Cara Ellison is a freelance writer and narrative designer, who most recently contributed to Arkane Studios' Dishonored 2. Her book, Embed with Games: A Year on the Couch with Game Developers, released late last year.
I left the gruelling shitfuck of freelance games journalism for the joyous shitfuck of freelance games development. This has enabled me to get the Inside Scoop on what we can expect from next year's releases. As such, here’s my favourite 2017 games that are definitely going to come out, spoiling practically everyone’s PR reveals, because we are definitely all going to live to see the end of 2017, which unexpectedly will be a fantastic year for world peace, and will allow us to spend many hours playing games that reflect this brilliant and shining time.
1. The First of Us
The title Last of Us: Part II was a complete feint, and Naughty Dog comes out with a game about patient zero, who, after being experimented on in a lab for years, is now in a later advanced stage evolution of Cordyceps. Armed with only your own arm, you escape the lab in inner Glasgow where you set about people and bite into numerous already quite radge dudes, creating a worse UK-wide disaster than the one it's already currently mired in (this also infects the USA, but this is covered in DLC called The First of Us On a Plane and all American voiceovers are done badly by Scottish actor Gerard Butler).
To survive the longest, you slowly figure out what the most fulfilling meal is: those who have led a very nutrient rich and hedonistic diet. Your mission becomes to literally eat the rich, and become a smarter Infected in a weird and non-deliberate echo of BioShock. Your senses become finely tuned to those people who have resources (and weirdly, champagne), while those who have very little are left alone. The big twist? You were a tool in a communist plot! But it’s too late anyway. The entire world has been levelled and the population of The Infected has grown too quickly. The remaining Infected, starved out of nutrient rich brains, lose Infected libido and die. The remaining human villages under the rubble emerge, constructing a beautiful sharing economy utopia, and there is a giraffe or something. Like maybe two giraffes. Game of the year, and the dev cycle was only eleven months long.
2. Murder Man
This episodic game, with interstitial cutscenes plotted like a Netflix series, has the most startlingly original game premise there has ever been. Dressed in an incredibly revealing pant, the lovingly named and invincible Murder Man is a third-person brawler that is totally and incredibly violent in a very Mortal Kombat sort of way. The Murder Man himself possesses the smooth, flowing martial arts grace of Sammo Hung mixed with Soul Calibur’s Kilik, and also the great abs of Captain America. His opponents, knotty grunts and stereotypical sexy ladies who have done the Slightest Thing Wrong can be brutalised in any number of ways. Unfortunately, because this is a video game, Murder Man cannot actually murder anyone to completion, and each episode, the same video game models keep healing up and coming back to thwart him, yelling things like, "What if we swapped around and I did a murder?" Eventually, Murder Man slowly comes to realise that he himself (horror) cannot be killed. It is horribly and disgustingly pleasurable to play on a mechanical level, but you get tired of looking at all the same goddamn people.
Basically a modern tragedy, and there are 5,300 episodes in production, and everyone will keep buying it forever. I’m sorry 2017. I’m so sorry.
3. The Professionals
A big shot AAA studio brings out an open world spy game in 2017 that defies all previous detractors: The Professionals is a game where you can switch between five--FIVE--women, who are all working undercover in various parts of Washington D.C., Homeland-style, as part of a black op shadowing a mole inside the CIA. Thanks to video game "magic", or merely a wilful misunderstanding of geography, Langley is situated about five minutes’ drive from the White House. The Potomac is always swimmable and available for boat chases. The White House has many climbable vents. The writing/characterisation is sometimes a little Elmore Leonard, at other times kind of Le Carre, but the trail of destruction in the main plot escalates as each character discovers parts of the conspiracy. Every time you fuck up the investigation with your shitty stealth skills in one part of the city, you have to switch agents to get a clean up operation in ASAP, meaning you are your own rescue team (and there is no player death as everyone knows CIA operatives know all the best off-books miracle doctors, if there’s a five agent pile up a competent A.I. will revive you).
By some miracle there are no missions where you have to trail a car for miles at a designated distance, but there is one where you have to do a realtime stakeout for 24 hours. THE FOURTH WALL IS BROKEN. People take days off work to complete it. Take that, Kojima. Maybe your delicate lady fingers will diffuse a bomb. Maybe you will seduce that Mulder-lookin’ motherfucker over at Edgar Hoover. The distinctly A Few Good Men ending is totally devastating to all players everywhere. It is wildly successful, and going forward, all AAA games begin to copy this model. The part where you play as a spy, specifically.
4. Cowboy Bebop: Tsuioku no Serenade
Comes out in the west on PlayStation Network with an optional Steve Blum dub. It’s immediately very popular, meaning that a third-person open world martial arts-based RPG Sleeping Dogs style follow-up is immediately put into production with a Yoko Kanno soundtrack. Trump resigns after the Japanese show of strength. 2017 is a rollercoaster.
5. SHRILL HARPY
2017 brings my most awaited fantasy of a game: SHRILL HARPY. This co-op game tries to approximate the pleasure of the imaginative put-down, whilst also simultaneously making consenting players hate each other, just like playing a boardgame at Christmas. Player one has a difficult to control, Bennett Foddy nightmare of a main character undertaking an everyday task in third person, Octodad style, and player two is the "narrator" and has three aspects of the task to comment on in response to the context of player one’s actions--it could be the attitude of the player that is insulted, it could be the speed of the player, it could be the control pad wrangling. When player two chooses one of three aspects of play, one of thousands of pre-recorded wincers narrated in sultry Sigourney Weaver-esque I-told-you-so tones waps player one’s ears, as if everyone’s IQ has sharply dropped whilst she was away. As player one bumbles into a pyramid of cardboard boxes, player two’s nightmare Bastion narrator will then announce that "a virus-ridden Siri dunked in a vat of boiling piss would have better navigation skills than you", and other sharp one-liners that are better than that (because they were written by Chris Morris). You will then be forced to swap roles next level, to see how the fuck the other person likes it. No good for anyone with mum issues, popular with those who usually pay a professional for this sort of thing, but really the point of it is that you will never have to play Dota 2, or play any online game really, ever ever again.
6. Max Payne: The Trip
This is just a full length expansion of the level in the first Max Payne where he is whacked out on V, only this time Max is still in South America and he's off-his-balls on ayahuasca. It is fuck-off amazing and all those haters from years ago have to eat their wretched little hats.
7. Secret Bunker Builder
A practical tool that luckily began development at the start of presidential campaign season (approximately 10 years ago it seems like?) and once you have finished construction of your virtual underpit you can calculate costing and suppliers for the veritable convoy of concrete and tools you will need to drill yourself into the earth and never be seen again. You can also share blueprints with friends via encrypted connections. Kind of like an apocalyptic version of Cities: Skylines, or SimCity without any of the surveillance.
8. XTREME FACE TRIUMPH PRO CLASSIC EXTREMELY FOR MEN
This is an extremely sophisticated Sephora-branded, stand alone character creator for the XBone: fully fledged, expensive video game engine tech, Uncharted 4 promotional-like detail on the face, but obviously given a very manly name so that Traditional Videogamesmen can feel good about buying it and fiddling around with every single slider on the menu without shame, whilst the name will not fool tumblr at all. This Uncanny Valley shit has one of the most extensive set of makeup sliders, shades, check boxes and customisers in the world, so that you can mix and try on makeup that you can then order to your house if it takes your fancy. You can scan your face in with a weird peripheral and experiment with a number of expressions and possibly even plastic surgery ideas.
There is no "gamey" part attached to it, only a number of preset animated cutscenes you can put your created characters into: a scene in which selected characters will recreate factor 5 ship shake on the USS Enterprise, one in which selected characters will have a gratuitous orgy resulting in make-up smudging (SMUDGE FX) so you can see How Cool Your Eyeliner Is The Next Morning, and one in which characters will recreate an entire episode of Friends (The One With The Morning After, of course. OF COURSE). After all, everyone lives for that one moment in the original Mass Effect where Shepard turns around and has a GIANT BANANA FACE. So why not recreate the moment that David Schwimmer wakes up next to his one night stand and… HAS THE FACE OF DAVID SCHWIMMER? BUT WITH AN URBAN DECAY LIPSTICK SHADE IN HEROINE COMFORT MATTE?
DLCs will include more animated cutscenes and extra clothes packs that are so absurdly priced that Steve Hogarty will have to come out of retirement.
Okay, but anyway I just want to be able to try on make-up from the comfort of my own home. And I never really have to fuck with a game after the McElroys have finished with the character creator anyway.
9. HBO’s VEEP
The excellent people at Telltale seem to have missed out on getting the rights to HBO’s incredible profanitytron Veep, the TV show that is the equivalent of The West Wing written by The Thick Of It’s star and storm of fuck-cab Malcolm Tucker. Instead, HBO are publishing this gem themselves, and the timed dialogue with complex branching of curse words and threats is an unrelenting series of tableaux-type olympic swimming pools of bullshit for players to backstroke through.
With Armando Iannucci, Chris Addison, and Will Smith (not that one) on board from the series to write, they took like grouchy pale British ducks to water to write a dialogue-heavy test of your ability to creatively weasel out of some of the worst political situations possible. China threatens war over Vice President Meyer accidentally calling the Chinese government a naughty word in earshot? It's your job to threaten, seduce, or intimidate the Chinese delegation into submission. Want to get your own political talking head show on late night TV so that you can surreptitiously insert your party’s talking points into it? Time to schmooze your way through the correspondents. Hate fuck Dan Egan? Sure. Lose Amy on the campaign trail? Hurry up! Jonah Ryan accidentally shot the Republican Majority Leader on a hunting trip? You, the Vice President, visit the hospital and try to make nice with a man who now has no nose because of the west wing’s Jolly Green Fuckwit.
In any case, one of the year’s most haunting pieces of informational video game dialogue will be The Chinese Will Remember That.
Virginia’s developers Variable State brought a beguiling first person game to us in 2016. Brendon Chung’s real-time cinematic editing technique, utilised in the excellent 30 Flights Of Loving, has been screaming out to be ripped off shamefully for a very long time and hardly anyone hecking did it. Virginia not only did that but put together a great atmosphere, soundtrack, and moody, cryptic mystery that clearly showed roots from cult classics Twin Peaks and The X-Files.
Taking this idea further, 2017’s Luciente is a similarly structured '90s-feel first-person adventure game but set in three locations: the futuristic agrarian commune of Mattapoisett; an unnamed dystopia where plutocrats rule over space bases, all information has become the proprietary tool of highly funded and organised PR departments, and women are forced to be products and undertake extensive plastic surgery to be able to function in the world; and lastly the byproduct of our current dystopia, an underfunded, brutal mental institution. Based on the book Woman On The Edge Of Time by Marge Piercy, the game initially explores the life of a poor Dominican woman committed to a mental institution, and the player’s exploration is limited to the tiny space she is allowed to exist in until, in intense sessions of psychotherapy and drug treatment, she begins to receive messages from Luciente, a resident of future Mattapoisett.
Luciente as a guide is very persuasive: birthing machines have been invented in her time to remove the responsibility of pregnancy from women and remove "ownership" from birth parents and put it onto an entire village, parenting and teaching are considered the primary and most important jobs of most humans, and children are encouraged to explore any number of vocations in a world that is no longer arbitrated by capitalism or forced labour. In contrast, the small glimpses of the other parallel world that she sees, the plutocratic, patriarchal world, seem violent and terrifying. As the player explores each world, the small things that they see and do inform one choice which it becomes clear will end the game. Luciente suggests that she is messaging through time, and Mattapoisett will only exist if your character does one thing. But who is right about what choice that is? And are the visions real?
Spend as much time exploring as you like, but in the end, what you saw, who you spoke to, and what you did, will inform the world to come.
There is no joke at the end of this one. It’s just pure fantasy. Someone get me a drink. Barring any number of disasters, I’ll see you next year, and we can judge how well I did in my predictions.