At the start of each new year I like to make lists of the games I’m really looking forward to, mostly so that I can then look back on it at the end of the year and laugh a hollow laugh as I remember how tragically naïve it was to hope that these games would consist of anything other than broken promises and shattered dreams. 2013 has given me pause; despite the very large number of games being released this year there’s very, very few of them that actually get me excited, which made me wonder if it was worth bothering this year. But hey, what’s the point in a tradition if you don’t eventually end up ritually grinding through it anyway no matter how fruitless it is?
Story aside Starcraft II was an excellent revitalisation of the RTS genre, and although it had to consciously split its single-player and multiplayer mechanics apart in order to achieve this that’s no bad thing when you’re dealing with a genre as stale as the RTS. It rationalised much of the nonsensical campaign play – like having to research Animal Husbandry for the fifth mission in a row – by placing it in the context of the campaign’s metagame structure rather than actually in the mission gameplay, and the missions themselves were a pleasingly varied and challenging bunch.. The first expansion pack, Heart of the Swarm, looks to be expanding on the campaign metagame in a big way by adding more RPG aspects, and in my opinion that’s all to the good – even if we have to pay the price of yet another absolutely godawful story from the narrative vomitorium at Blizzard.
SimCity! Is it a sequel? A remake? A reboot? Nobody really seems to know, but clearly EA think it’s a big enough deal to warrant erasing the “5” from the title. My trust in Maxis is a little bit dented after the Spore debacle, and SimCity’s always-online requirement and tiny city plots bear all the hallmarks of an entertaining disaster waiting to happen, but it’s SimCity, dammit. Part of me wants to believe that the new agent systems they have in place will deliver something that just wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago, and the other part just wants to write another frothingly-angry review, so I guess either way I’m buying it.
Gaslamp Games leapt to the top of my Most Beloved Indie Developer list with their release – and continuing support of – accessible cartoon roguelike Dungeons of Dredmor, and their next game looks no less ridiculous. Clockwork Empires is an attempt to fuse together elements of Dwarf Fortress and Caesar into something that doesn’t look like code from the Matrix. Their feature list is incredibly ambitious and if they even manage to include half of the stuff on it I’ll be very impressed, but I have faith that whatever they eventually deliver will be well worth playing. They also do a consistently entertaining devblog that actually makes sense to knowlessmen like myself.
All those Kickstarter games I backed last year are supposed to be released in 2013, but to be honest with you I’m not holding my breath with regards to either their quality or their actually hitting their designated release windows. Wasteland 2 and Shadowrun Returns are promising concepts/IP in the hands of developers who are either unproven (Harebrained) or decidedly mediocre (Inxile), but perhaps they’ll flourish when free from publisher pressure so who knows. The Banner Saga looks substantially better but the development team appears to have been sidetracked by the multiplayer offshoot, Factions. Xenonauts has been in development for approximately forever and doesn’t look like it’s going to change the habit of a lifetime anytime soon; ditto Dead State.
Similarly I’ll be surprised if Rome 2: Total War manages a 2013 release date, but I can hope, and unusually for a Creative Assembly game I think that hope is well-founded. The originalRome was a great game, if uneven due to it being the Total War series’ first foray into full 3d battles and empire management. The CA then walked off a cliff with Empire but have gradually been clawing their way back to form in the half-decade since, and one of the things they’ve been getting increasingly good at is communicating a sense of place and period to the eras they portray in their games. This was something which I think was sorely missing from Rome, and if the CA can do with Rome 2 what they did with the Shogun games it could be the best Total War title yet.
And that’s it, really. There’s a huge glut of AAA games being released in the last half of February/first half of March (Tomb Raider, Dead Space 3, Bioshock Infinite, Company of Heroes 2, Crysis 3, Colonial Marines) but for some reason they leave me totally cold. There’s something about them that seems just too manufactured to really grab me. So largely I am – as I did last year – putting my faith in the as-yet-unknown indie games; the Dustforces and Defender’s Quests and Grimrocks that I have yet to hear about. Already 2013 has thrown up the promising-looking 7 Grand Steps, which on the strength of the demo could be a pretty good time when it’s finally released, so it’s not like 2013 is going to be a bad year for computer gaming. It just happens to very closely resemble one, is all.