Between the standalone announcements and at least two major showcases (mainly E3 and Summer Game Fest), a ridiculous number of video games were unveiled in June. Best of all, the developers have made many of these games available as demos, giving you the chance to try them out firsthand.
AAA developers, mid-level studios, and indies have lots of exciting releases planned, but it’s mostly the latter that provide mind-blowing demos. Some games were revealed before the E3-related showcases, but it wasn’t until their demos were dropped that many became publicly playable.
If you’re ready to learn more about the exciting games to come, check out these five picks. Please note that some demos may still be available for sampling, even if they were to expire after the showcases. Look for these hot titles in your favorite video game storefronts!
Developer: HangarsRelease date: September 23, 2021MSRP: to be determined
Sable’s striking visual style has caught my eye since its first reveal, and it was in the foreground during Summer Game Fest. This serene game puts you in the shoes of Sable, a young girl who leaves her tribe to explore a vast desert.
While its aesthetic might be the first eye-catcher, the Sable demo shines a light on what you do. Sable is an action-adventure game with exploration at its heart, experienced via a lightweight platform, Breath of the Wild style climbing (you can climb any wall, as long as your stamina allows) and a trusty hoverbike. Sable’s bike is a companion and an important tool in exploring the open desert, as explained in the charming dialogue that slowly provides world-building and characterization of the titular explorer.
The demo shows what may be the early moments of the game, so you don’t go over the starting area at the end of the demo. It was enough to make me want to see more. Still, I wonder if the map and mechanics go beyond what the demo presented.
The fault breaker
Developer: Studios ExorRelease date: Fall 2021MSRP: to be determined
I was interested in some of these titles before watching their demos, but hadn’t heard of The Riftbreaker until E3. After giving the testing a boost, this is now one of my most anticipated titles. A free prologue and an ongoing closed beta are available now.
The Riftbreaker is part Starcraft, part tower defense and part action-RPG. You must build and maintain an RTS-style base by mining resources, keeping the flow, and defending yourself from the hordes of aliens. This includes research trees and building walls, defensive turrets, and power plants. Waves of enemy attacks sometimes probe your defenses (a bit like They Are Billions), as you try to build larger and complete objectives.
There is a twist above that solid base: you control an imposing mechanical unit rather than an omniscient floating camera. Your robot (which houses your character, a scientist named Ashley Nowak visiting an alien world) must physically traverse the map to place buildings, set up resource extraction, and prepare defenses.
On top of that, you can actively participate in battles using a variety of weapons and upgrades, slicing through mobs of wild animals with a blade mounted on your arm, or firing rockets at even more giant creatures. larger than you. You can also place rift portals to quickly move around the map.
There is a lot of depth to base building and combat, although the menus may need to be refreshed; they look rather dated. On the other hand, the game’s visuals are surprisingly stunning, with even ray tracing, stunning models, and responsive vegetation. It is also a first showcase of AMD’s new FidelityFX Super Resolution technology. Overall, The Riftbreaker is an addicting and mechanically satisfying experience, and I can’t wait to play more.
Developer: Free livesRelease date: to be determinedMSRP: to be determined
Terra Nil is all positive, in that it charges you with invigorating the ecosystem of an arid environment. I’d describe it as a lean strategy, with puzzle and city-building elements that require you to balance the limited resources and physical space of the maps against your terraforming goals.
Placing basic structures allows you to build more advanced ones as you progress, first sowing fertile soil, then grass, and eventually restoring streams and forests. . As you grow nature back, you gain resources based on the effectiveness of your placements, with restrictions on where (and how close) you can build constructions. It’s not too much of a hassle, but you can suddenly realize that you’re one step away from running out of space and resources if you’re not careful.
When you reach the proper temperature and humidity levels (Terra Nil mainly walks you through this process, although the final instructions may be a bit clearer), you need to pack your buildings through recycling stations and then pack those in your recycled airship before you take off. A peaceful game with a positive message about restoration and respect for the environment is a good alternative to the many similar games that require you to colonize and destroy nature.
The Fermi Paradox
Developer: Anomaly GamesRelease date: July 2021MSRP: to be determined
This storytelling simulation brain game took a little while to get hold of me, but I got deeply involved by the end of the demo. In Fermi Paradox, you indirectly control the course of the development of several civilizations as they discover cutting-edge technology, become space-saving people, and seek out other intelligent life in the vacuum of space.
There is no live “action” in the traditional 4X or RTS style, just text and menus that include attractive character artwork and a simplistic representation of the galaxy. The game offers you a series of narrative scenarios, with your answers guiding the attitude, ethics and ultimate fate of the species involved. You can make a faction friendlier or hostile to aliens, improve its technology, or exploit its natural resources. The writing is concise, most of the time varied, and often has a good sense of humor.
Making decisions and moving forward in time grants you synthesis, the main resource of the game (although it represents the concept progress more than any concrete resource). You have to spend synthesis to solve scenarios, such as a technological breakthrough or a terrorist attack, but it is not as easy as choosing the “best” solution. Choosing a more “negative” outcome (losing population, acting more aggressively, etc.) may give you more synthesis than a “happier” or “neutral” solution. If you don’t accept the occasional negatives for a larger wrap batch, you’ll find yourself strapped for resources at a crucial time. These decisions can turn the fate of your species, such as giving them a new basic philosophical principle or causing an extinction event. So you will want to have Synthesis when the critical moment comes. Each species also faces real-world issues, such as population growth and natural resources, which serve as a scale and timer for your actions.
The mechanics and styling take a little time to figure out; frankly, some elements are a bit abstract. The game’s trailer aptly describes your role as a “galactic gardener,” which helps frame these goals. The Fermi Paradox is kind of a sandbox for emerging storytelling, and I can easily see that one part will be unique from another. The demo ends just as the first contact between humanity and another species I controlled begins, so I’m curious to see how the interaction goes.
Developer: Amplitude StudiosRelease date: August 17, 2021MSRP: $ 59.99
With the placement of humanity here comes a few caveats, as it is significantly different from the rest. The play period was for a beta, not a demo; it is produced by a seasoned developer and a larger publisher; and that was nothing new for E3. That said, the closed beta was open throughout E3, and for a short time after the show ended.
Mankind’s more than obvious inspiration is the Civilization series, an industry giant. It’s a historic turn-based 4X game, something I admittedly grew up on with Civ, so I’m predisposed to enjoy it. While humanity is similar to Civ, it has its own twists and turns in almost every element of the game.
As you advance through the different eras (Stone Age, Bronze Age, etc.), you choose a new civilization from a list of representative societies of that era. Each civilization has different goals and bonuses, and as you move through the eras you end up with a fusion of different cultures rather than choosing a society and sticking to it throughout the game. You can double down on a specialization. or be a more balanced generalist.
Combat is different from Civ as well, thanks to grouped armies and a turn-based mini-game. Humanity’s battles are a bit more manual and interesting than crushing one unit against another, but they’re nowhere near as deep as the clashes in Total War. Additionally, Humankind gives you more control over the layout of individual cities, as well as their physical representations on the map. I found most of these changes refreshing, although the menus and tutorial could be more concise.
A game like this has a really long tail (and a lot of depth to go into), so I won’t be passing judgment on how the mid and late game play out. However, my colleague Mike Williams has been playing the preview for quite some time now and has written a detailed preview of Humankind. Expect a full review once the game launches in August.
These are the top five video game showcase demos this month, but there are plenty of other games you should check out as well. The coolest, weirder, and badass indie games at E3 are a good place to start.