ThinkBoxly is the personal developer blog of Lucas Chasteen, author, programmer, artist, and always learning. Read more

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

10 Reasons 2014’s Not Over Yet for Gamers

Ever since E3 2014 all the way back in June, it seems all gamers ever hear about is titles coming out next year. And no doubt about it—2015 is going to be huge. Developers have been putting a lot of hard work into making the jump from 7th-gen to 8th-gen, and the fruits of their labor are finally about to come to bear. At times it may feel like there’s not much left to look forward to in 2014 on the gaming front, but in reality that could hardly be further from the truth. While far from an exhaustive list, today we are going to look at 10 reasons why 2014 isn’t over yet—10 games among many more you could possibly enjoy, but these are among the best. Warning: opinions may vary.

Destiny (PS3/360/PS4/One) – Sept 9

Here’s an elephant in the room if there ever was one. We’ve less than a week to go now until Bungie’s latest hit IP, Destiny, the half-MMORPG, half FPS that everyone can’t stop talking about, finally hits shelves and hard drives. And for good reason—Bungie itself is a unique icon of gaming for its relaxed and creative development atmosphere, and in the past 20 years of existence it has yet to turn out a real stinker of a product. With Destiny Bungie is reaching for new heights by creating a shared world experience spanning multiple planets that players will be able to explore alone or with other players seamlessly. We know from past experience that Bungie makes great shooters and deep stories and Activision (Destiny’s publisher) knows their stuff when it comes to handling massive multiplayer traffic, and to remove any doubt Destiny even had an incredibly successful beta run that drew in over four million players. It’s the biggest gaming event we’ve had in a very long time, and the wait is almost over.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PC/PS3/360/PS4/One) – Sept 30

Unless you count the Hobbit movies nobody seems to care about, it’s been a while since we’ve last seen any major developments on the Lord of the Rings. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is among the first video games based on the series not to pull its source material straight from a book or movie and instead aims to tie some of them together while telling a new story of its own. You play as Talion, a ranger with wraith-like abilities, and are tasked with traversing the open-world environment to exact your revenge on Mordor for all its evils. The game features an advanced AI system so enemies will remember every encounter and adjust behavior accordingly for each encounter to follow. In other words, the game takes your every action personally and holds a lot of grudges. Whether you’re fluent in elvish or just a passing fan of the Lord of the Rings-style fantasy, Shadow of Mordor has a lot to offer for a nice change of pace.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (PS3/360) – Sept 30

Fans of 2D fighters have never been very concerned about the age of the platforms they play on, so its little surprise, then, to see that the hotly-anticipated sequel to Persona 4 Arena will be coming out exclusively on last-gen consoles. Once again the casts of Persona 3 and Persona 4 are thrown together in a brand new story directly continuing Persona 4 Arena, complete with totally rebalanced gameplay and many new characters to master. If you pick this one up during launch week you can even score yourself free DLC to add Marie and Adachi from Persona 4, which will revert to paid DLC in early October. Whether you’re a fan of Japanese visual novels, the Persona series, or fighters in the style of BlazBlue, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.

Alien: Isolation (PC/PS3/360/PS4/One) – Oct 7

If there’s anything Aliens: Colonial Marines succeeded at, it was making a buzz. But the adage that ‘all PR is good PR’ rings very hollow when you find yourself in a lawsuit for false advertising. Now that the series is in the hands of Sega-owned Creative Assembly and out of Gearbox’s tainted palms we may finally get to see what Colonial Marines should have been all along. Alien: Isolation is not a first-person shooter. It’s not even a stealth game in the usual sense. It’s creepy, it’s atmospheric, and as the name implies, it’s mostly just you and a Xenomorph. Yep, a Xenomoprh. As in, one. The setting and formula is enough to get the attention even of gamers with no prior knowledge of the series, so if ’70s/’80s sci-fi is your thing, keep your eyes out for this one.

Freedom Wars (Vita) – Oct 28

New game genres are few and far between, and one of the most successful this side of 2000 is Monster Hunter. While the aptly-named party-based fantasy hunting series has mostly made the switch to Nintendo platforms Sony’s Japan Studio is here to fill the gap on the struggling Playstation Vita with Freedom Wars, a stylish sci-fi take on similar ideas. It’s been selling pretty well in Japan and the developers have demonstrated their commitment to the game by issuing a number of patches to improve upon difficulty and balance issues its original audience complained about. Now the game with all its patches is coming to the west, and it’s pretty much the biggest thing to happen to the Vita yet. Freedom Wars offers a crazy quest to rid yourself of a one million year sentence just for existing, and in the process participate in a faction war with and against other actual players and AI alike. Most Playstation Vita owners are Playstation Vita owners because of Japanese games, and Freedom Wars is practically a showcase for some of the most interesting Japanese gaming trends in recent memory.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity (PC/PS4/One) – Nov 11

I’m skipping out on Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, but I’ve got to have some sort of obligatory mainstream attraction in this list, right? Calm down, I jest. At least the part about Assassin’s Creed: Unity being merely obligatory. I really am skipping out on Call of Duty. But I digress: Assassin’s Creed is now well established in its yearly release cycle and as such we’ve seen more than one entry that is lacking in the polish and originality departments. But with the advent of next-gen that is about to change. Unity is a big step up for the series—the first, really, since Assassin’s Creed 2. The visuals are the most accurate reproduction of historical sites we’ve yet seen in a videogame, the freerunning is more fluid than ever, the streets more densely populated, and you’ll get to enjoy it all with up to three friends at a time. It won’t be held back by last-gen either, as this is exclusively a PS4, Xbox One, and higher-end PC affair. There’s not a lot of pure, unadulterated next-gen gaming experiences on the market right now, so if you want to see what your new console or PC is capable of, this is currently one of the best ways to find out.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection (Xbox One) – Nov 11

Here Bungie makes the cut again (although a bit vicariously) which is an impressive feat considering this collection dates back as far as 2000. Halo: The Master Chief Collection does HD remasters right, featuring Halo 1-4 spruced up for the Xbox One, all running in their original engines so nothing is detracted from the experience of each one. In the case of Halo 2: Anniversary, Microsoft has even taken the time to fully recreate every cutscene moment-by-moment with motion-captured actors and incredibly lifelike CGI. In addition to the four main attractions themselves, the collection also includes goodies such as access to the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta and Halo: Nightfall, a live-action weekly episodic series produced by Ridley Scott. The digital video series will serve to bridge the gap between Halo 4 and Halo 5. Spinoffs aside, anything you’ve ever loved about the Halo series is here and looking better than ever, all for the price of one regular new title. Seriously, if this trend of HD remasters continues, other companies need to take lessons from Microsoft. This is how it’s done.

LittleBigPlanet 3 (PS3/PS4) – Nov 18

One of the more surprising participants of E3 2014, LittleBigPlanet 3 is already almost here and ripe for all the user-created goodness Playstation gamers can muster. For the first time in the series the iconic Sackboy will be joined by a host of other hand-stitched characters, each with special abilities to spice up the already interesting variety of platform puzzling available in current LBP games. But the really big news here is that past creations won’t be made obsolete by LBP3 or by the jump to PS4. Every user-created level ever published to LittleBigPlanet 1 and 2 will be available in 3 from day one, and any purchased costume DLC will carry over as well. Furthermore, the previous limit of three-layer levels has been expanded to 16, and there will be no imposed limit on level size, either. But never fear if you’d rather play than create, for the new game will also pack yet another humorous romp of a story mode that is perfectly suited for cooperative gameplay (or uncooperative, if you’re one of those people) with friends local or abroad to conquer all the just-plain-fun platforming challenges. Don’t be deceived by LittleBigPlanet 3’s cute and cuddly appearance—every Playstation owner should pick it up when it releases in Novemeber.

Persona Q (3DS) – Nov 25

Another visit from Atlus in this list, this time appearing on the much-beloved Nintendo 3DS. After a foray into Playstation Vita territory with Persona 4 Golden, Atlus has really taken to Nintendo’s handheld for a variety of games such as Shin Megami Tensei IV and the Etrian Odyssey series, to name only a few. Persona Q springs from the latter, combining almost-chibi renditions of characters from Persona 3 and Persona 4 with the Etrian Odyssey engine, resulting in a unique sort of dungeon crawler that will be both familiar to Persona fans and something entirely new. Out of all the games in this list, Persona Q is probably the nichiest of the niche, but for those that want it it’s a pretty big deal.

Kingdom Hearts II.5 HD ReMIX (PS3) – Dec 2

To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure why the Kingdom Hearts HD ‘remaster’ thing exists. Sure, the screen resolution is upped, a handful of textures are mildly improved, controls are a sight better than the originals, music is reorchestrated, and three games for the price of one is a bargain, but…why? Why re-release on PS3 so late into its lifespan without even updating the visuals enough to be worth the while? Why not port to Vita, as with Final Fantasy X HD? Oh well, at least Kingdom Hearts is a worthy candidate for re-releasing. Actually, it’s surprising how well the series holds up with only minor enhancements. Good thing too, because Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix and Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep Final Mix are hitting the PS3 in December. The story of Kingdom Hearts Re:coded will also be retold as a three-hour series of cutscenes. If you’ve never played the series before there’s never been a better time to make up for it. With both Kingdom Hearts 1.5 and 2.5 on the market you’ll be able to own every game in the series save one (the 3DS’s Dream Drop Distance) on Playstation 3. Considering how much the series has jumped platforms over the years, that’s a pretty sweet deal. A bit mind boggling that it ever happened, but pretty sweet that it did.

Well, that about covers it for today! What games are you looking forward to in the rest of 2014? Sound off in the comments below!