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The Year in Preview – 2012.

2012 is set to be a bigger year than ever for films and video games. I won’t pretend to know everything about them, but I do at least have a list of the ones I think you should check out, for good and not so good (and therefore good in a funny sort of way) experiences.

P.S. I’m going to try to keep it relevant.

P.P.S. I admit a biased attitude towards Sony’s PS3. What can I say; I take games seriously.

METAL GEAR SOLID RISING – Release date ‘TBA 2012’ (whatever that means) – Typically, MGS has always had certain characteristics that set it apart from others in the industry, certain things that series creator Hideo Kojima does better than anyone else: covert operations, infiltration, bipedal war machines, gene therapy, individual cut-scenes that lasted the length of a feature film. Its tagline has always been ‘Tactical Espionage Action’, and the original game (released in 1998, reviewed on my website) was one of the most important games ever made, showing people that games could (and indeed, should) be taken seriously as an entertainment medium.

New game Rising, on the other hand, is set to disregard all of that stuff in favour of an action-orientated adrenaline rush that does away with stealth and silenced pistols, instead encouraging confrontation and swordplay. I personally have no idea how they’re gong to make it work effectively, but it will nonetheless sell truckloads based on the MGS name alone. Expect edited cut-scenes and increased control of your main character (a major criticism of MGS 4 in particular was that you sometimes watched confrontations rather than had control over them) now that Kojima has stepped down as the game’s creative director, leaving it to a younger generation to develop a game that will probably have more appeal to younger audiences than its predecessors. Won’t be essential, but check back for my review when it’s released for a final opinion. See main protagonist Raiden’s skills as a chef, unafraid to get his hands dirty in the latest trailer.

FINAL FANTASY XIII-2 – Release date 3rd February – The direct sequel to Final Fantasy 13, and before you all start asking “why didn’t they just call it Final Fantasy 14 then?“, let me take a moment to explain for the un-indoctrinated – sorry, uninitiated among you. Each Final Fantasy game is set in a new universe with new characters, new monsters, new shades of grass, a slightly differently named swamp, you get the picture. But on occasion, blood has been known to rush to the heads of developers Square Enix, prompting them to release a sequel based in the same universe as a previous game in the series. They’ve done it before with Final Fantasy 10-2, and the less said about the numerous spin-offs from Final Fantasy 7 the better. Considering 7 and 10 were the two biggest games ever made by the company, though, these decisions were considerably more understandable, in a business sense, than this sequel to Final Fantasy 13, which dramatically split critics back in 2010.

That’s the reason why I’m backing 13-2 to be one of the best games this year. Square came back to this universe precisely because some people were disappointed with it before, rather than with the intention of making a quick buck. The introduction of new, original gameplay elements, including the ability to travel to different time periods and do things that may change events elsewhere in the timeline, make me genuinely excited about this one. Then again, I’m a bit of a science fiction and Final Fantasy geek, so maybe you’ll be needing a second opinion. If not, then join me in the fan club you will.

Check out the typically melodramatic trailer here.

SILENT HILL DOWNPOUR – Release date 13th March – Don’t get me wrong; this will be rubbish. The question is exactly how rubbish? Releasing the game so soon after the re-release of classics such as Silent Hill 2 and 3 in the Silent Hill HD Collection (out this month) should really tell you something about the confidence of Czech developers Vatra Games, who have a total of one game to their name before this one, called Rush’n Attack: Ex-Patriot. Nope, I’ve never heard of it either.

Silent Hill‘s looking more generically American than ever in this latest official trailer: where’s the feeling of isolation and loneliness that we’ve come to expect from earlier games in the series? At what point did someone think it was creatively astute to let the soundtrack turn into something resembling a WWE pay-per-view? Shouldn’t I really be saving these kinds of criticisms for later?

I look forward to drowning you Downpour. Sorry, reviewing you. With a vengeance.

GRAND THEFT AUTO V – Release date TBA – It is with great faith in Rockstar North’s (the GTA developers) discipline and work ethic that I predict this game will be out before the end of 2012. Here’s the thing; I’m not the biggest advocator of the GTA series, and I think Vice City is the only one I’ve actually played right to the end of the story, but as with any GTA release, it will have to be commended for its sheer scale and boundless creativity. Yes, the violent content and vulgarity of the gameplay will put many off, while the open world proves too vast for those who perhaps prefer a more streamlined gaming experience (at times I have fallen into this category), but the GTA series represents one of gaming’s biggest achievements in the face of adversity, and must therefore be celebrated forever.

Sandbox gameplay doesn’t get any more exhilarating than that offered up in the traditional GTA games, and this one will likely be more polished and better than ever. I just place a question mark, and in the grand scheme of things it’s a pretty damn big question mark, over the setting of the game: Los Angeles. Really? Weren’t we just there in GTA: San Andreas (2004; let me know if you want a review before GTA 5‘s release and I’ll see what I can do)? I would like to see Rockstar being a bit more creative in this respect. Despite this, I have no doubt that, providing it makes the cut, this will comfortably be 2012’s game of the year. See the recently released first official trailer.

THE LAST OF US – Release date Q4 2012 – Debut Trailer – Naughty Dog’s next big project is a post-apocalyptic survival horror game set against the backdrop of a world (which probably means America) devastated by a fungal virus that is wiping out the human race. Sounds reasonably cliched at the moment, especially as character descriptions go along the lines of “a survivor and anti-hero” and “a 14 year old girl who is wise beyond her years, but has no memory of the world pre-Apocalypse“, but two things make me look forward to this game.

First, that it’s been given the label ‘survival horror’, a genre that has been hideously neglected and/ or distorted in recent years. So long as it’s not all about shooting hordes of monsters at every turn with your endless machine gun ammo, and more about being alone in a seemingly empty world, waiting in suspense for the next creature to brush past your buttocks without warning, then I’ll be happy that the survival horror genre has returned. This, I think, is something that Naughty Dog will be striving for, and they’re the second reason I’m looking forward to it. You should too. Check out the Jak and Daxter HD Collection, released on 7th February, for a special preview as to why.

PS VITA – Release date 22nd February – In a nutshell, this will be the most impressive piece of hardware of the year, with more power than the PS2 and the creative potential of the PS3. Launch games include Uncharted: Golden Abyss, which looks as impressive as a portable version of Uncharted possibly could (this is a relatively good thing; whether Uncharted is suited to portable play is another matter entirely). People are, of course, getting ready to moan about the price tag, but the day they try developing for a machine such as this one is the day they realise the Sony executives aren’t lying when they claim it is quite a nice little bargain people have got here. I won’t be able to afford it for a few years or so if my recent student days are anythng to go by, but I will, at least, be able to recommend it to you, that one single reader out there who has both the money and the motivation to splash out £230, on something that could easily be mistaken for a loaf of bread with a name like that.

Sony's PS Vita.

THE AVENGERS – Release date 4th May – Trailer 2012 – Ah, we all know about this one by now, right? I’ve been alluding to it myself on this very blog since last summer.

I know it’s Hollywood and I’m not really supposed to be looking forward to things that come out of that profit machine, being all seriously academic about films and stuff, but I will definitely be watching for this one when it comes out. Come rain or shine, I will be writing a much-anticipated review after a rather enthusiastic (some would call it ‘sad’) build-up to it.

My worry about this film – and I’m almost certain it will turn out to be justified – is that Marvel are trying to fit too much into it. Too many characters, too many sub-plots, too much testosterone for the ladies to handle; that kind of thing. So yeah, it will probably turn out to be one of those guilty pleasures that everyone goes to see, but it will, in the end, be awarded rather average review scores. Maybe it’s that part of it I’m looking forward to, more than the actual film.

What can I say? I’m weird like that.

MEN IN BLACK 3 – Release date 25th May – Official Trailer – Time travel seems to be the mainstream trend nowadays. Is modern day reality really that bland?

Apparently Agent J (Will Smith) is preparing to travel back in time “to save his partner, the agency, and the future of humankind“. I’m not sure about this. A cliched set-up is one thing, but Spielberg is also producing, which probably means explosions and not-at-all-funny one liners that we’ll get bored of while sitting over our popcorn, or in my case, while coming up with an original review for another unoriginal film.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES – Release date 20th July – The third and final part of The Dark Knight trilogy should be the hit of the summer, not least because Chris Nolan (director of Memento) remains at the helm. Big baddie Bane (Tom Hardy), the star of the latest trailer, has a tough act to follow in Heath Ledger’s Joker from this films predecessor, but as long as the movie goes in a different direction rather than try to outshine the previous effort, this should be well worth the horrors of the five Hollywood trailers that you’ll sit through in the half hour before the film starts at your local multiplex. Look out for Catwoman too.

MY DISSERTATION – Release date 31st March – Latest news surrounding this one is that it has changed its primary focus from Japanese video games to Japanese horror. Video games will still appear, mainly in the form of famous survival horror Silent Hill, but it will now discuss the themes of isolation and loneliness found in the recent J-horror movement. Main films will be Ring, Ju-On and Pulse. Brief mention will be given to their respective American remakes and Hollywood’s tendency to generally mess everything up. Will be written in an academic manner by a frustrated writer. Is barely relevant to this entry but just thought I’d bring it up anyway.

And looking ahead to 2013…

UNTITLED STAR TREK SEQUEL – Release date May 2013 – If my nerdy suspicions prove to be grounded on a sense of truth, then this is certainly one to look forward to, Hollywood or no Hollywood. These suspicions are based on the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch (of recent Sherlock fame) has been confirmed to play a villain in the movie, and I challenge all Star Trek fans out there not to come to the same conclusions as me. Just looking at Cumberbatch’s unique features is almost a spoiler in itself, and if he isn’t cast as a certain famous villain from Star Trek mythology then I’ll quit previews for good. Come on guys, you know who I mean…

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