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The 25 most anticipated games of 2012

Now that we’ve left the money on the nightstand and shown 2011 the door, it’s time to prepare for 2012. January has always just been the month that you prepare for the rest of the year, a toe that you gently slide into the pool to prepare yourself for the shock of cold water. January is the appetizer of 2012, and the perfect launchpad to look ahead at what is to come.

Last year was a tumultuous one for the video game industry, filled with highs and lows. The end of the year saw a glutton’s feast of gaming, with players gorging themselves on some of the best games that have been released in years. A few even set records. Activision execs are likely considering filling their new swimming pools with water flown in fresh from the top of the Himalayas. And why not? After Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 made enough money to cure death (at least slight cases of death), the industry seemed to be righting the ship.

Microsoft claimed that 2011 was the best year ever for the Xbox (in terms of beating the PS3 and Wii, not in total sales) and that there are now 66 million Xbox 360 consoles around the world. And despite sagging Wii sales, Nintendo did well with the 3DS this year — not counting that whole $80 price cut that brought shame unto the ancestors of Nintendo execs. Yet still, the NPD came out and rained on the industry’s parade, claiming that sales in December 2011 were down 21 percent compared to December sales in 2010. For the year, sales were down 8 percent overall.

There were mitigating circumstances, though. The NPD doesn’t take into account mobile and casual gaming, nor does it take into account online purchases — which exploded in 2011. It also ignores PC games. In a comparison of total game spending, the industry dropped just 2 percent, which isn’t all that surprising considering all three of the major consoles are now well over five years old and a hardware sales decline was inevitable.

So turn those frowns upside down. Now that the economy is picking up again (politicians on TV said it was, so it must be true), entertainment spending in general should increase and the video game industry will be fine.

With that in mind, here is a glimpse at where a decent chunk of your money may be headed in the coming year, as we lay out our top 25 most anticipated games of 2012.

Confirmed Release Dates

The Darkness II (February 7, 2012; PC, PS3, Xbox 360; Digital Extremes, 2K Games)

One of the first major releases of the year is just a few scant weeks away. Although the sequel is now in the hands of a new developer, the game will once again put you in the custom-made Italian loafers of now-mob boss Jackie Estacado, as he is forced to rely on the Darkness once again to fight off a group that wants the power for itself. The sequel will feature a new quad-wielding mechanic, a revamped progression system, and an original story from a longtime writer of The Darkness comic series that the games are based on, Paul Jenkins.

Twisted Metal (February 14, 2012; PS3; Eat Sleep Play, SCEA)

One of the defining multiplayer games of a generation returns with a new look, but the same feel. Can nostalgia alone make a hit? Absolutely not, but it can bring attention to a game that deserves respec’, yo. This game will be a hit or a miss based on how people react to the multiplayer aspect. Whether or not it can compete against the likes of Call of Battlefied and the like remains to be seen, but at the very least it should bring back some good memories of crushing your friends beneath the heel of your glory.

Syndicate (February 21; PC, PS3, 360; Starbreeze, EA)

Huzzah, an original game! Wait, what? It’s based on a game from 1993? D’oh. Following in the footsteps of Hollywood, Starbreeze and EA have rebooted a franchise that has lain dormant for years (since 1996), but they bring it back with good reason. The tactical shooter gameplay of the first title is gone, replaced by the comforting (and increasingly overused) first-person shooter format. But the cool cyberpunk world where corporations have replaced the government is engrossing (and timely), so it returns. You play an operative for a major corporation, running missions ranging from infiltration to assassination. If this is handled right, Syndicate could be a new mega-franchise in the making.

Street Fighter X Tekken/Tekken X Street Fighter (SFXT March 6, 2012/TXSF TBA; PC, PS3, 360; SFXT–Capcom, Capcom /TXSF–Namco Bandai, Namco Bandai )

This is actually two games, sort of. Capcom and Namco Bandai came up with an interesting idea on how to compete head-to-head in a friendly way that will benefit both companies. And make them both a bunch of money. In the first game, the characters from Tekken will head into the Street Fighter world and receive Street Fighter-like looks, animations, and moves. Capcom’s take on the fighting matchup, Street Fighter X Tekken will be released on March 6. Then later this year, Namco Bandai will how off its take on the matchup when it releases Tekken X Street Fighter. As you might expect by the name, the content will then switch to Tekken-style, and Ryu will lose his cell shading in favor of a more 3D look. Then get beat to a bloody pulp by Bryan Fury. Not that I’m taking sides.

Mass Effect 3 (March 6, 2012; PC, PS3, 360; BioWare, EA)

Gamers won’t have to wait long for one of the biggest titles of the year when Mass Effect 3 hits this March. The game will be the end bookmark to a trilogy that culminates with a race of ancient mechanized aliens coming to wipe all organic life from the galaxy, especially Earth. The gameplay mechanics have been overhauled, and while the RPG elements are still present, there is more of a traditional third-person shooter feel than in the previous games. And, of course, you will still be able to hook up with alien and human hotties to your heart’s content.

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City (March 20, 2012; PC, PS3, 360; Slant Six Games and Capcom, Capcom)

One of the original survival-horror franchises returns this March with a new take on the events that went down in Raccoon City during the classic Resident Evil 2. And while this may not be the full sequel that fans are hoping for (Resident Evil 6 is due in November), it should offer a bunch of zombie-bashing fan. There is also a major push on the multiplayer side of things, but the real fun will be in going back to Raccoon City and reliving the events from one of the best survival horror games on the PS One. Oh, and you can shoot Leon Kennedy too. Shoot him dead.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (May 22, 2012; PC, PS3, 360; Ubisoft Paris & Ubisoft Red Storm, Ubisoft)

For the last two years, this game has been on the best-of lists of most people who saw it at E3. Even two years ago the game looked amazing, and that was just an early build that needed a lot of polish. Well, the wait is finally (almost) over, and this summer we’ll be able to get our hands on the next entry in the Tom Clancy franchise. No doubt, Clancy himself spent grueling hours, painstakingly encoding each line to make sure that it honored his name! Yeah, probably not, but Ubisoft has done a good job with Tom Clancy games, and Ghost Recon looks like it may be one of the best yet. The game will honor the previous Ghost Recon titles, but it will also feel like a totally new game. This is not just Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 3, but rather a slightly new take on a squad-based shooter.

Borderlands 2 (September 1—subject to change, 2012; PC, PS3, 360; Gearbox Software, 2K Games)

The original Borderlands was one of those games that had a slow burn to it. It produced decent launch-day sales, but it really began to pick up steam later on and became a breakout hit of 2009. A lot of that was due to word of mouth, not to mention a deep multiplayer experience that kept people playing it for a long time (odds are you can still find people online going at it). So the sequel has a bit of a spotlight on it, and will likely far outstrip the launch-day sales of the original. The unique multiplayer aspects just help the RPG-flavored FPS, and you should see even more online integration this time around. 2K and Gearbox have tentatively put the release as September 1, but that could change. In fact it could change itself all the way to 2013, but hopefully we will get our chance to play it this fall.

Resident Evil 6 (November 20, 2012; PC, PS3, Xbox 360; Capcom, Capcom)

Capcom has remained fairly tight-lipped when it comes to Resident Evil 6, but the publisher and developer has confirmed that it is on the way. After the world discovers that there have been some nasty things happening due to bioterrorists attacks, Leon Kennedy and Chris Redfield team up to help stop a potentially worldwide epidemic. Beyond that, there isn’t much know about the game. It is probably a fair assumption that you will run into some form of evil creatures, people that have been transformed into things that need to be shot in the face, and possibly at least one annoying girl that you have to escort to safety while she helplessly gets hit in the head with an axe (looking at you Resident Evil 4). More details will likely flood out soon.