Worth the Wait? ‘The Witness’ and Three Other Games You’ll (Hopefully) Finally Play in 2016

Brett Bates
Games Final Fantasy
Games Final Fantasy

Jonathan Blow’s first-person puzzler The Witness comes out today, a mere 2,334 days since the creator of the indie darling Braid publicly unveiled his follow-up project. But The Witness isn’t the only long-gestating title scheduled to hit virtual shelves this year; several other high-profile games fans have been clamoring to play for years should finally release in 2016. Here’s a look at the best of them and why they’ve been stuck in development purgatory for so long.

Final Fantasy XV

Announced: June 2006 (as Final Fantasy Versus XIII)
Projected Release: Late 2016
Length of Delay: 10+ years

What’s the big deal?

It’s Final Fantasy, put simply. This is the biggest JRPG series out there, and it hasn’t seen a proper numbered release since Final Fantasy XIII way back in 2010. (The MMO-based Final Fantasy XIV, while home to a devoted fan base, is considered a series outlier.) Although most gamers have shifted to Western RPGs like Fallout, Dragon Age, and The Witcher, the Final Fantasy series still commands enormous respect from those who have fond memories of playing earlier games in the series on Nintendo systems — or, more likely, of long days spent with the series’ commercial apex, Final Fantasy VII, on the original PlayStation.

Why the delay?

Final Fantasy XV is the oldest soul on this list, and it’s also undergone the most significant alteration. The game actually started life as the oddly titled Final Fantasy Versus XIII, part of a series of games thematically linked to Final Fantasy XIII and developed around the same time.

According to original director Tetsuya Nomura, Versus was always meant to be a rare bird, exploring a much darker world than what typically populates a Final Fantasy game. This bleak, unfamiliar tone accounted for the game’s placement outside the standard numbered franchise entries and likely prolonged the pre-production process, as the company internally came to terms with the atypical concept.

Square Enix did show a cinematic trailer of Versus at E3 2006, but it remained largely silent about the game after that. In 2009, a closed-door gameplay preview took place at Tokyo Game Show, followed by a new cinematic trailer that debuted two years later at a Square Enix event.

Then, at E3 2013, Square Enix announced that the game had been rebranded to Final Fantasy XV and development moved to the PlayStation 4, with Nomura stepping down as director to pursue other projects. Since then, players have been able to get a taste of the game via a demo included with Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, released in March 2015. Square has also promised to announce the final release date at an event this March.

The Last Guardian

Announced: June 2009
Projected Release: Late 2016
Length of Delay: 7+ years

What’s the big deal?

Developer Team Ico’s two PlayStation 2 titles, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, rank high on most gamers’ “best ever” lists. Ico took the dreaded “escort mission” and elevated it to a touching relationship between two lost souls. Shadow of the Colossus pared down the gameplay to focus solely on imposing boss battles, asking players to scale massive, moving beasts in order to conquer them.

The Last Guardian looks to blend those two experiences, focusing on the friendship between a boy and a large “cat-bird-dog” named Trico as they explore a vast, ruined castle. Videos released so far promise more of the environmental puzzle-solving that Team Ico has perfected.

After wowing audiences during Sony’s E3 2009 press conference, The Last Guardian seemed poised to become one of the PlayStation 3’s crowning achievements. Instead, it disappeared.

Why the delay?

The Last Guardian‘s lengthy development cycle is largely due to the limitations of console hardware occluding the creators’ vision. Director Fumito Ueda and his team wanted players to develop a strong emotional attachment to Trico, and to do that the giant beast needed to behave as realistically as possible at a consistent framerate. The PlayStation 3 hardware just wasn’t up to the task, so the team shifted focus to the upcoming PlayStation 4.

Around the same time, Ueda left Sony for personal reasons, and a number of other core Team Ico members left in his wake. While Ueda and a small team remains involved with The Last Guardian as contractors, the staff turnover exacerbated existing development delays.

By 2015, many fans had given up hope that the game would ever be released, particularly after an administrative error caused the game’s copyright to expire. Then a new trailer debuted at Sony’s E3 2015 press conference, along with a release date: 2016. Just when exactly in 2016 The Last Guardian hits store shelves is still an open question, but with luck fans will only need to wait a handful of months to finally play the game.

The Witness

Announced: September 2009
Projected Release: January 2016
Length of Delay: 6+ years

What’s the big deal?

Jonathan Blow’s first game, Braid, kick-started the indie game revolution on consoles back in 2008 and made Blow a multimillionaire in the process. Braid‘s intriguing mix of Mario-style platforming and increasingly complex time-bending abilities pleased gamers on a mechanical level, but it was the gorgeous Impressionistic art style and obtuse story (it was about the atom bomb, right?) that nudged Blow into the upper pantheon of creator-owner game developers.

When The Witness was first announced in August 2009, fans were eager to explore what felt like a dramatically new type of game from Braid: a completely non-linear, minimalistic series of puzzles, set in a gorgeous uninhabited island. Blow claimed that he wanted to create “epiphany moments” for players that he felt were missing from most modern games. Fans responded by quickly ingesting every bit of news that trickled out about the game, which Blow originally pegged for a “late 2011” release.

Why the delay?

The culprit was a familiar confluence of factors that has delayed many a creative passion project: ambitious scope, personal wealth, and no investor oversight. Blow decided on creating a 3D engine from scratch, rather than using off-the-shelf tools like Unreal or Unity, because he wanted to retain full control over his vision. The ballooning budget eventually tallied more than $5 million, much of it coming from Blow’s personal Braid profits. And since Blow himself was largely financing the game, he had the freedom to pursue development at his leisure, without answering to a publisher eager for a Q4 hit to boost the bottom line. Finally, like a number of other titles on this list, The Witness fell victim to overlapping console life cycles, as developers who began development on PS3 and Xbox 360 switched over to PS4 and Xbox One in order to take advantage of the newer systems’ upgraded hardware and revitalized install base.

Even though fans have had to endure a nearly seven-year wait, the end result should be worth it: The Witness promises more than 650 puzzles, 80 hours of potential gameplay, and hidden secrets it will likely take the collective Internet months to discover.

Homefront: The Revolution

Announced: September 2011
Projected Release: May 2016
Length of Delay: 4+ years

What’s the big deal?

Homefront: The Revolution is notable mostly for the fact that the thing exists at all. The original Homefront didn’t light the world on fire: It took a cool concept (a unified Korea has invaded the United States; everyday folks must fight back across suburban yards and baseball fields) and grafted on a middling shooter. In fact, the game is likely more known for the mainstream press it generated dumping thousands of balloons into the San Francisco bay during its marketing campaign. Following the game’s release, publisher THQ shuttered developer Kaos Studios.

But sales were significant enough that publisher THQ commissioned a sequel in 2011, this time tapping outside developer Crytek to build it for release in 2014. Crytek had solid shooter credentials between the Far Cry and Crysis series, so gamers had high hopes that they’d be able to create a game worthy of the story.

Why the delay?

Because publisher THQ failed spectacularly.

THQ filed for bankruptcy in December 2012, throwing all its franchises into doubt. Crytek scooped up the rights to the series at auction for a little over $500,000 and continued to develop the title with co-publisher Deep Silver. Freed of THQ’s design constraints, Crytek pivoted and turned the linear game into an open world the player could explore at will. Early previews were promising — and then Crytek ran into its own financial troubles.

Reports surfaced that Crytek had been unable to pay its employees and that a number of key staff on Homefront: The Revolution had departed as a result. To save the company, Crytek refocused its development resources on free-to-play online titles, selling its Homefront rights to Deep Silver’s parent company. The existing Crytek team (along with some of its key departed members) re-emerged as Dambuster Studios under Deep Silver. A final (?) release date has been set for May 17, 2016.

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Brett Bates
Brett Bates is a staff writer at Fandom. He's been in the video game industry for eight years as a writer and as a developer for companies like BioWare, Rumble, EGM, and Bitmob. According to his business card, he's a fan of indie games, crime comics, and boxer dogs.
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