2016 is already looking like a great year for gamers, with the return of some truly blockbuster franchises complemented by a variety of smaller, weirder projects that truly showcase the unprecedented diversity of today’s gaming scene.
2016 also seems to herald something of a vogue for prehistoric settings, with Far Cry Primal taking us back to the Mesolithic era and Horizon Zero Dawn taking us forward to a post-apocalyptic setting that has cave-dwelling humans trying to survive in the midst of huge dinosaur-like robots that now share this newly natural land.
Anyone who fell in love with either the intoxicating vertical playground offered by Mirror’s Edge or its rebel hacker protagonist Faith will be hugely excited by the return of both in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. The sequel promises to transpose the original’s mix of freerunning, combat and storytelling into an open world, a tantalising prospect and one which will be a real challenge for EA Dice, the Swedish studio which has already delivered Star Wars Battlefront and the entire Battlefield series.
For many though, next year is the year of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, with Naughty Dog promising to bring their epic action movie saga to a close with the introduction of Nathan Drake’s long lost brother Sam, who drags the now retired Nathan into a search for the lost colony of Libertatia and its famed haul of pirate treasure. This union also represents the combination of two of gaming’s most famous voice actors, with Nolan North’s Nathan to be joined by Troy Baker as Sam, a choice sure to assuage fears of Sam being a mere bit part player included only to overcome narrative atrophy. More new blood comes in the form of Laura Bailey as antagonist Nadine Ross, while long-term love interest Elena Fisher is returning, this time as Drake’s wife.
It’s been over four years since Naughty Dog squeezed everything they could out of the PS3 to make Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, a stunning international blockbuster that impresses even now with the quality of its storytelling and masterfully orchestrated setpieces. The prospect of another 30 hours or so in the company of Drake, Sully and co. is alluring enough, but all the signs point to this being a very different Uncharted from its three predecessors with long-term Creative Director Amy Hennig having left Naughty Dog and been replaced by The Last of Us duo Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann, both of whom fulfilled key roles on previous entries in the series.
It’s hard to imagine that this won’t result in greater narrative development and emotional complexity being inserted into the traditional Uncharted formula, particularly with Naughty Dog working natively on the PS4 for the first time. Indeed the introduction of Mass Effect-style branching dialogue trees indicates a welcome willingness to experiment with the tried and tested, as does the inclusion of drivable vehicles and a new focus on intelligent AI. Throughout the series so far, Naughty Dog has developed an almost unparalleled reputation for technical and storytelling excellence (something which it looks to be committed to keeping up if the two release date delays already announced are any indication) and the injection of new creative talent looks set to make A Thief’s End a truly fitting finale.