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15 in 2015: Here are the games we can’t wait to play this year

It’s time to start looking ahead. The big games of 2014 are now comfortably behind us, and while some will certainly continue to grow and evolve, 2015’s got its own crop of shiny interactive things to play with over the course of its 365 days.

What did you play the most last year? What are you super excited about for the new year? Here’s a rundown of our anticipated highlights, 2015 releases — either confirmed, rumored, or just dang likely to show up — that threaten to dominate a lot of the playing time when (and if) they surface in the coming year.

No Man’s Sky (TBA 2015)

We’re still not clear on exactly when developer Hello Games expects to launch No Man’s Sky. It’s got a murky “2015” release window, certainly for PlayStation 4 and probably for some flavor of PC operating system as well. It’s also stolen most of our attention every time we’ve gotten a fresh peek at it.

In No Man’s Sky, Hello offers up a vast galaxy to explore, made up of millions of planets and other celestial bodies. There’s space combat, planetary exploration, trading, piracy, and more, all playing out in a seamless open environment populated by other players. With procedurally generated content across the board — everything from a planet’s surface to flora and fauna to the ships that you discover — and no breaks in the action as you transition from space flight to ground exploration and back again, there’s a lot to like about this impressive-looking game.

Halo 5 Guardians (Fall 2015)

Well duh. There’s new Halo coming in 2015, and it’s the sophomore attempt from developer 343 Industries, which took over on the franchise when Bungie paid for its return to independence by leaving the rights to Master Chief’s adventures with Microsoft. Halo 4 felt undeniably safe, but it was a sensible move on 343’s part, as the studio established itself as the new franchise runner.

With Guardians, the gloves get to come off. We’ve already seen some of this play out firsthand, with an early look at the game’s multiplayer revealing some significant changes to the style and overall flow of play. This is a faster Halo we’ve seen before, one that appears to offer a richer tactical palette when it comes to run-and-gun combat. Shoulder charges, hover-fire, iron sights aiming, and more. It looks like Halo and it feels like Halo, but it’s very different Halo. We’re excited to see how 343 delivers.

Until Dawn (Summer 2015)

Video games have a rocky history with tales of horror. For every Outlast or Silent Hill 2 there’s a dozen or more others that, for one reason or another, miss the point. Maybe they embrace so much action that the scares feel muted. Maybe they’re not designed so well. Until Dawn started life as a PlayStation 3 exclusive that was meant to spur interest in the Move motion controller… until developer Supermassive Games went back into hiding to re-tool things for a PlayStation 4 release.

Move support is gone in the revised Until Dawn, as is the earlier version’s first-person perspective. The revised take, which sticks with the same premise of young adults being stalked by a masked murderer (or more than one) in a snowed-over ski resort, shifts out to third-person. It hangs onto the original idea of a story that is shaped around player decisions, meaning it’s your choices that determine who lives and dies in the ensemble cast. We think it looks like a horror movie simulator. Hate to see the screaming starlet hide under a bed when she should have just run without looking back? Do that then!

Mortal Kombat X (April 14, 2015)

NetherRealm Studios has been killing it in the realm of fighting games. The team’s Injustice: Gods Among Us remains one of the best options out there for punch-punch-kick combo-lovers that have migrated to the new generation of consoles. And that’s saying nothing of the revival the Chicago-based team has put the classic Mortal Kombat franchise through in recent years. It helps that they’re led by Ed Boon, the guy that co-designed the first game.

Mortal Kombat X looks like more of the same, and that’s not a bad thing. The MK series, like any other competitive fighter, doesn’t need to evolve significantly from game to game. It just needs to maintain a solid foundation while injecting new ideas and fighters into the established framework. MK X appears to do just that, with a crop of new faces joined by some fresh concepts, such as three different fight style variants for each combatant, and ideas that worked in other games, like Injustice‘s environmental hazards.

Battlefield: Hardline (March 17, 2015)

There was some understandable skepticism when Battlefield: Hardline was first announced. The aging military shooter series took a sharp turn away from war-torn battlefields, turning instead to the urban crime of a cops vs. robbers scenario. Early access to the game’s multiplayer via a public beta demonstrated some of the new ideas at work in Visceral Games’ first attempt at the series, but it ultimately felt like Battlefield with some new toys and a different skin.

It wasn’t until we got a peek at what Visceral (creator of Dead Space, don’t forget) is doing on the story side that we really got on board with Hardline. The game has an episodic structure to each level, inspired by weekly police procedurals; The open-ended gameplay feels closer in spirit to Far Cry’s “Outpost” takedowns than it does to the run-and-gun action that characterized Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4; The stealth elements have all the pieces needed to actually make it work. Hardline seems different. We can’t wait to see how much.

Minecraft: Story Mode — A Telltale Games Series (2015)

Android/iOS/Mac/PS3/PS4/PS Vita/Win/X360/XB1
Mojang’s Minecraft is the procedurally generated open world game that’s built around creativity and exploration. Telltale Games is the studio behind such plot-driven hits as The Walking DeadThe Wolf Among Us, and Tales from the Borderlands. Put the two together and … well … we’re not sure what the hell to expect from this bizarre collaboration.

Minecraft Story Mode

Telltale and Mojang are teamed up to tell a story in Minecraft‘s blocky universe. We don’t know a lot just yet. The game is confirmed to embrace Telltale’s now-standard episodic structure and choice-driven story. It features a new cast of original characters (and probably a few Creepers), and the story it tells in no way establishes an “official” canon for Mojang’s work. It’s just a tale set in Minecraft‘s unique world. And we’re totally okay with that. Bring on the weird.

The Legend of Zelda Wii U (2015)

Wii U
Zelda is an inevitability. We don’t have a title or a release date or, really, much of anything. But there’s a new Nintendo console, so there’s a new Zelda game coming to it. That’s just basic math.

We do know that the Wii U’s first Zelda game embraces a more natural open world than we’ve seen before. Designer Eiji Aonuma has suggested that there’s a conscious push to avoid making entrances and exits to other areas as obvious and shoehorned as they’ve been in the past. The world sprawls enough to necessitate the return of Link’s horse, Epona,  who can follow her own path on auto-pilot in the event that horseback archery is called for. We’ll certainly see more of this one as 2015’s trade show season descends in the summer.

Call of Duty (Fall 2015)

Unconfirmed — likely PS3/PS4/Win/X360/XB1
As sure as the rising and setting of the sun every day, so too is a new Call of Duty guaranteed for 2015. Activision hasn’t announced anything, but the annualized shooter franchise is settled well into its early November release window, and that’s not likely to change in the new year.

Call of Duty Black Ops 2

There’s literally nothing to say about it at this point. Activision is on a three-developer cycle for the series now (it used to be two), with Sledgehammer Games, Treyarch, and Infinity Ward trading off the lead development duties each year. With IW’s COD: Ghosts having been released in 2013 and Sledgehammer’s COD: Advanced Warfare having arrived this past November, it’s likely that Treyarch is back at the helm for 2015’s release. Will the studio stick with the Black Ops storyline? Or the Pick 10 multiplayer loadout system it created? Will the wave-based Zombies mode return, in newly evolved form? All of this remains to be seen, but more Call of Duty is a-coming.

Human Element (November 2015)

Human Element
is a very curious proposition. It’s the debut effort from Robotoki, the studio founded by former Call of Duty creative strategist Robert Bowling. Its universe was originally going to debut in an Ouya game, but the studio cancelled that project in the name of pouring all its efforts into the console/PC release. And it’s coming in November 2015, a release window that Bowling well knows puts Human Element up against the annual launch of Call of Duty.

But what is it? Human Element picks up 35 years after a zombie apocalypse has wiped out human society as we know it. Those that remain fight to survive in a vicious hellscape populated by human and undead threats alike. It’s a multiplayer game, with role-playing game systems that have players developer their characters around three different attribute: Class (dictates skills and specializations), identity (said to be analogous with difficulty), and persona (gender/race). There’s also said to be some degree of cross-platform pairing with mobile devices,  but how exactly that plays out remains to be seen.

Code Name: STEAM (March 13, 2015)

Nintendo 3DS
Advance Wars developer Intelligent Systems has certainly cooked up a weird one in Code Name: STEAM. First announced at E3 2014, the game features a steampunk-meets-aliens setting and an alternate take on known history that suits Honest Abe Lincoln up in an elaborate suit of armor.

Code Name: STEAM is a turn-based multiplayer game that plays out from a third-person perspective, similar in some ways to the Valkyria Chronicles games. Players step into the role of Henry Fleming (based on the protagonist of the novel The Red Badge of Courage), who is a member of the elite Unit STEAM task force charged with defending Earth against alien threats. Fleming is in good company, with a cast of characters that are also pulled from literary favorites like The Wizard of Oz and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

The Order: 1886 (February 20, 2015)

For all the games we’ve seen that are coming to the latest console platforms from Microsoft and Sony, The Order: 1886 stands out. A collaboration between Ready at Dawn and Sony’s Santa Monica Studio, the game is immediately impressive to look at. Sharp visuals segue seamlessly from cutscene to gameplay and back again, and all of it pops thanks to the steampunk-meets-supernatural-meets-Victorian-era London setting. If the Underworld movies had airships (and weren’t painfully stupid), The Order could easily sub in as an interactive take on the series, in terms of style.

The game, from the little we’ve seen, appears to find a spiritual cousin in the cover-based shooter gameplay that characterizes the Gears of War series. The characters we’ve seen so far aren’t nearly as hulking or brutish as Marcus Fenix and his allies, but they get around with the same lumbering grace. That, paired with The Order‘s unique arsenal of weapons, promises fun times when the game comes to PS4 in February.

Batman: Arkham Knight (June 2, 2015)

Developer Rocksteady Studios finally returns to the Caped Crusader in Batman: Arkham Knight. The studio that created the Arkham series is set to cap off what it terms as a trilogy — there are actually four games, including Knight, but 2013’s Arkham Origins swapped in a different developer — before moving on to whatever’s next. For this final chapter in the series, Rocksteady introduces a new, armored villain with a private army at his command and a set of skills comparable to the Caped Crusader’s.

Arkham Knight seems to embrace a similar approach as the previous games in the series, dropping players into an open world interpretation of Gotham City. This is a bigger vision of Gotham than we’ve seen before, spanning the whole city. It introduces the Batmobile as a functional means of transport, and more. The Batmobile is able to transform into a sort of battletank, so the vehicle is also useful for solving puzzles and taking on heavier enemies.

Firewatch (2015)

Firewatch is the debut effort from Campo Santo, a developer super-team made up of key veterans from Telltale Games and Klei Entertainment, and working with art design from the sensational Olly Moss. It’s a first-person exploration game that seems to draw from the backgrounds of all of the involved players, with an emphasis on eliciting emotion in the player using story.

Unfortunately, very little is known of that story. Firewatch follows Henry as he settles into a solitary life guarding Wyoming’s forested wilderness against wildfires. His only human contact is Delilah, his supervisor whom he stays in touch with remotely, via radio. A strange occurrence eventually draws Henry out of his tower to investigate and … things happen. We don’t know what. And we don’t want to know what until Firewatch arrives in 2015.

Bloodborne (March 24, 2015)

Souls series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team at From Software are working in familiar territory with Bloodborne. Like Demon’s/Dark Souls, the upcoming PS4 exclusive is an action-driven role-playing game that puts just as much importance on technique and strategy as it does on grinding out higher stats. The nightmarish setting feels similar to Souls as well, though the story unfolds inside the ruins of a sprawling, gothic city.

Bloodborne stands apart from the Souls games thanks to its pace. The mixed melee-and-ranged combat focus puts a lot less emphasis on carefully timed blocks and attacks and much more emphasis on carefully timed dodges and attacks. The difference is subtle, yet significant. With a completely different approach to play and a unique take on cooperative team-ups, Bloodborne looks like it’s more than up to the challenge of differentiating itself from any Souls that came before it.

Evolve (February 13, 2015)

Evolve is a 2014 fake-out. 2K Games originally had the 5v1 cooperative/competitive shooter targeted for an October launch, but developer Turtle Rock Studios put the delay on just weeks before the game’s intended launch, citing the need for more time to polish and finish things off. Disappointing, but also for the best, as anyone who played Evolve‘s Big Alpha knows very well.

Evolve drops teams of four players, all space-age beast hunters, into an alien environment inhabited by one of three different player-controlled monsters. These enormous creatures enjoy a head-start on the hunters, during which they rove around the map and search for food. The more they eat, the more their armor shores up, and the closer they get to evolving. Once evolved, each monster grows in power, a process that plays out with the player controlling the beast assigning points to one of four abilities. The hunters, meanwhile, track the creature, with each team member — Assault, Trapper, Medic, and Support — using their unique abilities to facilitate the chase.

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