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Geoff Keighley’s Summer Game Fest has come and gone, and I’ve never been more grateful to see a bunch of games in the middle of June, when they’re nowhere near being ready.
Getting a chance to see upcoming games for decades has been a privilege, and I didn’t realize how important it was until the Entertainment Software Association and Reedpop decided to cancel the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles this year.
Keighley filled the void and held the SGF as an online event on June 8, followed by two days of Play Days where hundreds of press had a chance to play the games. We also attended the Microsoft and Ubisoft press events in person and watched online shows and saw more in-person previews. Our GamesBeat writers Mike Minotti and Jordan Fragen joined me at these events.
The triple-A front
Now that I’ve attended them, I feel more confidence in the future of games. For starters, it’s nice to see that big game companies — Microsoft and Ubisoft in particular — are starting to bring big games to fruition. As Microsoft first-party leader Matt Booty told Stephen Totilo of Axios, triple-A games aren’t taking two to three years anymore. They’re taking four to six years. And sometimes the result is like Redfield, but we won’t dwell on that game.
The delays in launching big games are not just due to the pandemic. It’s due to the growing ambitions of the game developers in their efforts to stand out from the crowd. For instance, if Grand Theft Auto 6 comes out on time in 2025, it will have been 13 years since its predecessor debuted.
So it was good to see titles like Starfield, Star Wars: Outlaws and Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora nearing the end of the pipeline for game development. And it was fun to see the return of franchises that seemed like they were put on the shelf a long time ago, like Alan Wake 2, whose predecessor came out 13 years ago, and Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, from a franchise which hasn’t had a major installment since 2013.
Good smaller games
I was also impressed with smaller titles that were shown off by companies like Annapurna, Netflix and others. It was sad that a party for the Mix was canceled, where many indies had planned to show their games off.
The most amusing title of the show was Stampede: Racing Royale, a game coming from Sumo Leamington, a studio owned by Tencent’s Sumo Digital. It was like a cross of battle royale and Mario Kart.
It was also good to see both big and small companies take a shot at creating new intellectual properties. Stormgate from startup Frost Giant Games is a kind of spiritual successor to StarCraft in the real-time strategy space. Immortals of Aveum is a new fantasy shooter title with inspiration from Call of Duty.
My most anticipated games
Without further ado, here’s my favorite games from the Summer Game Fest week. These are just my choices, based on what I was impressed with at the show. I played some of these games, saw playthroughs on some of them, and just watched the trailers on others.
Star Wars Outlaws
From the makers of The Division and the Snowdrop Engine at Ubisoft’s Massive studio, this game finally takes Star Wars into a new open world in the Outer Rim of the galaxy. It’s set between the time of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It got an interesting new hero pirate in Kay Vess and a cute companion in the creature Nix. She doesn’t seem to be a clone of Han Solo, and that’s a good thing. The space piracy might be a lot like Starfield’s, but I expect the planets to be very interesting and a more focused, directed narrative in this game. We can expect everything from space combat to firefights on the ground and plenty of stealth play. And I’ll be interested to see if there are any big story beats that this game will hit in the war between the empire and the rebels. It’s coming in 2024.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora
Disney and Lightstorm chose Massive as the studio to tell a brand-new story set in the Avatar universe. The team built a rich and complex world for Pandora, an Earth-size moon that has only been partially explored in the movies so far. And this game explores the unseen Western frontier, a corner of Pandora, according to creator James Cameron. The game has an environment full of wildlife and fauna from multiple biomes. The Snowdrop game engine pushes the 3D graphics to the limit.
But it’s also very focused, with a narrative that dwells on a single Na’vi warrior. Abducted by the human militaristic corporation known as the RDA, you, a Na’vi child, are trained and molded to serve their purpose. Following the Battle of the Hallelujah Mountains, you are put into emergency cryosleep as the RDA evacuates Pandora. You awake 15 years later in an abandoned facility and step onto Pandora, a stranger in your birthplace. Just in time for a new battle to save the moon from the humans. You’ll fight with a bow and spear and with human weapons as well. And you can ride into battle on a Pandora horse or on the wings of banshee known as an Ikran. It’s coming for the consoles and PC on December 7.
About 25 years in the making, Starfield looks like it’s going to be the ultimate open world — or maybe open galaxy — game in the science fiction genre. The year is 2330. Humanity has ventured beyond our solar system, settling new planets, and living as a spacefaring people. From humble beginnings as a space miner, you will join Constellation — the last group of space explorers seeking rare artifacts throughout the galaxy — and navigate the vast expanse of the Settled Systems. There’s a mystery in the narrative about encountering these artifacts.
Anything you want to do you’ll be able to do in this world. Some playtesters have hit 100 hours in the game and they’re barely scratching the surface. Perhaps even bigger than last year’s Elden Ring, it will be a challenge to finish all the gameplay of missions, exploration, customization and action in your lifetime. The game has more than 1,000 planets where you’ll be able to settle, create an outpost, and explore. The planets have their own alien life and natural habitats.
The game’s combat will be locked at 30 frames per second, but the videos of it — like fighting with a jet pack — looked pretty compelling to me. You can customize your base camp and your own spaceship as well. If I had all the time in the world, I could play this for a long time without ever finding the seams that show me it’s a game and not a reality. The game debuts on September 6, 2023.
When I started building construction robots — called B.O.B. units — at my command post in the game, I felt like I was dispatching workers in a StarCraft game. It made me feel sad that we haven’t seen a StarCraft title for more than a decade. But you can think of it as a spiritual successor to both Warcraft and StarCraft. It certainly gave me that StarCraft-like buzz.
Stormgate is a real-time strategy game that blends both science fiction and fantasy genres in one “science fantasy” storyline. It’s a free-to-play game for the PC coming to Steam in 2024. It blends that feeling of a sci-fi race of humans fighting a fantasy alien race. But it’s not a Blizzard title at all.
Frost Giant has taken learnings from the years and beefed up the graphics. The most interesting units are the Vulcans, which are mechs that tower over the humans. They carry a loud Gatling gun that spins up to deal increased damage. The Jump Jets upgrade allows the Vulcan to reposition in combat and can stun any enemies in its way. It’s nice to see a return to old-school RTS with newfangled twists.
It was fun to see what the team at InXile, started by Brian Fargo, has been up to since being acquired by Microsoft. The maker of Wasteland, InXile’s Clockwork Revolution is a first-person sci-fi game with a steampunk setting and time that rewinds during gameplay.
It gave me vibes of BioShock Infinite and it’s about a rebellious woman resisting an authoritarian leader, who chases her across time and space. The graphics and attention to detail look amazing in this game, which has no launch date.
Assassin’s Creed: Mirage
Ubisoft also showed off Assassin’s Creed: Mirage, which is coming out on October 12, 2023. We didn’t see as much of this game as I would have liked, but there were long segments focused on parkour maneuvering through the ancient city of Baghdad, which looks pretty amazing in its ninth-century setting. Ubisoft is getting back to the basics of Assassin’s Creed as the game nears its 15th anniversary, with a focus on assassinations and movement. The new hero is Basim Ibn Is’haq, a thief with a mysterious past who is haunted by nightmares. More than 500 people are working on it.
Alan Wake 2
Alan Wake 2 got a release date during today’s PlayStation Showcase. It releases on October 17, right in time for Halloween.
I rated the first Alan Wake, released in 2010, at 98 out of 100. It was a clever horror-action game where the fiction writer Alan Wake pens a horror novel and it starts to come true in real life. Now, 13 years, later, we’re getting the sequel that writer Sam Lake has had trapped in his head for 13 years. Wake is trapped as well, stuck in an alternate reality.
Meanwhile, an FBI agent named Saga is in another horrific reality where the monsters and beasts that Wake is creating are coming to life in her reality. You can switch between these realities at various times. Leave it to Remedy to come up with another intricate story that weaves a tale between two worlds. I’m looking forward to these games, but I hope that Alan Wake 3 and Alan Wake 4 also don’t take 13 years to make.
Mortal Kombat 1
Mortal Kombat 1 looked very polished during my demo at the Summer Game Fest Play Days event. It debuts on September 19 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Switch and PC. It is called Mortal Kombat 1 instead of Mortal Kombat 12 because creator Ed Boon decided to reboot the universe with new characters and storylines.
It’s a snappy game with cool environments and plenty of over-the-top gore and violence when you get a Fatality. It’s always comical to see bones getting crushed in such an unrealistic way. It’s even enjoyable for casual players like me — and not impossible to win either.
It also has an assistant fighter that you can call in on a press of the right bumper on a controller. The assistant comes in with an attack and sets you up to do more damage in a follow-up attack. If you’re losing a fight, it gives you a second to catch your breath.
Armored Core VI
I caught a demo of Armored Core VI, the latest title coming from From Software, maker of Elden Ring and Bloodbourne. It’s been a long time since we’ve had one of these games, and the beautiful graphics and sound really convey the awesome power of combat mechs.
The demo in a giant metal structure made an impression, as the sound of metal on metal is a constant part of the fighting. I was also impressed with the fast maneuvering, as you can dash at enemies to attack them or escape them.
The game debuts on August 25 on the consoles and PC.
Stampede: Racing Royale
Simple ideas are sometimes the best, and I’m surprised that Nintendo didn’t think of this one. Stampede Racing Royale is a surprisingly delightful 60-player battle royale game where players race karts around tracks.
It’s basically a kart-racing game like Mario Kart where 60 players race each other in a free-to-play free-for-all. In my demo, I was reminded of the chaos of Fall Guys, where you have to beat 59 other players in a race to make the cut.
If you come in the top 40 in the first match, you make the cut for the next race. If you come in the top 20 for the second race, you make the cut for the final round. Only one champion can win. If you make a single mistake, you can find yourself at the back of the pack. But there is plenty of time to make comebacks, especially if you’re playing against bots. I can’t tell you how many times I got bumped or headed off as I was steering to collect a powerup.
Once you have powerups, you can control your fate, leaving behind mines for others to run over and blow up. You can throw bombs at those ahead of you, or you can shoot others with a pistol-like gun.
It’s coming to Early Access on Steam in 2023 from Level Infinite’s Sumo Leamington and publisher Secret Mode.
Monster Hunter Now
Niantic and Capcom have teamed up to create Monster Hunter Now, a free-to-play mobile game launching this September. It brings the experience of Monster Hunter to the real world of streets, parks and neighborhoods around the world.
Capcom‘s Monster Hunter series has sold more than 90 million copies to date, and it is teaming up with Niantic, the creator of Pokémon Go, NBA All-World, Pikmin Bloom and Ingress Prime. All of Niantic‘s games feature location-based gameplay and some feature augmented reality.
In my demo, I saw a map grid like in Pokémon Go. But rather than have the same Pokestops to visit every day, the landscape for Monster Hunter Now changes every day. That means you can encounter different monsters when you wake up and go outside.
You can collect resources that will help you get better weapons and armor. You can craft various weapons, like bows or swords. Then you can tap on monsters on the map and go into a fight. In a fight, you can tap a monster to attack it with a sword. But you can also swipe in a direction to dodge. Then you can be in a better position to attack a monster from behind. You have to be good at timing, adding a skill element to the fighting.
You can build up to a special move to unleash on the monster. Other players can join you if you invite them to a fight. They can join from any location and help you deal with the monster from multiple directions.
I enjoyed the gameplay, which was more hardcore in nature than I thought it would be. The global launch is scheduled for September and the game will be available on the App Store and Google Play.
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty
This expansion for Cyberpunk 2077 had me at Keanu Reeves, who is coming back as the phantom-like Johnny Silverhand character in the Phantom Liberty expansion.
The expansion arrives on September 26 from CD Projekt Red, maker of Cyberpunk 2077, which debuted with a lot of bugs in 2020. The game eventually got a lot of fixes. And I see this as an opportunity for the company to redeem itself with the kind of launch that Keanu deserves.
This one looks as cinematic as the last game, which I played for a solid 50 hours or so. I didn’t get hands-on with this one, but I’m willing to give the devs a second chance at greatness.
Immortals of Aveum
I kind of chuckled when I heard that Immortals of Aveum was like Call of Duty in a fantasy game. Then I played a demo of this single-player “magic first-person shooter” game coming from developer Ascendant Studios and publisher Electronic Arts on July 20.
It’s not so strange a comparison when you learn that the game director and CEO of Ascendant is Bret Robbins, who was the former senior creative director at Sledgehammer Games, maker of titles such as Call of Duty: WWII. He started Ascendant Studios five years ago after leaving Sledgehammer.
It has other inspirations as well like BioShock and God of War, but it has its own fantasy universe. The game is set at a time when an “Everwar” is winding down after thousands of years and your side of the conflict is about to lose. Immortals, or magic-wielding warriors, are the last hope.
The gameplay was immediately familiar. The colors of the types of magic represent familiar weapon types for Call of Duty players: blue for a blast of magic that is like a sniper rifle, green for an assault rifle, and red for a shotgun. There are other nuances to master, but you can spend a lot of time just shooting.
I liked lashing out with a lasso that pulled enemies to me so I could blast them with the shotgun-like magic. The game has interesting boss fights, like taking on a flying dragon, and the narrative is interesting. The only odd thing is hearing modern language coming out of the mouths of the fantasy characters. The game comes out on the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S and the PC.
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