Trying to predict the Metacritic scores of upcoming games isn’t something particularly new. Doing it with this level of inaccuracy, however, is a unique and shameful talent.
In this edition, we’ve got superpowers, Infamous-style; we’ve got sneakiness, Snake-style and we’ve got PAIN, Dark Souls-style. Mystic Meg outfits at the ready? Alright, let’s get predicting:
Dark Souls II – Developer: From Software. Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC. Released in the UK: 14/03/14
The original Dark Souls was possibly the ultimate Marmite game. In fact, it was so potently divisive perhaps that analogy is better reversed and Marmite is now the ultimate Dark Souls food stuff.
Like its precursor, Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls was a game that didn’t just immerse you in pain and suffering, it held your head under its pestilent waters until you stopped struggling against it. If someone had made a custom Dark Souls gaming chair, it would have been a torture rack. So, when news initially emerged that Director Hidetaka Miyazaki was stepping aside for a sequel that was aiming to be more accessible, hardcore DS fans (the only possible kind) began worrying that From Software was about to be overrun with something even more stomach-churning than giant scrotum-faced monsters: charity and compassion.
The more information that’s emerged about Dark Souls II, however, the more those fears seem to have been allayed. For every slight concession made to the mainstream (a clearer tutorial, fast travel between bonfires), there’s a tightening of the screws elsewhere to counterbalance (improved enemy AI, a more punitive health system). And while the new realm of Drangleic appears marginally less foreboding than Lordran, it still looks about as cheery as an emo Eeyore.
Despite having death, quite literally, waiting to meet you round ever corner, the first Dark Souls was a game full of life. It spawned a vibrant online community and continues to enjoy enviable longevity with players, new and old, drawn to the myths and legends that now transcended its bleak fantasy world. Third time out, I’m not sure the experience is going to carry quite so much of a punch, but I certainly don’t see Dark Souls II being any less of a success, or any less of a challenge.
Predicted Metacritic score: 88
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes – Developer: Kojima Productions. Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3. Current UK Release Date: 21/03/14.
£39.99. That’s how much they were originally planning on asking for the PS4 and Xbox One versions of Ground Zeroes, the new Metal Gear Solid tactical espionage embezzlement action game. £39.99 for a title that’s reportedly only around 2 hours long. That’s shorter than some of the cut-scenes in MGS 4.
So what is Ground Zeroes then? A demo? A prelude? A product that’s part altruistic fan service, part cynical money grab on Konami’s behalf? A great little game in its own right? The answer to all of the above seems to be, “Yes”.
Set in a single location, the mysterious military facility Camp Omega, and featuring just one story mission and a handful of side missions, Ground Zeroes appears to be the MGS equivalent of Gran Turismo 5 Prologue. Just with sneaking replacing the supercars. Although, if Ground Zeroes did turn out to be the first ever stealth kart racer – Snake driving round in a child-sized tank with a cardboard box over his head pursed by transport-themed enemies like psychic bicyclist Cycle Mantis and the fiendish Highways Agency coordinator Road-volver Ocelot – that would be… an atrocity.
Metal Gear’s central story thread has already become so comprehensively scrambled it resembles a giant narrative twine ball batted back and forth through time by each successive episode. And I’m sure that MGS V will be trying its utmost to confound the one person who still understands what’s going on (N.B. It’s not Hideo Kojima). Ground Zeroes’ starter for 10 in inexplicable weirdness is the fact that that Snake has apparently been possessed by the spirit of Jack Bauer.
Even with all the intrigue, though, I’m still not sure I’m going to be picking this up at launch. What are the odds that the already reduced price gets slashed again before the arrival of the full Metal Gear Solid V? In fact, scratch that because it’s virtually a given. Here’s a better one: What are the odds that Ground Zeroes appears for free on PlayStation Plus just before The Phantom Pain is released? Personally I think I’m going to save my money and put it into my new Kickstarter: Keifer Sutherland’s Stealth Kart Racer.
Predicted Metacritic score: 70
Infamous: Second Son – Developer: Sucker Punch Productions. Platforms: PS4. Current UK Release Date: 21/03/14
An early frontrunner in this year’s Rambo: First Blood Part II Award for numerically confusingly sequels, Second Son is actually the third game in the Infamous series. And, on initial inspection, the transition from PS3 to PS4 has brought with it wholesale changes for the franchise.
Gone is Cole MacGrath, the bike courier turned electrically super-powered Conduit who snapped, crackled and eventually popped over the course of the first two games. Gone are the rather drab, detail-lacking visuals and gone are the series’ previous gloomy stomping grounds of Empire City and New Marais, replaced by a slightly less grungy looking Seattle.
New protagonist Delsin Rowe is a wiry-framed whippersnapper who looks more at home in a Salvation Army soup kitchen than a superhero hall of fame. And after the multiple apocalyptic events caused by Cole & Co. in the first two games, Conduits are now very much enemies of the state. So when Delsin discovers not only that he has become one, but that he has the capability to absorb other Conduit’s powers, he’s immediately promoted from anonymous street artist to anarchistic antihero.
The Infamous games have never been short on decent ideas, and the decision to make Delsin’s older brother a cop once again offers Sucker Punch an opportunity to explore the superhero’s lot of difficult choices and strained relationships. It’s an area in which storytelling and game design can combine to great potential and for which SP’s previous efforts with Cole, Trish and Zeke show they have a talent.
Underneath all this upheaval, however, it’s the elements of Infamous that appear unchanged that are my biggest source of uncertainty. Will the new power types like smoke and neon amount to something greater than beguiling visual flourishes on recycled mechanics? Will mission design improve to allow players to revel in the full force of the skills Delsin has at his command? And will the developers be able to get more out of the karma system than the binary branching pathways they forced us down in the past? For Sucker Punch, the ability to repeatedly deliver open-world action games worthy of much hype but never quite hero-worship is a somewhat infamous superpower to possess.
Predicted Metacritic score: 82