2016 Preview Day Three (Final Fantasy – Horizon)

Welcome to Day Three of my 2016 Preview.  You can read about the point of these posts and find the other days here.  To shorten it, what I’m doing is listing 70 games supposedly coming out in 2016 and discussing my expectations for them, positive or negative.  Today’s list features multiple franchises trying to re-invent themselves, a couple of sequels trying to capitalize on potential, and a few exciting new IP.  These are ten game, from Final Fantasy XV to Horizon: Zero Dawn.

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Final Fantasy XV
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: TBA 2016

There is no game that I am more fascinated by than Final Fantasy XV.  There are plenty of games launching this year that are a long time coming.  Out of all of those, we have known about Final Fantasy XV the longest.  The game was announced ten years ago as a PlayStation 3 exclusive called Final Fantasy Versus XIII.  Seven years later, after the XIII trilogy left a bad taste in people’s mouth, Square re-revealed the game at E3 as a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One game titled Final Fantasy XV.  Since then, we have gotten a demo released alongside Final Fantasy Type-0 HD as well as an endless number of updates and clarifications from developers.  At this point, I have no expectations for this game.  I am not excited for this game.  However, I also can’t wait to play it.  I just want to know what this game is going to be in the end.  There are things about it that definitely seem cool.  The game looks beautiful, the impressions from the demo were mostly positive, and I think the idea of four dudes on a road trip as the basis for a game could be a lot of fun.  At the same time, it has been a long time since this game was announced and a long time since this series has been great.  I appreciate the way that they are communicating with their audience, but I feel oversaturated on information, and Square is starting to give the impression that the game is being designed by committee.  I think that Square is so nervous about this game that they are taking way too much fan feedback.  This could result in a game that has no clear direction.  The fact that the director of the game has changed multiple times only adds to this feeling.  I am both worried and excited for Final Fantasy XV.  But good or bad, this game will undoubtedly be fascinating.

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Firewatch
Developer: 
Campo Santo
Publisher: Panic
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: February 9, 2016

This write up about Firewatch will be somewhat misinformed because I am purposefully on a media blackout for this game.  Upon seeing this game, it immediately grabbed me.  The art done by Olly Moss is stunning, the music done by Chris Remo is great, and the voice acting is solid.  Campo Santo is a new studio with pedigree from Telltale, Klei, 2K, Double Fine, and more.  Firewatch is going to get a lot of comparisons to Gone Home, and I don’t think those are unfounded.  Firewatch is definitely a narrative driven experience with minimal gameplay.  However, I also think it is attempting to do more than Gone Home did.  Instead of being confined to a house, you have a park to explore.  There is voice acting, leading to a more structured story.  There are even some puzzle elements if I’m not mistaken.  Despite not having a ton to say about it, Firewatch is one of my most anticipated games this year.  I can’t wait to explore the world and narrative that Campo Santo have crafted.

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For Honor
Developer: 
Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: TBA 2016

I’m not big into multiplayer games.  That being said, For Honor definitely has my attention.  First of all, it isn’t entirely multiplayer.  Ubisoft recently committed to the fact that there will be a significant singleplayer portion to the game.  I don’t necessarily believe them, but it’s at least nice of them to say that.  But even when that turns out to be completely undercooked, I think the multiplayer portion of For Honor looks awesome.  For Honor puts you on fairly small teams, but the rest of the battle is filled with AI players.  Think Titanfall where these AI are weaker than the human players and are there basically for fodder and to fill the battlefield.  I like the dynamic this brings where you are constantly engaged in a large-scale battle despite there only being a few players.  When you do engage in battles with other human players, it becomes very technical swordplay.  Positioning is the most important thing, and the system is built for one on one battles.  If you get out-numbered you are basically done for.  This type of technical, sword-based combat doesn’t really exist in games, so I am curious to see how For Honor pulls it off.  I think this game could suffer from a lack of variety and an inexperienced player base, but I also think it has a lot of potential to usher in a new genre of both multiplayer games and melee combat.

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Gravity Rush 2
Developer: 
Project Siren (SCE Japan Studio)
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: TBA 2016

This entry is both for Gravity Rush 2 and the remastered version of the original game that is coming to PS4 in February.  I’ve never played Gravity Rush.  I’ve only owned a Vita for a short amount of time, so I decided to wait for the PS4 version.  However, everything I’ve heard about Gravity Rush is that it is a cool idea with some flaws that hold it back.  That is basically setting the sequel up to succeed.  When a game has a good core but some widely agreed upon issues, it is easy for a developer to focus on those issues and put out a more polished, expanded version of the promise of the first game.  Games like Assassin’s Creed 2 and Uncharted 2 are good examples of this.  Their predecessors were good games, but those sequels were able to focus on the issues while maintaining a similar core focus.  The strength of Gravity Rush is how unique it is.  The world, character, and mechanics are all different from most games in the Action RPG genre.  Project Siren just needs to improve upon the formula to make a good game.  In order to make a great game, they need to increase the ambition of the sequel as well.  I’m not so sure that they will.  The gameplay at Gamescom looked solid, but it also looked like more of the first game.  I’m waiting for them to pull back the curtain on what makes the sequel special, but I am worried that they never will.  Regardless, I look forward to jumping into this franchise this year.

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Gears of War 4
Developer: 
The Coalition
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: Fall 2016

On one hand, I am surprised at the lack of excitement for Gears 4.  On the other hand, I get it because I’m also not super excited for the game.  Gears of War was a revolutionary franchise last generation that defined cover shooters for years to come.  The series was successful both critically and commercially, so why is there so little excitement about the next installment?  Well, I think there are a few factors at play here.  The first is that the E3 showing was not very good.  It was going for a more survival horror feel than the previous games had.  That’s not necessarily a problem.  The old games had segments like that, and I think a survival horror Gears game could work.  However, that’s not what people come to Gears for.  Gears is all about its mechanics, and they shine best when put into large scale, bombastic situations.  When an enemy takes minutes to kill, it doesn’t matter how good the shooting is.  Also, that’s just not a good demo to debut the game with.  Using that in the middle of the game as a respite from larger battles while the player has their lights turned off could make it an effective segment.  Debuting a Gears of War game in a big theater with a demo so dark you can barely see what’s happening is not an effective demo.  It also just didn’t look revolutionary.  Like I said, the original Gears is toted as the game from last generation that was the first truly “next-gen” game at the time.  This looked like another one of those.  And finally, there might just be franchise fatigue at this point.  There have been four Gears of War games, and Judgement was not well received.  This series had its moment, and it might be time to end things.  Gears of War 3 wrapped up the story of Marcus Fenix, but we are still getting Gears of War games.  Regardless, I don’t think Gears 4 is going to be a bad game.  In fact, it will probably be pretty good.  The Gears games play great, and maybe the studio formerly known as Black Tusk can reinvigorate the series.  It’s just that nothing we’ve seen so far demonstrates that.

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Halo Wars 2
Developers: 
343 Industries, Creative Assembly
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
Release Date: Fall 2016

We have yet to see any gameplay from Halo Wars 2 or even get any substantial details about the game.  All we have is a cinematic trailer, which is pretty dumb considering it’s a real-time strategy game.  People really like the first Halo Wars, but it isn’t a great game.  That doesn’t mean it’s a bad game.  It is one of the best implementations of an RTS on consoles, and the idea of a Halo RTS is one with potential.  What makes me confident that they can deliver on a sequel is the developer.  Creative Assembly is developing this game, and they are known for the Total War series.  Total War is one of the most successful and highly regarded real-time strategy series out there, so I trust these guys to insert the Halo license into that formula.  I don’t think Halo Wars 2 is going to light the world on fire, but I trust that it will be a fun, competent RTS.

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Hellblade
Developer: 
Ninja Theory
Publisher: Ninja Theory
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: TBA 2016

I really want Hellblade to be good.  I love Ninja Theory’s past work, I love the open development of this game, I love the themes they are trying to tackle with this game, and I think the independent AAA strategy has a ton of potential.  In terms of Ninja Theory, I think that Heavenly Sword and Enslaved are both games with a lot of heart and great production values despite some mechanical shortcomings and that DmC is a great action game despite some storytelling shortcomings.  I love all three of these games and will always be excited for what Ninja Theory is doing.  Hellblade continues their trend of not making sequels and of making wholly unique experiences.  Hellblade is still a character action game, but it actually is more similar to something like For Honor on a gameplay front.  The camera is pulled in close to the main character, and every movement has a ton of weight to it.  You will spend most of the game taking on only a few enemies at one time and not just plowing through guys.  The game is attempting to deal with mental health issues through the experience of a girl going through literal hell.  Ninja Theory has brought on experts to make sure they handle the topic properly.  On the visual side, the game works with both Gaelic and Norse themes.  For their past efforts, Ninja Theory has had their games published by Sony, Bandai Namco, and Capcom.  This time, they are funding and publishing the game themselves.  However, they believe that this doesn’t limit their ability when it comes to production values.  This independent AAA strategy is risky, but it is also something that makes sense for a mid-tier studio like Ninja Theory.  They have been chronicling the development cycle through a series of dev diaries that I recommend checking out.  Hellblade has a lot of potential, and I hope it’s really good.  I don’t know how it will come together, but I love everything about what Ninja Theory is doing.

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Hitman
Developer: 
IO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: March 11, 2016

IO Interactive recently changed their release strategy with Hitman.  Instead of being kind of episodic, it is now “fully episodic”.  They will release the game with the Paris section in March, and then release new content, new hits, and a new city every month for the following five months.  Once this is all done, you will be able to buy the entire game for $60 this fall.  I like this strategy.  This strategy has gotten a lot of hate, but I think it could turn out really well.  I hate the episodic structure for story based games.  It’s why I just recently played Tales from the Borderlands and am only now starting Life is Strange.  If I played episodes as they came out, I would forget most of the story.  However, Hitman is not a story based game.  It is purely based upon gameplay and completing contracts.  It is also a series that has always toted multiple paths to every kill.  This makes the episodic structure make sense.  They launch with Paris in March.  You play what is there, maybe replay it to see the other options, and you come back every week for the added hits.  Or maybe you don’t do that.  Maybe instead you just play through the regular Paris content in March and then come back in April to see the new content that has been added.  If IO can keep updating the game at a regular basis, an episodic Hitman makes a lot of sense.  However,  I do have concerns about this.  The first is that it will be too confusing for people and nobody will buy the game.  The second is that they just changed their launch strategy two months out from launch.  This late change makes me think there are more issues than just them wanting to change the roll out.  In terms of the actual game, IO is saying all the right things regarding level design and replayability.

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Homefront: The Revolution
Developer: 
Dambuster Studios
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: May 17, 2016

I think Deep Silver is a pretty bad video game publisher.  They have acquired a few big franchises in the past few years like Saint’s Row and Dead Island, but they have failed to capitalize on them and actually make decisions that are detrimental to those brands.  Last year, they acquired the rights to Homefront from Crytek.  Homefront: The Revolution is a game with a weird development history.  The first game was published by THQ and developed by Kaos Studios.  Despite a massive marketing budget, the game failed to meet expectations both critically and commercially.  Crytek then bought the rights to the franchise once THQ went under and started developing the sequel at Crytek UK (formerly known as Free Radical).  However, after the game was already announced, it was made public that Crytek was in some economic trouble and that a lot of the staff at Crytek UK wasn’t being paid on time.  Deep Silver then bought the IP and created Dambuster Studios.  Instead of starting over with the game, they got a bunch of Crytek UK developers to come work at Dambuster and basically finish making the game they were working on for Crytek.  That’s a mess, but what about the actual game?  Homefront: The Revolution has had trailers that set up a great atmosphere and world.  Then it has had gameplay demos that look fun but don’t have any of the tone shown in the trailers.  The gameplay takes a lot of inspiration from Crysis and Far Cry.  Mechanically, it is basically Crysis in a different setting, and it is set in a Far Cry-esque open world.  I think that’s a pretty solid foundation for a game, but I doubt it will be able to transcend that.  Homefront: The Revolution won’t be revolutionary or win a bunch of awards, but it will probably be a fun game that doesn’t capitalize on its awesome setting.

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Horizon: Zero Dawn
Developer: 
Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Release Date: TBA 2016

Horizon is towards the top of my most anticipated games list.  I have never been the biggest fan of Guerrilla Games, but I think Horizon could be a big success for them.  Not only are they no longer constrained to the creatively bankrupt Killzone franchise, but they have also gained new writing talent from Obsidian and CD Projekt RED.  Those two developers create the best written RPGs, so I have a lot of faith in Horizon’s ability to tell an engaging story with well written, meaningful quests.  And it will be doing this in a wholly unique world.  Horizon takes place in a post-post-apocalypse.  What this means is that humanity is no longer just trying to survive but has started to rebuild society after an apocalyptic event.  Now, they are living like cavemen in small villages.  However, they also have futuristic technology that existed before the apocalypse.  And there are robot dinosaurs to fight.  Horizon was the highlight of E3 this past year with an exciting gameplay demo.  I still want to know more about the scope of this game and how much of an RPG it really is.  However, the vertical slice and the world building pitch have definitely piqued my interest.

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