We’re dusting off our crystal balls and practising a little mysticism this week, peering into the future in order to share our vision of what’s in store for the coming year.
Will the wait to reunite with Sora, Donald and Goofy have been worthwhile?
Liam | Switching up the Switch
We’ve already heard rumblings of an updated Switch, supposedly set to arrive sometime this year, but I’m predicting (hoping, really) we’ll see bigger and better things from Nintendo.
Rather than just a sleeker Switch, I reckon we might get something along the lines of a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X - a beefed-up, premium console that improves battery life and runs AAA titles without much compromise, all while retaining portability.
Perhaps that’s more wishful thinking than calculated prediction, but, considering Nintendo’s fondness for rehashing consoles (particularly those in the portable family), it’s not entirely outlandish.
At the very least, I’m hoping any potential new and improved Switch comes with a stand that actually works, more comfortable Joy-Con, and a reworked dock (that thing really is cheap and nasty).
Though I’m not overly unhappy with how the Switch performs and feels in its current form, a more premium design incorporating those changes and featuring performance boosts for select games would have me seriously tempted to double dip.
Oh, one final prediction – it won’t come with an AC adaptor. Because Nintendo.
Getting rid of that massive screen bezel wouldn't hurt, either.
James | 8K? No way
Can you feel it? That creeping excitement from gaming executives, the anticipation, the salivation at the fact that this console generation is beginning to come to an end.
How do we know? There's form for a console cycle of around five years before companies perceive that consumers want something new, even though that's usually when all the best games start coming out - just look at PlayStation 4's record-breaking 2018, for example.
We don’t actually have to go on past form alone though, as Sony President Kenichiro Yoshida said himself last October that it's become "necessary to have a next-generation hardware" to replace the PS4.
New things are coming and that should be exciting, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t, because nobody knows what people want next. Most gamers are doing fine with the hardware (especially if they’ve upgraded to a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X) and abundant quality software that they already have, so any new console announcements in 2019 have the capacity to be inherently disappointing.
Sure, Nintendo might shrink the Switch and Microsoft might produce a discless Xbox, but the response will only ever be "is that it?" Buzzwords like 8K might capture imaginations, but we're still a long way from games getting anywhere close to that; we're barely hitting 4K, so why should we care?
With amazing games like God of War coming out, who needs new hardware?
Rob | Indies are the innovators
Unlike my esteemed colleagues Sam and Jam (that’s always fun to say), I won’t be reverting to my cynical factory settings this week. I’m glad to report that I’ll be attending the excellent EGX Rezzed for my fourth year running, and, with that in mind, my prediction for 2019 is that independent games will continue to lead the way in innovation, storytelling and good ol’ fashioned fun.
Many of my favourites from Rezzed 2018 look set to release this year, and I think Jam will attest that the immensely colourful and entertaining local multiplayer fun of PHOGS should be on everyone’s wishlist. You can add to that the strategy masterclass of Wargroove; the unique take on point-and-clicking seen in Heaven’s Vault; Campo Santo’s Firewatch follow-up, In The Valley of the Gods; ultra-ambitious detective RPG Disco Elysium; Rain Games’ World to the West successor, Mesmer; and hopefully every wonderful game that was in the Rezzed leftfield collection.
I love independent developers for their will to try new things and breath life into old ideas. Long may it continue in 2019!
… Oh, and I also predict that Xbox Game Pass will continue to ensure I have more money to devote to playing more and more indies.
Who doesn't love a good indie game?
Chris | “The ramblings of a madman”
The day starts like any other. Amidst the hustle and bustle of commuters making their way to work, you spy an unusually large crowd gathering around a TV in a shop window. A wave of silence seems to propagate out from the steadily growing mass, broken only by the soft, gentle sobbing of a young woman.
You briefly wonder if the two of you could have a future together, before noticing she's wearing odd shoes. One appears to be a flat dress shoe and the other an expensive-looking leopard print heel. How does she walk in those things? Is she compensating for one leg being longer than the other? Who would do such a thing?!
Consumed by a mixture of rage and lust, you step forwards. Just as you open your mouth to scream, a flicker on the TV catches your eye. It's Gabe Newell. A beagle enthusiastically laps jam from his open hand as he whispers "Half-Life 3" whilst staring straight at the camera. A date scrolls across the bottom of the screen.
Odd Shoes turns away from the display, her eyes rolling into the back of her head as she loses consciousness. You were in the perfect place to catch her, and would have done, had you not already popped inside to pre-order.
Will we ever get Half-Life 3? More importantly, should the reveal involve a jam-eating beagle?
Do you think our predictions will pan out? Only will time will tell, though do be sure to check back an entire year from now when we revisit them and see whether we’re more Nostradamus or nonce.
Also, be sure to share any 2019 gaming premonitions you might have in the comments.
Metro Exodus publisher Deep Silver invited us to have some hands-on time with their latest release ahead of its 15 February launch. The code was near-final and our playthrough was on Xbox One X hardware. Here’s how James got on...
While there’s a variety of DNA on display here, the strongest influences are probably Half-Life in terms of narrative-driven game design and Fallout in terms of the aesthetic and manual feel of the world. While Fallout 76 dialled back many of the more distinctive aspects of its namesake, Exodus relishes in the little quirks that make it stand out, like having to manually pump pneumatic weapons or clean and maintain items to keep them in good working order.
While these sorts of mindless tasks could easily become a mess of busy work, the team at 4A Games have managed to balance the elements so that they enhance the game experience rather than being a chore.
Many of the subterranean areas you do explore are radioactive, have air filled with toxins, or a deadly combination of both. Keeping an ear out for the familiar crackle of your geiger counter will handle the former, but for the latter you’re forced to cycle between gas masks which introduce a timed element to exploration, as most filters have only a few minutes of use before they expire (and, of course, you’ll need to manually swap filters once one runs down). This succeeds in pushing that pressure point and heightening levels of anxiety to induce an excited nervousness, which quickly gives way to panic as you near the final few seconds and are (as I was) frantically unable to find the lever to open the escape door.
Elsewhere, the lush green and breathable air of the autumn section affords you the opportunity to take your time and make use of stealth to get by, encouraged with the discovery of a handy crossbow nearby. Conversely, the harsh architecture of our introduction to the game (set back in spring) bangs the drum for the oppressive feel of historical Soviet archetypes.
While narrative was scarce in our preview time - a deliberate step from the dev team to avoid spoiling too much - the cast of Metro Exodus are genuinely compelling and interesting. Even with returning protagonist Artyom a near mute, you constantly feel involved in the story as narrative beats play out around you in real time.
Calling the game open-world would be generous, but there’s definitely scope to wander off the beaten path in search of crafting materials, which may lead to NPCs questioning you on what’s taking so long.
Crafting itself is fairly straightforward, in that you can strip down modified weapons you come across and attach a custom barrel or stock to another at a handily placed weapons bench. While many modifications are slight, the effects stack when put together to significantly boost damage and accuracy.
Gunplay in general feels well-balanced and satisfying, especially as you keep tinkering away and working towards perfecting your loadout. There’s a few gadgets to play about with as well, in particular a silent-but-deadly throwing knife which can be vital for thinning out larger herds of enemies.
While we’re still a month out from launch, the game is looking extremely polished, performing brilliantly in native 4K on Xbox One X (and the surrounding PC demo stations from what I saw), which goes a long way in bringing the world to life. Only a few wonky facial animations slightly let the otherwise stellar immersion down.
In all, from just a few short hours of play, Metro Exodus has shot up my list of anticipated games and could surpass anything to come out on its packed 15 February launch day. Considering that’s the date for my beloved Crackdown 3 (not to mention Far Cry: New Dawn and Jump Force), that’s saying quite something. Here’s hoping the final release delivers.
Whatever form a re-release might take - be it spit-shined remaster, full-blown remake, or plain-old port - they’re absolutely everywhere and have been for a while. 2019 doesn’t look set to change that, what with New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe and Onimusha: Warlords launching in the coming week alone. It’s all got us wondering whether the practice of repurposing old software is a cheap and cheerful way to reach new audiences, or just a lazy means of gouging money from nostalgic gamers.
I'm a strong believer that variety is not only the spice of life, but an essential. I crave new experiences, no matter how minor, and I champion creativity and imagination above all else. Which is why I'm against rehashing old content without adding something of value.
Granted, there usually is a little something extra, but its value is completely subjective. Upgraded graphics, bundled DLC, the occasional tweak to UI and mechanics; any of these should make for a better experience and offer a more attractive package than the original, especially for those who missed out the first time around.
Resident Evil 2 sits all alone, perched in a rarefied region on the re-release scale, as Capcom appear to have built a completely new game from the ground up, with little to tie it back to the original besides the characters, story and setting.
I'm not expecting many to follow in their footsteps, nor do I think that every remake needs to be handled in the same manner, but it raises the bar significantly and sends a message to any developer wanting to reinvigorate a beloved title: go hard, or go home.
I’m all for remakes, remasters and ports, so long as they’re done right. Not only do they give people the chance to relive classics and fan favourites, but they also give many who may have missed out the first time around another bite at the cherry. Plus, they're a great way to ensure gems of the past remain relevant and easily accessible years, or even decades, after their initial release.
I never owned a Wii U, which meant I had to look on as a bunch of great first-party titles passed me by, but with Nintendo seemingly intent on bringing all of the doomed console’s heavy hitters to Switch, it feels like I’ve been given a reprieve. I may have picked Pokémon for Switch as my most anticipated title of 2019, but secretly I yearn to see The Wind Waker HD grace the console this year.
Of course, I can understand why people would absolutely prefer to see studios coming up with brand-new IPs, instead of wheeling out yet another blast from the past, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives, whether it’s letting developers know there’s still an audience for a dormant franchise or giving them the chance to completely reimagine an old favourite, à la Capcom’s upcoming Resi 2 remake.
Whatever form they take, cynicism can accompany re-releases like a deadly silent fart. Personally, I’m for remasters if they’re handled properly and there’s been enough time since the original release, but all too often we’re expected to pay bloated price points.
I find the Switch to be an excellent example of this. I was one of about seven people (give or take) that owned a Wii U, so I find the endless “Deluxe” ports being sold at £40+ insulting. Despite the inclusion of minor extras and DLC, these should slot right into Nintendo’s budget “Selects” range.
There are countless examples of this across other platforms though, so, in spite of my internal beef, I suppose it really does come down to whether you’ve played the games before or not. I’d never have played greats like Uncharted, Twilight Princess and The Wind Waker without remastered, after all.
Ultimately, I’d like to see more productions like Resident Evil 2 and the Crash and Spyro collections: games a few generations old that have been brought bang up to date and made relevant again.
So what can we take from all this? 1. Companies like making money without spending money, and 2. I’m a massive hypocrite. Ciao, folks.
What's your stance on re-releases? Love 'em or hate 'em, let us know below!
Happy New Year! Whether you’re recovering from a monster hangover, hitting the gym to meet resolution goals, or just chugging along as usual, one thing we all have in common is another great year of gaming to look forward to! The first half of 2019 already looks stacked, which begs the question: which games are the cream of the current crop?
Chris | Crackdown 3
Crackdown 3 will most likely have a story that involves Terry Crews in some way; that statement alone is excellent reason for the game to grace this list, but what really sealed the deal is the fact I like to blow shit up. There’s nothing abnormal about that, by the way!
I'll certainly sink some time into the campaign, but I'm most eager to jump into an online world with a few like-minded crazies and just tear it apart.
The promise of wanton destruction has been made many times before, without any game coming close to meeting expectations (looking at you, every Battlefield title ever). Crackdown 3 could be the very first to allow us to transform the landscape so much as to make it unrecognisable. If you can't find the aesthetic beauty in the harsh brevity of a built-up city skyline, maybe you can create your own version of beauty by razing said city to the ground using explosives. Either way, you should have plenty of fun in the process.
Liam | Pokémon for Nintendo Switch
Having only recently come back to the franchise after a near 20-year hiatus, I’m not exactly what you’d call a diehard Pokémon fan, but the Switch’s as-yet-untitled Pokémon game gets my vote simply because a mainline entry on a home console is something I’ve always wanted to see.
The Let’s Go games, while impressive, are remakes, and therefore don’t count. However, their fully-fledged worlds, wandering wild fauna, vibrant towns and sleek visuals showed just how good a Pokémon game can look with a bit of power behind it, and have me seriously tempted by another sojourn in the well-trodden Kanto region.
Had it not been for my recent acquisition of Moon on 3DS, the seasonal decimation of my gaming funds and the fact that your rival is now nice (outrageous!), I’d probably be searching for Bulbasaur in Let’s Go this very moment, and, having had my console Poké-fix, Respawn’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order would be sitting atop my list.
In any case, observing Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! from afar (for the time being) has only served to whet my appetite for a proper Pokémon RPG on Switch, and I look forward to seeing more in 2019.
James | Streets of Rage 4
Very little is currently known about Streets of Rage 4. The second instalment was one of the first games I ever played and, as mentioned last week, was the first game that I ever completed.
It might come as no surprise then that the obviously-nostalgia-fuelled announcement of a fourth game would set my spine somewhat a-tingling.
While the cynical side of me wants to assume this will just be a hastily cobbled together cash grab to join the other remasters and re-treads which somewhat plague the industry at large, there's a louder voice, deep inside which screams "BAREKNUCKLE!"
The war cry of Axel Stone, one of the game's returning protagonists, has so many memories tied to it that I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt for now.
Indeed, the aforementioned trailer leans into an anime art style perfect for the game and suggests a similar 2D scrolling beat-‘em-up style as you’d hope for from the series. Coupled with an energetic soundtrack, early signs are looking very promising in my eyes.
Rob | Ori and the Will of the Wisps
My new year’s resolution is to try and play a few more games this year than I did in 2018. That shouldn’t be too hard, as I’m eagerly awaiting Resident Evil 2, Shenmue 3, The Last of Us Part II (fingers crossed we’ll have it before Xmas), Streets of Rage 4, and I might finally have to get a Switch for Fire Emblem Three Houses, too.
My most anticipated release though, comes on my beloved Xbox One, and was a large reason behind renewing the old Game Pass subscription for another year. It’s Ori and the Will of the Wisps, of course!
I adored playing through the original’s superb blend of challenging platforming, combat and exploration, all wrapped up in Metroidvania staples, so can’t wait to delve into the new and improved world.
Add to that the chance to rediscover such beautiful visuals, aurals and, hopefully, an even more emotional story, and I’m already sold. Not just that, but the time trial and multiplayer modes look to add an interesting competitive element to the game this time around.
Thank you Moon Studios, thank you Microsoft. See you on day one!
What game are you most looking forward to playing this year? Let us know in the comments below.