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Interesting Sequels of 2012

Serial killers.

Tom's already offered you a rundown of this year's Actual New Games - the ones that are offering, in their own ways, something unique - and now here's the slightly less glamorous look at the other side of the coin.

They're big business, these blockbuster sequels, and for all that we lament the lack of innovation it's these big-budget series that inevitably garner the most attention and inspire the most devotion from the majority. That's nothing to be scorned - iteration's an important thing in games development and indeed the development of games - and a composite of evolved features designed to fulfil a particular desire, be that the needs of a sports fan or those wanting a fresh shooter fix, can be just as important to the progression of the medium as the advent of a new game mechanic or control concept.

Sequels take many forms and capture our attention for many reasons. Some build their features up year by year, like FIFA and Call of Duty, and will continue to be brilliant when we encounter them later in 2012. Others build on the storytelling or world-building of games a few years past, like Gearbox's brilliant-looking Borderlands 2 or the sure-to-be-spectacular finale to the Shepard's tale in Mass Effect 3. And some are interesting because of their circumstances - Halo 4, for example, is another big-budget sequel on the near horizon, and with a new and as-yet unproven developer filling Bungie's big boots, we're just interested in that out of morbid curiosity as devotion to the series.

There are many reasons to be fascinated by a great many of them. They're not exactly Actual New Games, but they're follow-ups with bite - be they revisionist in their approach or, in the case of Blizzard's bumper year of releases, just too significant and well-made not to get excited about. So here are a handful of 2012's interesting sequels, a small selection of the blockbusters that are getting us tingling with excitement about the 12 months ahead.

Grand Theft Auto 5 (Rockstar, PS3/360)

That digit at the end of the title tells us more about what's likely to be 2012's biggest game than even last year's trailer did. Last generation, GTA3's follow-ups weren't ever afforded full sequel status, and while the Episodes From Liberty City release that came in GTA4's wake suggested a change of tack from Rockstar, that bigger number is enough to suggest this year's game will be doing more than moving to a bigger canvas.

But for now that bigger canvas is all we've got to go on. Los Santos promises a larger play area, as well as a perfect backdrop to Rockstar's familiar brand of satire. And, whether you love or loathe the humour, you've got to give credit to a contemporary big-budget game taking on contemporary global issues.

Rockstar's given us our first look at Los Santos, but beyond the new location what will GTA5 offer?

Beyond that, it's currently anyone's guess. There have been suggestions of an episodic, multi-character approach to the main story, while it'll be interesting to see how and if Rockstar will try to loosen Call of Duty's grip on online gaming. All those answers are yet to come, but for now here's hoping that GTA comes back with the style, imagination and daring that helped make the series' name in the first place.

Dota 2 vs Blizzard Dota (Valve/Blizzard, PC)

For many Dota's a strange and elitist beast that's alien to all but its devoted fanbase (perhaps not helped by the fact everyone's stopped explaining it used to mean "Defence of the Ancients"), but this year there's added interest, as it's about to become the battleground for two of PC gaming's heavyweights.

As sequels go, Valve's take on the Dota formula hardly tears up the rulebook - at least, that seems to be the case from early impressions of the beta - and it's a rulebook that's as thick and impenetrable as Joyce's Ulysses, ensuring that this particular Dota is going to keep the faithful happy even if it's doing little to endear itself to newcomers.

Blizzard, on the other hand, claims to be opening up its own take on the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena genre (MOBA) that it helped spawn with a free-to-play add-on for StarCraft 2. Perhaps inspired by the all-inclusive and incredibly successful League of Legends, it's shooting for the kind of accessibility that's become an artform in the developer's hands. If it can open up this once-elusive genre to the masses in the same way that it helped popularise the MMO, then it could be onto a winner.

Changing lanes: Paul Dean had a good hard look at what all this Dota stuff actually means. A good starting point for those new to the genre.

DMC (Ninja Theory/Capcom, PS3/360)

Have you heard the one about the developer of Legendary: The Box and the once-beloved survival-horror series of a Japanese publisher? 12 months ago it would have been easy to dismiss rumours of Spark Unlimited working on Resident Evil 6, but while it still seems outlandish, in light of what's happened at Capcom recently the rumours have been lent a chilling plausibility.

Slant Six has taken charge of the curious-looking Resident Evil spin-off Raccoon City, while Ninja Theory has been given the keys to one of Capcom's more wayward series, Devil May Cry. It's a decision that didn't receive the warmest of welcomes, with the shallow combat that's typified the Cambridge developers' recent games an ominous sign of a reboot heading in the wrong direction in some people's eyes.

DMC continues to impress with each new reveal.

But prejudices have slowly washed away in recent months, and while it's unlikely that Devil May Cry will be competing with Bayonetta in the complexity stakes its combat is looking to offer far more than many expected - or feared, to be more precise. On the other side of the coin, DMC looks to be in safe hands, with the storytelling talent behind the highly-praised Enslaved now able to sink its teeth into a universe that, for all of its absurdity, has always maintained a brilliantly aloof sense of cool.

Diablo 3 (Blizzard, PC)

Diablo 3's rat-run of click and loot is formulaic, but no-one's formula is more polished than Blizzard's, and it's the result of years of painstaking refinement. The end result, as anyone who's been lucky enough to sample the beta will confess, is horrendously compelling - a slick thread of exploration and ever-escalating numbers, told against the backdrop of a richly dark universe.

It's a perfect lattice of mechanics, then, and on top of that Blizzard's found some space for innovation and more than a little artistry - as well as a little controversy to boot. The auction house and Diablo 3's demand for an online connection have put many off, which is a shame, because for all these foibles this looks like an expert slice of adventuring, and threatens to consume more hours than any other game releasing in 2012.

Dungeon keeper: Oli flew out to Orange County to get an early look at the beta, and to offer a look into the work behind this monumental sequel.

Planetside 2 (Sony Online Entertainment, PC)

Planetside 2 is, by the developer's own admission, a retread of the first game, taking place on the same continent and with the same factions and with many of the same mechanics intact. But since the first game launched in 2003 there's been nothing quite like it (or at least nothing on the same scale), and to see Sony Online Entertainment have another crack at this ambitious concept with contemporary tech at its disposal is enough to get us interested.

Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix, PS3/360)

Crystal Dynamics has made some of the best Tomb Raiders of the lot, but it's never really created its own Tomb Raider, its trio of games sticking close to Core Design's now dog-eared script.

So this year's Tomb Raider is particularly exciting, offering up a reboot that promises a thrilling deconstruction of the Lara story. The comic-book Croft of old is now younger, more delicate and fronting a game that's as much about survival as it is gung-ho adventure.

For series' fans there's no need for alarm - with the brilliant downloadable Lara spin-off Guardians of Light, the developer proved that it could maintain the essence of the series even with a shift in scope and perspective, and that's likely to be the case here too. Beneath the grime, the pull of this Tomb Raider will likely be the same as it ever has - only now it's been reimagined, and reinvigorated.

Croft original: We went to go and see this prior to last year's E3, and came out waving around this Tomb Raider Preview.

BioShock Infinite (Irrational/2K, PC/PS3/360)

The blend of gunplay and supernatural powers suggest that mechanically this is BioShock 3 in all but name, which would likely be enough to warrant a mention on this list anyway, but what excites us most about BioShock Infinite is Irrational's energetic reinvention of the world that houses this story-driven first-person shooter.

The destroyed utopia of Rapture has been left behind, the action moving skywards to Columbia. Seeing the murky purples and greens of the first two games swapped out for dazzling cream stonework and golden furnishings under a bright blue sky makes for an arresting change, as does the introduction of AI partner Elizabeth. BioShock, for all of its brilliance, told its story at arm's length through a series of detached voices, but now Irrational is shooting for some human engagement. If it pulls that off it will be a rare feat indeed.

Columbian gold: Tom spoke with Ken Levine - officially the hunkiest man in video games - last year to get a grip on BioShock Infinite.

Metal Gear Revengeance (Platinum Games/Kojima Productions, PS3/360)

It's from Platinum Games. That should say it all, really - in its brief life, the Osaka studio that emerged from the ashes of Clover has produced some astonishing games, and even its duff titles have been at the very least intriguing - but of course there's much more to tell.

It's a Metal Gear game seemingly without the one thing that has defined the series: stealth. That said, it's arguably a sense of absurd and overblown spectacle that's defined more recent entries than sneaking, and in that regard Platinum makes the perfect partner.

It'll be interesting to see how much of the first pass of Rising remains in Revengeance.

Revengeance is, from the title onwards, a ludicrous exercise, its action a hyperkinetic flurry of sword-swipes cut together with knowing winks to the camera from its cybernetically enhanced cast. It's combo-heavy and balletic action, with a faint whiff of Bayonetta about it. That - along with the idea of a Metal Gear game told from a fresh angle - is reason enough to make this one of the more fascinating games coming out of Japan this year.

Guild Wars 2 (NCsoft, PC)

This wouldn't be the first time we've waxed a little lyrical about Guild Wars 2, and it impressed us enough at last year's Eurogamer Expo to walk confidently away with our Game of the Show award.

Designed from the ground up to bring people together in the cataclysmic battles of the world, the game also dispenses with the Holy Trinity group mechanic that too often leaves players twiddling their thumbs waiting for the action to start. Persistent server-on-server battles that rage for up to a week at a time should also bring some much needed purpose to the battleground grind that currently dominates the genre.

Honourable Mentions

Here are some of the sequels that, while maybe not getting us all tingly, at least gave us some kind of stirring.

Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm: It's a Blizzard production, which pretty much guarantees excellence (when they decide otherwise they usually cancel the project outright), but it's also an interesting departure from Wings of Liberty, with a focus on the Zerg promising a more chaotic and destructive brand of real-time strategy.

Prey 2: So much has changed from the original in Human Head's sequel that you wonder why they kept the Prey name at all. With a different environment and a different lead, what it shares with the original is a creative approach to the first-person shooter, while bringing athletic gunplay and an immersive world to the table.

Neverwinter: A free-to-play MMORPG, Neverwinter's allure comes from the potential of developer Cryptic getting its teeth into the Dungeons & Dragon's universe. It faces stiff competition from the likes of D&D Online, but hopefully it can roll a good fight.

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