Jenn Frank's 10 Videogames to Watch For in 2016

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Below

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Announced in 2013—as an Xbox One exclusive, and as no less than Microsoft’s E3 show-stopper that year—Below has the unenviable task of outperforming already-sky-high expectations. Worse, studio Capybara’s last two titles were Sword and Sworcery and Super Time Force, two of the most provocative titles in recent years. Can lightning strike a third time in a row?

No doubt capitalizing on Sword and Sworcery’s success, Below is also a roguelike, and it, too, will feature a soundtrack by musician Jim Guthrie (which alone should be enough to get some people excited). But silence will also figure prominently into the game—according to previews, Below is deliberately light on any explanatory text—and the designers additionally guarantee “brutal” gameplay.

The rest is shrouded in mystery but, considering the extent to which the Xbox One is apparently banking on it, Below ought to be good. Time will tell.

Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter

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Strange to say, but true: Sherlock Holmes is so hot right now. Between movies, TV shows, and entirely new novelizations, A.C. Doyle’s esteemed “consulting detective” is clearly alive and well, after all.

In 2014, Frogwares’s Sherlock Holmes franchise finally released a game befitting the titular crime-fighting Victorian, with the elegant and compelling Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments. An unexpectedly robust, decidedly un-”casual” entry in the longrunning point-and-click adventure series, Crimes turned Holmes’s deductive powers into concrete play mechanics, all while gamifying morality itself. It was an ambitious game, to say the least.

Devil’s Daughter will have to pull off a Moriarty-scale swindle if it ever presumes to outdo Crimes and Punishments. But Frogwares definitely has a good thing going, here; I’m looking forward to seeing whether the team can repeat Sherlock’s success.

Hyper Light Drifter

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Interest in Hyper Light Drifter is, in a word, piqued—the game stands as one of Kickstarter’s most remarkable success stories, surpassing its initial funding goal within the very first day—and all of this early enthusiasm, however premature, appears to be deserved. Rarely can pixel art be described as “sumptuous,” yet Hyper Light Drifter absolutely nails its crunchy aesthetic. (It helps that the soundtrack, all crackling moody atmosphere, is provided by Disasterpeace.)

Citing Diablo and SNES-era Zelda as its mechanical influences, the game strives to combine top-down action-adventure with personal, autobiographical narrative elements—including the sobering reality of designer Alex Preston’s own chronic illness.

Those same health issues have regrettably lengthened Hyper Light Drifter’s development time (the game was first announced in 2013). Fortunately, most fans are understanding and willing to wait. For now, the game expects to launch this year.

No Man’s Sky

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Of all the late-night talk-show hosts—Fallon, Conan, possibly Kimmel, all of whom evidently love and play videogames—is there a harder person to impress, a tougher sell, than Stephen Colbert? If so, that singular distinction belongs to No Man’s Sky. Designer Sean Murray of Hello Games visited Late Night to promise America a playable, explorable, procedurally-generated universe (comprised of “18 quintillion planets,” to be exact). Murray’s presentation was thoroughly convincing; the live televised audience’s awed gasps and cheers do the promotional work of a quintillion E3s.

My own excitement is tempered by apprehension. There was, of course, 2008’s Spore, conceived by Will Wright as a technological marvel. That “God game” sim was ultimately spoiled, not by any one grievous flaw, but by sheer expectation itself. Perhaps more troublingly, certain aspects of No Man’s Sky will necessarily require a persistent online connection—a condition that ultimately injured SimCity (2013, another underwhelming title from Maxis).

But if No Man’s Sky accomplishes even half of whatever it aspires to achieve, it will be a bonafide hit. And that is electrifying.

The Last Guardian

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I hate to be a cynic but, ugh, good luck.

Not so much “anticipated” as it is “a rallying point for the entire games industry,” The Last Guardian—from Fumito Ueda, the mind behind modern classics Ico and Shadow of the Colossus—has allegedly been in the works since 2007. (It was un-canceled, to much ballyhoo, last year. Please don’t break my heart again, Sony.)

In 2013, WIRED’s Chris Kohler lamented the games industry’s “vaporware problem,” noting our collective, enduring need to cling to arbitrary release dates as if they ever really mean anything. They don’t, obviously—release dates are oftentimes dishonestly urgent, just another way of needling fervor and hustling preview coverage along—but damned if we aren’t all prisoner to those false hopes anyway.

And yet…! Maybe the joy of videogames, of loving videogames, is in that unbridled eagerness, in the doe-eyed exhilaration that comes of entertaining what-might-be. If videogames themselves are about possibilities and potential, then, hell, it’s all right to dwell on the future, isn’t it?

In a sense, that anticipation—that excitement we feel as we construct the best possible videogame in our minds, mental manifestations that trailers and screenshots and previews can only occasionally live up to—is its own magnificent “creative process.”

In other words, anticipation—that hope, expectation, thrill, even the spurned preconceptions—makes game designers of us all.

Jenn Frank is Paste’s assistant games editor.

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