Xenosis uses an unusual mix of graphic styles with purposefully low resolution textures that make the game look almost like a SNES Mode 7 game. Most of the objects are actual 3D models though and this contrasts with some excellent high-tech lighting and smoke effects. Both are of Stone’s own making, with the lighting apparently owing much to his background in photography (and obvious love for old James Cameron movies).
‘I don’t have any training in game design but I know what feels good to me and I know what feels bad’, said Stone.
‘So I just try to pull on my experiences with other games, and sci-fi and other things, and try to avoid the things that seem cheesy or bad. Maybe, I have an eye for good games – I don’t know. But I met Warren Spector [creator of System Shock] at GDC and he said he liked the game And that was amazing to me, it made me feel like maybe I was doing things right after all.’
As you’d expect from the Dark Souls name drop the game is not easy, with limited oxygen and other resources putting an emphasis on survival and crafting. But there’s also a strong story element (with input from Stone’s daughter) as you try to piece together exactly what’s happened. It was one of our favourite games at the [email protected] event and we can’t wait to see the finished product.
Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Developer: NerdRage Studios
Release Date: 2019
The other endearing thing about indie games is that their scope can be anything from gigantic adventures, that take over your whole life, to whimsical timewasters that are a welcome break between more serious concerns. As you might guess Supermarket Shriek is very much on the latter end of the scale.
The somewhat unlikely set-up involves a man and a goat being thrown together into a shopping trolley and… deciding to take part in a series of races around shops with some very elaborate anti-theft devices. As you rattle around the simple top-down courses, filled with spike pits and axes swinging from the ceiling, the only controls are pressing the left trigger to make the man scream (and turning the trolley to the left) and pressing the right trigger to make the goat scream (and turning the trolley to the right).
Actually, maybe it was the other way round. But whichever it was it’s basically tank controls and that makes the otherwise relatively simple courses extremely difficult to navigate. But the bizarre premise and enjoyably silly presentation are highly enjoyable and the only real concern is how long the joke can be stretched out for.
We were still left wanting more after our demo, so that’s always a good sign. As is the fact the developer is the same behind the underrated Her Majesty’s SPIFFING. It also seems fair to imagine this won’t be one of the more expensive indie games around, although it might end up being one of the most fun.
Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch
Developer: Billy Goat Entertainment
Release Date: TBC
On the other end of the complexity scale is the wonderfully named Void Bastards, which was described to us as a cross between XCOM and System Shock 2. And if we weren’t sold by the name alone that was certainly the clincher. Although the developer was able to reel off a shopping list of other influences we also approved of, from Douglas Adams’ video game classic Bureaucracy to the movie Brazil. There’s also a clear comic book influence from 2000 AD, as well as the likes of Mike Mignola and Jamie Hewlett.
System Shock was not a random name drop either, as the design director worked on both it and BioShock. With those sort of influences you can imagine that Void Bastards is not the easiest thing to demo in a 20 minute preview but the gist of it was that you’re trying to escape from a pirate nebula, by skipping between much larger ships in your escape pod – as you try to collect and craft the weapons and equipment needed to survive.
The XCOM elements are in the meta game, involving which ships to investigate and the R&D and crafting needed to create the various weapons and gadgets – which range from a bad guy-distracting kittybot to all manner of interesting sci-fi guns and lasers.
There’s a semi-randomised element to the ship layouts but what’s most striking about them is the comic book style art design, which makes the game look like a more daring version of Borderlands. All the enemies are actually 2D sprites, which is not something we’ve seen in a long time when it comes to first person shooters, but with the distinctive art and amusing voiceovers it works very well.
When your character dies they’re gone forever but they’re replaced with one of an infinite supply of prisoners that are kept in dehydrated form on your escape pod. Each has different abilities that can help or hinder, including negative traits such as being a smoker that coughs and alerts enemies to their position.
With great visuals, a keen sense of black humour, and plenty of strategic depth Void Bastards seems extremely promising, especially given the pedigree of its developers. And the best thing is it doesn’t need to worry about being taking off shop shelves at WHSmith because of that name.
Formats: Xbox One and PC
Developer: Blue Manchu
Release Date: Early 2019
Although it seems to have been a reasonable success for Californian developer Night School Studio, we always felt 2016’s Oxenfree went somewhat underappreciated in terms of its narrative accomplishments. It’s not just that its dialogue was very good but the way it was presented in-game, with people talking over each other and interrupting one another – not to mention continuing their conversation as you moved around the game world – felt much more naturalistic than other games.
Oxenfree was essentially a graphic adventure but this follow-up has even stronger echoes of the LucasArts adventures of old, in terms of both its pixelart visuals and its sharp sense of humour. There’s no story connection, that we known of, between the two games though and Afterparty seems to be positioned as a straight comedy. Its set-up involves two recently deceased souls, Milo and Lola, arriving in Hell and finding that they can return to the living world if only they outdrink Satan himself.
Since Hell seems to be filled with bars, and relatively congenial demons, that’s not necessarily as impossible as it sounds and the section of game we played involved talking our way into a ‘death day’ party for a famous serial killer. This is all achieved in the best possible taste, with some amusingly wry commentary on people’s malleable morality in difficult situations.
One of the main gameplay gimmicks is drinking the various different kinds of booze to enable different dialogue options, with the first bar offering a libation that imbues Milo with enough Dutch courage to banter successfully with demons. Where the game goes from there we have no idea but we’re certainly keen to find out, as not only does this seem to be a worthy follow-up to Oxenfree but it’s exactly the sort of subject matter that only an indie game could tackle.
Developer: Night School Studio
Release Date: 2019
We didn’t have the heart to ask why Crytek, best known as the original creators of Far Cry and Crysis, were being labelled as an indie developer but since the company’s brush with collapse is well known the answer seemed pretty obvious. Hunt: Showdown is a game that’s been a long time in the making and we first saw it several years ago when it was a Left 4 Dead style co-op shooter called Hunt: Horrors Of The Gilded Age.
Created by many of the same team that used to work at Darksiders developer Vigil Games, the rebooted version of the concept is considerably more innovative than the original. Instead of just shooting monsters (the game is set in a period version of the Louisiana bayou) you’re competing with teams of other players to defeat a boss and take an artefact back to a special portal.
The location of the boss isn’t known as you start a match though, and instead you must follow clues that help narrow down the area of the map he’s hiding in. This offers up a whole host of different tactics, from simply trying to be the first to get to the boss to ghosting other teams or trying to nip in at the last minute to steal a victory.
The enemies are extremely hardy and react to sound more than sight, so for a lot of the time your best bet is to try and sneak past them or at least not take on too many at a time. The game’s been in early access on PC for a while now and if Crytek can ensure enough variety, especially in terms of maps, then this could be a significant game-changer when it comes to mixing co-op and competitive games.
Formats: Xbox One and PC
Release Date: Early 2019
As hugely influential as Grand Theft Auto has been it’s often forgotten just how old the franchise is, and how it all started out as some very rough-looking top-down adventures. Those original games are almost unplayable nowadays but American Fugitive seems like a glimpse of what they could’ve evolved into if the series had stuck with the top-down view all the time.
It’s by a British team whose developers have worked at once great studios such as Free Radical Design (TimeSplitters) and Eurocom (GoldenEye 007: Reloaded) and partially funded by the UK Games Fund, which is a welcome bit of help we haven’t seen any other indie developer benefit from before.
The game takes some narrative influence from The Fugitive, as you play a man convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and, after escaping from jail in the game’s opening sequence, desperate to clear his name. This still involves a lot of car-jacking and other GTA style activities but there’s also a strong stealth element, as you’re constantly changing your appearance and trying to break into buildings unseen.
The open world seems to be huge, with a layer of detail you wouldn’t expect from an indie title. Although whether there’ll be enough action for GTA fans remains to be seen.
Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Developer: Fallen Tree Games
Release Date: 2019
Czech studio Amanita Design already has a large following on PC and mobile thanks to artsy puzzle games such as Machinarium and Samorost. They rarely appear on consoles but Creaks will be different, as it’s their most video game-y effort so far.
We got to play a sizeable chunk from the beginning of the game, which opens with a frustrated-looking writer who’s constantly being put off by a flickering lightbulb, before discovering a mysterious hole in the wall that leads to an even more mysterious underground world.
Like all of Amanita’s games there’s no dialogue, so it’s left to you to interpret what’s going on. But it seemed to us that it was all probably going on in the main character’s head, as it turns out that lightbulbs, ladders, and moving cabinets – exactly what he was dealing with before finding the hole – are key to the game’s puzzles.
As an ordinary person you have no defence against the strange robot dogs and other enemies, so instead you have to use the game’s labyrinthine level design to avoid them and trick them into getting out of the way and/or activating traps and puzzles pieces to further your own exploration. Although the dogs’ most useful role is when you realise you can turn them into a bedside cabinet when they’re under a light (which they normally try to avoid).
As surreal as the premise might be the puzzle logic is faultless and we found the whole experience immediately captivating, and not just because the developer said we were the best at it he’d seen all day. The artwork is, as you’d expect from Amanita, superb, and full of character and expression without anyone ever saying a word.
Developer: Amanita Design
Release Date: 2019
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