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Essays 27 February 2019, 13:55

author: Przemyslaw Zamecki

2019 Top Unexpected Video Game Hits

What are 2019's most wanted games? Easy question, no? The Division 2, Gears 5, maybe even Cyberpunk 2077. But all these games spend heaps of cash on advertising, making it easy to forget about smaller titles. Here, we'd like to focus exactly on these.

Developing video games requires considerable financial outlays. Many of the smaller studios couldn’t afford as much as a hundredth of EA's marketing budget for Anthem after covering the expenses of programming, graphic design, animation, and writing. Hence, chances are that many players, who could potentially be interested in the following games, have never even heard of them. We decided to amend that, and have prepared a list of games you may not be looking forward to, even though you most definitely should.

Praey for the Gods

So much tension in just one picture... - 2019-02-27
So much tension in just one picture...

You cannot miss this game if:

  1. You played Shadow of the Colossus;
  2. You didn't play Shadow of the Colossus (embarrassing, but we don't judge);
  3. In action games, you mostly value the atmosphere and exploration.
IN A NUTSHELL
  1. Platform: PC, PS4, XONE
  2. Developer: No Matter
  3. Date of release: 2019

Released on PlayStation 2 years ago, Shadow of the Colossus has become a hallmark of engaging gameplay, remarkable atmosphere, and spectacular clashes with gargantuan enemies. Not so long ago, PS4 users received an excellent remaster of the game, but that apparently did not exhaust the topic. The three-person No Matter studio decided to work on its own version of the colossi, and switch the setting for a much more dismal reality, using a few modernized mechanics to diversify the experience.

This time around, we’ll play as a girl, who’s sent to an ice-bound island. The reason for her trip is the unsettling, long winter, which refuses to give way to the spring. Old gods in the form of enormous creatures wandering on the edge of the dying world are suspected of ill will. So, there is nothing else left, but to defeat them, climbing their huge bodies and looking for weak spots that would facilitate ending their wicked existence. Only after they have been destroyed will winter subside, allowing new life to be born. In addition to fighting enemies, the creators also implement newer mechanics used in modern games, such as survival and crafting. Is that going to be enough to steal at least a little bit of the popularity enjoyed by the "real" colossuses? We should learn soon enough.

  1. More about Praey for the Gods

Ion Maiden

Ion Maiden should become a worthy heir to Duke’s legacy. - 2019-02-27
Ion Maiden should become a worthy heir to Duke’s legacy.

You cannot miss this game if:

  1. It looks like Duke Nukem 3D;
  2. It’s a singleplayer FPS – a nearly extinct species;
  3. It has 96% positive reviews on Steam.
IN A NUTSHELL
  1. Platform: PC, PS4, XONE, Switch
  2. Developer: Voidpoint
  3. Release date: 1st half 2019

It used to be better! Shooters such as Quake, Blood or Duke Nukem 3D were conquering our screens. Nearly the whole computer world went crazy about the Duke. Was it because shooting at aliens was so addictive and intense? Was it because the maps in the game offered many cleverly hidden locations? Or maybe because of the charisma of the main character, who was constantly throwing crude one-liners, mauling the snouts of the alien pigs dressed up in police uniforms. Probably all of the above. Of course, the super fun online mode also contributed to the success, although LAN wasn’t admittedly all that online.

Ion Maiden follows in the footsteps of the great Duke, but in fact, the game also evokes an isometric shooter from 2016, entitled Bombshell. We will play as Shelly Harrison, who is facing (you guessed it) an alien army. This title will be characterized by a complex structure of maps and stylistics reminiscent of its Great Predecessor. The game was created in a seriously honed Build engine, which allows making a game with the appearance of a 20-year-old classic that can be run on modern systems. Of course, special effects were improved here and there, but we have an impression that the harder the game is maintained in the spirit of DN3D, the more satisfied fans should be.

  1. More about Ion Maiden

Children of Morta

Looks bonkers. - 2019-02-27
Looks bonkers.

You cannot miss this game if you:

  1. Enjoy roguelikes;
  2. Value interesting stories;
  3. Never have enough of good pixel art.
IN A NUTSHELL
  1. Platform: PC, PS4, XONE, Switch
  2. Developer: Dead Mage
  3. Date of release: 1st half 2019

Children of Morta is a roguelike maintained in an old-school pixel-art style. The game tells the story of the Bergson family living on the slope of the eponymous mountain, which is a kind of a baffle for the source of life that lies within its depths. The spring has been contaminated, though, which results in changes and corruption appearing all around. The creatures inhabiting the area turned into bloodthirsty monsters, hindering any attempt to mend the situation by the family, which we take control of. What distinguishes this title from hundreds of similar games published throughout recent years, should be the solid narrative layer, allowing us to really come close with the characters we create. Children of Morta was founded by fans on Kickstarter, so keeping all the promises is a matter of the image for the developers.

Each member of the family will have a different skill set, so the visits to caves and mountain temples should not only mean some fine nourishment for our grey matter, but also an awesome adventure. Locations will be generated procedurally, but the graphic design should ensure unwavering charm to all of them. Of course, in order to appreciate it, you have to enjoy pixel art. This looks like an incredible adventure, which should be alluring not only to fans of roguelikes, but also those of you, who look for greater depth in electronic entertainment; a game in which the story isn’t only an excuse for the mechanics.

  1. More about Children of Morta

Ancient Cities

Neolithic housing estates look rather mundane, but the game seems to hold considerable potential. - 2019-02-27
Neolithic housing estates look rather mundane, but the game seems to hold considerable potential.

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You cannot miss this game if:

  1. You are fed up with city builders in modern settings;
  2. You value historical games;
  3. Your one-sentence review of Far Cry: Primal goes like: "Not bad, but I’d friggin’ love to build something".
IN A NUTSHELL
  1. Platform: PC
  2. Developer: Uncasual Games
  3. Date of release: 1st half of 2019

Ambitious projects prepared by independent artists either instantly grab our attention and don't let us forget about them, or become a never-ending early access soap opera, steadily burning out the interest, so that no one is particularly excited when it finally comes out a decade later. Which doesn’t always prevent making good profit. As far as Ancient Cities is concerned, we can’t be sure what we’re dealing with yet. This title promises to be extremely ambitious indeed, combining features of RTS and survival with simple RPG mechanics and elements of a prehistoric city-building simulator. As you can see, it will be rich with all kinds of features, and this means that the devs will encounter many pitfalls along the way.

Quite unusual, at least for a video game, is the historical period in which the action of this production takes place – the authors have opted for the Stone Age. This looks like a pretty big challenge, but conducting a primitive society that has only just abandoned the nomadic ways should be mechanically simpler than a medieval one would be, for instance. We’ll play the role of the leader of a Neolithic tribe whose task is to provide a shelter for their people, to feed them by breeding animals and harvested crops, and to protect them from invaders who want to steal all these goodies or conquer our territory. Not on my watch.

  1. More about Ancient Cities

Spelunky 2

You will have to headline a little, but that's what it's all about! - 2019-02-27
You will have to headline a little, but that's what it's all about!

You cannot miss this game if:

  1. The first Spelunky took away half your childhood;
  2. You like challenges…
  3. … and caves.
IN A NUTSHELL
  1. Platform: PC, PS4
  2. Developer: Mossmouth
  3. Date of release: July 2019

Years ago, Derek Yu created a free game called Spelunky, and its paid version, improved with the two letters HD next to the title. Currently, his studio Mossmouth is working on the continuation of the adventures of a spelunker that roams the underground in search of riches. The protagonist does not have a name, but is equipped with the gear necessary to dig through a heap of earth. He uses bombs to open blocked corridors and ropes to descend or enter higher shelves. The underground tunnels house a slew of various characters, dangerous enemies and merchants who have wares if you have the coin.

The Spelunky series looks very nice and could easily compete with, say, SteamWorld Dig, for example. These are, however, thoroughly old-school titles, inspired by games from the eighties and nineties – a time when the games we played on Atari XL and Commodore 64 were a tiny bit more primitive than today, but certainly not less engaging. You can expect more or less the same thing from Spelunky 2 – and that should suffice to provide some quality time with the game.

  1. More about Spelunky 2

Foundation

A bit of the Settlers, a bit of Anno, and we have ourselves a great city builder. - 2019-02-27
A bit of the Settlers, a bit of Anno, and we have ourselves a great city builder.

You cannot miss this game if:

  1. You think the Settlers was a real game, unlike the crap you get nowadays…
  2. Your greatest concern in life is that you can’t play the Settlers anymore;
  3. You enjoy watching digital people do all the work.
IN A NUTSHELL
  1. Platform: PC
  2. Developer: Polymorph Games
  3. Release date: end of 2019?

City builders have enjoyed unwavering popularity for years, allowing players to become mayors of towns or governors of some territories. The genre is considered to be established by a great American designer, Will Wright, who, together with the Maxis team, developed SimCity in 1989. Over the years, the series was expanded with many sequels and was an inspiration to other developers, thanks to which we can enjoy series such as Anno and Cities: Skylines today. Foundation is closer to the former, but it also has some commonalities with The Settlers. Our task will be to build a medieval city with all its intricacies, which, of course, will require the continuous development of the inhabitants and the city itself.

The game will offer complex systems of dependencies, which will permit gradual development of the city. Planning the layout of buildings will be crucial – craftsmen, for example, should be located near each other, so that the production can be streamlined. This will not be an easy task, though, as the city does not always have easy access to all raw materials… fans of this type of games are in for a real treat. Foundation will also be interesting as it will offer mod support, and thanks to the tools provided by the creators, literally everyone will be able to design not only additional buildings, terrains or characters, but even their own missions. If the devs don’t flunk it, we may receive a game that will remain compelling for many years to come.

  1. More about Foundation

The Last Night

The cyber-punk vision of a metropolis in The Last Night is breathtaking. Seriously. - 2019-02-27
The cyber-punk vision of a metropolis in The Last Night is breathtaking. Seriously.

You cannot miss this game if:

  1. You have no doubt that Blade Runner is the best film in the history of cinema;
  2. Your rig won’t run Cyberpunk 2077 anyway;
  3. You still like platformers in 2019.
IN A NUTSHELL
  1. Platform: PC, PS4, X360, iOS
  2. Developer: Humble Hearts
  3. Release date: TBA

Do you know the term "cinematic platformer"? If not, let me explain right this moment. This term encompasses platform games with a narrative knack to them, where the gameplay is not just about bypassing obstacles and shooting at enemy creatures. The most important aspect here is the adventure and intrigue. Today, Another WorldHeart of Darkness, D.E.X. Cyberpunk and the excellent Inside (try it if you haven’t – seriously) are among the most notable examples. The Last Night not only refers to the classics of the genre, but also gives you all the joys of the freedom of an open world. All this, of course, in the revival style of cyberpunk, which makes this production all the more interesting.

The main character of the game is Charlie, who, as usual in these cases, inadvertently becomes entangled in an affair involving the most powerful institutions and individuals. Our task will be to help the protagonist in experiencing the conspiracy and discovering its perpetrators. The action, during which we’ll fight and sneak – but also talk, getting to know the story and accepting quests from the inhabitants of the metropolis – is most of the time presented from the side perspective. However, on some occasions, the point of view will shift, which will allow you to admire the city in its full splendor. A real treat for fans of pixel art, deserving a lot more attention than is given to many of the most high-profile productions.

  1. More about The Last Night

Phoenix Point

It doesn’t look like XCOM 3 is coming anytime soon, so we’re waiting for a new game by Julian Gollop, one of the chief figures of the turn-based strategy games. - 2019-02-27
It doesn’t look like XCOM 3 is coming anytime soon, so we’re waiting for a new game by Julian Gollop, one of the chief figures of the turn-based strategy games.

You cannot miss this game if:

  1. You think XCOM and XCOM 2 were too simple;
  2. You know who Nyarlathotep was;
  3. You’re looking for a game sufficient for dozens of hours.
IN A NUTSHELL
  1. Platform: PC, XONE
  2. Developer: Snapshot Games
  3. Release date: sometime in 2019

I don't know if there are any XCOM fans who wouldn't be familiar with the name Gollop. The rest should be reminded that the brothers Julian and Nick can boast considerable merits for the development of all kinds of tactical turn-based strategies. From the somewhat forgotten Laser Squad through UFO to... Phoenix Point, a game that should be released this year, taking us into the not-too-distant future of the mid-21st century, where we’ll have to oppose the nightmarish monstrosities straight from H.P. Lovecraft's stories or John Carpenter's and David Cronenberg's films.

The story focuses on scouring melting glaciers in search of a virus of unknown origin, which turns sweet white teddy bears and other animals into terrifying beasts (brought to you with procedural generation). The virus doesn’t say no to a human either, effectively decimating the population. Those, who have managed to avoid a miserable demise, gather in enclaves insulated by an impenetrable fog. Not only the future of their own children, but also of the entire species will depend on these brave individuals. Admittedly, the game has already had a slip, but we are sure that Julian Gollop knows what he’s doing, and will not settle for average.

  1. More about Phoenix Point

SteamWorld Quest

Image & Form is not afraid of new challenges and bravely tackles new genres. - 2019-02-27
Image & Form is not afraid of new challenges and bravely tackles new genres.

You cannot miss this game if:

  1. You like card games, but you keep losing online;
  2. You’ve played all installments of SteamWorld;
  3. You like original RPGs.
IN A NUTSHELL
  1. Platform: Nintendo Switch
  2. Developer: Image & Form
  3. Release date: 2019

This will be a great game for loners, who enjoy completing decks of cards more than competing with others online. Image & Form's latest creation will simply not offer any form of a multiplayer. And that’s actually very good. In fact, it won't even be a card game, but rather an RPG, where the cards serve only the purpose of combat, so there will be some activities related to other things the cards themselves. The coolest part about it all is that, based on our previous experience, we can easily expect this team to deliver. We hope for another unforgettable experience, at least equal to that provided by the SteamWorld Dig series and the fantastic turn-based strategy, SteamWorld Heist.

The action will be presented from the side perspective, allowing us to admire the artistic knack of the graphic designers and the sophisticated locations, maintained in a style similar to the previous games from the series – maybe except the western aesthetics, which was abandoned this time. We will control of a three-person team consisting of Galleo, Armill, and Copernicus. Of course, it is already clear that these are three completely different characters, which will be reflected in the diverse and unique decks assigned to them. When it comes to battle, we will use the selected cards of each character. For experience points, exploration and other activities, we will be rewarded with new cards and reach new levels of experience.

  1. More about SteamWorld Quest

Afterparty

If hell looks like this and you still want to escape it, chances are something’s wrong with you. - 2019-02-27
If hell looks like this and you still want to escape it, chances are something’s wrong with you.

 

You cannot miss this game if:

  1. Oxenfree is the first game you recommend to your friends;
  2. You wonder what hell can look like;
  3. You've completed all the LucasArts adventures three times over and you don't have anything to play.
IN A NUTSHELL
  1. Platform: PC, PS4, XONE
  2. Developer: Night School Studio
  3. Date of release: 2019

You’ve got to ask yourself a question. Is the vision of hell, in which you can party, drink quality booze, sing, dance and have interesting conversations with other regulars of local pubs, so scary that you have to escape at all cost? The protagonists apparently have a great time and if they had halfpennyworth of reason, they would be happily wandering around the place forevermore instead of looking for green pastures, floating clouds, sheep and winged bores dressed up in white coats like in some kind of a lunatic asylum. Unless the developers know something that we don’t – namely that the whole description of the paradise is fundamentally false, and the saints aren’t occupied with making pottery, but rather organizing such parties that the ruler of hell himself goes mad from envy… you get the idea.

In any case, I wouldn’t take my chances if I was in their shoes, but Milo and Lola have no choice. Overcoming the inferior bosses in drinking tournaments, they must reach the devil himself and give him a solid beating, thanks to which they shall be exempted from staying in this fine establishment a minute longer. Afterparty is above all an adventure game, where it will be important to properly use items, and the narrative layer will play a vital part. The game is created by the Night School Studio team, i.e. the people responsible for the critically acclaimed Oxenfree, which also told a thrilling, engrossing story – quite neatly, too. The new game looks more cheerful and colorful, so it should gather quite a large group of fans.

  1. More about Afterparty

Warhammer: Chaosbane

Warhammer: Chaosbane is a unique opportunity to visit the Old World in a setting different than a strategy game. - 2019-02-27
Warhammer: Chaosbane is a unique opportunity to visit the Old World in a setting different than a strategy game.

You cannot miss this game if:

  1. You’ve been experimenting with how much Path of Exile can you actually play;
  2. You’re personally a devoted follower of Siegmar;
  3. You’re waiting for Diablo 4.
IN A NUTSHELL
  1. Platform: PC, PS4, XONE
  2. Developer: EKO Software
  3. Date of release: 4 June 2019

Although Warhammer's 40K universe has already graced the genre of hack’and’slash with Inquisitor – Martyr, there still hasn’t been a Warhammer in a fantasy setting. In this game, mankind does not travel through space, but it also faces the invasion of Chaos, whose followers are equipped not with bolters and laser guns, but with powerful swords, morgenshterns and tons iron in other intimidating shapes and forms, dripping with the blood of innocent people. It is the invasion of the forces of Chaos that will see us become the defender of such imperial cities as Praag, Nuln and Altdorf. Casualties will be high, and lots of blood will be spilled, surely – we cannot imagine it any other way.

Defending the threatened civilization, we’ll be able to try four classes of characters. The creators did not try to reinvent the wheel and prepared quite a standard roster. So, we have a soldier of the Empire, subject to the orders of the Altdorf emperor, a dwarf warrior from one of the mountain strongholds, a forest she-elf equipped with a bow, and a high elf of the Ulthuan family, wielding powerful magic. Four professions will allow four people to cooperate on a single screen or over the Internet, so you’ll have to focus in order to keep an eye on your own character.

  1. More about Warhammer: Chaosbane

In the Valley of Gods

Can the creators of Firewatch give us another story that will be just as compelling? The national forest was swapped for the sands of Egypt. - 2019-02-27
Can the creators of Firewatch give us another story that will be just as compelling? The national forest was swapped with the sands of Egypt.

You cannot miss this game if:

  1. You highly value dialogues and puzzles;
  2. You like games that look gorgeous;
  3. You've been to Egypt four times, but you've never seen the Sphinx.
IN A NUTSHELL
  1. Platform: PC
  2. Developer: Campo Santo
  3. Date of release: 2019

Another adventure game on our list. The action is set in Egypt in the 1920s, a time when great discoveries were made and the young Indiana Jones took his first steps in the profession of an archaeologist. We play the role of black Rashida, a documentary filmmaker who sets off on her last expedition. The protagonist is accompanied by a friend Zora, with whom she has a difficult relationship. The events are observed from the first-person perspective, just like in Firewatch – a fantastic game also created by Campo Santo.

As it often happens in adventures, the experience consists mostly of searching for and using a variety of items and tools. The creators promise that the game won’t be easy – the structure of the world will be very complex and will require high perception skills. At some points, you will need to work with Zora in order to get to a specific place. Will the authors be able to repeat the success of their previous game? Will the game really turn out to be a more serious challenge this time, rather than a walking sim? We’re sure eager to find out.

  1. More about In the Valley of Gods

Judge Eyes

Serial murders, a detective with a past, and Japan. That’s something to look out for. - 2019-02-27
Serial murders, a detective with a past, and Japan. That’s something to look out for.

You cannot miss this game if:

  1. You know the Yakuza series and enjoy mini-games;
  2. You are not perplexed by Japanese quirks;
  3. You enjoy crime stories as much as video games.
IN A NUTSHELL
  1. Platform: PS4
  2. Developer: Ryu ga Gotoku Studio
  3. Date of release: 2019

Ryu ga Gotoku's are specialists in creating extraordinary stories set in Japan. The creators of the Yakuza series, which now, once again, conquered the hearts of the ardent fans of good stories and crazy mini-games, decided they’re finished with the adventures of Kazuma and Maya, and want to introduce the players to a new hero, Takayuki Yagami – a young lawyer with the so-called past. The action of the title will focus on a series of mysterious murders committed by an elusive killer. Events somehow connect with Takayiki's past, which turns him into a detective trying to solve this riddle.

The events on the screen are observed from a third-person perspective, similarly to the Yakuza series. Both titles have much more in common, for example, frequent brawls with rascals hidden in the darkest alleys of a beautiful Japanese city. Judge Eyes will also be abundant with mini-games and will allow you to play a real detective by following suspects, interrogating them, talking to witnesses, as well as collecting and reviewing evidence.

  1. More about Judge Eyes

Team Sonic Racing

Team Sonic Racing looks great and will sure provide loads of fun. - 2019-02-27
Team Sonic Racing looks great and will sure provide loads of fun.

You cannot miss this game if:

  1. You hanker for Mario Kart, but you don’t have Switch;
  2. You owned Sega Saturn as a kid;
  3. You look for a party game.
IN A NUTSHELL
  1. Platform: PC, PS4, XONE, Switch
  2. Developer: Sumo Digital
  3. Release date: 21 May 2019

Nintendo has the Mario Kart series, and Sega has the racing games with Sonic. Both of these present a similar approach to gameplay, strongly emphasizing team play, preferably within a group of friends, for whom throwing a banana skin under the wheels of the opponent is the purest form of joy. Purely arcade driving model and colorful racetracks, with numerous power-ups scattered here and there make these games very approachable to anyone and allow them to offer quality entertainment from the very beginning. A cool gimmick in both series is also the possibility to choose the driver from among numerous characters known from other games of these publishers – unless someone suffers a chronic deficiency of a sense of humor. But then Sonic and company are probably not their favorite childhood heroes.

The game is developed by Sumo Digital, which has been cooperating with Sega for a long time, making subsequent racing games starring the blue hedgehog, such as Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing or the fantastic Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. The company has much broader relationships with various arcade races, so we can be confident about their vision. We can expect as many as fifteen racetracks, but – interestingly enough – the creators have not forgotten about a singleplayer campaign as well. In online games, we will compete with up to twelve players. "Gentlemen, start your engines!"

  1. More about Team Sonic Racing

A Plague Tale: Innocence

The adventures of the siblings in 14th century France look very tasteful. - 2019-02-27
The adventures of the siblings in 14th century France look very tasteful.

You cannot miss this game if:

  1. You think that there are too few historical games;
  2. You play games for them feels;
  3. You don't like combat; enjoy engrossing stories.
IN A NUTSHELL
  1. Platform: PC, PS4, XONE
  2. Developer: Asobo Studio
  3. Date of release: 14 May 2019

The Black Death, also known as the Plague, decimated the population of Europe in the 14th century. There were a few games set in the period, with Vampyr being the most recent example, and here comes another one, which, hopefully, will not trivialize the subject and undertake a realistic depiction of the gnarly epidemic: with squalor, corruption and lack of hygiene. Okay, I’m not entirely serious: even though A Plague Tale: Innocence promises to be quite an interesting position, the only thing we know about this game so far is that we’ll sneak between computer-controlled flocks of big rats and inquisitors.

The action will be presented from a third-person perspective, and our heroes, Amicia and her younger brother Hugo, shouldn't, in principle, split up. Since we’ll only control the girl throughout the game, the idea is that she should take care of her brother without leaving him alone for a minute longer than the situation requires. It could be a nice mechanic, referring to such a classic as ICO, where a similar principle was realized in an almost perfect way. A unique feature of Asobo's work is the need to sneak between opponents in light, as shadows and darkness attract infected rats. We should have a chance to verify our expectations soon.

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