2014's most wanted games – review

No Man's Sky (Hello Games; release and platform TBC)

No Man's Sky comes from Guildford and promises us the universe. This intriguing science fiction explorer, made by a small team at indie developer Hello Games, stole the show from a gang of much bigger boys at last year's glitzy VGX awards with a glimpse of untouched oceans, continents and star systems waiting to be found, familiarised and fought over. Players will begin at the edge of a shared galaxy and work inwards, sometimes in co-operation, sometimes in competition, in an environment that is – as a sign of the game's ludicrous ambition – entirely procedurally generated. Whatever platform it's finally confirmed for, No Man's Sky will be essential.

DayZ (Bohemia Interactive; PC; Out now [alpha testing version])

It speaks to the shifting landscape of PC gaming, in particular, that one of the most awaited games of 2014 has been with us since 2009. DayZ started life as a mod for military shooter Arma II that conjured a desolate, dangerous post-civilisation scenario in a post-Soviet state, with swarms of lethal zombies second only to ruthless fellow survivors on the list of things to avoid. Interaction is fraught, supplies are rare and death is permanent, leading to an experience that will wring you emotionally dry in a different way with each respawn. Currently available through early access on Steam, DayZ will be updated throughout 2014 Mario

Kart 8 (Nintendo; WiiU; spring)

Mario's racing circus returns boasting the kind of features you'd expect from a sequel with a number that high in the title – not just hang-gliders and underwater vehicles, but all-new anti-gravity sections that bring ceilings and walls into play. Of course the real excitement comes from the fact that Mario Kart has been a reliably excellent family-friendly party stalwart for decades, and Nintendo has shown itself to be a master of artfully sustaining and rejuvenating its key games with a mixture of reverence and creativity. In other words, this is likely to play not just as well as you hope, but as well as you remember.

Dark Souls II (Namco Bandai; PS3, Xbox 360, PC; 14 March)

Not so much the outgoing generation's last hurrah as its strangled, agonised death cry, one echoing repeatedly off cold stone walls, thanks to Dark Souls II's shadowed traps and abrupt ends. The first Dark Souls established itself as something unique; a complex, dungeon-exploring role-player with a cliff-like difficulty curve that was fiendishly hardcore but rewarding enough to cross into the mainstream. With updated visuals and – whisper it – nods to accessibility, Dark Souls II could become the last essential game of the outgoing generation.

Titanfall (Electronic Arts; Xbox One, PC; 14 March)

All you really need to know about Titanfallis that it comes from the people – the designers and creators, rather than the company men – who made Call of Duty into the ubiquitous force it is today. Titanfall is their blank cheque project, a gloriously frantic first-person arena of mech suits and multiplayer battles that has wowed critics in early play tests. It's the most awaited blockbuster of the year and could prove an influential exclusive for Xbox One.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Nathan Ditum, for The Observer on Sunday 12th January 2014 00.05 Europe/London

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image: © Scott Akerman

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