2013 is looking like it’s going to be the year of the sequels in video games.
There are some classic franchises getting fresh new entries, but unlike films, sequels are usually a good thing in video games. Which games should you be watching most closely this coming year? Here are my top 5 in no particular order:
Every gamer is likely familiar with Bioshock and its deeply compelling lore, but the story of Rapture is over, and in Bioshock Infinite, the tale ascends into the exceptionalist cloud-city of Columbia. There, rather than the restrictive, claustrophobic environments – and philosophies – of the city under the waves, we’ll get the wide open spaces – and lofty ideals – of the balloon city, where flight is the chosen transport, and patriotism is the most respected virtue.
The new game is not just philosophically topical, it also introduces an AI partner to follow the player along, lending context-specific and scripted assistance at various points in addition to being a combat aide. There will also be a variety of new weapons and ‘plasmids’ to help combat the new array of enemies and monsters.
The developer decided not to waste time on multi-player with this go around – after the dismal failure of Bioshock 2’s multi-player modes, and has promised that the ending of the story will be "like nothing you've experienced in a video game before." Though it seems hyperbole, I’m looking forward to seeing what they mean.
Bioshock Infinite is planned for March 26, 2013 on all major platforms
SimCity is the original management simulation game, and there hasn’t been a good one since SimCity 4 about a decade ago. SimCity is back with many of the features that made the original games so great, and a number of enhancements to the engine and gameplay.
This iteration will be more sophisticated than any management sim game in the past, with each element, every business, every person, and every environmental factor individually simulated, so that interactions among these elements become more dynamic than ever before. In addition, one will be able to interact with their friends’ cities in ways never before possible, due to persistent online integration.
The game has gotten a lot of flak in the blogs and forums for Origin’s always online integration, something sim-game fans are not necessarily used to. This is the new normal, however. Games require the internet now, and we might as well get used to it. Honestly, I want to be mad about it too, but I’m just so excited to be playing SimCity again that I can’t help it; I’m not mad.
SimCity arrives on Origin March 3, 2013. No console releases are currently planned – or likely.
The Last of Us
We don’t know a whole lot about The Last of Us yet. It’s the only game on my list that isn’t part of a storied franchise, but it looks to hold a lot of the elements that make some of these other games great.
This cinematic adventure game tells the story of a pair of survivors in a broken world. The protagonist is tasked with protecting a young woman from this terrible, wild cityscape in a series of non-linear scenes.
Most of the action takes place within the “dynamic stealth” system, in which there are many different ways to approach each situation, and just as many ways for enemies and the environment to react to the player’s actions.
One downside is that the world itself doesn’t seem very deep, giving us yet another zombie outbreak, which I’m surprised more gamers aren’t tired of yet. It would be a much more compelling game if the writers had come up with something a little more original, but the varied gameplay might make up for it.
Of course, the real weakness of the game, and the thing that is most likely to keep it from becoming a new classic of gaming, is that it’s a Sony console exclusive
The Last of Us hits the Playstation 3 May 7, 2013
Grand Theft Auto V
The fifth core game in the GTA franchise brings the story to a modern L.A. simulacrum, Los Santos. For the first time, this iteration of the series brings us multiple protagonists, which switch-out as the story develops, showing the same tale from three distinct points of view. It will also feature the largest explorable area of any Rockstar game to date, giving us an entire city and the surrounding beaches and countryside.
Rockstar claims that the game will follow the same basic story as past GTA games: a former career criminal struggles with being drawn back into the life due to a need for funds, but will otherwise “evolves nearly every mechanic." The world will be more detailed, in addition to being larger, and the player can switch among the three protagonists at will while exploring this environment. Sometimes, they’re working together toward some common goal, but often they’ll simply be going about their lives in Los Santos when you switch to them.
Just about the only thing that the game doesn’t have from the advancements of GTA IV is the dating system, but I would consider that an improvement, as there was little value in that mechanic. Hanging out with friends is still part of the game, however.
Grand Theft Auto V will be out sometime in the late Spring or early Summer of 2013.
The original Tomb Raider, like the original SimCity, is an icon of Gaming culture, and, also like SimCity, the new iteration will reboot the series and return to the original title. The new game begins again the story of Lara Croft, going further back this time than the original game, which showed us a Lara already familiar with danger and capable of handling it.
This Lara is a spirited girl, surely, but not one accustomed to surviving rough situations. She will start soft, and undergo dramatic transformations throughout the game, developing the character much more completely than any previous game in the franchise. She also looks significantly different: Gone is the gratuitous bust and chiseled face. The new character design is more ‘regular girl’ and less ‘mysterious beauty’, presumably to make her more relatable.
Similar to Last of Us, the game will be played in a sequence of variously interactive, third-person scenes, rather than in a static mechanic, and will be focused on the player’s decision-making and dramatic interaction. We haven’t seen much of it yet, but I imagine a large part of the game will still be spent exploring and shooting hostile animals, which were the primary hobbies of Lara in the past.
You may remember, there was a bit of controversy over the game recently when one of the developers revealed that one of the major inciting events of the plot is an attempted rape, which, in addition to a ship-wreck and a grievous leg injury, force Lara to become a harder person. This led some in the gaming community to complain that an attempted rape is not a very original way to show female vulnerability, and that the writers should have come up with something a little less sexist and cliché. No word has come from the studio on the topic since, but I don’t guess that they changed anything this late in the development process.
It’s also been revealed that this game is, unsurprisingly, the start of a new franchise of Tomb Raider games, which have already been planned out into the near future.
Tomb Raider hits all major platforms on March 5, 2013.