As we stare into the weary, craggy face of the final quarter of 2018, there is still a glimmer of hope. The games are not yet done. They will never be done. And the impending release of them, some close, some a little further away, stirs something within us. The delicate, easily crushed butterfly of excitement. We may catch it yet, to keep in our collection of emotions - the sharp pin of time pushed through and through it into the cork of eventual disappointement.
John: I’m definitely nervous about Ion Maiden. 3D Realms aren’t exactly on fire with a track record of late, and the game to which this is a sequel, Bombshell, was execrable. However, this is developed by new bods, Voidpoint, and their release of a few precursor levels back in March absolutely blew me away.
Because this is the revival of the Build Engine, the code beneath Duke Nukem 3D, Blood, and Shadow Warrior, revised and updated for modern machines, yet still astoundingly faithful and true to its origins. Which is to say, it looks splendidly chunky, has destructible scenery, and moves faster than video games really ought to be able to.
Those sample levels for the game showed off the engine update wonderfully, but more importantly, also demonstrated a finesse for level design that was equally as true to the era. Ion Maiden, so far, has offered us manic FPS in a way that was previously lost to the ages.
What they have to do now is match that level, which is no small ask, while avoiding getting dragged into the gruesome mire that is 3D Realms’ present territory. Bombshell was a grotesque mess of misogyny and terrible, terrible game design - Ion Maiden seems likely to avoid the latter, but desperately needs to avoid the former too. That done, cor, this could be something really excellent.
Alice Bee: Assassin’s Creed was one of the games I properly got into as a teenager, so my own interminable struggle is to be excited for each new one. Even the one in France. But Origins was good, which means being excited for an Assassin’s Creed game doesn’t feel as futile as it once did. And Odyssey has, theoretically, a lot going for it, because you can choose to play as an honest to gosh woman through the whole thing if you want. And there’s romancing in it! And the romancing can be really gay! BioWare had better start making BioWare games again soon, or everyone else is going to steal the idea from them.
When Origins came out I was a little disappointed that Ubisoft only almost let go of our hands. You could run around wherever you liked, and turn off the HUD and strip everything back, but by default Ancient Egypt was still covered in a bloom of quest markers, like algae on a lovely pond. Give me Ancient Greece, give me something to stab with, and give me a shove into the wide world. Give me that, Ubisoft. Can you do that? I played a bit of Odyssey at Gamescom and it seems like maybe... they can...?
John: I admit I haven’t been near the Forza games, at any point. I’ve always assumed them a bit too serious, a bit too petrolheady. But I have recently learned that this is probably a mistake when it comes to the Horizon series. A mistake I plan to put right this October, when the franchise goes open world.
I feel certain eventually one driving game will get this right. After the Test Drive Unlimiteds, and the Need For Speeds, and the Crews have all royally messed it up, I’m desperately hoping for the first game that can feel like Burnout Paradise writ large. Perhaps it’ll be Forza Horizon 4?
Certainly the signs are there. It has the most basic things you’d want from a shared online world (72 players per server, it seems), which The Crew 2 so bloody weirdly didn’t. Things like the ability to set your own start and end points for races, and then challenging chums to beat you on the route.
All the property buying stuff sounds like the absolute worst - I want a driving game, not a dollhouse game - but I love the sound of a game that sees shifts in seasons, lakes freezing over and becoming driveable, and the like. We shall have to see if this is finally the game that can get it right, but early indications are looking promising.
Alice O: I am so into waking up in a haze, unable to face my own face in the mirror and so leaving it a mystery, then shambling out to work torn between arguing thoughts, rearranging my beliefs to find a productive stance, focusing on ideas for so long they go past helpful and down into self-consuming mindhell, making terrible decision after terrible decision in the hope that I’ll bumble through in an interesting way, then somehow pull it off and receive the applause of my colleagues.
And in the game.
Za/um’s surreal and bleak detective RPG is fizzing with ideas I still can’t quite believe it’ll come close to realising, yet everyone I know who’s played Disco Elysium gushes praise and insists yes, it is as good as it sounds. The plan is to launch later this year, and you bet I’ll be one of those cops making every stupid and terrible decision I can.
Matt: An astoundingly well-written RPG where your skills have personalities, and wrestle with you for control if you put too many points into them. An RPG where you can choose to fixate on certain thoughts to arrive at character-altering conclusions, where you can chat with your necktie and infiltrate harbours by becoming a communist. It is as good as it sounds. You'll see.
Alec: We’re up to five years and counting for the follow-up to the unforgettable Superbrothers EP: Sword & Sworcery, but I don’t mind waiting. Watching videos of this sombre, subterranean roguelike, soaking up the gloom and the soundtrack, achieves at least half of what I want the game itself to do for me.
Which is to say, feel lost but not helplessly so, in a place that is forsaken but not helplessly so, and most of all a minimally-described world that feels as though it exists outside the screen I experience it through, and perhaps always has done. I’d much rather it was delayed five more years than fail to achieve that.
John: I never finished Darksiders II, because it turns out I only have one human lifetime. I have no idea what Vigil Games were thinking when they decided to not only make their third-person action game completely and utterly brilliant fun, but also infinity hours long such that no living being could see its end without cutting edge experimentation on their telomeres. It feels strange to be hoping Gunfire Games (Vigil by another name, really) will make a shorter sequel, but I sure am.
Early footage of the third game in the Four Horseman series looked sooooo bad, and my heart sank. But more recently trailers are showing a far more interesting game, with this game’s star, Fury, looking far more resilient and adept than previously. Which leaves me hoping for something as fun and epic as Darksiders II, with its enormous world (slightly less so, hopefully), excellent combat, and Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time-like exploration.
We’ve got a release date now, the 27th November, so it’ll be out in early December, in time for my Christmas holidays! Hooray!
Brendan: Or ‘Skinny Dark Souls’ as I’m going to be calling it. Skinny in the sense that your character is a slim and plainly animated fighter, but also in the sense that it looks like a slimmer, calmer version of From Software’s brutal murderworld. You can’t get invaded by hostile players here, but you can be aided by helpful ones. The baddies also seem more fragile, at least that felt true of the ones I fought during an E3 demo. But I’m most excited just to hoof it around this colour-drained landscape and inspect the local geography. The Tower of Gnomon, the Fjord, Listener’s Ridge. I love a good place name. Also, there are some ornate statues of kneeling figures peppered around the hills and canyons, and if you throw a magical spear at them, you teleport straight to them. That’s a fast travel system I can accept, even if the more traditional fast travel has also been designed into it (booo!)
Dave Irwin: Confusing title aside, it's really good to see that Hitman is getting back into its stride, with the episodic reboot being as successful as it was. My fondest memories of the series are still deeply rooted in Hitman: Blood Money, which had some rather spectacular scenarios for assassinating key targets in creative ways, before making your sneaky getaway.
From what we've seen of Hitman 2, it looks like the series is returning to that more elaborate tone, with its race track setting that can be solved in a number of ways. While my favourite levels will still be the opera house and the nursing home from Blood Money, the sheer size of the map shown off so far is a good indication of the scale that this sequel to the reboot is going for. Hopefully it'll be just as memorable.
Alec: I can’t imagine how bored you all must be of my whimpering about how I want to drive a pretend lorry but with more trees, but nonetheless: the game I am most looking forwards to involves driving a pretend lorry but with more trees. The zen-like American Truck Simulator has thus far stuck to the hotter, rockier bits of the USA, but with the upcoming Oregon it moves further inland, with more green and new types of industry, which of course means different types of Very Large Object to carry around. But really, the greatest appeal is sheer landmass - this’ll take us up to five states in total, which means driving the length of the game now approaches ‘calling in sick to work’ territory.
And please, please, please be Washington State next. I can’t wait to see Snoqualmie Falls.
Alice Bee: Untitled Goose Game became 2017’s darling almost instantly when its trailer came out. If you watch the trailer you will understand why. In Untitled Goose Game you play a goose. A horrible goose, to be specific, who has a to-do list of horrible things like stealing keys and hats, and throwing things in a lake. This kind of behaviour is true to many of the geese I have met in real life. Real life geese are aggressive.
The idea of being a goose, and that being a goose that uses stealth and cunning to achieve its petty ends, is a calming one. It’s a rural idyll but with the realistic addition of animals being terrible sometimes. And at the same time one can indulge in being just a bit naughty. Not the huge scale naughtiness of wholesale murder and big guns. Nice, manageable naughtiness. Childhood naughtiness. Eating too many sweets and then shoving someone in a puddle. And you can press a button to honk. What’s not to like? But living up to the promise of the trailer may be an impossible task. Because the trailer was so good.