Ghost Recon: Wildlands
Release date: TBC 2016
In previous Ghost Recon games, missions are straightforward and mostly linear. You infiltrate a base, silently take out guards on the way to your objective, then book it out of the hostile zone when your mission is complete. In Wildlands, you can still do all of that, but now you and your three co-op buddies have the freedom to decide what missions to take, and how to accomplish your objectives in the game’s massive open world. Have a sniper team take out guards while another group infiltrates an enemy base, run in guns blazing, or hijack helicopters for an aerial assault. It’s all up to you. You’re fighting a war against an oppressive cartel, and in order to take it down, you’ll have to interrupt its operations, rescue hostages, and take over its strongholds. Anything goes, and it looks like it’s going to be a blast.
Ratchet & Clank
Insomniac’s AAA reimagining of the original Ratchet and Clank, debuting alongside a full-blown movie based on the same source material, easily exceeds the usual parameters we apply to ‘remakes.’ Though the new Ratchet & Clank brings its playful blend of platforming and weird weapons to planets we’ve seen before, we haven’t quite seen them in such a cutting-edge display of the PS4’s capabilities. Insomniac has also completely modernized the controls and camera, redone every cutscene to a Hollywood calibre and introduced new oddball guns. And yes, Mr. Zurkon is here too.
Available: April 20, 2016 (PS4)
Final Fantasy 15
When Final Fantasy 15 arrives in 2016, it will have officially been in development for ten years. Despite name changes, platform shifts, and a brand new director taking over the game, it’s actually looking like it might have been worth the wait. Director Hajime Tabata has a flair for taking risks with Square Enix’s flagship series, as with the strange mix of manga melodrama and war documentary in his most recent release, Final Fantasy Type-0. The emerging themes of bombastic anime action and male friendship lend themselves nicely to a road trip story full of cars, camping, and magic roadside diners. All that helps make Final Fantasy XV an ambitious, truly unique entry not just in the series, but in the role-playing genre as a whole.
Available: TBA (PS4, Xbox One)
Quantum Break represents a big departure for Remedy – it’s not a story about a Mister Q. Break. As for the rest, well, it’s totally what you’d want from the creators of Max Payne and Alan Wake (starring Max Payne and Alan Wake, respectively): slick third-person action, extravagant graphics, environmental catastrophes, and a pulpy time-travel story driving you from one cliffhanger to the next. Quantum Break also has a live-action television component interspersed with gameplay episodes, balancing the developer’s desire to not only hook you on an unfurling plot, but to respect the fact that you probably don’t have time to watch and play the whole thing in one sitting. Not that it’ll be any less hard to put down, going by Remedy’s previous games.
Available: April 5, 2016 (Xbox One)
Grand Theft Auto 5
Grand Theft Auto 5 is simply breathtaking. It’s the culmination of everything Rockstar has worked toward for years, taking bits and pieces from GTAs old and new, with the improved gunplay found in games like Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3. The end result is nothing short of exhilarating. The characters are memorable in their depravity, the tunes will have you belting out lyrics at the top of your lungs, and the heists – God, the heists – will let you live out your own Michael Mann-inspired fantasies set in a fantastic representation of the City of Angels.
While the last-gen versions of Grand Theft Auto 5 are great, it’s the additions made to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions that really send this one over the top. The enhanced textures and other graphical refinements improve an already fantastic-looking game, and being able to walk around in first-person lets you soak up so many small details that you’d otherwise miss. The big set-piece missions and larger-than-life characters may get all the credit, but it’s the little things that keep us coming back and exploring everything Los Santos has to offer.
We’ve all been in this position: at the end of a long trip, when our plane finally lands, all we want to do is go home, see our families, and tell them all about our experiences. What happens, then, when the family we’re so desperate to see is nowhere to be found? That’s what Gone Home is all about.
With exploration gameplay that mimics the legendary Myst, Gone Home makes us players piece together the whereabouts of our missing family. There are items to collect, notes to read, and keys to use all over this giant house, and if we’re going to figure out what happened here, we’ll have to use them all. Very few games have kept us glued to a screen like Gone Home, but its impactful story and fantastic gameplay make it an instant hit.
Assassin’s Creed Black Flag
Much like Earth itself, Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag’s open world is 70-percent water. You’d think that would put the kibosh on your ability to explore, but nay! Black Flag makes it work in simple, natural, and fun ways that turn seafaring into one of the best parts of the game.
Shipwrecks replete with riches, islands housing hidden quests, temples bearing ancient Mayan secrets – all are liberally scattered throughout the world, and are engaging enough to keep you occupied for a good long while. Plus, with AC3’s unwieldy sailing mechanic refined for Black Flag, engaging in harrowing sea battles feels both suitably epic and immensely enjoyable, with the nice bonus of expanding your fleet and economic power. Even sailing aimlessly is a pleasure, and you might be surprised how much time you can spend happily watching whales breach and listening to your crew belting out shanties. There are treasures on the high seas, but the seas themselves are the greatest prize.
In Norse mythology, Eitr is a poisonous substance and yet the source of all life. At E3 2015, it was a surprisingly excellent action RPG, inspired in equal parts by Diablo and Dark Souls. As in Dark Souls, you may be able to take down a few monsters by mashing buttons, but all your little wounds will add up quickly. It’s better to focus on an individual target, feinting, counter-attacking, and dodging in a deliberate tango which will vary by your creepy monstrous dance partner. It feels great, partly because managing all those little parries and thrusts as you keep track of foes is actually quite a bit easier with a Diablo-style isometric camera than in third-person 3D.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper Diablo-like without scads of randomly generated loot. But equipping a shiny new weapon in Eitr feels much more substantial, since you’re not just clicking on enemies until they’re dead – different weapon combinations offer different combos and timing to keep in mind. Not to mention Eitr’s heroine makes an impressive show of sweeping around the dark, crumbling, and beautiful world, and the minimalist, groaning soundtrack adds a freaky edge to intimidating boss battles. Eitr clearly hybridizes some familiar ideas, but each individual element feels even better for the transformation.
After years locked in a mutually-destructive physics and AI arms race with EA’s FIFA series – exchanging blows over ‘enhancements’ like PES ID, M.A.S.S. Collision System and Emotional Intelligence – PES 2016 nukes the jargon to feel like football. You don’t need lightning-fast right-stick tricks to dribble past players, just an intuitive understanding of your players’ real-life attributes, and measured sweeps and pokes of the left stick. Yet Konami’s defining success isn’t individual, but collective: in the way your players make incisive off-the-ball runs, hustle and harry in packs, or segue into preset formations like migrating swallows; mirroring real-life team attributes. The fluid formation system allows your team to seamlessly shift tactics based on phases of play: at kick off, in possession or when chasing the ball. It transforms single-player games against the AI, but makes online multiplayer matches against humans almost maddeningly tactical.
PES 2016 isn’t just played on the pitch, but in the 90 seconds of pre-match tactical adjustment, with players reacting to their opponent’s play-style – or trying to impose their own – desperately shifting players into intricate 11-point-polygons, precision-matching team compactness to passing length, or doubling-down on aggressive pressing. It’s the Hearthstone of football tactics, but you’ll need sublime reflexes and, well, luck to triumph on the pitch. Yeah, the licenses still suck, and ‘Japlish’ translations jar, but PES 2016 is the series’ finest distillation of football’s bittersweet juxtapositions since its PS2-heyday – walking a tightrope between scientific precision and maddening, delightful, unpredictability.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
The creators of Killzone are working on a game that remarkably doesn’t look like a game from the creators of Killzone. Nature has reclaimed the world of Horizon: Zero Dawn, a thousand years after humanity has shriveled and settled itself as primitive counterpart to new breeds of cybernetic animals. You’ll hunt them as Aloy, a human warrior with a warm heart and quiver full of specialized arrows.
Horizon’s world seems fresh and imaginative, with thunderous cyber-beasts serving as both mystery (who made them?) and formidable opponents in combat. Guerrilla exudes an exceptional attention to detail in this aspect of Horizon: Zero Dawn, granting Aloy different arrows and ropes to pin beasts down, or tear off individual pieces of armor. And when their nuts-and-bolts spill out, she finds new uses for them in crafted armor and weapons. Aloy proves her mettle not only as hunter and engineer, though, but also as an emphatic, quick-witted personality.