Sure, the 360 will have a handful of exclusives in 2012—well, basically a new Halo title and a few others of lesser interest—but what gamers are really waiting for is the announcement of the 360's successor, which could occur at E3 in June (though it's far from a certainty). Not much is known about the still-untitled third-generation Xbox console, though rumors have it including a Blu-ray player, significantly upgraded Kinect functionality, and possibly a redesigned controller in addition to improved graphics. (There's also a rumor it will reject used games, but we're guessing that if they even attempt such a restriction, it won't last long.) Even if Microsoft does unveil the new console this summer, however, it likely won't go on sale until late in 2013 at the earliest.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare Watch trailer
Microsoft, due February 22
The excellent (though not universally appreciated) Xbox 360 survivor horror game Alan Wake 83 is returning in a $15 stand-alone adventure that will be available exclusively on Xbox Live Arcade. The titular author, who uses the power of light (and guns) to vanquish enemies who might be all in his head, is now trying to rid his shadowy world of new bad guy Mr. Scratch. Expect a twisty narrative and spooky atmosphere. This adventure is shorter than the first game and will most likely act as another episode in Alan Wake’s uniquely meta life.
Fable: The Journey Watch trailer
The fourth game in Peter Molyneux's Fable franchise is not part of the main series that last gave us the disappointing Fable III 80 in 2010. Instead, Journey is a standalone title and a Kinect exclusive. Unlike previous games in the series, it's also a first-person shooter, with gesture-based spell-casting system. Adventure and RPG elements have also reportedly been added since last year's E3 demo, during which the game looked like a straight on-rails shooter and disappointed longtime fans, but it is still unclear how the whole thing will work.
Halo 4 Watch trailer
Microsoft, tbd Q4
Intended to launch a new trilogy ("Reclaimer") of Halo games, Halo 4 is also the first major title in the franchise to be developed by Microsoft's 343 Industries, who inherit the duties from departed Halo creators Bungie. The new game will center on Master Chief and take place after the events of Halo 3, though few other details have been released so far.
Kinect Star Wars Watch trailer
Microsoft, tbd spring
It's the game this guy has been dreaming about for years. Playing as a new Jedi character, you'll finally get the chance to stand in front of your television and pilot X-wings, move objects with the force, and, yes, engage in lightsaber duels, all by moving your body. Familiar faces like Jabba the Hutt and Darth Vader will show up, in addition to new characters (though the action takes place during the prequel timeline).
Minecraft Watch trailer
The low-res indie computer game hit is coming to just one console: the Xbox 360, to take advantage of the Kinect. The 360 version of the open-world building game will be mostly similar to its PC cousin (though a bit more limited), and includes a useful crafting table tool to quickly call up recipes and build items instantly. Minecraft will be available via Xbox Live Arcade, and the developer's goal is to update it as frequently as the PC version.
There were more great games released for the PS3 in 2011 than for any other platform, and PlayStation owners could see a repeat of that feat in 2012, thanks to what looks like the best console lineup of exclusive titles this year. Will Sony announce its own next-generation console (presumably to be called the PlayStation 4) this year as well? That, too, is a possibility, though the company has unequivocally stated that it will not unveil the PS4 at this year's E3 conference. Still, we can't imagine Sony giving Microsoft another huge head start in the console wars, and if the next Xbox is announced this year, we'd be surprised if we don't get an official announcement about the PS4 as well.
Journey Watch trailer
Another truly unique, gorgeous-looking release from the creators of Flower, Journey promises to bring a similar style of minimalist, unconventional gaming to the world of online co-op multiplayer. You'll have a chance to meet up with fellow players in the game's desert environment while investigating an ancient, mysterious civilization, solving puzzles along the way. At least, that's what we wrote about the game in our 2011 preview; one year later, there's still no confirmed release date, though it looks like a spring release (via the PlayStation Network) is possible.
The Last Guardian Watch trailer
Ico and Shadow of the Colossus have become legendary cult classics (even more so after they were updated and re-released together last year in a nice collection), and Team Ico, the creative team behind the titles, has been working on a follow-up for what seems like an eternity. Rumored to be coming out some time this year, The Last Guardian appears to combine the puzzle platforming of Ico and the massive scale of Colossus; gamers will play as a boy and his giant winged pet/creature as they traverse through a mystical land. There is still no release date, so we’re crossing our fingers that it will arrive before the end of 2012.
The Last of Us Watch trailer
Sony, tbd Q4 (or early 2013)
This could be the start of a new hit franchise for Sony, though there's a decent chance the game (first announced last month) may not be complete in time for a late 2012 release. The survival horror game—set in a post-apocalyptic U.S. where cities are largely abandoned after a deadly plague has wiped out much of the population—will be the second property developed for the PS3 by Naughty Dog, who already have several major successes on the platform in the form of the acclaimed Uncharted franchise. Expect a similar cinematic approach to the new game, and a huge wave of buzz whenever it does arrive.
Ni no Kuni
Already out in Japan, this RPG is a collaboration between animation studio Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) and developer Level 5 (creators of the Professor Layton series, among numerous other games). That pedigree alone should have JRPG fans excited, as should the fact that the game's visuals are as remarkable as you might expect.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time Watch trailer
The first Sly Cooper title in seven years (and first created specifically for the PlayStation 3), Thieves in Time brings your favorite raccoon back for another stealth mission, with time travel a key plot point. The new game also brings a new developer (Sanzaru Games) to the franchise, but expect gameplay to be similar to that of the first three games, though with a much bigger world to explore and a more refined graphical design.
Sorcery Watch trailer
Sony, tbd spring
One of the most anticipated PlayStation Move titles since the motion controller was first announced, Sorcery should finally arrive in stores this spring. You'll have to cast various spells with the wand controller as you progress through the Faerie Kingdoms in this action-adventure game, which is based on Irish mythology.
Starhawk Watch trailer
Sony, due May 18
A sci-fi sequel to the 2007 third-person shooter Warhawk 84 set in the future on a distant, recently colonized planet, Starhawk adds a single-player mode to the original game's split-screen multiplayer and online play. It's not all about shooting, however; strategy also comes into play in the new game, since you can summon orbiting ships to drop down a variety of protective buildings that are constructed immediately in front of you. As a result, defense becomes just as important as offense.
Twisted Metal Watch trailer
Sony, due February 14
A reboot of the series that started in 1995 on the original PlayStation (it's the oldest franchise in PS history), the new Twisted Metal offers single- and multi-player vehicular combat. The roster of characters is smaller than in previous games, but there are plenty of new vehicles to choose from.
Computer gamers have some intriguing titles to look forward to in 2012, as well as something previously only available to console gamers: motion controls. Microsoft is launching a PC version of its Kinect peripheral on February 1st. Though pricey—it retails for $250—the Kinect Sensor for Windows is designed to recognize close-up gestures, so you won't need to sit eight feet away from your PC to use it. Right now, given the lack of software, it's mostly of interest to developers rather than end users, but that could change over the next year or so.
Diablo III Watch trailer
Blizzard, tbd Q1
Blizzard's dark fantasy action-RPG series returns this year with its first new installment in over a decade. (Yeah, we said that last year, but this time, we mean it.) Diablo III will take place a generation after the events of the previous game, though at least one character (Deckard Cain, now joined by his daughter) will return. Your own player, meanwhile, will have a team of artisans—a blacksmith, a mystic, and a jeweler— to help you on your journey ... provided that you help them first. Character classes this time include Monk, Barbarian, Wizard, Demon Hunter, and Witch Doctor, the previous game's skill point system has been ditched, and a new "Inferno" setting offers a challenge for even maxed-out elite players. You can also expect an online auction house where you can sell anything you find in the game for real world money. One catch: you need to be online all the time, even when playing in single-player mode.
A sequel/remake to Defense of the Ancients (the popular fan-made Warcraft III mod), the online multiplayer title Dota 2 is an action-RPG/real-time strategy hybrid that will be exclusive to Valve's Steam platform. Chose a "hero" from a huge roster of potential candidates, join up with a team of players online, and attempt to take out a second team's stronghold before they get yours first. Sounds simple—especially because you're always using the same map—but you'll quickly discover (if you haven't already in the original or the Dota 2 beta) that there's plenty of complexity and variety within those confines.
Guild Wars 2 Watch trailer
Open beta begins in March (with a final release expected later in the year) for the MMO sequel that was first announced back in 2007 and originally expected in 2011. A fantasy MMORPG that aims to improve on the original Guild Wars series in every conceivable way, GW2 will, at the very least, boast far superior graphics, thanks to a new 3D graphics engine. The new game will take place 250 years after the original—in a time where five sleeping dragons have awoken and changed the world—and will feature a massive persistent world, including many playable underwater regions. Once again, there will be no ongoing subscription fees.
StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm Watch trailer
As you can see from this list, Blizzard has their hands full this year, so it's possible that this second of three planned StarCraft II installments (following 2010's Wings of Liberty 93) may not drop until 2013. When it does arrive, Heart of the Swarm will be more an expansion than a new game (and priced accordingly), bringing with it 20 or so new missions, new units, with a plot centered on the Zerg race.
Multiplayer—in the form of online co-op—finally comes to Runic's Torchlight series in this sequel to 2009's Torchlight, a dungeon-crawler dismissed by some gamers as a mere Diablo clone. And this second action-RPG installment features the same basic premise of the first game; you'll spend most of your time exploring plenty of random dungeons. But the new, much longer, campaign will also feature overland areas with day/night cycles and weather effects, while cinematics will appear for the first time. And, unlike the new Diablo game, you'll be able to play Torchlight II offline in solo mode.
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Watch trailer
Will a new expansion get you to switch from Star Wars: The Old Republic back to World of Warcraft? We could find out this year if the successor to World of Warcraft: Cataclysm 90 arrives as expected. You'll get to explore a new continent (that would be the misty Pandaria), while the war between the Alliance and Horde will get a new emphasis. The Pandaren, introduced back in Warcraft III, will also be added as a playable race, while the level cap will increase once again, and your fuzzy companions will finally be able to fight via a new, Pokemon-like pet battle system, which has our dog excited. [Editor's note: We're pretty sure that's for the in-game pets, not the ones in your home.]
Wii and Wii U
Nintendo's Wii console has never really had the software to attract hardcore gamers, but its 2011 game lineup was anemic by anyone's standards: just 12 positively reviewed Wii games were released all year. If that sounds like a console nearing the end of its release cycle, that's because it is: the Wii's successor will arrive late this year (in the holiday shopping season) in the form of the Wii U. The new console will feature greatly improved HD graphics (in full 1080p) and will boast yet another new, one-of-a-kind controller, this time with a built-in touchscreen. (The new console will also support all of your existing Wii games and hardware, so don't throw out that balance board.)
Because the Wii U will be on par with (if not surpassing) the 360 and PS3, graphics-wise, Wii U owners will finally start getting more of the multi-platform releases that publishers in the past never bothered porting to the inferior Wii. Some of those titles, like Ghost Recon Online, Darksiders II, and Ninja Gaiden III, are listed on the previous page, though you can expect that list to grow considerably in the future. Also expected for the new console later this year (or soon thereafter) are ports of last year's console hits Batman: Arkham City and Battlefield 3, an Assassin's Creed title (which one, exactly, is unknown), and new Super Smash Bros. and Pikmin games. However, we likely won't know much more about the console's launch lineup (or even a launch date) until the E3 conference this summer.
Dragon Quest X
Wii Wii U Square Enix
First announced back in 2008, this subscription-supported MMORPG was originally targeted for both the Wii and Wii U, and, despite the delay, the dual release was confirmed as recently as last fall. It'll be the first console release in the long-running Dragon Quest (aka Dragon Warrior) fantasy series since 2005, and it will feature five continents and six playable races.
Killer Freaks from Outer Space Watch trailer
Wii U Ubisoft
One of the few original Wii U titles officially announced for 2012, this comedic, arcade-stye first-person shooter (with single-player and multi-player co-op modes) will showcase the new platform's improved graphics while utilizing the controller's touchscreen in multiple ways (for everything from giving you a view of what your character sees to displaying maps).
Rhythm Heaven Fever Watch trailer
Wii Nintendo, due February 13
One of just a few significant new(ish) games expected for the first-generation Wii in 2012, Rhythm Heaven Fever was released in Japan last summer to great acclaim. It's the first console title in the music game series, and though its controls are limited to button pushing (in time with the beat), the cleverness and variety of the challenges combined with the insanely catchy music will have you hooked immediately.
Xenoblade Chronicles Watch trailer
Wii Nintendo, due April 2
Again, it may not qualify as a "new" game, but it is certainly significant: the RPG earned a stellar 92 Metascore last year based on reviews for its European release, and was hailed as the best Wii game of the year and best Japanese RPG of its generation by several publications. This spring, North American gamers will finally get a chance to see what the fuss is about.
What do you think?
What games are you looking forward to in 2012? Let us know in the comments section below.