Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Screenshot: Left: Kingdom Hearts 3 (Square Enix), Middle: Metro Exodus (Steam), Right: Resident Evil 2 (Steam)

2018 was a great year for games, dominated by a couple of huge console releases and a bunch of brash, finely tuned indie efforts. But, perhaps looking to avoid squaring up alongside Red Dead Redemption, a ton of games have scampered to the relative safety of this winter, leading to a bumper crop of major Japanese titles and a few sleeper picks from reliably interesting teams, not to mention the latest in the reliably bleak and beautiful Metro series. The slate actually looks a bit like the great class of 2017, that fabled winter that brought week after week of unexpectedly polished mid-tier releases. Here’s hoping for a winter with just as many reasons to stay indoors.


YIIK: A Postmodern RPG

January 17—Mac, PlayStation 4, Switch, Vita, Windows

Cribbing wildly from Earthbound, the Persona games, Pokemon, and other Japanese role-playing classics, YIIK looks bonkers, telling the story of a bunch of online friends investigating the disappearance of a viral video star. Games from smaller teams like this are often big on aesthetic and light on mechanics, but YIIK packs a substantive role-playing experience across some six dungeons. And while a lot of RPGs are way too damn long, a little sprawl is essential to the way they tell their stories. YIIK’s biting off a lot, in other words, but early trailers show a lot of polish. [Clayton Purdom]


Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

January 18—Switch

Grasshopper Manufacture’s latest descent into the nutso world of stylish loser/handyman assassin/unrepentant otaku Travis Touchdown is a pretty radical departure from the previous two No More Heroes games: Rather than third-person sword battles, Travis Strikes Again trades in top-down co-op hack-and-slashing, intercut with a number of old-school video game mini-games that crop up after Travis and a rival get sucked into his “Death Drive Mk. II” console. Lest all these newfangled alterations put you off, though, rest assured: Travis still saves his game by plopping down on the toilet. Some things never change. [William Hughes]


Kingdom Hearts III

January 25—PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Arriving a mere 14 years—and roughly 9,000 spin-off games—after 2005’s Kingdom Hearts II, Square and Disney’s newest installment in their collaborative tale of key-sword-wielding boy adventurers and Donald Duck: Professional Wizard has a lot of fan expectations to live up to. The Disney side of the equation will see Sora and company making their way into worlds like Pixar’s Toy Story; meanwhile, we can only assume that the overarching Square-style plot will get even more ambitiously ridiculous, as various plotters finally make bad on a decade’s worth of evil schemes—only to be smacked down through healthy application of the series’ ever-satisfying action RPG gameplay. [William Hughes]


Resident Evil 2

January 25—PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

Originally released back in 1998, Resident Evil 2 did everything a sequel reasonably should, coming in bigger, weirder, and flashier than its genre-defining predecessor. Thirty-one years later, it’s getting the fully rebuilt remake treatment, courtesy of the Capcom team partially behind Resident Evils 5 and 6, and complete with an update into 7’s RE Engine. And while we’re sure that Raccoon City is still absolutely infested with chess-themed spark plugs and medals shaped like eagles, the new version will have a number of concessions to modern gaming—most notably a behind-the-shoulder camera, which means we’ll no longer have to navigate around a variety of static camera angles designed to keep lurking zombies dangerously out of sight. [William Hughes]


Crackdown 3

February 15—Xbox One

It has been more than a decade since the original Crackdown solidified the Xbox 360 as a true contender in the video game console wars despite the system’s infamous propensity for completely breaking at random. The thrill of leaping across buildings, orchestrating massive explosions, and hunting after countless little collectible orbs influenced open-world games for years after, and now—after a disappointing sequel filled with zombies for some reason—Microsoft is finally ready to return to the world of superhero cop action with Crackdown 3. Will it live up to the excellence of the original installment? Hell, that might not even be possible at this point, but it sure would be nice. [Sam Barsanti]


Metro Exodus

February 15—PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

After spending most of Metro 2033 and its sequel Last Light in the train tunnels deep beneath the irradiated surface of future Russia, the third game in the series is taking the action farther outside than ever before with the help of a big train and even more guns constructed from the garbage that can be found in the war-ravaged remains of Eastern Europe. It turns out that nature has slowly been reclaiming the Earth since the bombs fell, but now it has to compete with more of Metro’s usual band of cult leaders and maniacs who have post-apocalyptic political aspirations—not to mention all of those glorious, terrible mutants. [Sam Barsanti]


Anthem

February 22—PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Do you like Mass Effect studio BioWare? How about Iron Man and Destiny? If you said “yes” to any of those—especially the last two—then Anthem might be right up your alley. Set on a weird planet full of weird monsters, you play as a person in what is essentially an Iron Man suit as you kill progressively tougher enemies to unlock progressively stronger equipment. You won’t be romancing any of the other characters you encounter, like in a classic BioWare game, but you can play with your friends and customize the paint scheme of your flying robot suit. In some ways, that might be even more satisfying. That’s better than love anyway. [Sam Barsanti]


Left Alive

March 5—PC, PlayStation 4

Left Alive looks like a game from another time: specifically, the mid-to-late 2000s, with foggy textures and partially open, war-torn maps designed to be crouched and shot through. The plot’s all byzantine near-future Cold War dystopia, reflecting the game’s status as a spin-off of the long-running (and wildly popular, in Japan) Front Mission series, full of massive fighting robots and country names like Novo Slava. Bolstering the obvious Metal Gear Solid comparison is the presence of Yoji Shinkawa, that series’ storied character designer. All of which may sound like faint praise, but, frankly, “long-lost PlayStation 3 Metal Gear Solid spin-off” is one of the most promising ideas for a game in recent memory. Here’s a sleeper pick for a new cult favorite. [Clayton Purdom]


Devil May Cry 5

March 5—PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

The Devil May Cry series is storied for both its white-knuckle, high-style action, and also for occasionally being very bad. (Its last installment, 2013’s DmC: Devil May Cry, is a notorious disappointment.) This new numbered installment looks to be a return to form, with reliable Capcom lifer Hideaki Itsuno at the helm and a suite of trailers promising all the gonzo shit you could want from a DMC game: shredding J-pop metal, hyper-violent slow-motion monster-deaths, some of which apparently involve a magical fedora (?), a talking falcon, one of the worst Southern accents ever recorded, motorcycles, demons, a book being used as a weapon, and so on. Between this and the possibility of Bayonetta 3, 2019 is shaping up as a banner year for finger-obliterating action games. [Clayton Purdom]


The Sinking City

March 21—PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

Kiev-based Frogwares is best known for its long-running series of Sherlock Holmes games, offering surprisingly credible takes on the adventures of literature’s favorite consulting detective. Their latest, though, dives fully into the Lovecraftian themes that often infused those earlier works, casting players as supernatural detectives investigating a city gone mad with all sorts of nasty, be-tentacled things. The addition of action sections to the company’s formula isn’t the most welcome of signs, admittedly, but the tone is suitably creepy, and Frogwares’ detective gameplay—which often sees players combine various clues to tease out new connections, delving ever deeper into things man weren’t meant to know—looks to be typically on-point. [William Hughes]


Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

March 22—PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

Pretty much all anyone needs to know about Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is that it’s the latest game by the fearlessly prolific Hidetaka Miyazaki and From Software, authors of the cataclysmically influential Dark Souls series. The last new series they introduced was Bloodborne—our pick for one of the best horror games ever made—and so their trip to 16th-century Japan is worth clearing out some time for on the premise alone. Intriguingly, the new game seems vastly different than the studio’s other work, with a newfound focus on stealth, sling-shotting verticality, a stat-free lack of traditional role-playing progression, and some inscrutably complex swordplay. Miyazaki has promised abstract, Souls-style storytelling, which will presumably explain that ridiculous subtitle. [Clayton Purdom]

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