Some games that I'm looking forwards to this year. As always, release dates are tentative (and don't be surprised to see some of these slip to 2013).
Crusader Kings II
Paradox Interactive: 7 February
Paradox, the kings of turn-based strategy, release a sequel to one of their most popular titles. Crusader Kings II mixes the traditional features of a medieval simulator (economic issues, warfare) with a focus on dynastic matters, such as political alliances, marriages and inheritance issues. The original was excellent for such unpredictable random acts as allowing your mighty empire to be toppled by the revelation your heir had inadvertently fathered a bastard on his sister. Needless to say, a Song of Ice and Fire mod is already in the planning stages.
Electronic Arts/Starbreeze Studios: 21 February
The classic 1993 isometric corporate strategy/action game is remade as a fairly predictable first-person shooter. However, hopes remain high for a strong game with the revelation that nine missions are based on iconic locations from the first game (including the infamous Atlantic Accelerator platform), the return of the Persuadatron and Starbreeze's excellent pedigree.
2K Marin/2K: 6 March
The classic 1994 isometric strategy game is remade as a fairly predictable first-person shoo...hang on, this sounds familiar. 2K's resurrection of the X-COM franchise (now missing its hyphen, which itself has proven controversial) at least retains some strategic components, and the game has a fascinating 'weird' feel to it which seems to be genuinely trying to make the aliens alien. The revelation that a faithful remake of the original strategy game is also in progress has done much to warm the fanbase's attitude to this game.
Mass Effect 3
Electronic Arts/BioWare: 6 March
BioWare's iconic science fiction RPG trilogy reaches its conclusion. Earth is under alien attack and it falls to the crew of the Normandy to once again save the day. New multiplayer components should enhance the replay value of the game.
Max Payne 3
It's Payne! The most tortured soul in video gaming returns. Rockstar Games have taken over development duties from Remedy and have moved the action to Sao Paulo, Brazil. The move away from the iconic night-time New York locations of the first two games has provoked debate amongst fans, but Rockstar seem keen to open a new chapter in Max's life and make more of a break with the past. The classic gunplay seems intact and bullet-time will return.
Shogun 2: Total War - Fall of the Samurai
Sega/Creative Assembly: March
Shogun 2's expansion moves the action forwards several centuries to the end of the samurai era, with European and American influence in Japan growing and firearms and cannon transforming the military tactics of the setting. Tom Cruise is not expected to appear.
Game of Thrones: The RPG
Atlus/Focus Home Interactive/Cyanide: April 2012
Given that Game of Thrones: Genesis did not set the world on fire, enthusiasm is hard to muster for the roleplaying game based on George R.R. Martin's books, especially given the terrible dialogue evidenced in the trailer. However, a strong focus on the characters and a decent graphics engine should ensure at the very least a more enjoyable game than Genesis.
Alan Wake PC
Microsoft/Remedy: early 2012
The Max Payne creators have been busy for the last few years with their new character, novelist Alan Wake who becomes embroiled in a nightmare existence. Having (rather snottily, it has to be said) refused to develop a PC version for several years, Microsoft Games have finally relented and allowed Remedy to port the game. The PC version will come with the console DLC included. Meanwhile, the X-Box 360 version of the game will get a major expansion with the release of Alan Wake's American Nightmare later in the year.
Blizzard: early-to-mid 2012
Blizzard return to their third major franchise with the long-awaited Diablo III, thirteen years after the previous game in the series was released. Whilst some of its thunder has been lessened by the release of the well-received Torchlight (and Torchlight II is also due in 2012), excitement for this game remains high.
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission
Bohemia Interactive: mid-2012
1987 strategy title Carrier Command, which allowed a player to conquer an entire island archipelago with an aircraft carrier and its attendant aircraft and amphibious assault vehicles, was way ahead of its time. In 2001 it got a sterling tribute with the brilliant Hostile Waters, but this year it gets a formal remake from the makers of the ARMA series. The new game hews close to the original, but with a much stronger interface and far superior graphics. The most faithful of the three major franchise resurrections this year, though also the lowest in profile.
Aliens: Colonial Marines
A timely release, with the Alien quasi-prequel Prometheus due in cinemas around the same time. Colonial Marines is a sequel to Aliens, focusing on a squad of marines who find the USS Sulaco abandoned in space after Ripley and company's escape pods bailed out (at the start of Alien 3) and eventually returning to (a now partially irradiated) LV-426 and the 'space jockey' spacecraft that started the whole thing rolling. Gearbox have a brilliant pedigree in first-person shooters (well, Duke Nukem Forever excepted, but they didn't actually make that) and the premise is very strong, with enough time passing since the last Aliens game to make this a more interesting prospect than it would have been a few years ago.
The year's dark horse. Dishonored is set in a semi-steampunk world where past, present and future technologies collide. The art direction looks stunning, the pedigree is impressive (the game's designers have worked on the Deus Ex and Thief franchises as well as Arx Fatalis) and the game's New Weird-like feel is original and fresh. This could be something genuinely different.
Metro: Last Light
The sequel to the well-received Metro 2033, intriguingly assuming that the 'bad' ending to the original game took place and seeing your character trying to sort out the resulting chaos.
Bethesda/Human Head: mid-2012
The original Prey was an intriguing title, with gravity-bending and portal-based gameplay made more intriguing by the presence of a Native American protagonist and some interesting gameplay ideas. Prey 2 moves to an open-world design, with your character (a passenger on the aircraft you see crash into the Sphere from the original game) winding up on an alien planet with no memory of what's happened in the meantime.
South Park: The RPG
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, long unimpressed with the quality of South Park tie-in games, have co-developed this new RPG with the experienced designers at Obsidian. Taking cues from Japanese games (particularly Paper Mario and Final Fantasy VII), South Park: The Game will feature turn-based combat and a 2D art design indistinguishable from the TV series. This could be either terrible or genius.
Grand Theft Auto V
Rockstar: late 2012
Rockstar's signature series celebrates its fifteenth birthday with the arrival of the biggest game so far in the series. Grand Theft Auto V returns to San Andreas State (the setting of the 2004 game of the same name), though this time only a vastly larger version of Los Santos (the GTA world's equivalent of Los Angeles) and a large stretch of surrounding countryside will be featured. Rumours suggest the cities of San Fierro and Las Venturas will return in DLC, though I'd take that with a pinch of salt. The first trailer is graphically stunning and hints at multiple protagonists and more RPG-like activities, though hard info is thin on the ground at the moment. At a rough guess, expect violence and car-jacking.
StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
Blizzard: late 2012
The first expansion to StarCraft II arrives (rather later than anyone, including Blizzard, was expecting) this year with a strong focus on the Zerg. The game will feature an RPG-like mechanic as Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades, is upgraded from mission to mission as she leads the Swarm into battle against the Protoss and Terrans and, it's rumoured, the returning Xel'Naga.
Skyrim expansion pack
Bethesda: late 2012
To be frank, Skyrim is so vast that the idea of an expansion for it seems ludicrous. Nevertheless, Bethesda have indicated that a full expansion (similar to Shivering Isles for Oblivion) is in development, as well as a number of small DLC releases. I suspect hitting monsters in the face with swords and/or magic will feature.
Sony: late 2012
Another game that was way ahead of its time was Planetside, that allowed three factions to fight for control of a planet. Arguably the only truly successful massively multiplayer first-person shooter yet developed, an update/sequel is a no-brainer. Expect lots of, "You had to have been there man!"-style stories from players of the game in years to come.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
2K/Firaxis: late 2012
The makers of the Civilization series are remaking the iconic X-Com: Enemy Unknown (again, dehyphenated) and it's still a turn-based strategy game featuring scientific research and base-building. Firaxis employees have reportedly found it hard to get into work due to the scrum of teary-eyed people outside begging them to take their money.
Deep Silver/Egosoft: late 2012
The most successful single-player space-trading game since Elite gets its latest version in 2012, with a focus on winning over new players and showing that space games are still awesome. The fact it looks a lot like CGI from the new Battlestar Galactica doesn't hurt either.
2K/Irrational Games: late 2012
The BioShock franchise returns, though this game requires no foreknowledge of the first two titles. Set in a parallel universe on a flying steampunk city at the start of the 20th Century, the player has to become the guardian of a young girl who has the ability to open portals into other dimensions (a geek-pleasing video showing the characters travelling to an alternate 1983 where Return of the Jedi is playing in theatres under its original title, Revenge of the Jedi, is quite amusing). A fascinating high concept, with the screenshots showing a stunning art design and a unique atmosphere. A highly promising game.
Company of Heroes 2
THQ/Relic: unconfirmed but heavily rumoured for 2012/13
It's been rumoured for a while that Relic were considering a sequel to their popular 2006 WWII RTS Company of Heroes, but those rumours gained more credence last year. Nothing is known about CoH 2, not even its setting (with a Modern Warfare-style update quite possible), but the fact that the best RTS of the 2000s is going to get a sequel is exciting enough.
Details to be confirmed
STALKER 2 was in development at GSC Game World when that company was shut down at the end of 2011. Developers are continuing work on the game privately and shopping the title to other publishers and teams in the hope of saving the game from fading into obscurity.
Valve: details unconfirmed
The chances of Half-Life 3 coming out in 2012 could have been dismissed as non-existent until a few weeks ago, when Valve employees allegedly turned up at a developer conference sporting HL3 T-shirts. Combined with some newly-released Portal 2 videos featuring odd references to the number '3', fans are suddenly bristling with hope that Half-Life 3 is now in active develoment at Valve. It's been strongly rumoured for years that the original Half-Life 2: Episode 3 had been canned in favour of a full third game in the sequence, but this is the first clue that this is indeed the case. Unless Valve are of course just messing with us, which is entirely possible. But five years on from the release of Episode 2, it's more than past time we caught up with the adventures of Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance.