By all accounts, 2019 wasn’t the best year for gaming. At times it felt like you couldn’t fall over without landing on a pile of the latest news articles about new overhyped games being a disappointment or a developer acting in a decidedly shady manner to take advantage of their customers.
But while those articles are probably going to keep coming in until game makers focus on making good games to make money instead of huge marketing campaigns and insidious post-purchase monetisation strategies, let’s not get bogged down in the ennui so early in the year.
So today, we’re going to let bygones be bygones, sing a rousing verse of Auld Lang Syne (which I definitely think I know the words to) and look forward to a year of gaming that… all snide aside could actually be truly fantastic.
1. Kerbal Space Program 2
Not everyone’s first choice, but I’ve recently been spending an unhealthy amount of time in the original KSP. Ever since I actually figured out how orbital flight paths actually work, KSP has made literal rocket science a lot more fun.
The sequel, coming sometime later this year promises a lot of new features that fans have been waiting for like off-world colonies, interstellar missions and possibly even faster-than-light technology to help make that happen. At least there are aspects of the trailer that suggest this will be possible.
With me playing KSP, every space flight is a one-way trip | Star Theory/ Private Division
You’ll also probably spend a lot of time failing, but thankfully, even when your ambitions exceed your understanding or abilities in Kerbal Space Program, the little green men and women who have entrusted you to take them to the stars are ready to face even the most catastrophic setbacks with a smile.
2. Cyberpunk 2077
This is the big one for me this year and I doubt I’m alone. Created by CD Projekt Red, the Poland based studio behind the Witcher series, Cyberpunk 2077 has a lot to live up to. For many, the studio’s last title, the Witcher 3 is considered the game of the decade. Expectations are sky-high for Cyberpunk 2077, ever since it made its mysterious initial debut all the way back in 2013. Thankfully, everything we’ve seen of the game since then has seemed to prove that CD Projekt is committed to delivering on all they have promised.
Co-developed with Mike Pondsmith, the creator of the original Cyberpunk tabletop game, Cyberpunk 2077 is an open-world RPG will have players explore the locales of Night City as they make a name for themselves as up and coming mercenary ‘V’. If you’re familiar with the concept of the Cyberpunk genre, you know what to expect, a high-tech society, held at economic gunpoint by corporations who control, either through guile or force, every aspect of the average citizen’s life.
*Manic hype intensifies* Also, Keanu Reeves is in it. | CD Projekt Red
There’s a heavy emphasis on mechanical augmentations of the human body and philosophical questions regarding the soul, artificial intelligence and how we maintain our concept of ‘self’ when we are comprised of a long list of interchangeable, upgradeable and replaceable parts. There’s also a lot of murder, but to me, direct combat is the least interesting aspect of this game.
After almost seven years of waiting, Cyberpunk 2077 is releasing mid-April. Just a little while longer until CD Projekt delivers us from the drudgery of this meat-based existence we call real life. Mark your calendars!
3. DOOM Eternal
While I’m not interested in the combat of Cyberpunk 2077, part of the reason why is because I will have my fill of blood and viscera from Doom Eternal, which also releases in March this year.
Delayed from its initial planned release in 2019, Doom Eternal will see the Doom Slayer (or Doom Guy if you prefer) return to fight the forces of evil once again. It’s not clear where the fight will take us this time but you can expect a return to Mars, the realm of Hell and even a few levels taking place in Heaven; although it’s currently unknown if you’ll be fighting on the side of the angels or if you’ve fallen out of favour with your old allies.
“If it bleeds, we can kill it – Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Predator” | Bethesda Softworks/ Id Software
My bet is that the powers that be in Heaven are getting sick of sticking their neck out for humanity and may be passively or actively letting humanity be consumed for all the trespasses we have committed against them… both real and perceived.
It’s mindless, extreme violence of the worst kind but if this game can innovate and improve even slightly on the previous Doom’s phenomenal, almost perfect combat mechanics; then it will be mindless, extreme violence of the best kind.
4. Half-Life: Alyx
My god, they’re actually doing it. Valve software, the veteran development studio behind multiple industry-defining titles like Half-Life and Portal, is making a game. That shouldn’t be such strange news, but Valve is also the creator of Steam, the massive pc game digital distribution platform and storefront. That latter move proved so successful that it soon grew to the point that it seems to occupy all of Valve’s efforts these days, with ongoing live support for its various games like DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, seeming to be little more than afterthoughts for the company.
But with the announcement of Half-Life: Alyx, a game where players will take control of Alyx Vance, Gordon Freeman’s tough, resourceful and highly likeable sidekick from Half-Life 2, some are hopeful that we will see a new Valve. One that is finally ready to descend from on high and become the AAA game maker it used to be. But Half-Life: Alyx isn’t just a return to the Hal Life universe (even if it is a prequel), it is also one of only a handful of games that really seem to make good use of VR technology.
Fighting alongside Dog in VR would be awesome | Valve Software
The VR tag will no doubt be a deal-breaker for those who don’t have a spare bedroom or want to spend upwards of a $1,000 for all the hardware needed to set up a good VR environment. But this game could also be the ‘killer app’ that has been awaited since the dawn of the new generation of VR technology. Although many would argue that the ‘moment’ for VR has come and gone, Valve, which co-develops the Vive line of headsets with HTC, seems to disagree. Whether they can deliver a product worthy of their legacy with Half-Life: Alyx is yet to be determined, as well as whether this game will be enough to breathe more life into the floundering VR genre is a second but equally important question.
While I personally feel this move may be too little, too late, the simple fact is that the Vive Index, Valve’s flagship VR headset, sold out shortly after the game’s announcement, a move that surprised both me and Valve since they are now apparently scrambling to get more Vive Indexes made to match the sudden and unexpected uptick in demand.
You might say Valve failed to prepare for ‘Unforeseen consequences’. | Valve Software
5. The Last of Us Part II
Another highly anticipated title from a veteran developer is The Last of Us II. Developed by Naughty Dog, the creator of the acclaimed Uncharted series, The Last of Us, when it released back in 2013 was quite a departure from the lighter, more upbeat tone of the previous games the company had made.
Set in a post-apocalypse where the outbreak of a highly infectious fungal spore has ravaged human populations, leaving most dead but other reduced to a zombie-like existence, The Last of Us presented what is perhaps the most plausible zombie apocalypse ever depicted in a game so far.
The tone is morose with some black humour as the world we navigate even years after the initial outbreak, appears to not be on the road to recovery. Instead, humanity has all but given up, resigning itself to oblivion as survivors live squalor in ever-shrinking, crime-riddled ‘safe zones’ administered by the increasingly brutal government or quasi-government forces.
Why rebuild when you can roll over and die? – Humanity in The Last of Us | Naughty Dog
The sequel follows the same central characters from the first game, Joel and his adoptive daughter Ellie, who is immune to the infection due to a unique mutation. It’s unclear what direction the story will take, but it looks like this game will be focusing on Ellie as the playable character and feature much of the same stealthy combat and sneaking with the occasional major gunfight.
Also making a highly anticipated return (hopefully) is the great story, dialogue and character moments that Naughty Dog is well known for and which make their characters far more endearing and memorable than they have any reasonable right to be. The last title from Naughty Dog, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, was an enjoyable but flawed romp, which fell a little flat besides being a bit too brief. Hopefully The Last of Us II can re-establish the studio’s credentials as one of the world’s premier action-adventure game developers.
6. Watch Dogs: Legion
Developed by Ubisoft the Watch Dogs franchise has had a bit of a problem with their leading men. Aiden Pearce from the first Watch Dogs game was not a particularly strong or memorable character. Thinking back all I remember is ‘he’s that guy with the mask that grumbled a lot’. Markus Holloway, the protagonist of the second game was a slight improvement, but still came off as fairly uninteresting and one-note, with little of true substance to say throughout the game (apart from a memorable romp through the offices of a fictional Google-like company.)
But it looks like Ubisoft has decided to deal with this problem in the most unlikely way possible. You see Watch Dogs: Legion, the third game in the franchise, will have no specific protagonist at all. Instead, the studio claims that you will be able to recruit any person on the street to join your little band of revolutionaries.
This is technically true
This means anyone, a former spy, a rogue marine, an insurance saleswoman or a retired grandmother could be the leader of your movement. It’s entirely up to you. While it sounds great in concept, the fact is it sounds like Watch Dogs: Legion is going to pay very little attention to the storytelling aspect of the game, relying on broad strokes to keep the game moving forward while relying on the game’s combat and hacking mechanics to keep you invested and motivated.
And to be honest, that may not be the worst news since that is where Watch Dogs has always shined. And the setting of a near-future London that has fallen under the sway of sinister forces that have turned it into a neo-fascistic militarised police-state sounds like a great place to raise a little bit of hell with Watch Dogs’s hacky-sneaky-shooty gameplay loop. And it’s nice to see a non-American setting take centre stage too. It would be great to see some Asian megacities like Tokyo, Dubai or Hong Kong, which are also highly under-explored in western games, but this will do for now.
If you are going to watch the trailer, watch out for the foul-mouthed granny, it’s a little NSFW.
It isn’t 1984, but London is already well on its way top being a surveillance state so I guess it’s not unbelievable | Ubisoft
Another interesting point to note is that this ‘be anyone’ concept also allows for the story to go on even if your character dies. I do like the concept that a revolution will take casualties, and as long as I have an opportunity to honour the fallen during my gameplay, I’m looking forward to never having to go back to a previous save every time I miss a jump or stumble into traffic without looking both ways.
7. Microsoft Flight Simulator
It’s unusual to see a flight sim on anyone’s top games list. But after more than a decade since the last instalment, the new Microsoft Flight Simulator is a welcome exception. You would expect the usual long list of flyable aircraft from dinky Cessnas to massive Boeing 747-8s, and yes they’re all here. You’d also probably expect a major graphical improvement over the previous instalment which came out in… 2006?! Yes, it looks fantastic.
What I was not expecting, and incredibly impressed by, are Microsoft's plans to use Bing Maps to stream real-world global maps to your game locations as you fly over them, complete with 3D modelled city environments although I’m not sure if these are available in all locations. Finally, an actual use for Bing Maps, which is perhaps the most shocking news of all.
Does Bing Maps now count as a game services company? Let's say yes, they need the win. | Asobo / Xbox Game Studios
Microsoft is also promising some incredible dynamic weather systems for you to enjoy/endure and has said they’re even toying with the idea of introducing birds and other migratory animals into the game, although they’re not promising anything on that front. I had thought that the age of the flight sim had passed long ago, and had been replaced by the space-flight sim instead. While that’s still mostly true, the new Microsoft Flight Simulator certainly has me curious to explore our planet from the air. But first I’m going to try to land/crash on the roof of my own house. You know you’re going to try that too.
8. Evil Genius 2: World Domination
The original Evil Genius had more than a few niggling problems, but it was a unique and criminally (heh) under-rated title. Taking cues from James Bond, Austin Powers and The Incredibles in equal measure for a decidedly '60s aesthetic the developers have appropriately dubbed ‘spy-fi’, Evil Genius 2 put you in the shoes of the aforementioned criminal megalomaniac as you rise from a petty nuisance to a world-class villain complete with a volcano fortress full of traps, an army of loyal henchmen to deal with those troublesome goody-two-shoes investigators and super spies and a doomsday device to hold the entire world hostage.
*Maniacal Laughter* | Rebellion Developments
We don’t know much about what new features Evil Genius 2 will bring to the table, everything we’ve seen so far looks like features that were present in the first game, but if Rebellion Developments can produce a refined version of the first game with all the kinks ironed out… that’s probably worth the price of admission right there.
9. Empire of Sin
Speaking of being on the wrong side of the law, 2020 will also see the release of Empire of Sin. This part tactical RPG, part strategy and part simulation game will see you getting your fingers into prohibition-era organised crime in the city of Chicago.
A lot is being made of the game featuring real historical mobsters, although that won’t really mean much for most players and has no impact on the gameplay. It’s also being developed by game development legend John Romero who co-created the original Doom and Quake back in the day. And while it’s nice to see him back on the scene, his involvement in this game, which is pretty different from the projects he’s known for is not particularly interesting to me either.
Keep your friends close, keep your cheesy period slang and tropes closer. Bada-bing! | Romero Games / Paradox Interactive
What does look very, very interesting though is the X-Com style squad-based tactical combat which I will probably rely on to fill the X-Com shaped hole in my heart until X-Com 3 finally gets released. That’s really all I’d recommend this game for, along with an excuse to talk like an old-timey gangster for a while, but those are reasons enough for me.
10. Halo Infinite
Coming in off the back the successful return of Halo to PC with the remastered Master Chief Collection, Halo Infinite will be the long-awaited return to the Halo Universe that hasn’t seen a new entry since Halo 5: Guardians back in 2015.
The last time we saw John 117, he was hot on the trail of his one-time friend/almost-love-interest the artificial intelligence Cortana who was suffering through ‘rampancy’, an inevitable degenerative condition that corrupts all human-made AI over time. Turning on her human creators, the AI had begun rallying a fleet with the intention to rule or destroy humanity.
Makes you almost nostalgic for when fleshy aliens were the worst threat Humanity had faced in Halo | 343 Industries
Halo Infinite is being touted as a ‘soft reboot’ to the series, although it seems that they will still continue the existing plotline, which is great since I for one would be furious if 343 industries had set up such a major cliff hanger with no plans on how to pay it off.
Not much is known about the story of Halo: Infinite or how Chief wound up floating in space, but he (or someone else) seems to have wrecked the Halo Ring superweapon that Cortana had commandeered at the end of Halo 5… so that’s good news at least.
11. Beyond Good and Evil 2 (tentative)
Take this one with a grain of salt since there’s been precious little that Ubisoft has shared with us regarding the game’s progress since it was showcased back at E3 in 2017. Still, as of writing, it is listed for release sometime in 2020 so it makes this list.
Set as a prequel to the events of Beyond Good and Evil which came out back in 2003, it’s not clear what form the story will take, but we will apparently not be reprising our role as Jade from the original since it has been confirmed that the players will be able to customise their character. But from the promo that was showcased, it looks like the follow up to the critically acclaimed but commercially under-performing parent title will allow us to explore a great deal more of its unique far future bio-punk-fantasy setting
There’s a lot going on here… but that is definitely a cyber Ganesha. Right?
From the look of it, there’s a lot to love about Beyond Good & Evil 2, so hopefully, Ubisoft has spent the long period between games to make sure this one lives up to fan expectations while being approachable enough that new players don’t pass it up the way most people did with the original.
12. Star Citizen (tentative)
Just kidding… this game is nowhere close to coming out. And despite raising over 300 million dollars, it may never see completion. But let’s not get caught up with doom-saying and focus on the positive, the game has slowly crawled towards being feature complete over the years. And in 2020, (just) five years since the game we original backers had signed on to was supposed to have been released, Star Citizen, maybe, possibly, could move from a hilariously buggy alpha release, into a less buggy beta version.
As the most heavily backed crowdfunded project in history, there’s a lot of pressure riding on Cloud Imperium Games to deliver a AAA quality game without a publisher backing it. Whether Star Citizen proves that publishers are just greedy bean counters or necessary evil that keeps freewheeling perfectionist creatives from running away with their own ambition until they run out of money will probably not be determined until Star Citizen releases or goes bankrupt, and sadly, after eight years of watching this game’s development, it’s still not any clearer which will come first.
Welcome to… Feature Creep: The Game
Featuring performances from Gary Oldman, Mark Hamill, Henry Cavil, Gillian Anderson and Andy Serkis to name just a few, this game, if it ever comes out, is probably going to be really awesome. I’m still optimistic, but even I have my moments of black doubt. Don’t let me down, Chris Roberts!
Well, those are all of my top picks for the best games we will see… or at least hope to see this year. That’s not to say that there aren’t many other equally deserving titles coming out like Ori and the Will of the Wisps or the new Animal Crossing, but these are the ones I will definitely be picking up this year.
If you’ve got a title in mind that you think should have been on this list, why not give them a shout out in the comments to help get the word out? Or, more accurately, let us know why Cyberpunk 2077 is also your pick of the year (it… it is, right?)
Anyway, happy new year everybody, hopefully, it’s better than the last one but not as good as the one to come (because then 2021 would already be a disappointment). May the loot box odds be ever in your favour.