After years and years of publishers packing the September through November “Holiday” season with an unmanageable number of new AAA titles, we might get a much more balanced release calendar in 2016. But can you believe it all happened by accident?
Video game fans have always had to deal with delays, but publishers got even more use out of their erasers than normal in 2015. Aside from the one-two punch of Fallout 4‘s E3 2015 announcement, and its eventual release on November 10th, no game felt safe… and more than a few big titles got pushed into 2016. So now we get to ring in 2016 with a release calendar that just might offer up something exciting all year long.
Are you ready? Because here… we… go…
More Day-By-Day Guides: January – March | April – September
Two weeks of January are already in the books, and while the month is a historically slow time for the video game industry, it has been a good time for console players looking to get their hands on some of the most highly-acclaimed PC games from the last few years. This list includes Stoic’s Viking-themed (and hand-painted) tactical RPG, The Banner Saga (PS4, Xbox One); Fulbright’s first-person exploration game, Gone Home (PS4, Xbox One); and Double Damage’s space pirate sim, Rebel Galaxy (PS4, Xbox One).
Another pair of indies are sure to excite as Harmonix’s reboot of the rhythmically-inclined Amplitude (PS4) is also now available, as is That Dragon, Cancer (PC), Ryan Green’s autobiographical tale of dealing with his son’s cancer diagnosis.
The remainder of the month will be devoted to re-releases and colorful adventures in some of gaming’s most unique worlds. Let’s start with the re-releases.
Anyone who was waiting for a full season release for Dontnod’s Life Is Strange (raises hand) will get their wish today on the PS4 and Xbox One. And Capcom will resurrect one of the lesser-known entries in the Resident Evil franchise with the launch of a Resident Evil 0 remaster (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One). Finally, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics will bring Rise of the Tomb Raider to the PC at the end of the month.
While Lara Croft’s specialty is exploring the deepest and darkest tombs (which are sometimes filled with freakin’ dinosaurs, by the way), the month of January will close with a string of new titles that try to use every color in the rainbow. Square Enix will also release Final Fantasy Explorers, an RPG for the 3DS that’ll use the distinctive “super-deformed” aesthetic, and classic Final Fantasy characters, to tell its story. Another big RPG, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, will also be released for the 3DS in January. The game will actually merge Nintendo’s two RPG franchises (the Mario & Luigi series and the Paper Mario series) for the first time. And speaking of long-running franchises, WB Games and TT Games will Lego-ize another property when they give the brick treatment to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Lego Avengers (3DS, PC, PS3, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One). Players who purchase the game on the PS4 or PS3 will actually receive a bonus level based on Ant-Man and nearly two dozen extra characters.
Finally, January will mark the long-awaited release of Jonathan Blow’s The Witness on the PC and PS4. Blow has become practically synonymous with the indie game movement since he released thinky platformer Braid in 2008. And his eight-years-in-the-making followup will similarly attempt to breathe new life into another genre, though this time it’s Myst-like puzzle games from the mid 90s. The Witness was also one of the first PS4 games to be revealed to the public, so it’ll be interesting to see what it looks like when it’s finally released.
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February kicks off with the release of XCOM 2 (PC), the second game in the reborn strategy series. After all their efforts in the first XCOM, players will start the sequel at a bit of a disadvantage as the aliens have taken over the Earth. XCOM 2 players are also in store for another big change, as Firaxis is taking a franchise that was previously multiplatform (XCOM: Enemy Unknown was released on the PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and mobile devices) and shrinking it back down to a PC exclusive. It’s a bold move by publisher 2K, and not one you see much nowadays, but the team at Firaxis believes it will result in a better game. And they’ve left open the possibility that XCOM 2 could appear on the PS4 and Xbox One further down the line.
XCOM 2 will be followed by a string of big franchise releases, which is the best evidence yet that publishers plan to provide a library of good games throughout the year. Things start off on February 9 with the visually-impressive Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia (PC, PS4, Xbox One), the final game in a spinoff trilogy of Assassin’s Creed side-scrollers. Ubisoft will also release a trilogy box set containing all three games for those who decide to wait.
The following week, players will finally be able to enter the one-on-one fighting arena of Street Fighter V (PC, PS4). Capcom is trying something new with Street Fighter V, and won’t release a “Super,” “Turbo,” or “Ultra” update to the game in the future. Instead, the franchise’s fifth entry will be supported with a steady stream of additional characters, including six in 2016. Because of that, Street Fighter V’s initial roster feels a little slight (just 16 characters), but this release schedule did wonders to revive the Killer Instinct franchise. And I’m very interested to see if Capcom’s “Unlock Paid DLC Characters for Free by Playing” plan actually works.
Moving right along, 3DS owners will get the chance to dive into two big games in February. First up is the Bandai Namco/Capcom/Sega/Nintendo crossover antics of Project X Zone 2, and then a few days later they’ll get a chance to explore Fire Emblem Fates. The latest Fire Emblem will actually be released in two versions (Birthright and Conquest), which will allow players to pledge loyalty to one of the game’s two factions. And if you want to experience the other side of the story, you’ll be able to purchase it as DLC through the 3DS eShop. A third scenario, which actually requires both factions to join forces to vanquish a greater evil, will be available at a later date.
It’s pretty safe to say that the first person shooter genre is pretty locked into science fiction settings nowadays. So that’s why the February release of Far Cry: Primal (PC, PS4, Xbox One) is so interesting. Ubisoft’s decided to go back before World War II to create the latest game in the series… actually, they went much, much further back. Primal takes place in prehistoric times, and players will arm themselves with knives, spears, and primitive bows as they battle ancient beasts and other tribes in a game that prides pure survival over everything else. Believe it or not, a second oddball shooter is getting a time-hopping sequel in February… Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 (PC, PS4, Xbox One). Players will be able to use futuristic zombie tech or take the fight back to the Coliseum.
Mighty No. 9 (PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One) will finally be released in February, and while it isn’t a sequel to a big franchise, it may as well be. After Keiji Inafune’s departure from Capcom, the developer began work on a side-scrolling spiritual successor to the long-neglected Mega Man franchise (Note: The Mega Man Legacy Collection will also be available as a retail release in February). As Mega Man’s creator, Inafune is more in tune with the character than anyone else on the planet, but after a few delays and more than a few PR gaffes, it’s reasonable to feel worried about the future of the would-be franchise.
Finally, the truck soccer of Rocket League will make its debut on the Xbox One sometime in February, while Telltale will launch the first part of The Walking Dead: Michonne (Mobile, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One), a “mini” three-episode adventure starring everyone’s favorite zombie killer.
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Nintendo owns the month of March, with four titles set to be released in a three-week span. First up, Zelda fans finally get their wish as Nintendo will release The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD for the Wii U on March 4th. Celebrating the tenth anniversary of the game’s release on the GameCube and Wii, Twilight Princess HD might even include a bonus dungeon unlockable with a special Wolf Link Amiibo. Mario gets his turn next as the plumber will once again compete against Sonic the Hedgehog in the sports-themed minigame collection Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (3DS) on March 18th. Pokken Tournament (Wii U), a Bandai Namco-developed Pokemon fighting game, will also be released on the 18th. Finally, we come full circle to Hyrule Warriors Legends (3DS), which will add several new characters to the hack and slash game when it’s released on the 25th.
The high-energy Hyrule Warriors Legends is the perfect segue to four other action-packed titles that will be available in March. Ubisoft is positioning the first of these games, Tom Clancy’s The Division (PC, PS4, Xbox One), as a more contemporary version of Destiny with a focus on teamwork and shooting. And I gotta admit, a massive terrorist attack transmitted by contaminating money (during Black Friday, by the way) with some kind of deadly disease sounds scarily plausible. The Division will launch on March 8th, but a closed beta will start next week.
A few days later, Square Enix will launch the first episode in the sixth Hitman (PC, PS4, Xbox One) game, which will make it one of the first episodically released titles that’s not a dialogue-heavy adventure game. Agent 47’s globetrotting exploits make Hitman the perfect candidate for an episodic release; I just hope the public isn’t suffering from episodic overload in 2016.
A few days after that, EA will return to the Octagon with EA Sports UFC 2 (PS4, Xbox One), which features the recently-defeated Ronda Rousey on the cover. The publisher has promised the standard laundry list of proposed improvements for UFC 2 in the run-up to the game’s release, including a more realistic physics engine, better graphics, and more customization options. A different kind of fighting game, Killer Instinct Season 3, will also be released sometime this March. Previously available only for the Xbox One, the third season will expand to the PC as well, so a new set of players can do battle with a living skeleton, a human/dinosaur hybrid, a flame monster, an ice alien, and others.
Finally, I have to mention the Oculus Rift and its March 28th launch date. Is it a peripheral? Is it a platform? Is $600 too much? Will a slew of early adopters translate into a thriving install base? These questions will all be answered at a later date, but all we really need to know right now is that a dedicated virtual reality headset is coming and it’s coming soon. So far, Oculus has confirmed that two games will definitely be available at launch… intergalactic dogfighting sim Eve: Valkyrie and colorful platformer Lucky’s Tale. We can probably expect more launch title announcements to happen in the next few weeks.
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Other Games With Early 2016 Release Dates
A handful of other games don’t have confirmed release dates as of now, but they’re all expected to launch during the first three months of 2016. The two that you should definitely be on the lookout for are Square Enix’s RPG sequel Bravely Second: End Layer (3DS) and Capcom’s multiplayer team-based shooter Umbrella Corps (PC, PS4). Both promise to offer something impressive as Bravely Second is said to be vastly larger than Bravely Default, while Umbrella Corps adds zombies to the team-based shooter template.
That’s it for our in-depth look at the first three months of 2016. We’ll be back soon with an exploration of the April through September period, which promises to include a few dozen eagerly anticipated titles. Until then, be sure to check out our complete Video Game Release Calendar, which includes hundreds of titles from 2016, 2017, 2018, and beyond.