It's the end of the year, and even as we wind down with the best games of the year like Modern Warfare 3, and Skyrim, we look to see what the next year has to offer us and empty our wallets once more. There's no end to great games to look forward to, and 2012 looks like it'll shape up to be just as good as everything this year, though it's certainly hard to top.
If you’re anything like us, your to-do list for the next year is already packed full of great games that you just didn’t have time to play. 2011 has been, without question, one of the busiest years in the Xbox 360’s six-year lifespan, especially over the last few months. Between Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Gears 3, Arkham City, Battlefield 3, Skyrim, and far too many more to list, you and your rapidly dwindling bank account are probably desperately hoping for a reprieve.
Alas, there’s no rest for the weary, as 2012 is shaping up to be just as jam packed with huge releases as this year. Here are 10 of the games that’ll keep you wishing there were more hours in the day.
#10 Mass Effect 3
If the Mass Effect games excel at one thing, it’s scale. Every time you fill the boots of Commander Shepard, you’ve got an entire universe to explore, a mystery to unravel, and millions of people to save (after, of course, you scan this planet for Iridium). With the upcoming third installment, BioWare is looking to make the definitive Mass Effect experience, combining the second game’s refined combat with many of the deep role-playing elements that fans loved in the first title. And of course, you’ll be getting a dynamic, branching story that’s affected by the decisions you’ve made in prior games.
For the first time in franchise history, Mass Effect 3 will also be offering multiplayer support. In a Horde-inspired co-op mode, you'll be able to create your own character and team up with your friends to save the galaxy from the impending Reaper threat. The time you spend in co-op will even help the outcome of the single-player story, though it's entirely optional if you'd prefer to go it alone.
To top it all off, Mass Effect 3 comes with some of the cleverest Kinect support we’ve ever seen: By issuing voice commands, you’ll be able to give orders to your sqaudmates in battle and navigate through the game’s hundreds of dialogue trees. Sure, it might be a bit on the gimmicky side, but if we get to actually yell at that muckraking reporter before Shepard inevitably punches her a third time, it’ll all be worth it.
#9 The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Action RPG franchise The Witcher, based on Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s popular book series, has been a hit with critics and gamers alike, though the first two games have only seen release on the PC. That’ll be changing next year, when developer CD Projekt RED brings The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings to the Xbox 360, complete with a substantial content update.
Putting you in the shoes of a monster hunter named Geralt, the Witcher 2 provides dozens of hours of gameplay, a branching story, and combat that’s regarded as brutally tough to master. It’s also received acclaim for its mature, nuanced approach to its storytelling and morality system, making for a refreshing alternative to standard console RPG fare. If you’ve been looking for a deeper role-playing experience, the Witcher 2 should be right up your alley.
#8 Tomb Raider
Lara Croft has been rebooted more times than a buggy computer, but Crystal Dynamics’ latest reimagining does a whole lot right. A prequel, Tomb Raider sees Lara Croft younger and much less experienced, shipwrecked on a mysterious tropical island. You’ll being the game with almost nothing, forced to scavenge for the items you’ll need to survive and escape.
For the first time, the franchise will be incorporating open-world elements, with portions of the island blocked off until you can find or build the tools needed to continue. An increased emphasis on combat and a grittier, less fantastical tone help make Lara feel like less of a witty superhero and more of a vulnerable, fleshed-out human being. That bodes well for the plot, which might well succeed where the earlier games found themselves mired in cheesy mythology.
#7 Max Payne 3
Max Payne might be ditching the luscious head of hair and New York City setting that made gamers fall head over heels last generation, but his trip to Sao Paolo is bringing enough new features and to make it a worthy sacrifice.
The series’ trademark bullet time is back and more polished than ever, while the set pieces are dramatically grandiose in ways the earlier games never dreamed of. A bus chase through crowded South American streets? Check. Destruction that does everything from chipping away at wood to obliterating an entire hallway? Check and Check.
Rockstar will also be including a multiplayer component that can hopefully capture the elegance of the single-player’s gun ballet. Now if only they’ll include a DLC wig for Max.
#6 Resident Evil 6
Resident Evil 6 is the latest and greatest iteration in the Resident Evil series. This horror thriller sees the return of two of the series' most well known characters, Leon Kennedy and Chris Redfield who co-star. They are also joined by new characters who aid them in stopping the world's greatest threat.
Resident Evil 6 spans across the globe for the first time ever in a Resident Evil game. Players will find themselves killing a zombified President of the United States, and venturing to the Far East in search of answers to the latest virus outbreak.
Resident Evil 6 is Capcom's most ambitious title in the series to date, offering the largest ever cast of characters, with an equally big budget going to the game's development.
#5 Assassin's Creed III
Assassin's Creed III is set during the War of Independence in the United States of America, and is leagues away from the Old World. Players take on the role of a young Mohawk named Connor, who joins the Assassins not for revenge like his predecessor Ezio, but for the pursuit of justice.
Players will once again continue the story of Desmond in the present day, as he solves puzzles that unlock the secrets of his memory, and of his heritage.
Assassin's Creed III can be seen as a new starting point for the Assassin's Creed series, as it allows players to go back to the basics with the introduction of a brand new character, with a brand new legacy.
#4 Borderlands 2
Borderlands 2 was a game of excess, with an infinite supply of randomly generated weapons, a massive world to explore, and a heaping of DLC packs that expanded on both fronts. What it didn't have too much of was great storytelling or a satisfying endgame.
With next year's sequel, Gearbox is looking to fix those problems while simultaneously bulking up on everything that made the first game great. Borderlands 2 will explore new regions of Pandora, and this time they'll all be interconnected, rather than a series of discrete areas separated by cumbersome loading screens. To keep co-op fresh, they're introducing four brand new characters to replace the old set, each with their own weapon proficiencies and unique set of skills. They've only announced one of these new faces so far, Salvador the Gunzerker, who has the ability to dual wield any weapon in the game.
There's still plenty to learn about Borderlands 2 before it hits stores sometime in 2012, but with as many hours as we poured into the first game, it's hard not to be excited about whatever Gearbox has planned.
#3 BioShock Infinite
Remember when I said XCOM had the second most impressive demo at this year’s E3? Meet number one.
Though BioShock topped many game of the year lists back in 2007, Irrational Games wasn’t content to revisit the same dystopian underwater setting and corridor shooter gameplay with its sequel. Instead, they took nearly everything back to the drawing board, inventing a brand new and equally stunning backdrop, the flying city of Columbia.
Accompanying the new locale are a host of substantial changes to the gameplay experience. While you’ll still rely on the same blend of firepower and superpowers, you’ll be doing so with the aid of a skyhook, a new device that lets you swing about on Columbia’s railway system to rapidly navigate through the game’s massive outdoor arenas. You’ll also be escorted by Elizabeth, a mysterious young woman with the power to alter the fabric of reality at your command. All this is underpinned by a radical new AI system that alters the pacing of storytelling to suit your actions in the game world. With a strong pedigree and the promise of serious innovations, BioShock Infinite looks like a game to watch out for.
#2 Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V, like every other Rockstar Game, will be "done when its done" but we've a pretty good feeling it'll be released in 2012. Given the state and the quality of its recently revealed teaser trailer, and the fact that Grand Theft Auto V is being developed for the current generation Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, there's little doubt it'll make it out next year before any new consoles are announced, much less released.
Grand Theft Auto V will take players back to Los Santos, which appears to be a sort of retcon of San Andreas, featured in the earlier GTA title of the same name. Designed as an analog of Los Angeles, players take on the role of former criminal, whose attempts to turn away from his life of crime lead him back to where he started. The old adage proves true—once a thief, always a thief.
Like Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto IV before it, GTA V has serious undertones, with a story that hinges greatly upon the current economic inequality facing most citizens of the United States—or the 99%. It goes without saying that Rockstar's undertaking will be their greatest one yet.
#1 Halo 4
Though the Call of Duty franchise may have long since dethroned Halo as the 360’s most popular online shooter, all the soldiers and terrorists in the world can’t match Master Chief and company for sheer creative will. With its rich universe bursting with otherworldly landscapes, beautifully intimidating foes, and imaginative alien technology, Halo 4 makes our list largely on reputation.
That’s because details about the game have been hard to come by. We do know two important facts: Halo 4 will mark the beginning of a new story arc Microsoft is calling the Reclaimer Trilogy, and it will be the first game developed without series creators Bungie.
In a lot of ways, Halo 4 will be a proving ground for the franchise’s new caretakers, an internal Microsoft studio called 343 Industries. If they can pull off the perfect blend of action and storytelling that made the first few games wildly successful, we’ll have plenty more adventures with the Chief and Cortana to look forward to.