As with every year in the realm of videogames, 2016 will see a full slate of sequels, re-imaginings, and new entries in storied (or not-so-storied) franchises. We’re not out of the first quarter yet, and we’ve already seen a new Homeworld, a new XCOM, a new Mario & Luigi, a new Fire Emblem and spinoffs from Final Fantasy and Assassin’s Creed. But have these games learned the lessons of their predecessors to carry the best bits of their respective series forward? (Quickly: Yes, yes, sort of, pretty much, not really, and almost certainly not.)
We should all do our best to resist the notion that all game series are a continual march toward a platonic ideal, but when looking ahead to games that we’re excited for, it’s hard not to look back at previous entries and hope that our favorite bits are carried forward—and the chaff is left behind. With that in mind, let’s take a look at ten titles scheduled for release in 2016 and do a little crossing of fingers.
1. Dark Souls III
What it should keep from previous entries: Ambient storytelling.
The common refrain is that the Souls games are bone-crushingly difficult, but anyone with familiarity with the franchise can tell you that’s not quite their hallmark: Dark Souls and its brethren aren’t cruel so much as unforgiving, expecting the player to have the perseverance to learn enemy patterns, area layouts, and even how the games’ systems work without much in the way of tutorials or hand-holding. The same is true of their narratives—the games aren’t light on story; far from it. Instead, they rely on the player to observe, explore, and piece together the bits of narrative that are woven into the fabric of the game’s world. From what we’ve seen so far of Dark Souls III, it looks as though that trend will continue—we might actually be privy to some revelations about how the worlds of the previous two games are connected, but it’s a guarantee that those discoveries will only come if we’re paying very close attention.
What it should leave behind: Introducing fast-travel early.
Fast travel is one of the prime conveniences of modern videogames, and especially in games with sprawling, wide-open worlds to explore, it feels like a godsend. Nobody likes to tromp halfway across the map just to get to wherever you’re meant to go next. The problem, of course, is that teleporting across huge distances undermines the storytelling technique outlined above—criss-crossing a map multiple times means you’re more likely to stumble across little things that will tell you more about the world (or, perhaps, things that will give you an advantage in combat). When Dark Souls 2 granted you the ability to fast travel early on in the game, it hobbled its ability to use the environment as a storytelling tool.
2. Uncharted 4
What it should keep from previous entries: The chemistry between its cast members.
The strength of the Uncharted games has always been its cast—voice acting, direction, and Naughty Dog’s flair for character animation have given Nathan Drake and cohorts enough charm to weather at least four outings already. (There was a Vita one. That’s the one you’re forgetting. Understandably.) It’s pretty safe to say that Uncharted 4 will deliver the same trademark wisecracks and smirking benevolence that we’ve come to expect from Drake. That’s a gimme.
What it should leave behind: Poor gunplay.
It’s also a gimme that we’re going to shoot many men in Uncharted 4. Hopefully, that’s going to look a lot more like Uncharted 2 than either of the other two entries. (Three. Right. Vita. Sorry.) Among Thieves has a much greater variety of action, environments and setpieces than either Drake’s Fortune or Drake’s Deception, and that means fewer static shooting galleries with bullet sponge enemies. The gunplay in the Uncharted games has never felt particularly satisfying, especially when put up against some contemporary third-person shooters (Tomb Raider and Spec Ops: The Line are just a couple of examples), but now that Naughty Dog’s been through The Last of Us, maybe they can borrow some of the polish from that game’s combat to give back to Drake.
3. Star Fox Zero
What it should keep from previous entries: Tight, focused levels that entice players to return and best their past performances.
When the original Star Fox was first released in ‘93, Nintendo held a country-wide competition to see who could rack up the highest score in four minutes of play. Gaming has mostly pivoted away from the high-score mania of the arcade, but the competition highlighted something special about Star Fox—its constantly-moving levels filled with baddies made you want to play each zone over and over again to see if you could optimize your run. Combine that with branching pathways that open up based on your performance, and you have multiple incentives to play each mission.
What it should leave behind: Slippy.
Let’s be real. Does Slippy Toad have any adherents? Would tears be shed were Slippy to remain relegated to the recently-announced Star Fox Guard? I posit that there would not.
4. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
What it should keep from previous entries: The City.
The original Mirror’s Edge is one of the prettiest and messiest big-budget games of the last several years, and so there’s plenty for DICE to try and fix—and plenty of brilliant stuff they might break in the process. It’s tempting to suggest that the hand-to-hand combat and shooting mechanics should be cleaned up, for instance, as these bits were by far the clunkiest pieces of the original. That awkwardness, though, does a lot for the game symbolically: it helps to construct a world in which the fight-or-flight instinct is heavily tilted toward the latter option. Altering that will be a tricky proposition. Certainly there’s much about the original Mirror’s Edge which needs to be preserved and replicated in its re-imagining: the feeling of movement, the exhilaration of momentum and the thrill of “reading” an environment and instantly understanding multiple paths of traversal. For my money, though, the core of Mirror’s Edge is the City, painted stark white and primary colors, bright and immediate, commanding your attention. If this new take on Faith can recreate the cold beauty of that City, I’ll consider my money well spent.
What it should leave behind: The animated cutscenes.
If there’s anything that we can all agree should be ditched without a second thought, it’s the ugly cutscenes, which look for all the world like they were animated in Flash over the course of a single weekend. For the life of me, I’ve never understood why a game with such fabulously beautiful environments would opt not to render story sequences in-engine.
5. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
What it should keep from previous entries: The ability to approach a problem from many different angles.
When the original Deus Ex came on the scene, it was heralded for just how open it felt compared to its contemporaries. While its levels feel positively claustrophobic by modern standards, it nevertheless succeeded at offering its players multiple paths to their objectives—both spatially and in terms of the techniques they could employ. Want to sneak your way past all of your aggressors? There are augments for that. Want to hack every computer system and robotic guard? There are augments for that, too. Want to kill everything in sight with heavy weapons? You may be surprised to note that this is also an option. Although Invisible War dropped the ball in this regard, the more recent Human Revolution picked it right back up again. Mostly.
What it should leave behind: Those boss fights everyone hates.
This is where that “mostly” comes into play. Deus Ex: Human Revolution undercut its pretensions of player choice in a big way by featuring several boss fights which were pretty much only beatable if you put some points into your weapons, frustrating those who wanted the option to sneak or hack their way through the entire game. Fortunately, those bosses were tweaked for the Director’s Cut, suggesting that Eidos may have taken a different tack when designing this year’s Mankind Divided.