Most Exciting Concept: No Man’s Sky

System: PS4, Windows
Developer: Hello Games
Release Date: June 2016

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Quite aside from the most anticipated independent game of 2016, No Man’s Sky might just be the most anticipated game of 2016 full stop. Since the game’s announcement in 2014, No Man’s Sky has experienced an insatiable rabidity from already die-hard fans; a vivacity that – the more the workings of the title are revealed – becomes more and more relateable.

The game isn’t exactly Hello Games’ first venture, but it’s certainly it’s riskiest. The player assumes the role of an astronaut, who sets out to gather information from dimensions in uncharted galaxy. Equipped with a jet pack, spacesuit and multi-tool, the player can traverse luxurious, oversaturated worlds to salvage upgradeable items, fight off mechanical sentinels and uncover artefacts that allude to the secrets of the universe.

In interviews, No Man’s Sky has been described as a game about mathematical problems, in addition to exploration. Co-founder of Hello, Sean Murray explains that No Man’s Sky‘s environments are “procedurally generated”, as opposed to “random”. As such, a player can visit a planet and leave again, only to find that the planet’s environment will be generated around them in exactly the same way upon their return.
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And there’s 18 quintillion of them. According to Hello Games, each one is unique.

“But it’s not stored on the disk” Murray proceeds. It’s all generated right as you explore, which remains one of the most interesting aspects of No Man’s Sky. It isn’t chaotic, it’s reliable, which could make No Man’s Sky one of the best, even most realistic space simulators of the present day, as well as a cracking adventure game.

The player’s alleged only limit is the capacity of their spacecraft; something that can be upgraded to reach the innermost sactums of deep space. The game also represents the potential for an entirely new utilisation of the online community. You can submit your experiences in the game to the ‘Atlas’ – a database accessible to other players. Whilst not a new concept in itself, 18 quintillion planets means that there’s a very good chance that the things you see across No Man’s Sky will have never been seen by anyone else before; the Atlas could become more useful as a survival hub in No Man’s Sky than in any other title.
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But of course, the game has been subject to – sometimes – unreasonable hype. The expanse of No Man’s Sky is undeniable; unignorable, but lacking a directing narrative and objectives, is the game’s size a novelty that could soon give way to mundanity? After a time of salvaging, scanning and upgrading, a new environment isn’t likely to puncture the growing mundanity, and it’ll be interesting to see if – and how – the game develops with the player.

Links for your curious heart:

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Most Enigmatic Title: Hellblade

Release Date: 2016
Developer: Ninja Theory
System: PS4

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In pursuit of their first “independently created game”, developer, Ninja Theory appear to have bounced back from the controversies of DmC: Devil May Cry with a similar gusto for brutality. This being said, the veins of upcoming hack n’ slash, Hellblade, appear to run deeper than mere disquieting aesthetic, incorporating explorative elements and touching on such themes as mental illness and reality.
The game’s art style is undeniably interesting, drawing notably pagan inspiration in a “fictional-historical setting”. Set in the aftermath of a Viking Invasion, Senua is a warrior of the Pictish Celts, and according to Lead Development Manager, Dominic Matthews, “the story of Hellblade tells her coming to terms with the trauma and the violence of her past.”
Of course, there’s always a slight concern with representation in a game that claims to portray issues like mental health, but as Ninja Theory’s reported to be working closely with Cambridge Neuroscience professors, I’m taking the company’s willingness to research their field of portrayal optimistically.
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Whilst the characteristic viciousness of melee combat has been confirmed as a dead cert for Hellblade, the game’s entrancing art style and murky environments already beckon to be explored. Senua’s psychotic torment will surface in hallucinations; something that, if done well, could serve to reference preconceptions about mental health, whilst maintaining a useful platform to aid both exploratory and combat elements of the game.
All this is speculation upon what has been said in interviews, however, and Hellblade might just end up completely surprising us. Right now, there’s just enough information to entice.

Links for your curious heart:

INTERVIEW: Ninja Theory on Hellblade and Representations of Mental Illness in Video Games

Game I Will Most Likely Have Forgotten About But Still Get Anyway: Rise of the Tomb Raider

System: PS4; XONE; X360; WINDOWS
Developer: Developer: Crystal Dynamics; Nixxes Software; Eidos
Release Date: Early 2016 (Windows); Late 2016 (PS4)

I’ve never been big on Tomb Raider. Now, this might come as a surprise as it’s one of the most influential platformers to exist and all, but the truth is that it always held a relatively quiet presence amongst other titles I’ve adored. I never saw much of it when growing up, and it’s only now that I’ve really begun to appreciate what so many fans praise about the games.

And what a time to become interested, too. 2013 saw the rejuvination of Lara Croft in a well crafted and thrilling origins story, and with Rise of the Tomb Raider set for PS4 launch in the later part of 2016, it seems there’s no time like the present to really delve into those bygone graves that Croft has a knack for seeking.

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Being a sequel to 2013’s Tomb Raider, Rise of the Tomb Raider proffers similar gameplay to its predecessor, with a heavier focus on stealth. Michael Brinker of developer, Crystal Dynamics has claimed the player now has a greater ability to “stick with stealth for the entire encounter”, enabling Lara to hide from foes more effectively, without being as easily spotted.

And although Croft’s hotchpotch bow makes its reprise, alongside a nifty hunting knife for melee combat and sneak attacks, one of the most interesting mechanics in Rise of the Tomb Raider lies in its enemy AI. Where in the 2013 reboot, shooting arrows amongst enemies gave away the player’s whereabouts, calculated range attacks can be used to distract your attackers, “if they can’t find Lara,” Brink’s explained in interviews, “they’ll go right back to what they were doing before”.

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A hardened survivalist with ninja-esque qualities? Yes please.
The delayed release for PS4 was a shame, especially considering the original Tomb Raider is widely considered one of the best Playstation titles. And given that, as of 12th December on VGChartz.com, PS4 sales are at almost double those of the Xbox One, the ploy to sell more consoles via exclusivity doesn’t seem to have payed off. As of now, the road unto Lara’s next adventure feels long, and despite my  inexperience with Tomb Raider, the praise Rise of the Tomb Raider has received already suggests it’s a series that might be worth a closer look.

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Links for your curious heart:

http://mmgn.com/xboxone/articles–rise-of-the-tomb-raider-interview

Most Interesting World: Horizon: Zero Dawn

Release Date: 2016
Developer: Guerrilla Games
System: PS4

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Guerrilla Games’ departure from the Killzone series seemed to have popped up out of the blue, but according to interviews with IGN, Horizon: Zero Dawn has been in the works for quite some time. Having begun before work started for Killzone: Shadow Fall, Senior Producer – Mark Norris – describes Horizon as a game that is “ultimately about exploration”, as well as being a tale of self-discovery and purpose within a cataclysmic world.

Zero Dawn marks an interesting entry in the post-apocalyptic style, as it’s one of the few that is classically attractive. The E3 Demo opened upon a vibrant echo of prehistory; home to towering, sentient robots and the parochial human tribes that live perpetually in their shadow. The main story follows Aloy, a trained robot hunter.

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The story itself is deemed by Norris as “one of the closely guarded secrets” of Horizon: Zero Dawn, “because we think it will be really special”. All we know for now is that Aloy “does have a little bit of a special relationship with the machines”, and the sheer amount of meanings behind that statement has me thoroughly interested in how Guerrilla presents the narrative within the gorgeously mechanical open world around 150 people are striving to bring to life.

Horizon’s combat and exploration strike a resemblance to Shadow of Mordor, incorporating tactical stealth elements to take down some of the smaller bots. Most of the direct combat, however, appears to be ranged-oriented, which was something that threw me off a little, as a perpetual sword-wielder. Aloy is equipped with a techy bow and arrow, and judging by the game’s E3 Demo, ranged combat strikes as clean and uncluttered.
In addition to Aloy’s trusty bow, the demo showcased the protagonist’s ability to salvage enemy parts to use against it during a battle; something that already suggests that your titanic foes will require a lot more than a few well-aimed pin pricks to topple.
Horizon Zero Dawn Combat

Although combat took much of the limelight at E3, it’s Zero Dawn’s world that interests me. It’s not a bog standard collection of rolling hills to play about on; it actually feels archaic, flecked with fallen memories of the so-called ‘triumphs of mankind’ that have since melded with the earths. It’s less sinister than it is curious, and atop Norris’ claim that Zero Dawn will, “open your mind to a different way that we can tell stories”, the game is definitely on my watch list.

Links for your curious heart:

PS4 Exclusive Horizon: Zero Dawn Interview – Guerrilla Talks Story, Aloy, Size of the Machines and More