The future is lookin’ bright for narrative games
So, that’s another year of summer game announcements on the book. There are a few more streams on the horizon, but for now, we’ve gotten a taste of just about all of the upcoming games we can handle. Developers threw what felt like an endless stream of new titles at us, and while a lot of the space horror games kind of blurred together after a while, there were plenty of titles that stuck out to me as games I’d be looking forward to the most. Naturally, most of them are narrative games, and so for my sake and yours, I decided to compile a list of what I think are the best-looking narrative games that were highlighted these past few days/weeks.
Keep in mind that some of these don’t advertise the story being the central mechanic or the main focus of the game, but the narrative looked intriguing enough that it’s one of the features that drew me to it the most. Whatever, it’s my list and I’ll do what I want.
The Invincible — Annihilation meets Firewatch
This one kind of came out of nowhere, and it was one of the most pleasant surprises of the weekend for me. Based on the influential 1964 hard sci-fi novel of the same name, The Invincible follows a scientist named Yasna as she attempts to piece together what happened to a lost crew on a hostile alien planet. The premise alone doesn’t sound like anything to write home about, but the trailer sent a chill down my spine.
I consider myself a pretty voracious reader, so hearing that we’re getting a game based on a novel definitely makes my ears perk up. The trailer had a slow-paced sense of dread that really works, and while I haven’t read The Invincible, I imagine it captures the feeling of the novel quite well. I just finished reading the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation, and I think the trailer we saw captured a similar sense of awe mixed with horror.
Like I said, I had never heard of The Invincible before I saw the gameplay trailer during the PC Gaming Showcase, but now it might just be the one game I’m looking forward to the most.
Oxenfree II: Lost Signals — a return to an old favorite
This is one of the games I was fortunate enough to play a preview of for the Tribeca Games Fest this weekend, and I am pleased to report that it’s everything I want from an Oxenfree sequel, considering the first one is one of my favorite narrative games of all time. It’s got the same spooky flair and atmosphere you’d expect from the series, but one of the things I’m most excited about is seeing the series move away from a cast of teenagers to a protagonist in her 30s.
The new player character Riley is returning home and dealing with her past after being away for a long while, which I think is a cool direction to move in after the first game was about high schoolers trying to figure out their places in the world. I’ve done a lot of growing up myself since I played the first Oxenfree, so having each game relate to me at different parts in my life is a pretty cool thing. I’m looking forward to the creepy, sentimental rollercoaster ride that Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is likely to be.
American Arcadia — The Truman Show with a twist
I’m not gonna lie — I love The Truman Show. When I saw that there was a game on the horizon inspired by the film, I knew it was going to be right up my alley, and it turns out, it very much is. American Arcadia is another game I got to preview for Tribeca, and it exceeded the expectations I had going in. Not only does it look absolutely stunning with its colorful-retro-future-70s aesthetic, but it has a ton to offer by way of gameplay.
It’s part 2.5D sidescrolling platformer, part puzzle game, part first-person stealth game — and while I was worried that it had too much going on, it all fit together surprisingly well to create an experience I’ve never quite seen before. Sure, any individual element of American Arcadia isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, but it’s the final product that I think is going to blow me away. As far as narrative games goes, it ticks all the boxes for me so far.
Immortality — FMV is yet again revolutionizing narrative games
Sam Barlow has been one of games’ most creative minds for years, and now he’s back with his most ambitious project yet. Immortality is a full-motion video game (a rare breed at this point) that centers on the disappearance of a woman named Marissa Marcel. Players are tasked with going through old reels of three different unreleased films she starred in to piece the mystery together, and it’s one of the most stylish-looking games we got to see this weekend.
I’m always looking for games that are doing things we haven’t seen before, and Immortality looks like it’s going to give us a newer, even more complex take on the ideas that Barlow masterfully executed in his earlier titles. The writing team includes talent that worked on shows like The Queen’s Gambit and Mr. Robot, so I have nothing but high hopes for this narrative-centric FMV mystery.
Pentiment — Ye old video game
Wacky art styles are a surefire way to get me interested in a game, and in that regard, Pentiment had my attention right out the gate. It’s a medieval-themed narrative game that looks balls-to-the-walls crazy, and we certainly haven’t seen anything like it from Obsidian, the studio behind The Outer Worlds and Pillars of Eternity. They had a smaller internal team break out to work on Pentiment — something I would love to see from more big-budget studios who have the capacity to make some awesome smaller-scale projects.
It’s got a painterly, storybook art style that’s evocative of the period it’s set in, and features classically medieval things like writing beautifully decorated manuscripts, discussing the latest news from Italy, and of course, violent mobs burning buildings down. It looks like an exciting adventure full of twists and turns, and as something of a casual history buff, this one is already sitting pretty on my Steam wishlist.
The Alters — Clones? Clones.
The newest title from 11 Bit Studios, The Alters follows Jan, who creates alternate versions of himself to survive on an isolated planet. In terms of gameplay, each one of the clones is supposed to have different powers that the player can use to their advantage, but each will also have a different personality that’s based on different moments and paths in Jan’s life.
The announcement trailer didn’t give us much information about what it will feel like to play just yet, but on premise and 11 Bit’s reputation alone, I can tell that this is going to be one hell of a ride. The studio always does an awesome job of incorporating a well-told story into games that also have really solid gameplay, so I’ll be looking forward to hearing more about The Alters as the studio continues its development.
High on Life — The Rick and Morty guys finally got me onboard
Okay, I’m gonna be honest here, I’ve never seen Rick and Morty. Maybe I just never got around to it, maybe it was the fandom that turned me off, but it was never something I felt drawn to. That’s why I was so surprised when I saw the trailer for High on Life, and actually thought it seemed like a hilarious, goofy time.
The idea is that you’re a bounty hunter who needs to take out aliens who are using humans as some kind of drug. It’s got a colorful, eccentric art style, the quippy, zany tone you’d expect from Squanch Games, and of course, the real highlight of the trailer, talking guns. Games like High on Life aren’t usually my kind of thing, but it looks so out there and different that I know I’m gonna be itching to try it. Plus, I’m just a sucker for an FPS, and this one looks like it’ll have some really unique shooting mechanics.
Stray — a cat-centric narrative game
This one is such a no-brainer it’s ridiculous. You get to play as a cat with a backpack in a world of robots that have little smiley face screens for faces. Okay, so I might be making Stray out to sound a little more light-hearted than it looks, but you know that as a cat mom, I am nothing but pumped about this one.
I think it’s a really creative idea to give us a story from a cat’s perspective, especially in what appears to be a big city, because they can go all kinds of places that people, and robots I guess, normally couldn’t. Not sure exactly how narrative-heavy Stray will be, or if it will be more of a vibes situation, but either way, I can’t wait to step into the world of that little orange tabby cat. This one’s coming out real soon (July 19, to be exact) so it’ll be here before we know it.
Story Beat is a weekly column discussing anything and everything to do with storytelling in video games.