As we approach the end of 2015, we’ve already got one eye on the glorious things that await us on the gaming scene in 2016. Uncharted 4, Deus Ex: Mankind Divide and Mass Effect: Andromeda are just few of the big hitters to look forward to, but those are the kinds of games that’ll be getting so much pre-release hype that they’re pretty much guaranteed to imprint themselves into your mind whether you want them to or not.
The majority of games coming out in 2016 won’t have a multi-million dollar marketing budget or name value or AAA name value, and will rely instead on small yet dedicated followings of fans, Kickstarter campaigns, or just ingenious ideas to get noticed.
So why not check out the promising titles you might not have heard of, because by the end of 2016 they could well be ranking among the year’s biggest hitters, giving you the bragging rights to say you heard about them ‘before they were famous’.
10. The Witness (PC, PS4)
The Witness rests in that strange limbo of being one of the most eagerly anticipated indie games of recent years, while remaining relatively unknown to the mainstream crowd. It’s the long-awaited first-person puzzle game from the visionary mind of Jonathan Blow (Braid), and is finally set to come out early next year.
Right from the off, you can see that The Witness takes heavy inspiration from legendary 90s puzzle game Myst. You wander around a gorgeous island in the first-person, solving brain-bending puzzles across a series of distinct regions with the ultimate aim of reaching the mountain at the island’s centre.
There will be a total of 650 puzzles in The Witness, though not all of these will be necessary for the player to complete the main game. Just as well, considering Mr. Blow said that there’s one puzzle that only 1% of players will be able to solve (cue millions of players attempting to solve it to just to prove that they’re geniuses).
9. Unreal Tournament (PC)
It feel strange to mention the illustrious Unreal Tournament in a list of games you might not know about, but there’s a high chance you weren’t aware that a new one is in the works, and it’ll be completely free. Not freemium, not ‘free-to-play’ or any of that devious toss – just free.
The reason for this is that the game is being made in a collaboration between developer Epic and the gaming community. Gamers have open access to the game’s source code and Unreal Editor, and are being invited to submit their own character designs, mutators and blueprints to tweak the gameplay. Epic is still overseeing the core design of the game, but its reliance on volunteers means that what we’re getting is a labour of love and ode to that long-lost Unreal Tournament gameplay of old – but revamped beautifully in Unreal Engine 4.
The pre-alpha for Unreal Tournament is available to download here, so you can join in as a player and give your feedback to help build the latest chapter in the much-loved arena shooter.
Who’d ever have thought that playing the role of what is essentially a professional buzzkill would be so fascinating? You control a fire lookout in the Shoshone National Forest in 1989, soon after the infamous Yellowstone fires that ruined huge swathes of the forest and nearby towns.
As the fire lookout, it’s your job to wander around the park, dealing with regular daily incidents in multiple-choice ways. One gameplay clip showed the player trying to tell two teenagers to get out of the water and put their clothes on, then when they refused he chose to steal their clothes as a way of getting back at them – much to their chagrin and the player’s amusement.
There is a deeper story at play too, as you’re constantly in touch with your supervisor Delilah via walkie-talkie, and as the game progresses you start encountering more mysterious – possibly supernatural – incidents that take you well beyond your daily park duties.
All this is takes place in a gorgeous, heavily stylised world that gives a unique take on the raw beauty of the Yellowstone wilderness.
7. Yooka-Laylee (PC, PS4, XBO, Wii U)
Banjo-Kazooie was never the same after it left the N64. Rare was bought out by Microsoft, who failed to make the most of the developer’s talents – as evidenced by the fact that the best post-N64 Rare game was the perfectly average Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts.
The Kickstarted 3D platformer Yooka-Laylee promises to be far more of a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie than Nuts and Bolts ever was. It’s being developed by Playtonic Games, which is made up of several members of the N64 Rare team – including three of the designers, and the great composer of Rare’s N64 games, Grant Kirkhope.
The game sees you control Yooka, a chameleon with a bat called Laylee sitting atop his head (you can see where this is going). The pair have a Banjo-esque set of abilities, which include rolling, jumping, punch, and of course flying thanks to the small but deceptively powerful wings of Laylee. They also have new abilities unique to their respective animals, such as tongue-licking and sonic sound attacks.
Players will traverse pretty 3D worlds, tackling platforms, solving puzzles, and collecting ‘Pagies’, used to unlock access to new worlds. Could this finally be the new Rare platformer we’ve been waiting for?
6. Salt And Sanctuary (PC, PS4)
When a game openly declares Dark Souls as its inspiration, a dedicated hardcore section of the gaming community are always going to pay attention. But before you get all apprehensive and start accusing it of copycatting, it’s worth knowing that Salt and Sanctuary is entirely 2D – giving it its own distinctive character.
Salt and Sanctuary is anD action role-playing game, in which you create a lone wanderer in a faded fantasy world, then head out in search of adventure, XP (in the form of ‘salt’), and menacing bosses.
But look beyond the pretty, hand-drawn 2D aesthetic, and you’ll see that beneath the surface this is Dark Souls through and through. You constantly have to manage your stamina when attacking, death is punished severely, and timing, dodging and positioning are crucial to survival. There is even talk that the game will feature both co-operative and PVP multiplayer modes.
The Souls-like genre has been steadily gaining momentum in the past year, but this is the most promising example of the burgeoning genre yet. Salt and Sanctuary is set to come out in ‘early 2016’ for PS4, and to PC shortly afterwards.
5. Hellblade (PC, PS4)
Ninja Theory, who brought us games like the Devil May Cry reboot and Heavenly Sword, know their stuff when it comes to fast-paced, combo-centric action games, so there’s good reason to be excited by the prospect of Hellblade – their new, PS4-exclusive IP.
The game looks set to have a much darker and more nightmarish tone than previous Ninja Theory games, and sees players guide a sword-wielding young woman called Senua through an underworld that blends reality with her traumatised psyche.
Hellblade is still in its early stages, but the gameplay will revolve around close-up ninja-sword encounters based on timing and reflexes. While the gameplay looks like it still needs some work based on what we’ve seen so far, the dark story and brooding atmosphere of the game shows plenty of promise, and leaves us intrigued to know more…
4. Torment: Tides Of Numenera (PC)
Planescape: Torment is an example of a game that those who’ve heard of it will find it unbelievable that there are other so-called ‘gamers’ out there who haven’t heard of it. It’s a much-loved relic of the cRPG golden age of the late 90s, and boasts one of the greatest video game storylines of all time – following the tortuous tribulations of a plane-shifting, ever-resurrecting being called the Nameless One.
Tides of Numenera is the spiritual successor to Torment, and takes place in the same surreal fantasy world. The game was funded through a Kickstarter campaign by Brian Fargo’s (Fallout 2, Wasteland 2) inXile Entertainment, and raised over $4 million, making it one of the highest-funded Kickstarters of all time.
Tides will use a similar isometric perspective to its predecessor, with gorgeous pre-rendered backgrounds combining with 3D character models. The game looks set to recreate the excellent writing and strong focus on player choice in approaching encounters – rarely forcing you into combat unless you seek it out, and having NPCs throughout the game respond to you differently depending on your past actions.
3. Slain! (PC, PS4, XBO)
Our second gruelling, ultra-hard platformer on this list takes its inspiration from 90s classics like Rastan and Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts. With a chugging metal soundtrack and a moody colour palette, Slain evokes the 90s while being animated and designed with the kind of technical finesse that wasn’t possible back then.
You control a hardy Viking-esque dude with a two-handed sword, and slash your way through environments that look like they’ve come straight out of the psyches of Iron Maiden – all rain-soaked, wind-swept levels with twisted, gnarled trees and giant skulls whose mouths open for you to walk into, brimming with zombies, spectres and giant hard-as-nails knights.
As the name suggests, this game’s not going to treat you nicely, but if it’s true to its inspirations then it’ll be a brilliantly-designed platformer than rewards skill and brutally punishes mistakes. And by ‘brutal’, we really mean it, judging by the floods of beautifully-animated blood and gore in the trailer.
2. Styx: Shards Of Darkness (PC, PS4, XBO)
Styx: Master of Shadows was a promising stealth-em-up that never quite made the most of its potential. The fantasy world was original, the goblin protagonist intriguing, and the stealth mechanics at their finest offered the kind of gameplay that we haven’t seen since Splinter Cell and the Thief games of old.
The game was undone by mechanical clunkiness, but there was enough promise in the original that it’s great to see Cyanide Studios returning to make a 2016 sequel. At a time when when new IPs die a quick and painful death if the first game isn’t a blockbuster, Styx is among those that really deserves a second chance.
Details are fairly thin on the ground, though we do know that it will entail a “fully realised world” and a “nimble, more refined Styx”. Among the characteristic goblin’s new abilities will be ropes, zip-wires integrated into Styx’s knife, and new assassination mechanics.
The gaming scene is lacking in pure stealth games at the moment, with the disappointing latest entry in the Thief series showing a fear to be a pure stealth game in a meek attempt to ‘appease everyone’. Watch this space, because Shards of Darkness could be one of the sleeper hits of 2016.
1. Deliverance: Kingdom Come (PC, PS4, XBO)
History is so packed with intrigue, incredible stories and excessive violence that you sometimes wonder why more role-playing games don’t do away with all the witchcraft and sorcery, and focus instead on recreating an authentic historical experience.
Deliverance does just that, offering us a realistic vision of medieval central Europe, complete with the strife, dodgy gender and racial politics, armours, weapons and combat techniques that were actually prevalent in those times. Players won’t be confined to a starting class, instead honing their skills as the game goes on towards being a warrior, bard, or whatever medieval profession they fancy (that’s at least vaguely skilled with a sword, mace or axe).
You will wander the medieval open world, carrying out quests, while seeing to your own basic needs such as eating and sleeping. The physics-based combat in the game looks particularly visceral, as players will need to master blocking, counter-attacking and dodging with the heavy weaponry of the time. Mis-hits can slide off armour or cause you to stumble, and one wrong move can see you skewered like a wild boar.
The first Act (there are three in total) of Kingdom Come is likely to be released around August 2016 for PC, then in September for consoles.