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The Future of Action / Adventure Games: Looking Forward At L.A. Noire, Uncharted 3, The Last Guardian and More

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Posted December 27, 2010 - By Stephen Johnson




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The Future of Action / Adventure Games: Looking Forward At Bioshock: Infinite, L.A. Noire, The Last Guardian And More

We looked to the future as part of Epictober back in, er ... October, but suffice it to say, we're still looking forward to 2011. We've updated these posts with the games that were announced since then, and here's what you can start looking forward to in 2011 and beyond. Just as a friendly reminder, 2011 starts in less than a week. So start your anticipating right now.

Real-life rarely presents us with either action or adventure, and when it does, we almost always regret it. Only truly crazy people like BASE jumpers and firefighters actually seek out excitement; the competing values of safety and sitting-in-a-chair are usually a lot less trouble, and you don't get so messy. But still, something in the human heart yearns to experience moments of pure exhilaration during our dreary march to the grave. No amount of vicodin can squash Man's eternal desire to discover new vistas, do the impossible, and jump very, very high; that's where action-adventure video games come in. Plus, you don't have to wear pants.

Like all modern video game genres, there's no strict definition of "Action Adventure." Games like Bioshock: Infinite lean toward shooter, where something like inFamous 2, with its moral choices and power-up skill trees, is practically an RPG. Gameplay-wise, upcoming action-adventure games run the stylistic gamut as well – inFamous 2, with its colorful, over-the-top hero, wall-climbing and lightning shooting action, and comic book morality will play entirely differently from the deliberate investigation at the heart of L.A. Noire, but all these games hold something in common.

Each of the high-profile action adventure games in the list below creates a truly unique, fantastic world in which danger, excitement and even love are around every corner. Each game on our list presents its world in fantastic detail, and most involves settings which we’ve never seen before in video games. This is a complex, mature suites of games – the action-adventure genre is quickly becoming home to the most thoughtful of gaming content, whether it's the bleak, morally tortuous world of 1940s noir movies gamers will find in L.A. Noire, the childlike wish-fulfillment promised by Team Ico's The Last Guardian, or the fantastically realized floating city of Bioshock: Infinite, truly the action adventure games listed below will give us all something to do when there's nothing good on television.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Release Date: November 1 2011

In a move that shocked nobody, Naughty Dog finally revealed that yes, there will indeed be a third installment in the Uncharted franchise. It wasn't shocking because the second game in the series sold like 48 bajillion copies, and they're also working on a big budget movie featuring *shudder* Mark Wahlberg as Marky Mark. While we can't get behind that decision, we can definitely support Uncharted 3 wholeheartedly.

Early gameplay videos and word from Naughty Dog are than Drake won't be hiding out in lush jungles and exploring tropical caves this time around. Now he's going to be out in the middle of the desert, providing new and different challenges for the development team. It's also meant to be a bit of a bromance between Drake and Sully, providing ample opportunities (we hope) for some renegade adventures between the duo, who play a bit like Laurel and Hardy with guns. We don't know a lot about the game yet, and it's just under a year away from release, but Uncharted 2 represented one of the most powerful storytelling experiences we'd ever had in a video game, and if Naughty Dog can harness that again, they'll give us a perfect hat trick of awesome games for the PS3. 

My prediction? The movie will tank, the game will sell 50 bajillion copies this time around, and Sony will put out some lavish Uncharted Trilogy mega edition which will be hand-delivered to your home by Nolan North. I can dream, can't I?

 

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Announcement Trailer »


 

Prototype 2

Release Date: TBA 2012

Protoype was unfortunately one of the last games that most people would have put on their "needs a sequel" list, and I say unfortunately because I actually really enjoyed Prototype. However, the game came out around the same time as inFamous (which was a better game), and sort of got buried as a result, despite being on multiple platforms. But it was a lot of fun to play, and it is definitely worth picking up if you haven't sunk your teeth into it you. You play as Alex Mercer, a man who gains bizarre powers due to a virus, and over the course of the game you become incredibly powerful as you learn how to use your skills with Barry Pepper doing awesome voiceover duty as the voice of Alex.

Prototype 2 will tell a different story, following an angry sergeant who finds out that Mercer was responsible for the death of all of his loved ones. He deliberately obtains a sample of the virus and infects himself, gaining powers that are very similar to Mercer's. Of course, he uses these to go on a rampage of death and destruction, because this game definitely isn't about playing nice with each other. 

Do yourself a favor and pop in some Prototype gameplay to see how exciting it can be to pound your way through New York City proper. Yes, the superpowers you get are freakish, but who said that saving people was going to look pretty? And with the new protagonist out for revenge, here's hoping we can more brutal kills this time around.

Prototype 2 Reveal Trailer »


The Last Guardian

Release Date: TBA Q4 2011

When game industry know-it-alls defend gaming as an art form, the name Fumito Ueda always comes up. His Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are widely regard as the best gaming has to offer, high water marks in terms of creativity and artistic impact, and The Last Guardian promises to expand on his body of work thematically, artistically and in terms of gameplay.

On a nuts and bolts level, The Last Guardian is a third-person perspective game that combines action-adventure and puzzle elements, and involves running, jumping, climbing and other moves that will be familiar to anyone who has played Ico or Colossus. These classic, well-worn gameplay elements are employed here as a means to tell the story of the boy and Trico, a huge beast the unnamed main character befriends. Trico's name, in Japanese, can be taken to mean "prisoner,"  "baby bird" or a combination of "bird" and "cat." The cooperation between Trico and the boy make up the bulk of the gameplay. Players will be tasked with feeding and caring for their new pet, basically nursing the "bird cat" back to health. 

The interaction between the boy and Trico has been described by Ueda as a rock-paper-scissor style interplay, where sometimes Trico's powers will be used to protect the boy and sometimes vice-versa. The ultimate goal, of course, is to foster an emotional connection between the player and his "pet." This is pure speculation, but when Trico finally flies, I predict there won't be a dry-eye in gaming land.

If the gameplay footage included in this game's trailers is any indication, it will play like Ico meets Shadow of the Colossus, but a potential pitfall could come from the complication of syncronizing the actions of two characters at once. I'm expecting the story to be totally in place and emotionally affecting...but will it be fun? Time, as they say, will tell.

Defining Feature: Heart. Unless you truly have no feelings, this game will fill you with longing and make you cry.

The Last Guardian TGS 2010 Trailer »


LA Noire
Release Date: TBA Q2 2011

L.A. Noire, an open-world action game, takes place in "a perfectly re-created Los Angeles" of the late 1940s, with players tasked with solving a spate of murders. Players take on the role of Cole Phelps, a cop working his way up through the post-war LAPD. The gameplay centers on investigation over violence, with Phelps compiling detailed dossiers on suspects in murder cases. Obviously one of the most important skills a detective possesses is the ability to read people, to tell if a perp is telling the truth, and to persuade him or her through the interrogation process. To re-create the sometimes subtle interactions between cops and criminals, Team Bondi, the game's developer, advanced the art of motion capture to the point that the game will give would-be detectives the ability to watch suspects for subtle clues. The process uses 32 separate cameras to record actors doing their parts, basically creating a 3D film of every second of action with enough detail to make it all plausible. 

Cool tech, though, is totally worthless without a compelling story, which is another area in which this game shines. You can tell from the title alone that L.A. Noire is heavily influenced by the Noir films of the 30s and 40s, movies that played in the gray areas of the urban experience, heavy on moral relativism, barely suppressed violence and sexuality, drugs, corruption and Jazz. In other words, the kind of rich, haunted setting perfect for the unique Rockstar vision established in the Grand Theft Auto series, and, for that matter, Bully. In keeping with the source material, L.A. Noire will feature moody, chiaroscuro visuals, heavy on deep shadows (courtesy of Darksprint's real-time global illumination technology) and a unique, muted color pallet that's as visually interesting as the game's subject matter.

The game was originally revealed way back in 2007, slated for a 2008 release, and all available evidence seems to indicate the long development time is an attempt to get it perfect. We can only hope this game delivers on its massive promise. 

You obviously can't judge an entire game based on a single video of gameplay footage, but this one really blows me away. Everything I've heard has raised my expectations very high. Let's hope it lives up to them.

Defining Feature: Rockstar's open-world mastery combined with 1940s film noir equals ultimate gaming win.

L.A. Noire »


XCOM
Release Date: TBA 2011

“Everything old is new again,” or as in the case of 2K’s 1960s-styled investigative shooter XCOM, everything old has been thrown out and rebuilt from the ground up to fit with the sensibilities of modern gamers. As someone who never played the original paranoia-driven strategy series, which is consistently listed among the greatest PC games ever, I wasn’t as taken aback when 2K officially unveiled its first-person RPG-shooter remake of the acclaimed franchise as many gamers were, but I can understand the reaction. However, 2K Marin has made it a point to assure fans of the original games that the game will put a heavy emphasis on strategy. So not only will players have multiple options in combat, but there will also be a variety of research options available, as well as mission types, all of which will help make each playthrough unique for each player. Style, strategic depth, and goopy alien life forms: what’s not to love?

Trying to please both hardcore fans of the original game, and newcomers to the franchise is a tricky proposition, fraught with danger. It can be done (Fallout 3), but it ain't easy.

Defining Feature: Combining field research and character interaction to develop new ways to blast alien baddies to pieces.

E3 2010: XCOM E3 Trailer »


inFamous 2
Release Date: TBA 2011

Much controversy erupted when it was revealed that the main character of inFamous, Cole McGrath, would sport a fully revamped and changed look in the sequel. Sucker Punch relented to the fans' outcry and ended up incorporating elements of the "old" Cole into "new" Cole's design. So far, there have been little complaints about the rest of the content of inFamous 2.

It takes place in different city, New Marais, a New Orleans-inspired metropolis beset by The Beast, a terrible new enemy.  Cole and his friend Zeke flee to New Marais and prepare for Cole's encounter with The Beast while battling The Militia, a shadowy group led by a man named Bertrand. The Militia has taken over New Marais in an attempt to keep all superpowered or abnormal things away. Cole will combat the Militia, explore New Marais, and learn about himself, Kessler, and The First Sons along the way while gaining new abilities to confront the Beast.

InFamous 2 will feature improved cut-scenes, more believable reactions from New Marais residents, more destructible environment elements, and a new suite of powers for Cole. Along with the electrical abilities we've come to love from the first game, McGrath will be able to harness the power of Ice for a new suite of frozen-water powers. 

The ethical system is back in inFamous 2, and this time will be even more robust, with Cole's decisions affecting the entire city he lives in very important ways. Speaking of morality, if you meticulously played inFamous as either good or bad, there will be some effect on your character/environment in inFamous 2, although how this will work hasn't been revealed. 

Sometimes, "more of the same" is the best thing in the world, and that's what you should expect to get from inFamous 2 -- if you liked inFamous, you'll almost certainly like this sequel.

Defining Feature: Free-roam super-heroics and electricity attacks.

inFamous 2 PAX 2010 Gameplay Trailer »


Batman: Arkham City
Release Date: TBA Q3 2011

Like its predecessor, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman Arkham City is an action game that incorporates elements of stealth, and a variety of The Dark Knight's famous gadgets and deadly gimcracks. Also returning, a full stable of Batman's notorious villains. So far, The Joker, The Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Harley Quinn, Talia al Ghul, Two-Face and Calendar Man are all expected to show up to bedevil Bats.

Arkham City refers to a section of Gotham which newly elected mayor Quincy Sharp has ordained as "no man's land." Sharp takes all the citiy's various criminals and locks them in a slum, with no supervision. The rest of Gotham is kept safe by armed guards who patrol the perimeter. When Two-Face brings Catwoman into Arkham City with the intention of murdering her, Batman is forced to swing into action, save the day and crack some skulls along the way. 

If all of that sounds dark to you, you're on the right track. Arkham Asylum promises to up the bleakness and blackness of Batman's universe in ways we can't wait to experience. Tonally, the game has been compared to the animated, straight to DVD film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, a notoriously dark entry in the Batman canon.

Gameplay wise, AC seems to be following the adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," with stealth and investigation taking the forefront. Although there is one notable improvement planned from the first game.  "Detective Mode" has been changed, and will now be more of an "augmented reality mode," (in the words of Rocksteady art director David Hugo) which will work slightly differently, in that players won't be able to just leave it on and complete the game without experieing "normal vision."

Another big difference from Batman: Akham Asylum, there will be come kind of multiplayer in the game. It hasn't been revealed if this is co-op gameplay or competitive, however. 

Along with new abilities for old devices, Arkham City will feature new gadgets, including smoke bombs which Batman can use and sneak away in the confusion, and a broadcast tracer used to track signals to their source.

Like inFamous 2, this seems like more of a refinement than a bold new direction for the series, so your opinion will most likely depend on how much you liked the original Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Defining Feature: Batman, the most badass of all super-heroes, returns.

Batman: Arkham Asylum 2 Teaser »


 

Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Release Date: TBA 2011

Skyward Sword finds Link in Skyloft, a group of islands floating above the clouds. He discovers the Skyward Sword of the title, which leads him to a previously unknown land ruled by evil forces. Link will travel between the two worlds using the sword, and adventure will no doubt ensue.

Since Ocarina of Time, Zelda games have been the comfort food of video games, dependable, nutritious, and never all that spicy. It looks like the next installment of the franchise will continue the trend, with its cartoonish graphics and combination of overland, outdoor exploration and dungeon crawling, but there is one, potentially huge innovation: Motion control. While the last Zelda game allowed use of the Wiimote, it wasn’t really built for Nintendo’s flagship machine, and the controls felt tacked on. This new Zelda promises from-the-ground-up, one-to-one motion controls, allowing Link to weild his sword, pluck his bow and throw his boomerang with a true-to-life feel. He’ll also be swinging a whip and have a mechanical beetle as a helper. 

You know what to expect from a Zelda game, almost beat-by-beat. The only wild card here is the motion control, a seemingly simple addition to the series, that could easily sink the experience. Judging from the demo video, it looks fairly easy to fight in the game, but imagine swinging your arms around for the 20-plus hours it will take to finish this one. Once a game makes you physically tired,  how many clay pots will you break before you play something else?

Defining Feature: Link’s adventures will be enlivened by full, one-to-one motion control. 

E3 2010: Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Gameplay Demo »


Alice: Madness Returns
Release Date: TBA 2011

It's been more than a decade since American McGee's Alice hit PCs and redefined both Alice in Wonderland and what gamers can expect from an action-adventure title.  The sequel will have new arrows is its psychological quiver. McGee will be able to expand on his vision with the graphical power and brute force of current gen consoles, and expand Alice's internal world to heretofore unknown levels.

Madness Returns takes place eleven years after the events of Alice -- exactly as long as the lag between the two games -- and finds the titular character released from the Asylum and under the care of a psychiatrist in London. Alice is still traumatized by the death of her family, and is suffering from hallucinations (?) that embody her internal pain. She returns to Wonderland seeking solace from her real-life problems, but finds that the imaginary realm itself is in danger. She must fight to save the residents of Wonderland from a great and terrible evil.

According to visionary McGee, Alice Returns will focus on these things: Really good story, solid third-person platforming gameplay, adventure, action, exploration and puzzle solving, all presented in a context that explores and demonstrates the process of going mad in great, glossy detail. Want.

The idea of this game is amazing, as is the pedigree of its creator, but translating those ideas into compelling gameplay, especially in a game that's basically a platformer, will be tricky. Gaming has grown a lot in the last ten years; let's hope Alice has too.

Defining Feature: Re-mixing Lewis Carroll’s classic tale into a dark psychological journey is guaranteed to bring us gothy joy.

Alice: Madness Returns TGS 2010 Trailer »



Bioshock: Infinite
Release Date: TBA 2012

Judging from the video footage released and the history of the franchise, Infinite is looking more like a step forward for the entire art form and less like "just" a fantastic game. Ken Levine, the creator of the original Bioshock, returns to the franchise with this just-barely-a-sequel. The game takes place in the city of Columbia, which floats in the sky  as opposed to being sunken beneath the sea like Bioshock 1 and 2's Rapture.

Set in 1912, during the tumultuous beginning of both the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the United States as a world super-power, Infinite puts you in the skin  of Booker DeWitt, a disgraced former member of the famous Pinkerton detectives. You'll fight through the various levels of Columbia's steampunk-style failed-Utopia, with your sidekick, a psychic named Elizabeth, battling the crazed residents of the city, and the kind of over-sized, steampunk robots you’d expect from a Bioshock game. Bioshock's tonics and plasmids have been replaced by vigors and nostrums, and the game will feature a system of rails allowing travel through the air, which are described as "roller coasters on top of roller coasters on top of roller coasters," so the trappings have changed, but Levine is adamant that this is truly a Bioshock game.

The surface similarities are on display: The atmospheric immersion, the combat that uses a combination of super-powers and bullets, but perhaps more importantly, Infinite retains the most unique aspect of the Bioshock universe: Use of a game as a serious means of examining philosophical and political issues. Where Bioshock is a critique of Randian  laissez faireCapitalism, Infinite’s emerging themes include commentary on dawn of the Industrial revolution, the rise of  American exceptionalism, xenophobia, and  jingoism leading to mass horror. Plus, you use mind bullets to fight gigantic, steam-powered robots.

The only thing that's not awesome about Bioshock: Infinite is the release date. It's not set to hit consoles until 2012. That's a long way out, so it's hard to tell how close the finished game will look to the first gameplay footage released, but the video looks highly choreograhed, full of set pieces and what almost look like cut-scenes, so it'll be interesting to see whether the gameplay feels as scripted.

Defining Feature: Epic fever visions from Ken Levine, a true gaming genius.

BioShock Infinite Gameplay Demo Walkthrough »

 

Honorable Mentions: We’re really looking forward to the following games, but there isn’t enough hard information to really tell you much: The Agent (Rockstar’s examination of Cold War espionage),  Max Payne 3, promises an older, more mature titular character, and Grand Theft Auto 5 - which was not announced, but we're sure it's in the works.

The Future of Action / Adventure Games: Looking Forward At L.A. Noire, Uncharted 3, The Last Guardian and More
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