(This is another edition of /RANT, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
One of the best parts of having a little soapbox is that it can be used to help those games that really need it. While I spend a lot of my time talking about big games like Call of Duty and Uncharted, the real joy for me is working out the games few people are talking about, and focusing on them in a bid to get a couple more tongues wagging. In many ways, it makes me no different from the common shill that most of my ilk are accused of being, but it’s apparently okay to be a shill provided you’re acting as the mouthpiece of the underdog. If it’s got a small budget and is being made by a studio that nobody’s heard of, acting as an unpaid advertiser is considered a noble cause. I am happy with that, because it means I get to do something I love.
So it is that I bring you word of some games that you might not have heard about yet. Of course, some of you may have heard of them, and are therefore required to hold your braces and smile smugly, satisfied in your superiority to all the common gutter trash that makes up the rest of society. Good for you, cool friend!
Among The Sleep
Among The Sleep has been gaining notoriety recently, so of all the featured games, this is the one you’re more likely to have heard of. It’s an atmospheric horror game in which you step into the booties of a two-year-old child. Horror games of old often dabbled with making the player character feel weak and exposed, having us play the role of an unskilled victim, woefully out of his or her depth. Among The Sleep takes the endeavors of Silent Hill and Amnesia to their logical conclusion — presenting perhaps the least trained, most vulnerable protagonist a videogame has had. A baby.
This goes beyond just putting the first-person camera at knee height and telling us we’re kids, too. Everything, from the sound of infantile breathing to the wobbliness of the camera and the unsteadiness of little hands, has been designed to accurately put ourselves behind the eyes of a toddler. Watching the trailer, the effect is simply astounding, while the Paranormal Activity-style scares that surround the child are pulled off with panache.
The game revolves around what happens after a child with a “limitless imagination” is put to bed at night. That’s really all we know about the game so far, but the underground buzz has been incredibly positive. As a fan of horror games, this is very high on my list of things to watch, and I think any scare lover would do well to keep an eye on it too. Don’t forget this one before it comes out next year.
Among The Sleep isn’t the only upcoming PC game that gives us an underage protagonist, but Lucius is an altogether different sort of beast. This time, the “hero” of the piece is far from vulnerable, and it’s not the victim. Lucius is literally the son of the Devil himself, and he’s a little boy with a big job to do — a job that involves orchestrating “accidents” in a mansion to permanently (and fatally) get rid of its occupants. Taking some pretty hefty cues from The Omen, Lucius is a game about being the creepy child that other games constantly make us run away from.
Things start simple, as Lucius builds traps out of common household objects, but he gains supernatural powers with each kill, eventually getting to control objects and people with his thoughts. Oh, and you naturally get to ride around ornate corridors on a little tricycle like that prick from The Shining.
Games in which you are the antagonist are always fun, at least in theory, and one where you essentially get to play Omen from the Hellspawn’s perspective is absolutely dripping in potential. The latest trailers still looked a little rough, but the game’s been pushed back to October 2012 in order to put some polish on. If you want to kill people and be incredibly unsettling while you do it, Lucius is worth keeping in mind.
Jeklynn Heights has been quiet recently, but I’ve been pulling for this sucker for a long time. It’s a multiplayer-focused game in which two teams of eccentric characters battle it out in a fairytale-style world. The comparisons to Tim Burton are impossible to avoid, given the familiar art style that straddles morbid and twee. At any rate, though, it looks a lot different than most other multiplayer games available, and that’s always going to get my attention.
Heights aims to blend both first and third-person gameplay with roleplaying, strategy, and adventure elements. The aim of the game is to win battles by capturing the Orb of Egression from the enemy team’s headquarters, an objective aided by the capturing of ability orbs and sanity posts. Ability orbs can buff the team with various passive and active skills, while sanity posts give the team a better starting position and allow them to gain — shockingly — sanity, which is used to level up and gain greater combat effectiveness. Each character has a range of unique attacks based on his or her occupation — for example, Benny Sinn the barber slashes with scissors and has ranged aid in the form of his Hair Fryer. As you do.
I’ll give anything weird a shot, and Jeklynn Heights is certainly looking like it fills that remit.
Awakened has its origins buried in a canceled game that once was commissioned by the defunct Midway. You may have heard about a game called Hero, an open world title in which players created their own superhuman by combining a huge range of customization options. The game, sadly, disappeared in the rubble of Midway, but it was not forgotten. The team working on it reformed as Phosphor Game Studio, and spiritually resurrected it under a new name, Awakened.
The game came to attention with a very well done trailer that, despite the in-progress gameplay, managed to make a very powerful case for itself. It’s definitely an ambitious game, with a huge array of special powers to choose from and a wide range of physical personalization. The aim is to let players become the superhero they want to be, and it’s a goal I truly admire. Powers include teleportation, telekinesis, stone skin, and the summoning of gigantic tornadoes that can drag a street full of cars into their swirling winds. These are just a handful of possibilities pulled from a video that was leaked to the public, and never intended for public consumption.
So far, Phosphor has proven its chops with The Dark Meadow, an iOS title that looked gorgeous, played well, and had some fantastic dialog. It also just announced another mobile game, Horn, which looks damn promising. Awakened seems to be keeping its head down while these other titles take center stage, but I am hoping for more soon. Just seeing that early demo video, as rough as it is, still gives me chills.
Divinity: Dragon Commander
When you go to E3, you get asked the same question over and over again by other attendees: What’s the best thing you’ve seen? Every year I pick a game nobody else has been talking about, one very few even bothered to see, in order to keep things interesting and avoid yet another conversation about one of the three games everybody else is having conversations about. This year, my pick was Dragon Commander, and when the puzzled recipient of my answer asked me what that was, I always said the same thing. I said the thing that sold me on the game, and subsequently sold everybody else I told.
It’s a socio-politicial roleplaying strategy action game in which you get to play a dragon wearing a jetpack.
Dragon Commander is set in the same universe as the Divinity roleplaying games, though it takes place thousands of years before any of them. You get to rule your own kingdom as a knight who can transform into a dragon, and you’ll conquer the land by making political decisions, arranging marriages of convenience (sometimes with a skeleton princess who smears lipstick on her teeth to regain a sense of humanity) and collect strategy cards that can be used in battle. Combat has the player zoom out of the warzone to command units, then zoom back in to kick ass as the aforementioned jetpack dragon. There’s humor, weirdness, and some damn gorgeous graphics to keep everything pretty.
This is one of those games that risk becoming a mess due to how many genres and ideas are juggled, but from what I’ve seen, all of Dragon Commander’s elements have been blended together quite seamlessly. At any rate, this became my personal game of E3 and is one of the most anticipated PC games on my list. Not many folks are talking about it, but it’s a relatively obscure game that I want you to pay attention to. Like all of these things.
They might be good, they might suck. Either way, they’re interesting. And that’s always a plus.