PC Gaming 2010 Preview

source IGN.com

Gaming’s most mature and open-ended platform continues to amuse and confuse gamers of all types. Though the allure of more stable hardware and the potential profits of mass market design have seen many publishers and developers shift their efforts to the various consoles, the PC continues to push the boundaries of innovation and presentation in the industry. Some might take issue with that statement, particularly given how many times the number ‘2’ shows up in the list of titles we’re most looking forward to this year, but when you’re talking about sequels to some of the greatest games of the last few years, complaining about a sequel is ridiculous.

2010 has something to offer every PC gamer, from deep RPGs to frantic shooters to a number of exclusive strategy and MMO games. Some merely extend the enjoyment of last year’s best games, like Empire Total War or Dragon Age: Origins. Others resurrect dormant franchises such as StarCraft or Aliens vs. Predator. And while there’s no shortage of sequels this year, we also have the opportunity to see a few new games, most notably THQ’s Metro 2033.

Digital publishing has strengthened the independent scene as well, giving designers with great ideas a way to avoid the compromises and constraints that sometimes come from working with major publishers. These titles generally don’t enjoy much pre-release visibility, but you can always count on at least a few surprises coming our way and catching on every bit as much as Plants vs. Zombies or Crayon Physics Deluxe did in 2009.

But there are a number of big titles we’re not going to see in 2010. EA dropped another investor call bombshell by announcing that BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic won’t be out until 2011. The same is true of Blizzard’s hotly anticipated Diablo III and, presumably, the other two titles in the StarCraft II trilogy. You also won’t find ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2 on this list, because that’s been pushed back too. Still, with all the good games coming out, and the possibility of an Old Republic beta, there’s plenty for PC gamers to be happy about.

Overview: Taking players to the planet BG-386, Aliens vs. Predator tells the story of human colonists that discover an alien pyramid and unknowingly release the deadly creatures trapped inside. The game features unique single player campaigns from the perspective of all three races, with a plot that ties the three species together. The game also features three-way online multiplayer, where you can hunt opponents as any of the three classes in a brutal deathmatch across the planet’s surface and through claustrophobic corridors.

Why it’s Hot: The first AVP was a tense, action packed experience where death seemed to be around every corner – particularly for humans. This year’s Aliens vs. Predator should be just as terrifying. Rebellion has spent a ton of time recreating the agile motions of the Xenomorph, the stealthy strikes of the Predators and the brute firepower of the Marines. With the same team that developed the 1999 game, the new Aliens vs. Predator should offer the familiar – but always enjoyable — experience of overwhelming odds and deadly extraterrestrial opponents. – Jeff Haynes

Overview: The sequel to Ubisoft Monteal’s exciting action game ups the ante in almost every respect. Players will once again delve into a past life as a skilled assassin, this time taking in the unique sights and sounds of Renaissance Italy. As Ezio, son of a prominent family caught up in a confusing and challenging controversy, players will have to negotiate the rooftops of Florence and the canals of Venice seeking vengeance while avoiding exposure. The appeal of the core gameplay is as strong as ever and a host of improvements make the game much more enjoyable than its predecessor.

Why It’s Hot: This game is pretty remarkable and, along with last year’s Batman Arkham Asylum, proves that you can make great action games that don’t skimp on combat or story and, best of all, still work for the PC. Whether Italy is more appealing than the Holy Land is largely a matter of taste, but the decision to focus more on action set pieces and less on repetitive mini-missions clearly makes the sequel the better game. Yes, you can sit on a bench here, but you don’t have to. – Steve Butts

Overview: B Company returns in EA’s second offering of the newly revitalized Battlefield world. Combing through dense jungles, war-torn villages and ice-capped mountaintops, players will take to the field in the industry’s biggest vehicular warfare title to date. All new multiplayer modes debut, bringing back not only the gold rush mode from the original Bad Company, but also a more traditional take on Battlefield warfare.

Why It’s Hot: As a huge fan of tactical military games, Bad Company is a highly anticipated shooter for yours truly. Mixing in deeper destruction, refined controls (that proved to be all the rage during my time with the pre-release build) and a huge scale of warfare, Bad Company is looking to be on the right track. The first game was a good starting point, EA’s revitalization of 1943 was a gigantic success on XBLA, and Bad Company 2 is setting itself up to be a must-play FPS this year. Plus, blowing crap up is fun. – Steve Butts

Overview: The underwater world of Rapture was the setting for one of the best modern games. Then things changed. The sequel was announced, but no longer was Irrational Games handling development. Instead, BioShock 2 was handed to newly formed 2K Marin, which included a few staff members that had traveled over from Boston, where Irrational is based. The new game takes place roughly 10 years after the original and follows along with a new story. You play as a Big Daddy this time and come across a range of new weapons, abilities, and enemies. Now you can have weapons and plasmids at the ready simultaneously, allowing you to dish out punishment more rapidly, and more effectively combat some of the deadlier foes walking around.

Why it’s Hot: There are a few specific things I think work better in the sequel, particularly the research and the way Little Sisters are dealt with. Instead of simply snapping photos, now the camera has a basic video function. Start the camera before you start attacking and it’ll record the conflict and grade you based on performance, a system that lets you research without slowing down the action. The Little Sister mechanic has also been changed. Since you’re playing as a Big Daddy, you get the option to adopt the girls and walk around with them as they harvest Adam from corpses, adding a new dimension to one of the more peculiar and twisted relationships in videogames. Even with a number of improvements, will Rapture still be as interesting a place the second time through? – Charles Onyett

Overview: The final installment of the Kane saga in the Command and Conquer Tiberian series is also destined to be the most far-flung from the previous games in the series. Whereas C&C was always about ensuring the total destruction of your opponent, Tiberian Twilight has gone the way of Dawn of War, and players are now tasked with controlling strategic locations, in order to gather points long enough to win a match. Base building and resource management are also being heavily de-emphasized, with tiberium being harvested at predetermined nodes with player-built constructions a la the oil derricks in previous C&C games.

Why it’s Hot: Ever since Command and Conquer popularized the real-time strategy genre in 1995, the series has had a loyal following. Despite a few games in the series that were mediocre at best, the story has always been compelling (if a little cheesy). Graphically, Tiberian Twilight will definitely rival even the prettiest strategy games on the market, and with a large volume of units (and plenty of upgrades for them), has the potential for some very fun multiplayer action. Whether the change in the play-dynamic will be loved or loathed will really depend on just how balanced and smooth individual matches are. – Nick Kolan

Overview: The latest downloadable content pack from BioWare brings players back to the site of Ostagar, where Ferelden’s king was slain and the Grey Warden order nearly fell. Discovering a survivor of the conflict, players must seek their revenge and try to recover the armor and weaponry of King Cailan. Players also discover the lost agenda of the king, and fight their way behind enemy lines in an attempt to reclaim the infamous site.

Why it’s Hot: While the release of Return to Ostagar has stumbled a bit before its release, returning to that memorable battlefield has to appeal to any Dragon Age fan. After all, Ostagar was where you became a Grey Warden, and it’s a pivotal turning point for your character regardless of their selected origin. The chance to recover Cailan’s gear, as well as potentially fulfill his wishes for the kingdom, is a nice tribute to the fallen ruler. Plus, who can resist the chance to kill a couple hundred Darkspawn? – Jeff Haynes

Overview: The first expansion pack for Dragon Age: Origins, Awakening takes players to a new section of Ferelden, where they’ll uncover a new threat – a more intelligent and dangerous breed of Darkspawn, plus even scarier monsters, like the Inferno Golem and Spectral Dragon. Players can import their characters from Dragon Age, or experience this adventure through the eyes of a new Grey Warden. Awakening will also raise the level cap of characters and provide new abilities, spells and other traits to make your heroes even more legendary.

Why it’s Hot: Less than six months after release, BioWare is offering fans of the Grey Wardens a full expansion that significantly extends gameplay. Not only will you be able to import your character, but you can re-customize them with new abilities and specializations to prepare yourself for the new enemies you’ll face. The pack adds in five new party members, as well as a hefty new level cap that should make your heroes incredibly powerful. If they live up to their promises that this expansion will be longer than some retail games, Bioware should deliver an even larger replayable experience. – Jeff Haynes

Overview: The 14th installment in the most widely known RPG series, and the 2nd online Final Fantasy. Few details about the game have been revealed, although some broader features are known. There are currently five known races that look like a blend between the FFXI and FFXII characters. Players will not be restricted to a single class or profession – instead, their skills are dependent on the gear they have equipped. There will also be a system of items that allows players to break certain rules, like talking to opposing factions. It’ll be available on both PC and Playstation 3 when it eventually launches at some point this year.

Why it’s Hot: Final Fantasy XI was extremely successful in Japan, and didn’t do too badly in the western market either. It’s been about nine years since FFXI first launched, and since then, the MMO market has become extremely competitive. Graphics and game mechanics have improved by leaps and bounds, and JRPG fans are hungry for a new, state-of-the-art MMO. Square-Enix is also one of the world’s most successful developers, and they are one of the few companies who can financially back a project for as long as it takes to polish a game as large as MMOs typically are. – Nick Kolan

Overview: With the second Left 4 Dead safely in the hands of gamers, it’s sure bet that Valve will be moving on to the next big thing. Based solely on the evidence that Valve has released a new episode once every two years since the original Half-Life 2 was first released in 2004, we’re hopeful that Episode 3 will find its way onto our hard drives at some point this year. We don’t know much about it, but we do know that the company recently hosted a focus group to better understand sign language. Whether this is research for the story or a new gameplay concept remains to be seen.

Why It’s Hot: There’s really no wrong answer to this question. Valve’s one of the best developers around, has created an industry-standard digital publishing model, and owns the rights to one of gaming’s most beloved properties. A better question would be “Why aren’t people even more excited?” After the rather amazing cliffhangers at the end of the previous episode, it’s tough not knowing what happens next to Dog, Alyx and Gordon. We’re hopeful that the sequel will move things further along and tie up some of the loose ends that have been left dangling. – Steve Butts

Overview: We all remember the racing circuit part of the first Mafia, right? Such an incredible game with great writing, a powerful story and characters, stylish third-person gunplay, unmatched atmosphere and thematic cohesion, stunning visuals (at the time), and then you got to that damn racing circuit and it all came crumbling down. Then you got past it and it was like a clear sunrise after a hurricane. With the sequel, it’s February in 1945 in Empire City, and you’ll follow along with a decade in the life of mobster Vito. Like before, Mafia II will be an open world game mixed in with story-focused missions that mix third-person combat with driving sequences.

Why it’s Hot: Open world third-person action games aren’t as rare as they once were, which means Mafia II’s got more competition to outclass if it really wants to stand out from the crowd. Anyone who played the original, like myself, is greatly looking forward to 2K Czech’s game, as I’m hoping for the same mix of strong characterization, a well-presented story, and excellent attention to detail as it relates to the time period in which the game is set. The way the characters are clothed, the design and sound of the vehicles on the street, the soundtrack, and the overall feel of the world will hopefully contribute to making this an entertaining experience that’s matched by a sense of authenticity most games don’t even bother to try for. We’ll see. – Charles Onyett

Overview: With the possible exception of StarCraft II, there’s nothing in the entire catalog that’s as popular as Mass Effect 2. BioWare’s long-awaited second chapter in the sci-fi RPG trilogy delivers in every area. The story is amazing, the combat is thrilling, the characters are compelling and the adventures are consistently engaging. Nearly everything that we loved about the first game has been improved here, which would be more than enough to justify its place on our list. But BioWare goes one better by building in so many layers of meaning from the first game that you simply have to keep playing in order to find out what happens next.

Why It’s Hot: Much virtual ink has already been spilled trying to capture the essence of this “dark second act” in the Mass Effect storyline, so we won’t even bother to highlight the context or the multi-layered consequences here. Instead, we’ll just say that this is one of those games that transcend genres and settings. People who don’t normally play RPGs or like science fiction still find themselves drawn deep into this game. Now, if you also happen to like sci-fi RPGs, well, Mass Effect 2 is probably already in your hot, little hands. – Steve Butts

Overview: Based on the novel by Russian author Dmitriy Glukhovskiy, Metro 2033 is set in a future world where humanity has almost been destroyed by incredibly high levels of radiation. The few remaining survivors camp out in the Moscow subway system, constantly besieged by threats from mutated creatures roaming the countryside. Players explore this devastated wasteland, hoping to reach the stronghold of Polis before the monsters destroy the settlements. Only your skill with makeshift weapons and scavenged gear will help you survive long enough to potentially rescue humanity.

Why it’s Hot: Metro 2033 feels like a mix of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Fallout 3, but with added time pressure. As a young man forced to leave the only society he’s ever known to save humanity, you’re propelled into an irradiated wasteland that is incredibly harsh, unforgiving and brutal. What has been shown so far, such as the reliance on gas masks, adds an extra level of pressure as you try to survive the hazards on your way to Polis. – Jeff Haynes

Overview: The Total War expansion packs have always favored invaders. From the Mongols, to the Vikings, to the Barbarians, the series has leveraged some of the most prominent bogeymen from across human history. Napoleon himself was one of the most infamous imperialists the world has known, so he makes a great subject for this extension of the Total War franchise. Much like the Alexander expansion to Rome, Napoleon is tightly focused on the glorious career of a single commander and follows his exploits in a series of mini-campaigns from his early days in Italy to his final defeat at Waterloo.

Why It’s Hot: Total War has always been one of our favorite strategy series owing to it’s unparalleled combat that combines a cinematic “you are there” presentation with historically appropriate tactics and battlefield conditions. While the clash of knights and legions is hard to top, the unique spectacle of 18th century warfare in Empire is brilliantly presented. Napoleon is virtually synonymous with that era, so it’s great to see him finally take center stage in the expansion. Best of all, the story-driven nature of the new campaigns promises to bring a new level of focus and involvement to the entire affair. – Steve Butts

Overview: After an attempt at something different was received with mixed criticism, Ubisoft Montreal has returned to the safe money and gone with another Prince of Persia in the technically concluded Sands of Time series. The Forgotten Sands takes place after the extremely successful Sands of Time (but before the disappointing Warrior Within), where the prince visits his brother’s palace only to find it besieged by a mighty army. The press release touts that it will “feature many of the fan-favorite elements from the original series as well as new gameplay innovations” – namely some control over the forces of nature.

Why it’s Hot: The Sands of Time series is (for the most part) a blast. A current-gen PoP set in that same universe is, as long as nothing is catastrophically awry, virtually guaranteed to be a hit. The storyline is certainly flexible enough to provide many extravagant set pieces, and potentially large-scale battles. It’s also due out just before the multimillion dollar Jerry Bruckheimer action-adventure film based on the same series. What an amazing coincidence! It certainly was lucky for a previously-complete trilogy to suddenly have another installment hit the shelves in time for a big film like this. – Nick Kolan

Overview: A new action title from id Software, Rage is a post-apocalyptic first-person shooter that includes racing sequences, vehicular combat and RPG elements. Set after a giant asteroid crashes into Earth, players attempt to explore this devastated world, discover what happened to the rest of humanity, and survive the lawless threats that roam the land. In an open-ended but directed story, players will be able to pick their path through mutants, raiders and other hazards that want to destroy everything in front of them.

Why it’s Hot: At first glance, the premise of Rage sounds like Fallout 3: a post-apocalyptic adventure where you emerge from underground bunkers to search for survivors. However, Rage includes Mad Max styled vehicular sequences, along with Running Man-influenced gameshow fights against hordes of mutants. Shootouts aren’t typical either, as you can use turrets for fire support, or drive RC cars packed with explosives into enemies. With an adventure set in the American Southwest and cobbled together weaponry, Rage should stand out from other disaster action games. – Jeff Haynes

Overview: The fifth entry in the stealth-based series, Sam Fisher returns in a story that rewrites all previous ideas in the franchise. While investigating his daughter’s death, Fisher discovers that his former agency, Third Echelon, has betrayed him. Abandoning their orders, he continues on his own mission, and discovers that he must defeat a terrorist plot that could kill millions of people. Players will use a new assortment of weapons and espionage skills to defeat their enemies in this dangerous new world.

Why it’s Hot: Conviction introduces us to a grittier, darker Sam Fisher (think Jack Bauer from 24, just unshackled from his government handlers). Seeking to eliminate his enemies by any means necessary, Sam ditches the infrared goggles in favor of brutal interrogation methods and automatically targeting enemies. What’s been shown so far is much faster paced than previous games in the series, and since Sam no longer cares about hiding bodies, you’ll have a much deadlier special operative on your hands. Looks like the government messed with the wrong man. – Jeff Haynes

Overview: It was nowhere close to a sure thing that the first STALKER game, called Shadow of Chernobyl, would even be released. After years of numerous delays and shifting gameplay features, GSC Game World finally shipped the game in 2007, to the surprise and delight of many. Though it was a different game from what was initially promised, GSC had created a virtual space colored by an unmistakable atmosphere and feel. The irradiated setting of the Zone was filled with horrors, from twisted factions to grotesque monsters prowling underground testing facilities. It was as terrifying as it was fascinating, and it’s a property GSC continues to mine. Clear Sky, a prequel of sorts, soon followed, though some of its half-baked systems made for a game that wasn’t as well received as the original. Now, with Call of Pripyat, the story continues after the events of the original.

Why It’s Hot: I know STALKER isn’t exactly a mass appeal game. I happen to love it simply because the setting is so distinct and well developed that it evokes a feeling of alienation and bleak beauty better than pretty much anything else out there. As you probably know if you’ve played, it’s also not the smoothest of experiences. There are plenty of bugs and glitches, but hopefully a lot of those are ironed out in Call of Pripyat. This game retains many of the welcome advances of Clear Sky while ditching other unwanted stuff, so it will hopefully make for a better game. If you’ve never tried out this series before, this is definitely one to keep an eye on. – Charles Onyett

Overview: The first officially licensed massively multiplayer online game based on the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Online aims to recreate the experience of being the captain of a starship in an episode of the fiercely followed sci-fi series. Doing so means combining epic space combat with away-team ground missions, while maintaining an evenly paced story arc and opportunities to set yourself apart from the rest of the budding pilots. Cryptic have opted for a single-server model which should hopefully keep the galaxy alive and active, and should make it a simple task to fly around with your friends.

Why it’s Hot: Star Trek has seen a major return to the masses with the release of the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Star Trek movie. Although the game follows an alternate timeline, fans are interested now more than ever in the Star Trek universe. While reactions have been mixed amongst those who played the beta, you’ve got to expect that half the hardcore fans will claim that they have “ruined Star Trek”, while the other half will be wetting themselves at the chance to finally live out their Trek fantasies with thousands of other neckbeards. – Nick Kolan

Overview: Very little is known about this sequel to 2008’s “physics-demo-posing-as-a-game of the year”. What is known for sure is that it will feature Starkiller, one or more lightsabers, probably a Rancor, and almost certainly several different iterations of the force. The rest is purely conjecture based on the teaser from December’s VGAs which, funnily enough, featured Starkiller in an arena, fighting a massive tusked beast with two light sabers, next to a dead Rancor. Also he used Force Lightning.

Why it’s Hot: The original was pretty underwhelming, but LucasArts has had almost a year and a half to learn from their mistakes, and to improve further on the bits they got right. I wish I could say more, but there is literally no information about this game. Therefore, I am going to make things up: Starkiller is really Luke’s cousin. Starkiller kills a star at some point (possibly with two lightsabers). The Force Unleashed II is in fact just a remastered version of the original, but with more CG aliens in the background. – Nick Kolan

Overview: StarCraft II Terrans: Wings of Liberty is the long awaited return of the real time strategy series, and will focus on franchise hero Jim Raynor. They’re expanding the beloved franchise’s universe, including new story elements and characters to discover, plus new units and abilities for returning forces. Players will fight a large number of missions through both Protoss and Zerg forces. Battle.Net will support a robust multiplayer experience. Matchmaking, stat tracking and game replays will help players track and improve their skills.

Why it’s Hot: The original StarCraft was so awesome that it’s rabidly played to this day. While the decision to split the sequel into three chapters has meant a longer development cycle, it also means that we’ll get three times the awesome gameplay when it’s finally released. Wings of Liberty promises a substantial story, customizable troops, and a mission structure that’s more open ended than ever before. Plus, the Battle.Net features are strong enough to turn this game into a wider followed e-sport. The only downside? We still don’t know when it’ll be released this year. – Jeff Haynes

Overview: Few real-time strategy games have managed to capture the real scale of war. Whether in their overall design or their style of presentation, most games tend to focus the player’s attention on a smaller slice of the action. That’s not so with Gas Powered Games‘ Supreme Commander. Combining outrageously large armies with intuitive controls made the first a hit and the second looks to take things even further with more big explosions, high-tech units and everything else that gamers expect. New upgrades and a better balance across the tech trees ensure that the game is as intense at the beginning as it is at the end.

Why It’s Hot: I think most of us have finally come to accept that we’re probably not going to see a Total Annihilation sequel any time soon. But in the absence of that, at least we have Chris Taylor’s Supreme Commander to tide us over. The gameplay and overall style of the game is appealing enough, but it’s the seamless transition between scales that really wins us over. Just like Stardock’s Sins of a Solar Empire and Creative Assembly’s Total Wars games, this is a game that works from a variety of very different perspectives. I love directing the forces from on high and then diving in to watch the battles play out before my eyes. – Steve Butts

Overview: There has never been a grade-A Transformers game, despite the fact that the universe of the Autobots and Decepticons is ready-made for the videogame treatment. Hopefully, War for Cybertron does for Optimus Prime what Arkham Asylum did for Batman – finally provide the complicated hero with a videogame and storyline that befits the power of the mythology. Fan-favorite heroes and villains battle it out for control of the Transformers’ home world in their own unique campaigns, set in the sunset years of the great Cybertron civil war. Developer High Moon describes it as a rollercoaster action game like Gears of War, so expect lots of firefights, big explosions, and even bigger bosses. Was that Omega Supreme we spied in the teaser?

Why it’s Hot: Hardcore Transformers fans – the kind that openly wept at the death of Optimus Prime in the original animated flick – were devastated by the fast and loose revisionism of the movies. War for Cybertron could undo the damage. The return of Generation One designs is also welcome, although expect to see the robots transformer into otherworldly vehicles. (Remember – they have not yet been to Earth to scan our car and trucks yet.) High Moon Studios also promises a dark, gritty storyline that drills into the Transformers mythos, such as the complex, Greek tragedy-esque relationship between Megatron and Starscream. How cool is that? – Levi Buchanan

Overview: Publisher TopWare Interactive claims vehemently that this sequel will not just be better than the original game, but actually good on its own merits. Flaunting a brand new engine known as Grace, the latest batch of screenshots are indeed quite pretty. On top of the new coat of polish, the game world is apparently larger, and the story much more focused. Players return to Antaloor (which is still under the control of an evil god) but are no longer tasked with trying to rescue their scantily clad sister. Instead, the story unravels around your unlikely partnership with orcs, and your apparent somewhat-demonic powers.

Why it’s hot: The original was …not great. It was a heavily flawed, glitchy, rushed and ultimately unfulfilling open-world RPG in the same vein as the Elder Scrolls series. More than anything else, people are probably just curious as to why such a mediocre game is getting a sequel. This isn’t exciting so much as fascinating. Sure, the screenshots look pretty decent, but screenshots have been so deceptive before. Remember Too Human? Even so, if the rumors of its not-quite-MMO-but-close multiplayer modes are true, and the game lives up to its promises, it may turn out far better than anyone is expecting. – Nick Kolan

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