TThe absence of the E3 expo in Los Angeles for the past two years has left a gigantic void in the video game calendar. Last week, the industry pulled out all the stops to fill that gaping mouthful of content with three online events: the Summer Games Festivalthe Xbox and Bethesda showcase and the PC gaming show. They were disappointing to many experienced players. Major reveals included a remake of The Last of Us, a remake of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, Street Fighter 6, Final Fantasy XVII, and news about the reimagining of the classic System Shock RPG.
Even the new titles looked familiar. The sci-fi horror game The Callisto Protocol, from one of the creators of Dead Space, looked like… Dead Space. And it was frustrating that our first extended look at the long-awaited sci-fi adventure Starfield focused not on the wonders of interplanetary exploration but on a lengthy shootout with look-alike space pirates. It might seem rude to expect radical ideas from the mainstream industry, and a lot of cool stuff was shown from indie developers, but now that we’re entering the middle phase of the console generation, I was expecting at least a couple of innovations. We made the Japanese game author Hideo Kojima promised, at the Xbox event, that his next project would make revolutionary use of Microsoft’s cloud gaming infrastructure, but who knows when we’ll see it.
There are obvious reasons for this lack of innovative thinking. Triple-A game development is ruinously expensive: new games often require multiple studios working together, with hundreds of specialists working for years on a project. The wage-burn rate alone is enough to bring even Elon Musk’s eyes to tears. And like in the film industry, we’re seeing a cultural and artistic malaise around the whole concept of “new.”
This fear is brilliantly addressed in a post by game developer Kyle Kukshtel. Games, he argues, no longer have the ability to explore innovative concepts because they are trapped in an ever-tightening production cycle built around replicating and remarketing what has been successful in the past. This has always been partially the case with great games, but the gap between products that give us nostalgia and contemporary products has narrowed dramatically, leading to excitement for a remake of The Last of Us, a game that barely has one of each. Instead of looking to the future, video games are now designed as instant cultural artifacts, because nostalgia has become inseparable from the present.
There were several games I was hyped up during the event season: The Alters, a psychological thriller from 11 Bit Studios; Lynchian’s interactive adventure As Dusk Falls; the Lightyear Frontier space farming simulator. But most of the time, I was looking at shooting enemies, collecting loot, crafting weapons, leveling up characters – the thoughtful mechanical structures that feel completely ingrained.
Kukshtel made reference to the late cultural theorist Mark Fisher, whose lecture The slow cancellation of the future he posited that we are trapped in a cultural stagnation from which no significant new artistic movements or developments can emerge. “Cultural time has folded in on itself,” said Fisher. Hence, endless regurgitations of the mythologies of Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and Ghostbusters; of 80’s action movies and 70’s rock albums on vinyl.
As I watched the three big summer gaming events, I kept watching games and thinking, “Hasn’t this been shown before? Haven’t I played this? The truth is that I had, many times, in many slight aesthetic variations. For all its stylistic bravado and megaton noise, the one thing all those shooters may have finally, decisively, and conclusively killed is the future.
what to play
Scary games are all the rage right now, thanks in part to the current horror film renaissance. dead by daylight it’s been around for a few years, but it’s currently only £5.99 on Steam and at that price it’s an absolute steal. Best described as an asymmetrical multiplayer online slasher sim, the game has four players working together as civilians trapped in a Lovecraftian nightmare zone, much like the Upside Down in Stranger Things, while one player takes control of the supernatural psycho killer who kills them. lurks Escaping means powering up a series of generators to unlock exit doors, but all of the killer characters have special powers and ridiculous stabbing weapons to make life a challenge. It’s incredibly tense, with a tremendous capacity to scare, and I love how most of the players involved as assassins really get into the role, mercilessly toying with their prey. The game now includes many classic movie villains, including Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers, adding to the nostalgic horror fun.
Available in: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox
Estimated game time: in progress
what to read
There has been a great deal of controversy over Diablo Immortal, a free mobile remake of the popular “dungeon crawler” game, Diablo. Users have made it the game with the lowest score on Metacritic for its insatiable microtransaction system. Rebecca Jones of the Rock Paper Shotgun game site made a deep dive in the economy and found that it could cost up to £46k to fully equip your character with the best gear. Oh.
The absence of E3 has sparked a lot of debate about how much we need a physical conference in the age of digital gaming and Covid. The Electronic Software Association has announced that the event will return in 2023but Brendan Sinclair at GamesIndustry.Biz thinks it will It will never be the same. I was in 10 of them and I remember most of the truly momentous announcements because I was in the room with fans and fellow journalists. That excitement and discovery is impossible to replicate through live trailers interspersed with product placements for energy drinks. But maybe it’s just me.
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After watching my 18th FPS trailer last week, I asked Twitter for favorite examples of unarmed FPS games. Ellen Rose from the wonderful YouTube gaming channel out of xtra recommended ancient mystery What remains of Edith Finchwith the simple words, “exceptional game”.
BBC Radio 3’s Sound of Gaming presenter Louise Blain opted for the real estate simulator house fin: “It is so easy to spend hours entertaining yourself enjoying the details of the paint points while putting radiators on the walls,” he wrote.
Elsewhere, the most popular responses were almost all from small studios (take a deep breath): Return of the Obra Dinn, Thirty Flights of Loving, Firewatch, Gone Home, The Stanley Parable, Paradise Killer, Outer Wilds, Proteus, Dear Esther, The Forgotten City, Virginia, and Eastshade came up again and again, and they’re all worth playing. What each of these shows is how much formal experimentation is still possible in the first-person genre. And as my grandmother used to say, where there is formal experimentation, there is hope.