2014 Under the Microscope - A Year of Transition
Written Friday, January 10, 2014 By XBA Staff
Like the title says, 2014 promises to be a year of transition. With a whole slew of big name releases due to hit, the Xbox 360 and its huge install base isn’t ready to give up the fight yet. Meanwhile, the Xbox One’s library looks set to grow and improve with some massive exclusives and the most definitive versions of a large range of cross-generational titles. It’s going to be a fascinating 12 months.
The year kicks off with an odd set of rehashes. On Xbox 360, Halo: Spartan Assault hits following its release on mobile and Xbox One, as does the enhanced home console version of the PS Vita game Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. They’re followed by Fable Anniversary and Far Cry Classic HD in February, as well as Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition on Xbox One, all of which give old releases a new lick of paint, hammering home just how much of a generation mangling year 2014 is going to be.
The action starts ramping up properly with the release of Eidos Montreal’s Thief towards the end of Feb. A cross-gen title, this one seems to have been through the wringer, with a number of direction changes announced during development. We’re not exactly sure what that means for the stealthy reboot, but we remain skeptically optimistic. Actually, Editor Dan is massively excited for it. The rest of us aren’t so certain.
The same can be said for South Park: The Stick of Truth. Repeatedly delayed, it’s a title that was rescued by Ubisoft following the collapse of THQ. It hits Xbox 360 in March alongside From Software’s spirit-crushing Dark Souls II, meaning that we’ll have some pretty highly-anticipated games to get stuck into early in the year. But as far as expectations go, neither can even come close to March’s other big release: Titanfall.
Respawn Entertainment’s Xbox-exclusive carries with it huge promise. With much of the development team responsible for Modern Warfare in place, some super sexy mech designs and a whole load of frenetic shootybangs to get your blood pumping, it could be the game of the year. Forget the doubters bemoaning Titanfall’s 6v6 matches, this one’s gonna take some beating.
Moving on to the second quarter of 2014 and there’s a bunch of tantalising prospects heading our way, including the long-awaited Watch Dogs. Ubisoft’s open-world action adventure is very high on our most wanted list, largely thanks to protagonist Aiden Pearce’s unique abilities. Changing traffic lights to cause pile ups, hacking phones and tapping calls has never looked so fun. To us, anyway. PRISM might feel differently.
Going up against Watch Dogs during Q2 is some pretty fierce competition, in the form of Hideo Kojima’s The Phantom Pain prologue, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes; Microsoft’s Xbox One world and game-builder, Project Spark; as well as the sure-to-be-great LEGO: The Hobbit and Bethesda’s potentially gargantuan subscription MMO, The Elder Scrolls Online. Whatever platform you’re playing on you’re going to be spoiled for choice.
Moving on to Q3 and there’s a couple of big names that stand out. BioWare will be hoping to silence the grumbles about Dragon Age II, as well as whatever dissatisfaction remains regarding the climax of Mass Effect 3, by blowing us away with Dragon Age: Inquisition. The studio has released a few wonderful glimpses of the expansive fantasy RPG so far, but we can’t wait to get stuck into it properly.
Meanwhile, competing for our time in Q3 will be Destiny, Bungie’s first release since giving up the Halo franchise. While Titanfall promises to offer fast-paced blasting, Destiny looks like a larger, deeper, slower experience that builds on Bungie’s knack for creating deep, storied universes while also delivering its own spin on story-led multiplayer. The battle between Destiny and Titanfall, two ostensibly similar games with massively different approaches, will make for one of 2014’s most fascinating stories.
But the year doesn’t stop there. On the release slates of the big publishers sit an impressive number of announced titles from monstrous series and potentially world-beating new franchises, many of which carry vague 2014 release dates. Here’s our picks of the bunch.
Ubisoft arguably has the strongest line-up of the lot. In addition to Watch Dogs and South Park, the publisher also has a commendable number of new IP on the way, including the potentially fantastic near-future MMO The Division and the connected, social driving game The Crew. Both look impressive. Flesh that out with a new Assassin’s Creed game (not announced yet but certain), as well as tasty looking digital offerings like the gorgeous Valiant Hearts: The Great War and the ethereal Child of Light, and Ubisoft seems to have all bases covered.
We’re also fascinated to see whether Rainbow Six: Patriots sees the light of day in 2014, following its much publicised development woes.
While Ubisoft has a tick for every box, Square Enix will continue to find new spins on its existing licenses. Final Fantasy is top of the list with Lightning Returns heading to Xbox 360 and Final Fantasy XV coming to Xbox One. Add that to Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition and the possibility of the new Hitman game arriving this year, and it’s a line-up of solid fan-favourites. Only Murdered: Soul Suspect, due in Q2 2014, is new - but it’s a title that’s failed to pick up much buzz.
Compared to some of the other Japanese publishers however, Square Enix is still a big hitter, with the likes of SEGA, Capcom, Namco Bandai and Konami putting their hopes in just a few big titles. SEGA has the gut-rippingly exciting Alien: Isolation, but not a lot else; Capcom has Ultra Street Fighter IV on the cards, but that’s an expansion; Namco Bandai has the aforementioned Dark Souls II and possibly a new Tekken; and Konami has Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and the ace-looking Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. None are overburdened with huge upcoming releases.
In comparison Bethesda has a strong, tight line-up for 2014. Much of the publisher’s time, and money, will be dedicated to pushing The Elder Scrolls Online, but Wolfenstein: The New Order promises to breath life into an old franchise and Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami’s The Evil Within threatens to bring true survival horror back in a big, scary way. All three look excellent.
As does The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which could turn out to be the dark fantasy masterpiece CD Projekt RED has flirted with making for years. It’s going up against ex-Witcher 2 lead Tomasz Gop’s Lords of the Fallen, an action RPG that tantalisingly references both Borderlands 2 and Dark Souls among its influences. Come the end of the year we’ll know whether Gop was right to jump ship.
Which brings us to EA, undoubtedly the most prolific of all the big publishers. Just its sports game franchises alone - FIFA, Madden, NHL, NBA Live, UFC, PGA Tour - already see it rack up impressive numbers, and that’s without counting the likes of Battlefield and Need for Speed, new iterations of which we’ll no doubt see in 2014 alongside Titanfall, Dragon Age: Inquisition and the madcap shooter Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare. They’ll be making their presence felt.
Of all the games hitting in 2014, however, it’s the Xbox exclusives that carry the most weight. Halo for Xbox One could be monumental, 343 Industries’ opportunity to flex its muscles and reinvent the franchise for a new generation. Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive looks like a riot too, if that insanely colourful announcement trailer is anything to go by. If those two get it right and Titanfall fulfils its potential, the Xbox One would boast an exclusive line-up of the very best shooters available come December.
But what about the games that aren’t even announced yet? As we write this, publishers across the globe are putting together plans to reveal new and exciting games at E3, Gamescom, PAX, GDC and beyond. We’ll be there of course, we’re always there, ready to bring you all the news as and when it hits. From what we already know, 2014’s gonna be a good year. The big trade shows, and all the announcements in-between, will help decide if it’s great.
As for us, when we’re not globetrotting in search of the hottest games, we’ll be here, improving the new site, working on the mobile app and helping the ensure that XBA remains your home on the internet. Stick around, it’s gonna be fun.