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Five Things Coming to Gaming in 2012

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The start of a New Year is a time for looking forward rather than back, and I want to turn my gaze onto the world of gaming. Here are my top five highlights of the coming year.

5. Diablo III
This long-awaited sequel to Blizzard's - other - hugely successful franchise (World of Warcraft and Starcraft being the others), has fans chomping at the bit for its release in Q1 of 2012. A 3D dungeon-scrolling role playing game set in a dark fantasy world of monsters and demons, Diablo III will offer gamers the choice of playing alone or with friends, with content adapting accordingly. More controversially, the game is the first from Blizzard to integrate a real-world money auction system for in-game items. Many players of World of Warcraft will already have copies of this on order, following the developer's generous offer of giving Diablo free to anyone who signs up for a year of WoW. Hell awaits!

4. Mass Effect 3
BioWare might have their hands full with Star Wars: The Old Republic right now, but that hasn't stopped them from working overtime to make sure the third instalment of the Mass Effect series gets released this coming March. Players of the original two in the franchise will have the option to import their saved games, and the storyline will adapt to their character's past. On top of this, new multiplayer options, refined combat, and an overhauled cover system will give fans a lot to get excited about. Personally, I am most excited about hearing all those game characters talking about my (almost) namesake, Commander Shepard.

3. Halo 4
As one of the defining franchises of the Xbox gaming world, a lot sits on the broad shoulders of Master Chief. With talk of an upcoming movie, and a number of novels and comics already in circulation, the series was never going to end with Halo: Reach in 2010. This is the first proper game to be developed by 343 Industries, which is causing some concern amongst fans of the Bungie-led predecessors, and is planned as the first of three instalments in a new story arc. With its sights set firmly on a Christmas 2012 release, this game is virtually guaranteed to drop into millions of stockings worldwide.

2. GTA V
Unless you have been living in a cave these past 10 years, and, since the anniversary release of GTA III on iOS and Android handhelds last month, the cave would have to be on the moon, you will be familiar with the Grand Theft Auto mega-franchise. Even if you have never played one of the games in the series, you will know the controversy that surrounds its kill anyone, steal anything, go anywhere, sandbox gameplay. If this is the kind of thing that concerns you, then I am afraid 2012 is going to be a rough year. With official trailer views almost at 11 million in two months, gamers and critics alike are putting together lists of likely features. None of these will surprise those who have played through the previous GTA games, and all of them will cause offense somewhere. I can't deny my excitement for this one, even if it does bring out the criminal in me.

1. Xbox 720 / PS4 / Playstation Vita
OK, technically this is three things, but they can all be lumped under the broad heading of "next-gen consoles". Out of these, only the Playstation Vita is a confirmed reality, with a release in Japan just before Christmas, and coming to the rest of us on 22 February. This could be the best hope for the "real" gaming industry to wrest back control of the portable market from the smartphone and Facebook based developers. Can they do it? Only time will tell.

As for the Xbox 720 and PS4, it is expected that one or both of these will be announced at E3 in June this year, and rumours abound relating to their possible features. Could these be the first consoles to do away with discs all together, and rely solely on downloaded or streaming game content? If not, what format can Microsoft turn to, given their apparent stubbornness regarding Blu-Ray? What is nigh-on guaranteed is that these next-gen consoles will feature the high end graphics and enough processing power to appeal to the PC gamer market. It is also anticipated that the next Xbox console will come bundled with a more advanced version of Microsoft's motion sensing Kinect, and that this version will be sensitive enough to read lips. And you thought the end of the world was the only thing to fear in 2012...

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