Microsoft’s Xbox has come to mean many things over the years: high-octane shooters and relaxing puzzle games, excellent independent titles and plenty of PC ports to play on the living room TV. Even on the eve of its new 4K system launch, Microsoft’s standard Xbox One (‘S’ model included) has plenty of games on the way; here are a few to keep an eye on for August.
Preview by Richard Flint
From the developers behind the atmospheric Gone Home comes Tacoma, a new sci-fi adventure set in the near future of 2088.
Originally announced at the 2014 Game Awards, Tacoma was set to be released in mid–to–late 2016 before being delayed by developer Fullbright following feedback from testers of the project’s first build.
Gamers will explore the vibrant, yet desolate, space station named Tacoma, piecing together the rich history and mystery behind it. Interacting with key data recordings will reveal augmented reality projections of the crew members displayed as colourful outlines representing their previous jobs on-board the station.
The protagonist, Amy Ferrier, remains unchanged from the original build, but is now accompanied by a holographic companion codenamed ODIN who acts as a guide, offering helpful tips and instructions throughout the story. Many of Tacoma’s mechanics revolve around use of an AR tool with which Amy interacts with her surroundings. Sign language is the main interface, discarding the traditional glowing keyboard often found in sci-fi games.
While the first build focused on a small group of characters—tracking them throughout the station to unlock interactions—the new version includes a larger number of diverse crew members (including one pet cat). Players are able to pause, rewind, and fast forward through conversations between NPCs to decode multiple aspects of any particular scene. In one example Amy stumbles across a party being held for one of the characters. In the scene, several individuals engage in separate interactions across an open area. Using the pause and rewind features, Amy is able to locate and listen to each exchange without missing any details.
Also new to this build is a unique interactive menu—or AR Desktop—that allows players to track progress and their location while on the station. All the information gathered on the various crew members is stored here to refer back to.
The station is split into two distinct types of environment: zero- and normal-gravity zones. Exploring the outer layers will give the full zero-gravity experience as objects float by, ready to be inspected. In the original build, Amy had a pair of magnetic boots that allowed her to move between services at the push of a button. However this mechanic has been removed to focus on creating a more ‘realistic’ experience grounded in what might be possible in 70 years.
Tacoma is sure to be one of the year’s most immersive and atmospheric experiences offering a unique take on traditional space exploration while paying homage to sci-fi legends such as Ridley Scott’s Alien.
Gamers will be able to explore the mysterious world of Tacoma when it comes to Xbox One and PC on August 2.
Developer tinyBuild’s Hello Neighbor (‘Neighbour’ for those outside the USA) is, structurally, another take on the modern stealth-and-survival-horror genre popularised by Amnesia, Outlast, and Resident Evil VII. However, Hello Neighbor stands out thanks to a novel setting and tone that also significantly impacts its mechanics. Instead of exploring a dingy castle or a damned hospital, players guide a curious youngster inside their new neighbour’s house in the suburbs, as they try to find the “horrible secret” in the neighbour’s basement.
Puzzle solving and stealth functions similarly to the aforementioned first-person horror games, but unlike most, no simple ‘game over’ is present. If the player is caught, the neighbour throws them outside, without resetting the game. In a sort of reverse of the rogue-lite formula, Hello Neighbor remembers what the player did in their first attempt and creates new challenges dynamically.
The game’s AI will place new traps and block off entrances to the house that were used in previous attempts to outwit the player in an escalating game of cat-and-mouse. This means that no two games will be exactly alike, while still allowing for an increasing difficulty as players get closer to their goal. The game has been in various levels of early access since last year, hopefully meaning that tinyBuild has had plenty of time to fine-tune these ambitious ideas.
Gamers will be able to decide for themselves soon whether the extra work on dynamic AI has paid off, but either way Hello Neighbor has enough fresh ideas to warrant interest from horror fans. For more on Hello Neighbor, check out this early preview, although the game has advanced considerably since 2016.
Hello Neighbor comes to Xbox One, as well as macOS and Windows PCs, on August 29.
LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM
Preview by Richard Flint
With Life is Strange: Before the Storm, developer Deck Nine is ready to take fans back to Arcadia Bay to explore the past of Chloe, a previous supporting character in a story that will delight and surprise returning players or those new to the series.
In this prequel to Life is Strange, players will take control of Chloe, a 16-year-old full of angst, who is making tough decisions and solving puzzles in a punk-inspired story.
Followers of the series will quickly notice the change in the protagonist’s voice actress. Previously voiced by Ashly Burch (HAWPOfficial, Borderlands 2), Chloe will now be brought to life by Rhianna DeVries who expressed her connection to the character in a recent developer video. While Burch left the series due to a recent voice actor union strike, she remains involved in the project’s development as a writer.
Players are reintroduced to Rachel Amber, a girl missing throughout Life is Strange. She is a key figure in Chloe’s life, though the individual’s interactions with her will determine the outcome of their relationship.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm is set three years prior to the events of the previous game with the story told over three episodes. In the original, however, the story was split into a five-episode structure. The game is said to last between 6 and 9 hours, making it much shorter than the previous, which averages 15 to 20 depending on the player. Unlike the last title, Chloe does not have the ability to rewind time as Max did creating lasting consequences without the reassurance of a reset button. With one of the previous core mechanics absent, Chloe will rely on her investigation skills and mischief-making to solve puzzles and progress through each episode.
Based on the footage shown off at E3, Life is Strange: Before the Storm retains the look and feel of the previous game with some minor animation improvements. However, this familiarity could be altered prior to the project’s release later in the month.
The first episode of Life Is Strange: Before the Storm prequel hits Xbox One, as well as PlayStation 4 and PC, on August 31.
This year, August 15 is a minor bonanza with smaller games of all sorts arriving, including Agents of Mayhem, from the makers of Saint’s Row, the retro-styled platformer Sonic Mania, cyberpunk horror in Observer, and the first episode of The Pillars of the Earth: historical literature in the form of a point-and-click adventure.
Later in the month, on August 25, this year’s Madden NFL is an attempt by EA to appeal more to single player fans by including The Longshot, a Telltale-esque choose-your-own-adventure mode. Finally on August 31, the surprisingly great Resident Evil: Revelations gets a higher-resolution port to Xbox One, for fans of the slower-paced entries in the series. As always, Xbox One owners are also well served to check the other lists for multi-platform games mentioned for PC. PlayStation, or Nintendo.
Special thanks to Richard, who helped bring Tacoma and Life is Strange here for your reading pleasure, and do not forget to comment below with any other games you are looking forward to this month. Until next time, happy gaming!