The launch title line-up is always one of the most hotly debated topics around any new games console, and with 2013 likely to throw up either or both of the next Xbox and PlayStation 4, it seems only fitting that we devote a little time at the start of the year to the games we're likely to see when Microsoft and Sony pull their respective triggers. There's just one problem.
We have absolutely no idea what those games will be.
Undeterred, we've taken a look back at the historical precedents set by previous launches and drawn up a list of possible titles that could be destined to accompany the new hardware to market. From strategic reboots and overdue sequels to scrappy opportunistic ports and even a bit of new IP, this list captures our hopes and expectations for the first games of the next generation of home consoles. Feel free to suggest your own in the comments.
Kessen 4: Ke$$en
Koei had been looking for a reason to bring back historically accurate feudal Japanese real-time tactical action game Kessen, which focused on the conflict between the Tokugawa and Toyotomi clans, for some time. But the inspiration to finally do so came from an unlikely source: US singing and rapping sensation Ke$ha, a long-time fan who provides creative consultancy and a bespoke soundtrack for the game, including standout songs "We R Who We R (Warriors Orochi remix)" and "Tik Tokugawa". The result, Ke$$en, is likely to feature epic battles between the still-warring shogunates, with the winners then heading back to the basement where their mens and their girls is.
FIFA: Road to World Cup 2014
Farming a port of last year's FIFA out to some bloke in a shed in Siberia might have worked for the PlayStation Vita, but EA Sports knows it can't pull that s*** with the PS4 or new Xbox, so instead the game's producers decide to hitch it to FIFA's upcoming showpiece tournament in Brazil. The only question is how to make best use of the new consoles' additional firepower? And the answer comes from an unlikely source: lawnmowers. The new architecture is a perfect fit for blizzards of particle effects, so in addition to all the expected trappings of a road-to-the-tournament game (fewer teams, Andy Townsend on worse form than usual), a new "Pitch Inspection" mode allows you to mow each ground beforehand to modify playing conditions, leaving acres of fresh grass shavings to be picked up by the thrashing boots of Ronaldo and friends until you can barely see the crowd trouble in Serbia or that goddamn band playing The Great Escape yet again.
Michel Ancel's Peter Jackson's JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
One of the unlikeliest stars of the Xbox 360 launch was a licensed first-person adventure based on the King Kong movie, and by happy coincidence the next generation of consoles should arrive just in time to tap into another of Jackson's inexplicably unedited cinematic masterpieces. Michel Ancel, fresh from making 2D Rayman games until he's blue in the face (and Ubisoft is red in the bank balance), is hauled back to build on his successful collaboration with Peter Jackson, and it turns out there are few better mediums than video games for hanging around in a picturesque field for hours talking about nothing in a stupid accent. Elsewhere, Ancel's team is confident of hitting Jackson's target 48fps, and while the use of a single character model for everyone in the game might sound restrictive at first, that's only until you remember that Andy Serkis plays everyone anyway.
The spiritual successor to Smuggler's Run, this new action game from Rockstar - which is absolutely not courting controversy - is about being a Somali pirate and using hovercraft to gather tourists from beach resorts before ransoming them to the United Nations. In a nice touch, your Somali pirate ship base of operations features a fully playable table tennis game in the mess hall - believed to be the same technology that will go on to drive Grand Theft Auto VI. Unfortunately, nobody plays it.
Ridge Racer Zero
After mixed success trying to create spin-offs for other platforms, Namco decides to go back to its roots for the series' return to Sony and Microsoft home consoles with a complete reboot that aims to recapture the values and glory of the very first Ridge Racer. However, early signs suggest that the developers are going a little too far, with the new game based around a single corner rather than a single track. And while the AI will scale to be more aggressive than ever, it will also cheat more ferociously than ever, finishing ahead of you in races you haven't even qualified for yet and deleting your best lap times while you're asleep. The online modes should theoretically level the playing field, but in practice will remain unplayably difficult thanks to that one Japanese guy terrorising everyone with the Soldat Crinale.
24 Hour Raving Rabbids
One of the first games to take advantage of the incredible new degrees of perception afforded to the Kinect 2 hardware (now available in lounges a mere seventeen metres across), the new Rabbids game catches the buzzing bunnies on a massive downer following nearly a decade of hardcore partying. As Microsoft's magic sensor watches on, players will attempt to simulate the shakes and lockjaw, with bonus points for watering eyes and shuttering vision.
Fuzion With Frenzy
In their utter desperation to rekindle any kind of success, the biz guys at Zynga decide to hop on the new-console bandwagon the only way they know how: buying something successful and monetising the hell out of it. Unfortunately, with funds at an all-time low after a dramatic slump in 2012, the only thing Mark Pincus can afford is the IP for Blitz Games' not-exactly-classic Xbox launch title Fuzion Frenzy - the one with that mini-game where you and a friend roll balls around on top of a pillar and try to knock each other off. With its newly installed Zynga twist, Fuzion With Frenzy should just make the new Xbox launch. It will seem unchanged initially, but a series of post-release patches will add performance-crushing new functionality including advertising slabs on every screen, impossible-to-remove notification icons on the Xbox dashboard, and the ability to poke your friends without their permission. Or yours.
FantaVision: Fireworks in the Hole
The original FantaVision began life as a tech demo before going on to become a PS2 launch title that even the people who made the PS2 thought was slightly lacklustre. Thirteen years later, FantaVision 2 gets a gritty next-generation makeover that sees you setting off fireworks in various conflict theatres including Iraq and Afghanistan, with developers promising that you'll be able to draw a dotted line to real-world events as you explore the criss-crossing narratives of Cpl. Gary "Sparks" Henderson, Operator Frank "Firewall" Williams and a rugby club owner who does a bonfire night in Pontypridd.
Super Rare Racing
Every new console needs a battle racer of some description. Sensing this, Microsoft has asked veteran studio Rare to bring all its treasured post-acquisition IP together for the first time ever - on the track. You'll race through Ghouly Mansion as Cooper Chance and his girlfriend Amber, off-road through devilish block arrangements in Mr Pants' trademark '2x3', and drive Joanna Dark through dataDyne headquarters taking out rivals with the famous Jackal Sniper Rifle and Laptop Gun. Viva Pinata fans are likely to be disappointed, however, as time restrictions mean Quackberries and Buzzlegums are overlooked in favour of Conker the Squirrel and his enemy Professor Von Kriplespac [sic], while Kameo fans are likely to be non-existent.
Designed to showcase the incredible power of the new consoles, Zombie Shooter is a zombie shooter with a twist: instead of shooting zombies, you shoot zombies. You know, out of a gun. Drawing on the success of DayZ, the game is an MMO using players' Xbox Live or PlayStation Home avatars, and is completely persistent, so every zombie fired into the world remains there forever, piling up and up until everyone's console is rendering literally millions of undead NPCs and real players simultaneously at all times. The game cannot be turned off either, forever running in the background. The only downside to all this computational largesse is that it may have unforeseen consequences for the untested cooling apparatus within the new consoles, which will be put under significant load every single second, whether or not they are plugged in. But then it seems unlikely that anyone would launch a new console onto the market without first stress-testing its internal cooling, so presumably none of us should worry.
Building on the puzzle game tradition of rotating shapes like cubes, rectangles and hexagons, this new puzzler sees players manipulating Menger sponges, universal curves that have a single topological dimension, meaning that any other curve will be homeomorphic to some subset of them. The best puzzle games always sound rubbish on paper but click for players in seconds, and Menger HD - an Xbox Live Arcade title preloaded on the next Xbox - is likely to do just that. The Menger sponge simultaneously exhibits an infinite surface area and encloses zero volume, and should be good for a solid 200 gamerpoints.
Rumour and speculation
Xbox 720, Xbox 8 or whatever it's called will probably come out this Thanksgiving. We expect PlayStation 4 to hit the market in early 2014. All of the above game ideas are made-up and any resemblance to real games, either alive or dead, is entirely coincidental. But, you know, don't rule it out. We've seen worse and worse lies ahead!