The deluge of holiday shopping season game releases is behind us, and thank the hoary digital netherdemons for that. Don’t get me wrong – this has been a remarkably strong release season, despite the worrying trend of publishers shipping broken games (Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Unity comes to mind). Both Shadow of Mordor and Alien: Isolation far surpassed my expectations (especially for being licensed film properties); Nintendo fans are all just now emerging from Super Smash Bros. fugue states; Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare seems to actually be fairly good; and Dragon Age: Inquisition is currently devouring every free moment I have.
But it’s nice to get through the November release firehose and be able to take a look at what’s coming up in the next couple months.
Right around the corner is Elite: Dangerous, scheduled for general release Dec. 16. A Kickstarter success story, Elite: Dangerous is also the resurrection of a dusty but well-loved franchise of space privateer games that began way back in the Commodore 64 era.
Naturally, in the intervening 30 years, we’ve come a long way from the original Elite’s then-revolutionary 3D wireframe graphics. Here, watch as the Internet’s own Scott Manley checks out the pre-release “Gamma” version that’s currently available to early backers:
I’ve missed games like this. It’s not that they’ve exactly disappeared completely, but since the ‘90s heyday of X-Wing and TIE Fighter and the Wing Commander series, there hasn’t really been a big tentpole title for the space sim genre. Elite: Dangerous promises a “full-scale recreation of the real Milky Way galaxy’s 400 billion star systems,” within which you’ll be able to fly various ships for fun and profit – either exploring and mining, or taking stuff from people who have been exploring and mining. It’s quite a bit more individual-player-focused than say, EVE Online, and from the looks of things, it’s far less of a money-sink than the forthcoming Star Citizen – which is also a Kickstarter success story, having pulled in more than $2 million on its initial $500,000 goal, and since then has amassed a staggering $65 million from fans eager to buy in-game spaceships.
In any event, I’m looking forward to what may be the beginning of a space sim renaissance. Even if it’s just a brief one, it’s enough to get me browsing HOTAS joystick setups on Amazon again.
Another upcoming title I’ve been following is Take-Two Interactive’s and Turtle Rock Studios’ Evolve. Set for a February 10 release, Evolve pits a team of four “hunters” with various abilities against a fifth player, who controls a kaiju-style monster that grows progressively larger and more powerful over the course of a match. I played a bit of the game’s “big alpha” Turtle Rock held in October, and I came away very impressed (as apparently were most of the press who tried the game out at PAX Prime this year). The team dynamics bear a lot of its developers’ Left 4 Dead genetics, but the addition of the asymmetric, one-player-as-monster dynamic is very exciting.
Getting asymmetry in competitive games right is understandably difficult. Blizzard will probably be tweaking the balance between StarCraft 2’s three distinct factions until the heat death of the universe. Evolve is a different kettle of fish, though, in that it’s more or less tossing the concept of “balance” out. The hunters begin the match being (as a team, at least) more powerful than the monster, which has to skulk in the shadows and eat alien squirrels until it can grow into its second phase. By phase three, the monster — which is enormous at this point — has a clear advantage, and a team that can’t or won’t work together winds up being about as combat-effective as a box of chicken nuggets.
I worry a little that Evolve has the same vulnerability that Respawn’s Titanfall has fallen prey to, which is the dependency on a large online player base. I’ve really enjoyed Titanfall, but it can be terribly hard to find a match a lot of the time – I’ll see maybe a dozen people worldwide playing a particular game mode during some sessions.
Fortunately, though, Evolve will be available on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 when it comes out, and both next-gen consoles, now a year into their lifecycles, are still thirsty for great online titles.
Just remember: Never preorder.
Image courtesy of Take-Two Interactive