It's a new year, and that means new games! It's overwhelming to consider the sheer volume of releases in a given year; there are always way more titles than a normal human can afford, and it's near impossible to know which ones will be worth it right at the beginning. Given that there have been some spectacularly expensive flops in recent years that we've all kicked ourselves for buying (nope, not gonna name names), it can sometimes feel a bit ridiculous to try to predict which will live up to the hype.
However, it's still fun to speculate. Here are a handful for Xbox 360 that I find particularly intriguing.
We've already sung the praises of the original turn-based strategy game, which continues to have a strong fan base, which is why some gamers might be apprehensive to hear that XCOM is being revamped for Xbox 360 as a first person shooter. "WHY?!", you might scream from your parents' basement (hey, I'm not knocking it, sometimes there just isn't room for a full gaming rig elsewhere). Why, indeed? Well, because 2K Marin, who worked on both Bioshock titles (although they were still part of Irrational Games during the first title) has yet to release anything that totally sucks. And admit it, the idea of taking on the role of an FBI agent investigating the events of the original series is not without appeal. Who knows? This new XCOM could end up being the Battlestar Galactica of Xbox games: The originals will always be classics, but the reboot is undeniably good.
Forza Motorsport 4
Forza Motorsport 4 is the fourth entry in the long running series of racing games based on the Forza license. It will be the first real racing game on the Xbox 360 to utilize the power of the Kinect as a control device as a proper alternative to the gamepad and steering wheel.
With help of the Kinect sensor, Forza Motorsport 4 even allows players to walk freely around their cars and fully inspect their cars by entering the vehicle. You'll undoubtedly need a big living room if you plan on doing all of this.
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
This title will continue the legacy of the Elder Scrolls games, and is reportedly a direct sequel to Oblivion. If the trailer is any indication, there will be metric tons of dragons, and potentially even a dude who is part man and part dragon. Unfortunately, there's not much else to go on. Bethesda is being purposely tight-lipped about it, saying only that they didn't even want to announce its existence until it was much further along, so that the time between announce and release would be shorter than usual. I sure wish Blizzard would take a hint from these guys in that respect.
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?"
Dead Space 2
I always kind of felt like whoever came up with the initial concept for Dead Space just took Half Life and mashed it up with Left for Dead, and then zoomed out to the third person perspective. This is completely inaccurate, of course. The combat is totally different, for starters, and the idea that enemies adapt to whatever body parts you've just hacked off until they're incapacitated. And the enemies, of course, are zombies, but they're also aliens, hence my initial assessment. In October 2010, EA released Dead Space: Ignition, which is a prequel to Dead Space 2. However, given the multiple endings, there's a lot of speculation as to how literal a prequel it could be. Original protagonist Isaac Clarke is rumored to be featured, which apparently means that his being attacked by a Nicole Necromorph at the end of Dead Space was not his ultimate end.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
This eye-catching indie from Fuel Cell Games will be available on both PC and Xbox Live Arcade, and already looks to have some of the most stunning artwork this side of Limbo. This 2D shooter features an atomic age-esque flying saucer attempting to evade all manner of alien dangers, including sentient, oversized drills, giant eyeballs, and the obligatory tentacle monsters. On top of all that, the game's music is being handled by none other than Norway's Dimmu Borgir, whose symphonic take on black metal is sure to bring a demented allure to a most intriguing project.
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.
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.
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.
Dragon Age II
Set in the same world as Dragon Age: Origins, this sequel features protagonist and Blight survivor Hawke's rise to power. As is typical of BioWare games, decision data from Origins can be imported at the start, and though Hawke's race cannot be changed, modifications can one again be made to both class and gender.
New to the series with this installment is a dialogue wheel similar to that found in the Mass Effect series, as well as several newly redesigned NPC races. Additionally, Hawke's dialogue will be fully voiced, and I am curious to see how the customization options will manifest themselves in light of this new development. The narrative apparently encompasses an entire decade, so I am also interested to see how changes and aging will be represented in this chapter of the series.
Gears of War 3
After Bulletstorm, Gears of War 3 is next in line for Epic Games and stands as the third and final entry in the Xbox 360-exclusive Gears of War series.
Gears of War 3 returns with action-packed cooperative gameplay in addition to several new multiplayer features like Beast mode, where players take on the role of the Locust in an onslaught against COG forces. In addition to the new gameplay modes, achievements and leveling systems have been added to the multiplayer game. Gears of War 3 is set to include all new weapons, as well as new melee-oriented moves for more spirited gameplay.