State of the Union: Gods, Galaxies, and Jpopgasms - My Top Ten Most Anticipated Games of 2010
by Greg Mengel
Greg Mengel takes his own personal perspective on games and gaming culture in his column, State of the Union. State of the Union is published twice monthly on the second and fourth Saturday of each month.
When time came for me to write my very first Gamer's Guide to Life column, I flirted with a lot of possible subjects. An exposition on the pros and cons of including co-op in a new game, aimed at designers. A tribute to the greatest mounts, hogs, and other miscellaneous rides in the history of gaming lore. A detailed physical and mental comparison of EA Sports kingpin Peter Moore and the demon lord Satan. There were a few options on the table.
After days of deliberation, I finally decided that I wanted to start off my column, and the new year, right - by reminding the gaming world of all the good titles that are waiting for us in 2010. My method? A top ten list, complete with my thoughts on what aspects of each game look good, bad, or ugly.
So without further ado, faithful internet audience, please change into your most relaxing evening robe, grab a scotch, set up your laptop at your comfiest EZ chair, kick your feet up, and enjoy digesting my thoughts on what the year 2010 will offer the gaming industry in Gods, Galaxies, and Jpopgasms. Any intellectual regurgitations of those opinions can be left in the comments box at the end of the article. Bon appetit.
Gods, Galaxies, and Jpopgasms - My Top Ten Most Anticipated Games of 2010
10. God of War III
Reasons to get excited God of War II left the gaming world with a cliffhanger when it ended, just as Kratos, Gaia, and the mighty Titans began their epic march to Mount Olympus in order to kill Zeus, the Almighty King of the Gods, once and for all. It was was a cruel exercise in the art of the cliffhanger ending, but it means that in God of War III, we can all be pretty sure that Zeus is going down. That means more action; more merciless slaughter of countless innocent civilians for green health clouds; more interactive intercourse with concubines for experience points; and more flashy, epic, seizure-inducing aesthetics, the likes of which will have even Michael Bay saying "Whoah. Okay guys, that's enough. I'm going outside."
Based on what we can see in the demo, it looks like the gameplay in God of War III will be pretty similar to that of its forefathers - as usual, playing Kratos will make you feel like a piping hot dish of invincible, ancient, Greek, hetero man meat. It also seems like the environmental design of Kratos's newest adventure will have the same reliably entertaining, Zelda-esque puzzles that we solved in the series' first two installments. Once I can cope with the fact that it will probably be little more than a digital altar to the gods of senseless violence, I'm sure I'll have bucketloads of fun playing the third God of War.
Reasons to narrow your eyes and doubt Oh, there are so many reasons. Besides the rape of classical literature, there’s always the cliché, unimaginative dialogue that seems to hallmark the series, or the fact that by the time he gets to Zeus, Kratos will have probably already committed genocide on 95% of the Greek Pantheon, which will both make it hard for Sony to plan a sequel and cause a major disturbance in the literary Force. This brings up some valid questions regarding God of War III's philosophy. Is it considered ethnic cleansing when you wipe out a race of gods, or does divinity fall into a different category than human ethnicity when slaughtered? Men can become gods. According to Wikipedia and my high school World Literature class, Heracles successfully made the leap from man to Mount Olympus. That must make divinity more of a club. So when Kratos kills every god he passes on the street, that's not ethnic genocide, it's... institutional genocide? But aren't national governments a type of institution? Is he wiping out a nation? Okay, now I'm confused. It doesn't matter - the point is, as you saw in the trailer, in some capacity Kratos will be getting genocide-y, and that disturbs me in many, many ways.
Problems with the abundance of genocide that playing God of War III will force gamers to endure, my other big problem with the series has to do with the reception to its installments past. Having gone to the Game Developer's Conference in the last five years, I have had to grit my teeth and think happy thoughts while crowds of game designers went so far as to actually call the writing in God of War "a work of art." That's just... well I'll leave it to Dr. Cox. God of War is the creative morphation of myths that actually are art into a format that is easy for the modern international public to digest. Calling it art is like taking somebody's else's baklava (we're on a Greek theme here), mashing it up with a spoon, dumping the remnants in a blender, purifying it, pouring it into a couple million glasses with a tiny, football-printed umbrella in at the top of each glass (to represent God of War's excess testosterone), and having the nerve to say you made baklava. I hope to Olympus that this time the fans of God of War III don't carry the fanboy torch and once again get carried away with what I consider to be misguided praise, at least when it comes to the game's literature, for the third time.
9. Bioshock 2
Reasons to get excited While the single-player campaign in Bioshock 2 looks solidly entertaining, it's the game's innovative new story-based multiplayer, in which players unlock bits and pieces of Bioshock lore by playing in and winning multiplayer matches, that makes my ears perk up with interest. Supposedly, it will work like this - it is 1959, one year before the events of the first Bioshock, and the underwater city of Rapture is in a state of Civil War. In the midst of that chaos, six playable characters from a grab bag of backgrounds - a welder, a housewife, a football star, a businessman, a pilot, and an Indian mystic - have been hired by a Plasmid manufacturing company, Sinclair Solutions, to test their merchandise. Since that merchandise consists mainly of products that specialize in killing, maiming, healing, shocking, pummeling, flambéing, and exploding, you can imagine what testing is like. Thus, the the stage is set for sub-oceanic multiplayer violence. As whichever-character-you-select wins matches, he or she will advance through a story arch that will uncover a myriad of secrets revolving around the events that led to the fall of Rapture and what happened in its brutal Civil War. You'll also receive wave after wave of new products and abilities to "test" on your opponents, compliments of your sponsor. The better you do in a match, the more new toys Sinclair Solutions will send you to play with, the more fun you'll have trying them out on other players, which will unlock more Bioshock lore and story content. As far multiplayer reward systems go, it sounds like it could be great.
Reasons to narrow your eyes and doubt Excited, though I am, to be revisiting the retro-futuristic underwater metropolis of Rapture after our first visit there in the original Bioshock, I'm still a little wary that this exciting new multiplayer won't take off. There are a lot of entrenched multiplayer games for it to compete with, and serious multiplayer gamers may not be willing to move from a skill-based game they're familiar with to a skill based game they've never tried, especially when all they know about the latter is that for some reason the goal of it is to make a housewife to shoot an Indian mystic with bullets and bolts of lightning so that she can throw the little girl from The Ring down a tube. It's a lot of change to digest at once. If Bioshock 2 can successfully attract a faithful multiplayer community that will play for longer than a couple months, then we might be able to expect its story-based multiplayer to be continually updated, which equals fun not only today, but two years from now as well. If it can't garner that kind of faithful multiplayer following, then Bioshock 2 will have to settle with being a moderately fun, but still only mediocre, game.
An update -- our very own Chris Hawke has a review of Bioshock 2 out and ready for your viewing! Having played the game myself, I second most of his opinions, and approve of his final score. It's worth a look.
8. World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
Reasons to get excited Because the human race has been enslaved, and World of Warcraft is our soma. The newest installment of everyone's favorite alternative to heroin should prove especially addicting, as it's full of attractive new features that are bound to have both the hooked and the casual adventuring deep into the night. They include:
- Two New Playable Races -- Buccaneering Jewish stereotype Goblins for the Horde, and the gothic Worgen, a nation of humans afflicted by a curse that turned them all werewolves, for the Alliance
- A level 85 cap
- A series of sexy makeovers for crotchety old Azerothian zones
- Flying mounts in Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms
- Archaeology: A new secondary skill that would make Indiana Jones proud.
- Guild Achievements
- New Class and Race Combinations. Finally, the world will know the fury of a gnomish priest.
- Heroic Versions of Old Dungeons
- Myriad other ways to forget the bitter, bitter pain of the real world
Reasons to narrow your eyes and doubt We know what we're getting into here. Though each expansion has added new worlds of depth to an already massively deep and addicting game, World of Warcraft is still, at its roots, the same classic MMORPG that it was back in 2005, and it has many of those same, age-old classic MMORPG problems. Chief among those problems are the inhuman amount of time and dedication it takes to stay competitive after reaching the level cap; and repetition, repetition, repetition.
If you quit WoW three years ago because you were bored with the game at level 70, you'll probably find yourself quitting due to the same kind of boredom at level 85. Still, for the last five years WoW has been my favourite "filler game" - a game that I repeatedly come back to whenever there's no other spectacular game out there for me to play. With all the new features in Cataclysm, WoW’s role as a game-for-serious-gamers-to-play-while-waiting-for-a-better-game-to-come-along is only becoming more solid.
7. Fallout: New Vegas
Reasons to get excited It's quasi/sort of/basically official - Fallout: New Vegas will be transporting us into a brand new apocalyptic carnival sometime in Autumn 2010. I could say a few things to get you excited about this upcoming hit, but I've got this thing where I attempt to avoid writing about what's already been covered on this website. Instead, I'm going to refer you to my fellow Gamers Guide To Life contributor, the famous Jacques Hulme, who wrote a succinct analysis of the recently released Fallout: New Vegas trailer. Jacques is a self-declared "rather large Fallout fan," which seems to be an exercise in understatement, and he can give you a much better taste that I of why/how/in what capacity this upcoming RPG looks oh so good. Just jump over to his latest article to see what he thinks. You can check out the Fallout: New Vegas trailer he discusses in the conveniently placed embedded video in the article too.
Reasons to narrow your eyes and doubt Instead of being developed by the same team at Bethesda that crafted Fallout 3; Fallout: New Vegas has been developed by Obsidian Studios, a company founded by some of the designers who worked on Fallout 2 back in days of old. This will make Fallout: New Vegas different than Fallout 3, in at least a few key ways. So far, both Obsidian and Bethesda have been holding their cards pretty close to their chests when asked how the look and feel of Fallout: New Vegas might differ from Fallout 3, so we - the gaming people - really have almost no idea how different the newest installment in the Fallout universe will be from its predecessors. I'm not worried - the trailer looks great, and Obsidian has previous Fallout experience. New Vegas should be everything we expect it to be. It may even be better than we all expect.
6. Gears of War III
Reasons to get excited When the gentleman Clifford Bleszinski (formerly known as CliffyB, currently known to some as Dude Huge, often referred to as "a giant douchebag") makes a game, he makes a good one, dammit. Which means we can expect solidly fun things from the third installment of the Gears of War franchise, which is his baby.
While it's not official that Gears of War III will be released in 2010, signs in the rumour mill point to yes. Apparently they also point to the existence of a "far more ambitious five player co-op experience." If this is true, then every gamer with an Xbox will need to start searching for four trustworthy co-op partners now in preparation for this massive five-player campaign. With as fun as co-op has been in the first two Gears of War titles, it's relatively safe to assume that...
A) This rumor is true, and...
B) The Gears of War III campaign is going to bring co-op gaming to brave new heights.
A five-person cooperative story mode is worth trying out in any game, even one that when bought will support the walking parody of Hollywood that is CliffyB.
Reasons to narrow your eyes and doubt First, the story in Gears of War is about as "good" as the story in the God of War franchise, so instead of going on that rant again, I'm just going to cite my "God of War III reasons to doubt" segment above, and move on.
With that taken care of, my biggest worry regarding Gears of War III is that the rumors will prove false, and its release date will be confirmed for sometime in 2011. Giant self-proclaimed douche bag though he is (and really, he is the VY Canis Majorisof gaming douche), Dude Huge is a dependably great game designer, so it's safe to bet that whatever he creates will be solidly entertaining. So I guess all that's left to do is start praying to Jesus that we'll be playing Gears of War III with four of our friends by his birthday. Even if you're Atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, Thorist, or Agnostic, we can't take any chances - dust up those prayin' knees and think of the co-op.
5. Dead Rising 2
Reasons to get excited The original Dead Rising is a classic, and the only zombie game to stay even mildly true to the holy zombie dogma handed down to us by legendary director George Romero, and nurtured by Max Brooks, his prophet. Capcom was so true to them, in fact, that they were only barely able to dismiss charges for copyright infringement. That being said, it looks like from a gaming standpoint the newest Dead Rising looks like it will be even better than its predecessor, while from a writing standpoint, it will still feel true to its roots as a testament to the zombie movie classics. As a longtime fan and chronic re-watcher of films like Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, and 28 Days Later (no, 28 Days's zombies aren't dogmatic, but it's still one of the best zombie movies of all time), my baseball bat hand starts to itch at the mere thought of this game.
Reasons to narrow your eyes and doubt The first Dead Rising had a tendency sometimes to get overly flashy, sensationalistic and - well, anime. This was especially true when you fought bosses, usually surviving humans who had dealt with the invasion of zombies by turning totally and completely psychotic. I'm okay with the idea of fighting those whose experiences with the undead horde has left them mentally deranged, but there comes a point, when I'm being chased by a giant, bloodthirsty clown juggling chainsaws and pummeling my main character with deadly rubber balls, that I get yanked back through the fourth wall, and my suspension of belief snaps like Peter Jackson's scale circa the filming of the Lord of the Rings. If Capcom ups the anime, and they've already flirted with the idea by showing the game's protagonist attaching chainsaws to his stunt motorcycle and going for a hyper-dismembering joyride through an undead mob, then Dead Rising II could lose its classic zombie movie touch. Without that classic zombie movie feeling, Dead Rising 2 would just be another generic zombie game, and not worth playing.
4. Super Mario Galaxy 2
Reasons to get excited According to GameRankings.com, the first Super Mario Galaxy is the highest rated game for the Wii, and the third-highest rated video game of all time. Just to put that into perspective, the only games higher than it on that list are the legendary Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Grand Theft Auto IV, and Ocarina of Time is video gaming's Citizen Kane.
From what it looks like, Mario's second venture into space is taking the same recipe for success and adding dozens of new maps, new characters, new powers, and new features for Mario to explore, meet, use, and unlock. We already know for sure that Yoshi will be playing a major role. Nintendo of America CEO Reginald "Reggie" Fils-Aime, a man whose Children of the Corn style happy stare will forever keep me awake at night, has told the gaming public to expect more of a challenge in Super Mario Galaxy 2 than in its predecessor, and the benevolent gaming legend Shigeru Miyamoto has released hints that it will also focus a bit more on plot. Frankly, when it comes to Mario, Nintendo has long since needed to convince me. I know it'll have Mario. I know it'll have Luigi. I know having Yoshi will be a nice plus. I know I'll have fun replaying every level to find all of the galaxy's hidden stars. I just know that this game will be dependably fun.
Reasons to narrow your eyes and doubt Super Mario Galaxy was the only game that I've actually seen a person throw up after playing. No, it wasn't me. Its defiance of gravity and the laws of physics may be too much for some people. Whatever you do, DO NOT hand the controller to your Aunt Verna and walk out of the room to get a snack, or she WILL attempt to play, and she'll trigger her vertigo, which will cause her to fall, and break that good hip she's been saving, and the family will be forced to spend Thanksgiving dinner at the hospital, and you'll feel really guilty, but you'll still want to go home and finish your game, which will make you remember how Aunt Verna interrupted it by breaking her stupid hip in the first place, and then you'll realize what you just said to yourself and feel even more guilty, and you suddenly won't feel like playing. I've seen it once, I've seen it a thousand times. Situations like that aside, Super Mario Galaxy 2 should have enough fun puzzles and quirky levels to keep entire families entertained for weeks, if not months, of play.
3. Heavy Rain
Reasons to get excited Heavy Rain is one of the first major attempts to create a game that is built entirely on human interactions and story. As a person who has spent many hours attempting to formulate game design ideas from the top down rather than the bottom up, I'm extremely interested to see how the big brains at Quantic Dream pull off a story-first, gameplay-second video game experience. In a video game industry built on a foundation of fast-paced games with ridiculously shallow plotlines, this project is a giant bold move. Set in a dark noir atmosphere wrought with adult themes, Heavy Rain will be a game that explores brave new territories in the industry by relying on the feelings and responses of its players, rather than flashing lights and overly-epic aesthetics, to engage its audience. Every day that we step closer to Heavy Rain's release, the gaming community is given more and more Heavy Rain teasers from Quantic to digest. Each one of them looks more emotionally engaging and psychologically tremoring than the last. Based on what we've seen, Heavy Rain looks like it will change the way we think about video games. It looks more important than most games somehow, more real. More connected to the way human beings think and go through life. I hope from the bottom of my core that it delivers.
Reasons to narrow your eyes and doubt Much as I want Heavy Rain to be successful enough to add a bulky amount of credence to the camp that supports adding better writing to more blockbuster games, until the game comes out, nobody can guess how fun it will actually be. It's easy to doubt that the dialogue-first, action-second design concept of Heavy Rain will be as fun as a game based solely on action. After all, we're used to action - we were raised on it. I sincerely hope that Heavy Rain breaks through that stranglehold. Frankly, the gaming community needs it to.
2. Final Fantasy XIII
Reasons to get excited Where to begin... Because it has already been released and sold millions of copies in Japan, we know a lot about how Final Fantasy XIII plays out. Apparently, the Japanese love it, and I’m using italics here for a reason. A review of Final Fantasy XIII in the Japanese anime and gaming magazine Dengeki declared that the game deserved not the plebian, normal perfect score of 100 out of 100, but a 120 out of 100 instead, and a reader’s poll in the January 2010 edition of the famous Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu dubbed Final Fantasy XIII the greatest game of all time. Ever. Sorry, Link, time to hand over the Ocarina.
By far the highest universally praised aspect of Final Fantasy XIII is its dynamic new battle system, which we know requires players to utilise long chains of massive combos and use their characters in highly specific “Roles” to fight. This new method of battling giant bosses and monstrous hordes is by far the part of the game that I’m most excited for, especially when I hear whisperings in the online gaming community that “Some boss battles will make you feel like a genius.” Bring it on.
Add eye-popping aesthetics and a half-decent story, and Final Fantasy XIII looks like it could be a particularly fun and memorable game.
Reasons to narrow your eyes and doubt I fear that a large part of the reason that Dengeki and Famitsu gave Final Fantasy XIII such high marks has a lot to do with their huge otaku and anime audiences, both of which would love the same aspects of the game that make me nervous. Like a scene in one of the earliest Final Fantasy XIII trailers, wherein a teenage girl easily slays dozens of professional soldiers with a gravity ring and the power of dance. I’m just not buying it. As I discussed in an earlier article, games with this kind of over-sensitization often drive me to epileptic attacks. Their crazy plots and colorful aesthetics are just too much for my frail western senses.
But that’s not my main issue with this game. I’ve been reading comic books way too long not to be able to suspend my disbelief for a couple of super powers and an out-of-this world plot. My main worry is that, based on what we’ve seen in its trailers, FFXIII's plot will be hitting the Japanese version of Michael Bay territory. Everything will look awesome, but only for the sake of... being really, terribly awesome. In the trailers, for example, we see lots of running, jumping, shooting, graceful falling, and sensual hair swooping, and little information on what the plot of this game is going to be, or why one of the main characters dresses like an out-of-work Abercrombie model. Come on! I’d really like to know. Don’t say it's because it makes him look cool/stylish/at all like a bad ass, or I'll lose faith in humanity, right here and now.
So far all of the western reviews of FFXIII have given it thumbs up for gameplay, but thumbs down for problems like an overly linear plot line, forgettable villains, and visual environments that feel more like the backdrop of a 1950s movie than a rich interactive world (my words). That translates to a cumulative review score of 85.50% (as of February 10, 2010). That's a little low for the game Famitsu readers called the greatest ever made. This discrepancy is curious, and it basically sums my worries going into FFXIII's European and North American release - I hope the reasons Japan loves this game so much aren't lost in translation.
1. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
Reasons to get excited Hark! Rejoice, and be glad! Let all the angels sing, in heavenly chorus! After twelve years of arduous, sometimes painful waiting, the sequel to one of the greatest games ever made is finally, finally due for release. It's been such a long wait, and we Starcraft fans have gone through so much. Only this can begin to sum up how we feel; I think I speak for everyone when I say that I knew you could make it happen, gaming Jesus. I'll hold up my end of the bargain and sacrifice my firstborn son.
Let's go over the reasons why this game is going to be amazing. First of all, it's being billed by Blizzard as "the ultimate real-time strategy game." Given the fact that Blizzard has been king of the real-time strategy market for over the last ten years, that's not even a shocking statement - it's almost self-explanatory. Presidents lie, Loki cheats, the Academy Awards are political, and Blizzard always develops great real-time strategy that makes the entire gaming industry rethink the genre. It's very dependable. Second, StarCraft 2 will be released with a shiny new version of our old friend, Battle.net, which should significantly improve online play. Third, an upgraded Galaxy Editor will allow players to create their own maps to play on with more detail than in any other Blizzard game yet. Fourth, the best "premium maps" created in Galaxy Editor will also be hosted by Blizzard on a StarCraft II Marketplace, where they will be sold at a modest fee. This is a brilliant move, and will be an excellent way for amateur designers to get noticed. Fifth, and the reason I've spent the bulk of my young adulthood and adolescence anticipating a StarCraft sequel, is to continue the game's rich, interesting story. I've been dying to get an update on the goings-on of characters like Jim Raynor, Kerrigan, Zeratul, Artanis, and Arcturus Mengsk.
There are five good reasons why Starcraft II should rock, and if I dug around a bit, I could probably find a few dozen more. That's the beauty of Blizzard games, and of the StarCraft franchise - they rarely disappoint. If StarCraft 2 meets even half of the gaming community's expectations for it, then we can start betting on it as a shoe-in for Game of the Year. If history has taught us anything, it will meet them all.
Reasons to narrow your eyes and doubt Since the Star Wars prequels, I've always been wary of what happened when this... led to this. It was like happily celebrating Christmas for years, and then waking up one magical December morning and tiptoeing into the living room to find Santa, empty bottles of eggnog scattered around his feet, cheeks extra rosy, wearing only his red hat and stockings, scratching himself with one hand, and aiming with the other as he urinated on the tree, pausing only to make gross racial slurs. It scarred me, and I never want it to happen again. So basically, I don't want Starcraft II to turn into the Santa that urinated on my tree.
So those are my Top 10 Most Anticipated Games of 2010. With so many interesting titles keep us ignoring work, families, and general responsibilities deep into the night, it looks like it's going to be a pretty good year. If you agree with my choices, or have a problem with any specific part of my list, feel free to let me know via comments section below, and I will ignore it as soon as possible. Just kidding. Maybe. Thanks for reading, keep reading, tell your friends how much fun you had reading, write in StumbleUpon that you enjoyed reading, and continue periodically visiting in order to continue reading the fine articles of Gamer's Guide to Life. I'll be back in a few weeks with another edition of State of the Union - see you then.
- Greg Mengel
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