This year marks the 10th anniversary of Xbox’s [email protected] initiative began. Whether that was the reason they had invited the press to a digital event, I’m still unsure, but what we did get to see was an in-depth look at four new titles from four different European developers. All games were given a trailer, a demo with developer commentary and finally the opportunity to ask live relevant questions. Here’s what we saw.
The Last Case of Benedict Fox
The first game on the menu would also turn out to be the one that absolutely made the best impression. The Last Case of Benedict Fox is Polish developer Plot Twist’s first game, but the developer’s 30-member team includes veterans of The Witcher, Dying Light and Hitman , so it’s not an untested bunch.
I first became familiar with the game during last summer’s Xbox presentation, but haven’t really followed it since. Maybe that’s why I was so pleasantly surprised. The Last Case of Benedict Fox is a Lovecraftia-inspired Metroidvania with equal parts combat, platforming and puzzle solving. You play as self-proclaimed detective Benedict Fox, who is investigating a case related to his late father. Benedict has a few skills that set him apart from most detectives I’ve encountered in games, movies and books. First, he is paired with a Darkness-like demon that, among other things, allows him to double jump and turn his skin to stone. In addition, he has access to people’s memories through a place called Limbo, which seems to make up most of the game. The rest takes place in his father’s castle, where Benedict can get tattoos to upgrade the demon’s abilities and talk to different characters, among other things – a sort of hub, in other words.
It was hard to get a good idea of how extensive the game’s world is, but we saw many puzzles such as rituals that required special ordering, as well as immediately complicated symbol interpretation that should make more sense in practice. The puzzles in Metroidvanias are mostly based on navigation, but judging from the demo, many of the puzzles are inspired by Resident Evil, with a lot of exotic items that need to be used in the right places.
Combat looks surprisingly complex with various abilities such as the aforementioned stone skin, a parry system and melee attacks that charge your firearm. We saw Benedict fighting demons and a mysterious organization that is after him because of a demon following him. I’m a little concerned that the combat will be lacking in some places, but it’s hard to tell after not having the controller in my hands.
Creative director Bartek Lesiakowski was asked after the demo what he was most proud of, and unsurprisingly it was the visual style, as well as the atmosphere, the story and the way Plot Twist deals with dark themes in a unique way. He also mentioned that inspirations besides HP Lovecraft include noir films, 1920s jazz and Greek tragedies. The diversity of inspirations is certainly palpable, and from what we saw, I can only nod in agreement to the things Bartek is most proud of. The Last Case of Benedict Fox looks like a sparkling, nervous and immensely appealing jazz monster from another dimension, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it when it arrives sometime this spring.
Planet of Lana
Perhaps it was Benedict Fox’s explosive presentation that played a role, but Planet of Lana did not make as good an impression as I had hoped. It was one of the four titles I was most looking forward to, but the atmospheric and stunningly beautiful cinematic platformer is probably not the game best suited for a hands-off show. And since the game doesn’t have numerous mechanics to talk about, and developer Wishfully and creative director Adam Stjärnljus are keeping their cards pretty close to their chests as far as the story is concerned, there wasn’t much to talk about.
That doesn’t mean Planet of Lana looks any less awesome, however, given everything that has been shown from the game so far. It looks like a Playdead game, if Studio Ghibli was in charge of art direction and Fumito Ueda was on board as a consultant. You play as Lana, who embarks on an epic journey to save her sister and the rest of her people from the invading force threatening the planet Novo. Along the way, she meets Mooi, a feline creature with a talent for jumping high and communicating with Novo’s fauna, but it also has an acute fear of water – something Lana fortunately does not share. In other words, the two abilities complement each other, and in the demo, which took place in a beautiful-looking swamp, we saw Lana giving orders to Mooi to solve navigation-based puzzles. None of them were particularly complicated, but hopefully that changes a little further into the game. However, it was positive to see Beautiful handle each command quickly and correctly, as there is nothing more annoying than an accompanying character with sick AI.
While the puzzles were a bit too obvious, as I mentioned, the game’s visuals are beyond reproach, and the background music was also incredibly beautiful, which is perhaps not surprising given that it is The Last Guardian’s composer delivering it. While the format may not be ideal for a game like Planet of Lana, it’s still one of my most anticipated games, and thankfully it won’t be long before it arrives. Keep an eye out for it this spring.
An alien planet is also the scene of Frame Break’s Lightyear Frontier. A pleasant-looking mech farming sim that also aims to deliver a story with a tantalizing mystery.
Unlike the other games we saw, there still seems to be a ways to go for the 14 people on Frame Break, but the vision is already clear. It’s all about manual resource gathering rather than automation, and the ability to play both solo and with three friends. In addition, the team is experimenting with allowing the player to leave their mech and explore on foot.
It all looks incredibly colorful and inviting, as does the Outer Wilds-sounding music, but CEO Joakim Hedström did not say when we would be able to play it.
From an alien planet in the original to a whole lot. Everspace 2 scrapped the roguelite structure of its predecessor in favor of a classic campaign with persistent progression. The structure of its predecessor was largely the result of a limited budget, but the success of that game has allowed Rockfish Games to “make the game we always wanted to make.” as founder Michael Schade puts it.
Everspace 2 looks like a fast-paced arcade twist on the dogfight genre. Schade describes it as a looter shooter in a semi-open world. You seamlessly travel from place to place via portals and visit different solar systems. There are more than 100 handcrafted locations, and Rockfish promises a 30-hour campaign and four hours of dialogue. The variety seems to be great; we saw battles in space and near the surface on a lava planet and below the surface of the ocean on a water planet. Better yet, these were actually visually inviting, so it’s good that exploration also plays a big part.
After a long period in Early Access, the game is set for release on PC in April. By the way, Schade was full of praise for the feedback Early Access has provided, even going so far as to say that he would not remake a game without first releasing an Early Access version.