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Monday, December 17, 2007

Foward 2008: The Newcomers

The newcomers (non-sequels), the trends, and what to expect next year in the 1st article of Forward 2008!

The year 2007 can be seen as one of the greatest year in gaming with various big hits being released, including Halo 3, The Orange Box, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Super Mario Galaxy and Mass Effect. But now that 2007 is about to end, any gamer would be wont to go into a contemplative mood with the thought of what games 2008 would deliver or even what games one would add to one’s ever expanding library of games. The answers, it seem, would be far from being simple as a check on the scheduled-games list revealed a number of sequels on the way. You name it – almost every well-known franchise has got a sequel (or follow-up) coming in 2008. Resident Evil 5, Silent Hill 5, Devil May Cry 4, Soul Calibur 4, Grand Theft Auto 4, Metal Gear Solid 4: Gun of the Patriots, Guilty Gear 2 Overture (if it ever gets translated into English), Grand Turismo 5, Fable 2, Mario Kart Wii, Street Fighter 4, Burnout Paradise, Call of Duty 5, Mercenaries 2: World in Flames. For the sake of continuity, I shall not name any more games, but I am sure you can think of more by yourself. Now, if you would take away all those numbers and turn your attention to the new kids on the block, there would be a wide variety of games as well. Don’t believe? Read on.

It is a bizzare world.

From the PC side of things, 2 of the more prominent games coming out next year would have to be Starcraft 2 and EA’s really ambitious Spore. But wait, Starcraft 2 isn’t a newcomer. Spore is, however and there is huge chance that Spore is a type of game that you have never encountered before. Yes, it is huge in scale, and as if taking a Wii-like approach, the visuals are cute and the gameplay will appeal to both casual players and hardcore players. But what actually is it? For those not in the know, Spore basically allows you to ‘build up’ your own creatures, right from the very beginning where you create yours from a simple DNA to the point where you are put in control of an entire civilization or society. ‘Creatures’ doesn’t necessarily mean that only creations of present animals are allowed – it literally means that you can create any creature you have in your imagination, so start racking your brains now and get creative! It would not be pure conjecture to say that tons of user-generated content would be made available within weeks of the game’s release given Spore’s potential of having a large online community.

Another PC newbie is Left 4 Dead, courtesy of Turtle Rock Studios of Counter Strike Condition Zero and Counter Strike Source fame. Co-op seems to be all the rage these days as evidenced in Gears of War, Halo 3, forthcoming Army of Two and on a lighter side, Lego Star Wars. And yes, Left 4 Dead is another co-op game. The premise of the game is a world overrun by zombies and working with 3 other human survivors, you must repel the marauding heaps of flesh-eaters and complete each scenario successfully. Left 4 Dead emphasizes teamwork, so doing a Rambo won’t get you anywhere. The unique thing about this game is that players can also take control of the zombies, adding an extra layer of welcomed challenge to the game. As if that wasn’t enough, there are 4 variants of ‘boss’ zombies that can also be controlled by players.

More RTS action for 360: Control the Cybran on your console!

Okay, so we know it’s all going to be bright for PC gamers, but hey, console owners won’t need to feel left out too. In 2008, the console war will heat up – in a real big way. First up is Microsoft’s Xbox 360, which has quite an eclectic mélange of games. Shaking up post 2007 year-end blues will be Mistwalker’s RPG Lost Odyssey for the box. Seriously, ordinary DVDs are no longer ample for games as demonstrated by Lost Odyssey’s 4 disc set. Like most other RPGs, the game possesses an out-of-this-world storyline where you play as Kaim, who well, has been slapped with a sentence of 1000 years of life, going through with him multiple generations of battle. Will Lost Odyssey finally make people buy more Xbox 360s in Japan? For sure, there is a ray of hope for Microsoft in the said country, but not too much, what with the ridiculous success of Wii and the phenomenal sales of Wii Fit. That said, all’s not bad for Xbox 360. It doesn’t take an observant eye to notice that RTS games are fast becoming commonplace on Xbox 360. Already, there are Lord of the Rings: Battle for MiddleEarth 2 and Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium War on the console, but come next year, there will be more! World in Conflict, Universe at War, Command and Conquer 3: Kane’s Wrath and surprise game Supreme Commander will be making Xbox 360 their home. Gamers who don’t have a very strong PC, but yet want to play these games, and have a Xbox 360, take note – your best days are coming!

Little Big Planet: Little success or big hit?

While the Xbox 360 has its fair share of exclusives, the PS3 will have something up its sleeves too. Well, I can hear you hollering Metal Gear Solid 4: Gun of the Patriots and Killzone 2 now, but come on, there are more. The first one is not a game – the delayed Home, the PS3 version of Second Life, and also PS3’s answer to Xbox Live. Alright, let’s just say it is Xbox Live 3D-ed and elements of Second Life combined, which if you pause for a moment and think, is mind-blowing. Taking a leaf out from Wii’s book, you can create your avatar and customize it to suit your personality. You can also invite friends into your virtual homes and throw a party, go into a games room and play mini-games in an arcade-like environment, go to the theater to watch movie trailers among others. The second PS3 subject that will probably bring in more sales will be Little Big Planet – simply because, Little Big Planet, like Spore, is an experience that you probably haven’t encountered elsewhere. In the game, you will need to manipulate the various objects in an environment in any way you deem fit to meet the objectives in a particular level, which calls for some creativity. As you progress through the game, more objects will become obtainable. Tapping the online PS3 community, Little Big Planet also allows you the ability to share your custom-made environments with everyone else. These 2 subjects (Home and Little Big Planet), while brimming with endless capabilities and promise, will be accompanied by a couple of other PS3 exclusives coming down the line to make the console a better candidate for next year’s console war.

No beauty, only beast.

Numerous multiplatform (mostly Xbox 360 and PS3) titles are also arriving next year, but that should come as no surprise to anyone. With development costs hitting the roofs, it is no longer plausible for developers and publishers alike to make games for only a single platform. Among the multiplatform newbies are Frontlines: Fuel of War, The Club, Hei$t, Saboteur, Turning Point: Fall of Liberty, Sega Superstar Tennis and Legendary: The Box, the last of which has an intriguing plot and one that is built for ‘One of the Best Games of the Year’ award. All hell breaks loose when you accidentally open the Pandora’s Box, which then unleashes all kinds of mythical beasts into the modern world. It doesn’t do any good when these mythical beasts aren’t your pals – you have to fight them. You, being the one who opened the box in the first place, are culpable for all the mess. Equipped with some powers as a result of the box’s opening and some mean weapons, you have to silence the creatures you come across, as well as put down pesky mercenaries sent to collect your blood. Among some of the creatures that you will have opportunities to engage with are werewolves and gryphons. Drooling now? That’s understandable.

The last candidate in the console war that everyone should be cognizant of by now is the Wii, Nintendo’s money making machine. It is surprisingly, really, to see that within a year, the Wii has proliferated all over the world, even overtaking the Xbox 360 to be the current leader in the ongoing console war. To be fair, the Wii and the Xbox 360 and PS3 are almost disparate systems altogether as the former caters to both the casual/non-gamer crowd and hardcore crowd while the latter 2 are mainly for the hardcore gamers. That being said, there will be still hardcore games stopping by the Wii, namely Tecmo’s Rygar: Battle of Argus, PS2 remake Bully: Scholarship Edition, which is also coming out for the Xbox 360, Atlus’ Baroque and Ubisoft’s No More Heroes, the said being one of the few M-rated games on the Wii and one which introduces some serious sword slashing gameplay in an open-world environment (ala Grand Theft Auto).

EPIC casual games, Wii Fit and Endless Ocean will be big hits.

The main system seller will still be the casual games, however, as astronomical sales figures for released Wii casual games have shown. Generally, casual games are selling better than hardcore games, with Wii Play nabbing the top position for Wii’s 2007 best selling game. The next few games in the list of Wii’s best selling games for 2007 are Twilight Princess, Mario Party 8, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Paper Mario and Guitar Hero 3, but outside of these few hardcore games, others have seen poor sales. 2008 will finally open gamers to Wii Fit, which is another casual game of epic proportions, much like Wii Play, and one that will single-handedly help sell another few million Wiis in a month, judging from sales in Japan, where the game has already been launched. Being an exercise game, it is definitely family-friendly, and that pretty much says it all – that almost everyone who owns a Wii is going to get a copy of Wii Fit. Another casual game in the offing is Endless Ocean, one game which has been out of the limelight for a while, but certainly unforgotten. Using the Wii’s online functionality, players can engage in dives together in co-op mode – now, that’s rare in Wii games and unequivocally one feature to look out for. Explore the ocean, discover new fish and build up your collection with Endless Ocean, which comes out Q1 2008. With the onslaught of a conglomeration of hardcore games and epic casual games, fancy betting against the Wii not retaining its top position (or even widen the gap between the Xbox 360 and PS3)? Of course, with quality casual titles, come crap casual titles as well, as highlighted in one of the SUPER Rant articles, but that’s the way for the leading console, where everyone wants a bite of the pie, right?

So now, you have got a big picture of what 2008 will be like. Xbox 360’s emerging RTS games and more Japanese RPGs are coming. Xbox Live is going to have more and more content and don’t be taken by surprise should Microsoft release another Xbox Live update to enhance its already-excellent service. Sony has got a couple of exclusives arriving, but perhaps more important is the release of the much-anticipated Home, which will offer some competition for the much-coveted online space and also Little Big Planet, which is in part creative and innovative. For the Wii, the oncoming hardcore games will keep the traditional Wii gamers smiling, while the 2 EPIC casual games, Wii Fit and Endless Ocean, will pull in buyers as quickly as water gushing out from a tap at full strength. Oh right, the PC will still remain the most powerful gaming machine to be had and more user-generated content will be shared online in the coming months. With all those in mind, just ensconce yourself in that armchair now and finish this year’s brilliant games before the packages from 2008 come knocking.

NEXT on Forward 2008:
Read my personal commentaries on next year’s console war, be it unforgiving and stinging comments on 2008 in gaming or heaps of éclat. Check back soon and look out. Happy holidays.


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