathan Drake's mentor, along with Drake himself, of course. Uncharted 2 had some of the best multiplayer co-op ever (as well as some decent competitive options), as well as being thoroughly engaging just to watch, and Uncharted 3 will reportedly have "enhanced" co-op modes, which is even more exciting. From what little actual gameplay footage I've seen, November 1, 2011 cannot come soon enough!