2010's most promising PC games

Expected: Feb 16

Hunted, hunter, huntiest. Which will win in the multiplayer tussle? Well, the huntiest will, obviously. Aliens, versus Predators, versus a bunch of guys who aren’t Aliens or Predators. Definitely a rich recipe for three separate single-player FPS adventures, as we’ve seen before. But for the multiplayer? Is there a chance that the invisible, hyper-tough space bastard who can see in the dark, heal himself and fire plasma rockets from his shoulder might be somewhat overpowered?

Yes. And in deathmatch, that’s almost certainly going to be a problem. Pick Alien for agility, Marine for ranged firepower, or Predator for both. And invisibility. And armour. And landmines. Seemingly aware of this, Rebellion have a few modes that play on the imbalance instead of ignoring it. ‘Infestation’ doesn’t involve any Predators at all: one player is an Alien, and any Marines he kills respawn as xenos. The last man left alive with his humanity is the winner – however screwed.

Predator Hunt starts with a similar one-versus-many setup, but the Predator can kill as many Marines as he likes without gaining any allies. When he dies, though, his assassin becomes the Predator, and the former Predator is back to being a human jarhead. Reminds us of a certain Predator-inspired modfor Half-Life 2 – but that’s no bad thing.

As in Monolith’s AvP 2, Aliens can scamper up walls and along ceilings, and therefore over pretty much anything at all. On consoles, you can see how that might make them near-impossible to hit when moving at full speed. On PC, it might not be quite the same defensive masterstroke. It should make them fun to play in single-player, though. After you’ve clawed, tail-stabbed and head-chomped all the marines in an area, you can restrain the civilians so that a facehugger can implant them. If you don’t, the civvies are still all too aware of that possibility, and will try to take their own lives to avoid it. Dark.

As the species with the most pronounced disadvantage – no ranged attacks – the Alien campaign will apparently be as much about problem solving as deft violence. With turrets and heavy weapons, the Marines have some defences that just aren’t approachable in a direct assault. Aliens are stealthy in the shadows, though, and can activate a temporary ultra-fast mode to dash past heavy fire, so you do have tools you can use to work around these.

So long as one of the problems you have to solve is “Gee, I have a powerful hunger and here there’s this box of defenceless kittens – what’s a non-terrestrial fella like me to do?” we’re on board.

Napoleon: Total War

Expected: Feb 23

Creative Assembly are stepping into little shoes to fight a smaller, more personal war. “It was too buggy when released,” Mike Simpson says. Creative Assembly’s studio director is telling us what went wrong with their last game, Empire: Total War. “It’s because we have a fixed release deadline, and being a part of the publisher now, you can’t not meet the deadline. As an independent developer you could be late, as long as you didn’t run out of money,” he laughs.

The other problem was ambition. CA liked to start work from scratch with every second game, but that proved too big a challenge with Empire: Total War. “What we’re saying now is that for every major iteration we’ll revolutionise one area of the game at a time,” Mike explains. “We’ve got land battles, naval, the campaign, and we count multiplayer as a fourth. So each iteration will pick one of those four areas and completely rewrite it. Over four products we’ll end up completely re-writing the codebase, but we’ve got a more manageable task in terms of having at least three-quarters of the game be rock solid throughout development.”

Sitting down to play Napoleon: Total War, it’s hard to say which area they’ve decided to completely rewrite this time around, because there are a dozens of changes made all over. Taking a more personal focus than the global war of Empire, Napoleon guides you across three campaigns that chart the Little Corporal’s life. The campaign map has been revamped to include seasonal weather and to big-up the importance of supply lines. If your troops are going to survive their venture into the Russian winter, you’d better have a steady supply of parkas and mittens.

When you leap into the land battles, improvements to the AI are immediately obvious. Generals play a more important role in Napoleon, providing tactical buffs to nearby troops – letting you inspire your forces and rally men in the process of fleeing. Given the big AI problems of Empire, it’s a relief to see it already working so well in Napoleon.

Playing with friends should be a central part of Napoleon from the off. When playing a campaign, you’ll be able to tick a box that says you want drop-in/drop-out battles. Afterwards, when you enter a land or naval battle during your campaign, you might not be playing against the AI. Instead, the game will send an invite out over Steam, searching for another player who will leap into your game for that battle’s duration. It’s not clear how the matchmaking will work, but Creative Assembly expect that it’ll mostly be used by people who are already expert at the game. It should be an utterly seamless transition, and it should enable those able to trounce the computer to keep playing with more challenging, unpredictable enemies.