Summertime, baby. You know what that means: Time to draw the curtains and sit in the darkness of your room, playing video games until your brain feels like Styrofoam. The May-to-August window is usually a pretty dry time for new releases, but there’s still some interesting stuff coming down the pike this season. Here are the highlights.
Sony’s PSVR has sold surprisingly well, but for the most part, the games have been smaller indie affairs. Farpoint wants to change that, offering a big-budget, AAA experience. It also wants to give you a gun: The game, which will retail for $80, comes with a VR gadget that, once you’ve attached two PlayStation Moves, will simulate wielding an assault rifle, while blasting your way through a desert world filled with very angry aliens. If you’ve ever wanted to experience Starship Troopers without the commentary on fascism, you’re in luck.
The Surge is the latest entry in the growing genre of “Souls-like” action games — titles modeled after FromSoftware’s notoriously difficult Dark Souls series. This means that most enemies you encounter can kill you if you’re not wary, death has serious consequences, and melee combat is all about carefully timing out the few frames when you can safely attack. For a certain breed of masochistic player, it’s heaven.
The Surge’s combat looks fast-paced and interesting, rewarding players who dash around more than in your typical Souls-like game, where you can often just hide behind a shield for a good portion of the game. The Surge’s setting also adds some flavor — it’s a dystopian sci-fi environment set about 60 years in the future, when robotics and AI have become commonplace. Spoiler alert: The robots want to kill you.
This game, which leans heavily on ’80s-horror nostalgia, actually began its development as a game called Slasher Vol. 1: Summer Camp. But a lucky turn for developer IllFonic meant they were able to snag the licensing rights for Friday the 13th, and now we’ll have the second game based on the classic film franchise. (The first is the wonderfully bad 1989 NES title.)
The new version is based on the idea of asymmetrical multiplayer: One person gets to be Jason Voorhees, while up to seven others players are horndog camp counselors unlucky enough to spend the night at Crystal Lake. If you play as Jason, your goals are simple: Kill everyone. The character is incredibly overpowered, possessing heightened vision and hearing, and the ability to teleport around the map to catch campers unawares, or turn into mist and rush toward characters. But the seven players playing as Jason’s victims do have some tools at their disposal, such as setting traps for Jason, or getting a car working so that at least four people can escape Crystal Lake. There’s also a way for the counselors to team up and take down Jason, but it’s not easy. And having seen every Friday the 13th movie (even the really weird one set in space), I’m guessing that trying to stop Jason will likely just result in a lot of dead teens.
For my money, this is the best-looking game coming out in the next few months. A labor of love designed by a pair of brothers in London, it’s a beautiful isometric world full of color (a nice change of pace from the gray-brown grime so common in most video-game titles). You play as a character framed for murder, and wouldn’t you know it, the only way to clear your name is to murder a lot of other people. Gotta love video-game logic. Sleek, stylish, and unlike anything else coming out this year, Tokyo 42 looks like a must-get for anyone interested in something outside the ordinary.
For fans of off-road rally racing, the Dirt series is the best game in town. Dirt 4 has a few interesting twists, with the most intriguing being the creation of bespoke tracks for players, based on certain parameters like location, weather, length, and how many curves you want the game to throw at you. This effectively means that there’s an infinite number of courses to race. The game also provides some optional AI hand-holding for newer players, so they don’t slam into a tree at every turn, and has an interesting mini-game where you need to hire a team to keep your car up and running, after smashing it around an off-road course all day. Credit to developer Codemasters for taking pains to actually improve the series, instead of just coughing up tiny iterative updates.
The first major first-party release for the Switch since Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2 picks up where the first one left off. The game is nominally a first-person shooter — except you shoot paint instead of bullets, your character can transform into a squid that surfs through any painted surface, and matches are won or lost depending on which team can paint the most of the level their team’s color. It’s classic Nintendo: A bizarre concept made incredibly fun by an obsessive attention to polish and detail. With the Switch still struggling with a dearth of quality titles, Splatoon 2 should make a splash.
The Saints Row series is a lesson in how to turn a franchise around. While the first entry in the series was a largely forgettable Grand Theft Auto clone, by the time the sequel came out, developers Volition realized that they should just give the players what they want: a sandbox world where you can indulge in senseless, ridiculous destruction. There’s very little “drive to here, pick up this package, and deliver it over here,” or phone calls from your cousin Roman to see if you want to go bowling. Instead, it’s more: “Destroy as much property damage as possible in order to boost TV ratings — if you want to. Or just go drop-kick every person you see on the street.”
Within a few years and a few more sequels, Saints Row IV: Gat Out of Hell had you literally flying around hell on angels’ wings, gunning down demons with assault rifles. Which: sure! Volition’s latest, Agents of Mayhem, a “sister” game to the Saints Row series, adds a cartoonish sci-fi theme, and has you playing as self-absorbed superheroes battling it out against a super-villain (and causing more damage to the city you’re ostensibly protecting). Volition has perfected a certain kind of video-game junk food — over-the-top, kinda corny, but with real laughs, and just enough challenge to make you feel like you’ve earned the right to engage in utterly ridiculous shit. Agents of Mayhem looks to continue that streak.
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, the fact that you can engage in epic battles and use all that Silmarillion knowledge should be enough to get you in the door for this sequel to Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. For everyone else, it’s all about Nemesis system. In the first game, the Nemesis system created a whole custom world of custom orcs, goblins, and uruks — all of it tailored to each player — that you needed to take down in order to beat the game. You’d find yourself deeply invested in taking down a certain goblin that kept beating you in combat (and would remind you in a cockney accent that the last time you faced him in battle, you ran away like a coward).
In the sequel, the stakes are raised — enemies now control entire strongholds, and you’ll need to build up your own army to take over territory. The combination of visceral, limb-chopping combat and Realpolitik is a potent brew — and the fact that every player gets their own emergent story to play makes it all the more enticing.
With Uncharted 4, developers Naughty Dog firmly closed the door on the story of Nathan Drake, erstwhile semi-legal treasure hunter turned happy father and husband. But they’re going out for one more adventure, this time using to two side characters from past games — treasure hunter Chloe Frazer and mercenary Nadine Ross — and sending them off on their own journey. Normally, this sort of DLC would strike me as a crass cash grab, but Naughty Dog has a strong track record here — its DLC for The Last of Us, a prequel called The Left Behind, had just as strong a story and arguably better gameplay mechanics than the original game. For those jonesing for more cinematic-action gameplay, The Lost Legacy should scratch that itch.