It's hard to believe we're already midway through January. As we began the year, the Polygon team started talking and arguing about which games we were most looking forward to over the next 12 months (OK, 11 and a half months). So here are five picks from each of us.
To get a bigger picture of the games coming out in 2016, be sure to look at our massive feature covering 100 games currently scheduled for the year ahead.
I'm a total animation nerd, so Cuphead is a dream come true. Anyone can agree that it's beautiful, but I feel like I've waited my entire life to play a game that so closely resembles a cartoon like this one does.
My favorite thing about animation as a medium is something it shares with gaming: the possibility to stretch, move and control the world in ways you're never able to in reality. Cuphead strikes me as the embodiment of this; it's a perfect convergence of both forms, and one that might even expand them, fingers crossed. It's the game that just might make me upgrade my PC in order to play it in the highest quality.
I want to begin by saying I'm hoping that No Man's Sky is released on at least one VR platform in 2016, although I'll happily play it on a standard screen. The idea of a wide-open world where I'm given a ship and some dreams is my platonic ideal of a good time; I still think the Normandy is the best character of the Mass Effect series.
While some may worry about the story, campaign or lack thereof, I think the fact we know so little is a selling point. No one complained that Minecraft didn't have enough narrative, and No Man's Sky strikes me as being a similar game in terms of offering a blank slate for my dreams. I can't wait.
Picking a game that hasn't been announced, or maybe has been, but hasn't popped up on my radar, might sound like a cop-out, but it's not. Here's the thing: Every January, I enter the year anticipating a slew of big blockbuster titles. I love the ideas behind The Division; Firewatch is beautiful; the idea of Crackdown on a current system gives me goosebumps; and I hope that Star Citizen may finally come into its own in 2016.
But ultimately, as in years past, those hotly anticipated games rarely end up being my favorites of the year. The games that end up ensnaring me are the ones that come out of left field. I may not have selected Her Story as the single best game of 2015, but it was hands-down the most intriguing. Gone Home blew me away in 2013.
I love games that don't just play with the notion of storytelling and player interaction, but also with the very definition of what it is to be a game. That sounds a bit like hipster bullshit, but honestly, those are the titles that stick with me. So yes, my most anticipated game of 2016 is the one I haven't discovered yet, that hidden gem waiting to pounce from the shadows, the creation that still lurks in the back of some hopeful game developer's mind.
I'm a sucker for a good thriller, and The Division is just that. While the gameplay genre — survival shooter — is right up my alley as well, what has me the most excited about this game is its roots in the real world.
Back in 2014, when I talked to Ubisoft's intellectual property developer Martin Hultberg, he mentioned how the game was based on an actual directive signed into law by President George W. Bush. Looming in the background of The Division is the story of what happens politically during an apocalypse, and of how seemingly ornamental laws might one day come to be carried out to their logical conclusion.
Alan Wake will be six years old by the time its successor, Quantum Break, comes out. And Alan Wake was the successor to Max Payne 2, itself six years old by the time Alan Wake came out. To be sure, developer Remedy Entertainment takes its time. But when you have a pedigree like Remedy's, it's important to get it right.
While Alan Wake weaved the conceit of a novelist's work coming to reality, coupling a flashlight mechanic with solid third-person shooting, Quantum Break sees Remedy return to time manipulation, echoing Max Payne's famous bullet time mechanic.
Amazing visuals and a strong mechanical gimmick, set against a sci-fi mystery backdrop created by one of the industry's greatest teams? It's not Alan Wake 2, but I still think it will be worth the wait.
I spent 30 minutes playing Abzu at E3 2015 and, I don't know if I was just in a funny mood, but it made me deliriously happy. It's an underwater adventure of discovery and danger, a beautiful piece that asks you to search a world of sunken galleys and lurking sharks.
If you're a fan of games like Journey, then this is likely going to be on your list for the year ahead. It's made by the same artist. But there's something about underwater games that I've always enjoyed, all the way back to Ecco, Treasures of the Deep and, of course, Flow.
Persona 4 (and its Golden successor) is probably my favorite game of all time, so naturally, I'm pretty pumped for the series' next core installment.
What has me most excited is how little I know about the game, and not for lack of researching; the trailers we've seen so far are as immensely stylish as they are light on actual information. And frankly, that's fine by me: I've spent ages befriending, fighting alongside and dancing with the cast of Persona 4 — I'm totally ready to be surprised by the next generation of demon-summoning heroes.
I've been playing team-based shooters on consoles since Alien Front Online on Dreamcast. In the past 15 years, no online game has excited me more than Overwatch.
It's so much unlike the modern online shooter. Overwatch explodes with character, vivid colors and welcoming design. Every character looks and feels like they could star in their own Pixar film. They aren't cookie-cutter, gruff militiamen. They are robust, charming and badass in their own way.
Their distinct, regional battle cries seem sincere as they blend into the tight gameplay. This unison is the game's biggest selling point.
Often the AAA game puts its eggs in one basket: great design or addictive gameplay. But Blizzard seems to always perfect everything it does with incredible craftsmanship. Overwatch is the best of both worlds. It doesn't skimp in any category. The beta was one of the tightest gameplay experiences I can recall.
I've always been a fan of run-and-gun platformers, so I was drawn to the concept of Cuphead before even seeing it. When I saw the trailer and the artwork for it, however, I was captivated. It's absolutely stunning.
The use of '30s-inspired cartoons for each stage is incredibly inviting, and makes me want to stay in the world for as long as possible just to see what influence I can spot next. Not to mention that a game of this nature is going to have tons of little gameplay quirks that I can't wait to uncover.
2015 began what I've loosely been referring to as "The FMV Era, 2015-??" I'm not sure how long it will last, but I'm thinking at least a decade. Of all the FMV games on the horizon, Quantum Break is the most promising to a giant Alan Wake/Max Payne fan like myself.
I've been putting The Last Guardian on most anticipated lists since 2010, so you'd think I'd learn at some point. In that time, the game industry has changed. It's no longer unique to do many of the things Sony's game promises — an emotional relationship between two characters, mechanics that tell a story, etc. But it remains a rare game to do them with high-end visuals, and to come from a team with one of the industry's best track records.
From time to time, I'll go back and watch the debut trailer from 2009, and it still holds up as one of the best-looking things I've seen in games. As of today, Sony still claims the game is coming this year. That's good enough for now.
Persona 3's mix of high school life and dungeon crawling hooked me hard as a teenager. It was unlike anything I'd ever played. At times, it felt like a (highly supernatural) mirror to my own life: dating, making friends, trying to get good grades in school. Despite its dark, sometimes gut-wrenching story, I related to it in a way I never had before with a game. Forget saving the world; it made the mundane magical.
Persona 3 was special to me, but it also meant something for the series at large. It was a major turning point for the franchise — the mark where Persona adopted the social system that now acts as its backbone. With Persona 4 and its definitive edition, Persona 4 Golden, Atlus refined the initial genius of Persona 3. Through spinoff games and side stories, the Persona universe continues to build in complex and fascinating ways.
Persona 5 will bring back dungeon crawling, social simulation and teenagers doing remarkable things. It might continue the tradition of building a complicated, connected world. It might finally offer relief for the list of questions burning through my brain with each new game. Or, it might do none of these things. Even that thought can't curb my giddiness to find out.
Why Dark Souls 3? FromSoftware has had its hooks in me since 2009, when I discovered Demon's Souls. Since then, the Souls games — and last year's excellent Bloodborne — have largely ruined me for other games.
Their mechanical design, their inventive multiplayer modes and their unique challenge have kept me engrossed, even through the series' low point, Dark Souls 2. Dark Souls 3 looks like From has the series back on track with a few wise course corrections. Franchise director Hidetaka Miyazaki has (somewhat cryptically) said that Dark Souls 3 wraps up the franchise in some ways, and that FromSoftware will move on to new things, so this could be a bittersweet entry for Souls fans.
Broadly speaking, I don't care about strategy games, JRPGs or anything approaching the fantasy genre. Yet, somehow, Fire Emblem Awakening wound up being my favorite game of 2013 — carried largely on the back of its huge cast of phenomenally written characters, almost all of whom could die at any moment.
Its successor, Fire Emblem Fates, appears to be more of the same — so much more, in fact, that it's actually split across two separate games with entirely distinct campaigns. My one worry, the fact that the game won't be translated this time around by the incredibly talented localization house 8-4 Ltd., has all but faded: Crucially, Nintendo has passed localization duties for Fates over to its own highly competent internal Treehouse division, meaning the script is in very capable hands.
It's put-up-or-shut-up time for No Man's Sky. I adore what Firaxis and 2K have done with the XCOM games, and Firewatch looks like it could be something truly memorable. But my most anticipated game is Homefront: The Revolution, because this is a project with some dirt under its nails.
I really liked what I saw at E3 2014. Since then, Crytek went through a painful overhaul, jettisoning Homefront and its developers. I want to see how Dambuster Studios brought this thing to term despite that.
Homefront is another THQ orphan, and many have done well, showing how that house had some great concepts sapped by blithering ownership decisions. Of course, it could also turn into a big shoulder-shrug of a game if the missions are repetitive and the gameplay isn't distinctive. But my favorite video games are where I feel like I'm fighting for something other than myself, and Homefront: The Revolution would be the shooter best positioned to deliver that.
Persona 4 is one of my favorite role-playing games of all time and, indeed, one of the only games I've ever given a rating of 10 in my time at Polygon.
To say I'm eager to finally get my hands on Atlus' long-awaited follow-up is a huge understatement. Between a gorgeous art style, challenging turn-based combat and a new cast to infiltrate, I'm looking forward to spending hundreds more hours fighting, leveling and forging the bonds of friendship.
I've loved all of the main Uncharted games — yes, even the first one, which was an oasis in the desert that was the early PlayStation 3 library. The parts of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End that we've seen so far have rekindled that love for the franchise within me with their signature elements of the series: Nathan Drake cracking wise and cracking heads while he's bumbling and stumbling through a globe-trotting treasure hunt.
Some people will tell you that Crystal Dynamics out-Uncharted-ed Uncharted with its recent Tomb Raider games, but those people are mistaken. I like those games a lot, but I haven't cared about any motley crew of characters as much as I've cared about the fates of Nathan Drake and company.
Somewhere in the first three days of 2016, I stopped, looked up from my computer and smiled, because I had randomly remembered that we were now in a year that might include a new Mass Effect game.
Mass Effect will always have a place in my heart, even if BioWare's other franchise triumph built on rock-solid world-building and characters you can't help but become invested in currently reigns ascendant as my video game obsession.
I've not been able to get Dragon Age: Inquisition out of my head for close to a year now, and I don't see an end in sight. Unless, of course, it's a new Mass Effect game that looks as pretty as Inquisition and benefits from BioWare's ever-improving mechanical and narrative toolset for crafting immersive RPGs — not to mention making new strides in adding much-needed diversity in video games.