We’re far enough into the year to have escaped the ridiculous Christmas rush and the subsequent deathly lull; far enough to see what’s on the horizon. As such, I thought it a good time to get excited about what’s coming up in 2009…

Zeno Clash

Independent gaming on the PC seems brighter and more diverse than ever, crossing multiple genres and often attaining mainstream standards of technical and artistic quality while retaining the indie sensibility and originality. Last year we had Multiwinia and World of Goo, this year we’ve had The Path and the belaboured release of Braid and next up on the horizon is Zeno Clash, a game for which the adjective ‘quirky’ would seem to have been invented.

As you can see from the video, Zeno Clash is about as far from Burly Space Marines as it is possible to get, instead firmly entrenching itself in an intriguing explosion of absurdist fantasy imagination. The character designs are fascinating, both visually and conceptually, and there’s a high quality to everything that’s been release to date, including a rather beautifully illustrated prequel comic.

It’s been on discounted pre-order on Steam for a while now and yet I find myself reticent to actually plonk down the cash because, despite the fantastic visuals, I’m yet to be entirely convinced of the actual gameplay. In fact, I’m not even sure what the gameplay involves at this point, beyond the melee combat glimpsed in the various trailers. Fist-fighting in first person games has always been something of a holy grail, the best example to my knowledge being in The Chronicles of Riddick back in 2004. Dark Messiah also made some major strides forward in the area, albeit with swords rather than knuckles. Hopefully an independent, low-budget studio will provide the injection of creativity to finally perfect first person fighting.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena

It always pained me that Halo became the poster boy for Xbox FPS games, when the console also played host to the brilliant and unique The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. The blend of adventure, stealth and explosive action felt fresh at the time and was accompanied by technically impressively visuals and a great voice cast including Vin Diesel, Ron Perlman and Dwight Schultz. Starbreeze are just about done with their sequel, Dark Athena, which will also be including a ‘remastered’ version of the original game.

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Even if the new Dark Athena content wasn’t included this would be a worthwhile purchase simply for the Butcher Bay remake – it was a criminally underplayed game in its time, especially on PC where I suspect it was often dismissed as an inferior Xbox shooter (a reputation no doubt created by the lacklustre PC version of Halo). If you’ve already played Riddick you know how good it is; if you haven’t, don’t let any potential dislike of the muddled movie dissuade you from checking it out.

More Left 4 Dead

We went a bit L4D crazy last year and, while we haven’t written about it for a while, it’s still a regular fixture on the monthly gaming calendar. Despite the superficially limited number of levels, the game feels constantly fresh due to its sly mix of unpredictability and honed formula. Whether it’s in the hugely challenging Expert Campaigns or the hilarious Versus modes, L4D never fails to be thrilling and one of the most precisely designed games of the last 10 years.

At the end of this month (Valve Time notwithstanding) we get Versus access to the Dead Air and Death Toll campaigns, with the former promising to be a particular highlight with its rooftop shennanigans, plus the long-awaited release of the SDK, which should result in an influx of user content. While most of that content will most likely be utter guff – especially compared to Valve’s exquisite level design – there will no doubt be a few gems on their way. After all, who wouldn’t want to turn their office/home/street into a zombie infested playground?

Borderlands

I had a definite lack of interest in this game until very recently. A large, open-world, post-apocalyptic game in which the main Unique Selling Point was the existence of over 500,000 custom weapons, it sounded like a dull blend of micro-management, irrelevant weapon stats, generic sci-fi visuals and randomly generated content with no real purpose. Plus it’s made by Gearbox, who are responsible for the conceptually interesting but practically fumbled Brothers in Arms games.

Then this happened. (make sure you get PC Gamer UK Issue 200 for the full picture and a very cool preview article)

No, that isn’t concept art. It’s apparently entirely in-game and represents the new visual style. While I wouldn’t want to be accused of favouring style of substance, it’s undeniably beautiful and unique. Any game art that eschews direct photo-realism in exchange for something more expressive is worth supporting and Borderlands seems to be trying its hardest to show that the Unreal Engine 3 can do more than the instantly recognisable Gears of War/Bioshock globular shinyness. Looking forward to seeing more!

Although I still couldn’t care less about 500,000 unique weapons.

Dark Void

I’m interested in Capcom’s Dark Void for two reasons. The minor reason is that it looks a lot like The Rocketeer, with a mid-20th century pulp sci-fi man-with-a-rocket-stuck-to-his-back flying around like a crazed fool. The major reason is that Bear McCreary is composing the music, as he revealed in his blog recently.

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Bear’s a newcomer to the video game world but is well known in TV composing circles for his work on Battlestar Galactica and the Sarah Connor Chronicles. His Battlestar scores in particular are something of a revelation, exploring a complexity of theme and composition that you don’t normally find in television. It sounds like they’re trying some innovative techniques for Dark Void, mixing the music together on the fly depending on the player’s actions and the pacing of the action – more games need to be trying stuff like that, rather than the rather lame ‘exploration music/action music’ divide.

Half Life Episode 3

Well, who knows? We might find something out about it this year.

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James Harvey · April 14, 2009 at 10:52 pm

I want Zeno clash to be good, it looks funky, however as you say I’m not sure what it’s all about gameplay wise.

Looking forward to seeing more of Borderlands, and of course you can’t go wrong with Left 4 Dead; bring on the Zombies.

Good review!

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