Covid-19 is having a dramatic impact on the videogame industry. Multiple triple-A releases have been delayed, including Humankind, Cyberpunk 2077, Destiny 2: Beyond Light, and well, many more. When it comes to the big games with the big marketing budgets, we’re looking at a fallow few months and a delayed start to the traditional peak release season.
But of course that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to play – far from it. Exciting indie and mid-market games are still releasing every month, and we like to seek out some of the most promising and give them a little extra love. With so many delays, there’s never been a better time to check them out (not that there’s ever a bad time).
We’re well into the month of July now, so fortunately, many of this month’s entries are already out – and there’s not long to wait for the rest. Highlights include a pair of stylish and innovative puzzle/action platformers, a creepy 2D puzzle adventure game with an utterly unique aesthetic, and Beyond A Steel Sky, the long awaited sequel to one of the very best of the ’90s point-and-clicks and a game that could revive this classic genre for our time.
These are the games releasing in July that you may not have heard of, but ought to.
July 2 – The Otterman Empire
For ten points, what’s a neglected videogame genre? The shooter? The party game? BZZZT: wrong. We were looking for the ‘party shooter’, games in which you and your friends compete to score in rapid-fire skill-based challenges. The Otterman Empire is one such game. Sitting halfway between the action-platforming competitive fun of Mario Party and a standard arena shooter, the Otterman Empire takes the pacing, mutating game modes and family friendly fun of the former and melds it with the gunplay of the latter. Oh, and adorable otters with jetpacks. For the more traditionally minded, you can play solo, and there’s a standard competitive versus mode. Blast off to the Steam page here.
July 14 – Neon Abyss
Putting a stylish or innovative twist on the humble platformer has been the indie developer’s stock in trade ever since the likes of Super Meat Boy, and it’s inspiring to see how much novelty such devs are still able to find in this classic genre. Neon Abyss is a roguelite action platformer in which you are a member of ‘Grim Squad’, a team set up by Hades himself to infiltrate the Abyss and defeat the New Gods. Item synergies across your huge arsenal are practically limitless, enabling you to build and customise some truly astonishing weapon effects, and lashings of acid-bright ’80s neon give the game a visual identity as irresistible as it is unique. Dive into the abyss of its Steam page here.
July 15 – REZ PLZ
For our second innovative action/puzzle platformer of the month, we present REZ PLZ. You play Arcan and Zeph, a pair of brothers who also happen to be apprentice wizards capable of resurrecting one another. This doesn’t just mean a quick feedback loop in which you can get right back into the game after dying; it’s actually embraced as a requirement to solve many of its dastardly puzzles. You must strategically kill your brother to progress – perhaps, for instance, by using his corpse as a platform to jump across a pit of spikes. Grisly stuff, you might think, but it enables some tricky puzzles and boss fights and is offset by the colourful pixel art world. If you fancy a clever indie platformer with a bit of an edge, hop on over to the Steam page.
July 16 – Beyond a Steel Sky
1994’s Beneath a Steel Sky was a classic of that decade’s boom in point-and-click adventure games, helping to solidify the genre’s aesthetic and charting a course between the slapstick of LucasArts’ contributions (most notably the Monkey Island series) and Sierra’s more serious Quest games. It was also a great game in its own right, exploring prescient questions about environmentalism, labour rights, and class struggle without forgetting to be funny.
Now, 16 years later, we’re finally getting a sequel. Now as then, industry veteran Charles Cecil is looking to make an adventure game that feels timely – both within the games business and within society. Beyond a Steel Sky will use Unreal Engine to sit at the cutting edge of graphics tech and use returning characters to tell a new story about the risks and rewards of our increasing reliance on artificial intelligence. Adventure games were once at the forefront of PC gaming – what does a re-envisioned take on the genre look like today? Head to the Steam page to find out.
July 21 – Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break
And now for something completely different. Bringing a touch of competition and Python-esque surrealist humour to tower defence, Rock of Ages 3 is a quirky game in which you’ll build your own defences and then race to destroy those of your opponent, perhaps demolishing them with a giant wheel of cheese. Online multiplayer supports up to four players, you can go head-to-head in two-player splitscreen, or there’s a bizarre and hilarious campaign spanning history and beyond, with guest appearances from Caesar, Moctezuma, Krampus, and even the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Rock and roll your way to the Steam page.
July 22 – Creaks
The latest release from Czech indies Amanita Design – the people who also brought us Chuchel, Machinarium, and Samorost – Creaks is a 2D puzzle adventure game with an unmistakable look. Get into the very walls of a creaky old mansion to discover a whole new world beneath its floorboards. Realised with eerie sounds, an eclectic original score from Hidden Orchestra, and a unique hand-painted style, this one is all about atmosphere. Get yourself a good pair of headphones and prepare to immerse yourself into an entirely original new environment. Your portal awaits at the Steam page.
July 22 – Necrobarista
In a back-alley cafe, the dead are granted one last night to mingle with the living. Exploring Melbourne’s hipster coffee culture, the questionable ethics of necromancy, and the process of letting go, Necrobarista is a visual novel looking to break new ground across the genre. Many VNs render their characters as static images that pop up over equally static backdrops. ‘Animation’ seldom exceeds replacing the face with a winking eye to add some occasional coquettishness. Necrobarista, however, enlivens its diverse, anime-inspired cast with a fully 3D cinematic style and a score from a BAFTA-nominated composer. Place your order on Steam here.
July 23 – Carrion
A ‘reverse horror’ game in which you play a scarlet blob of tentacles, teeth, and rage, Carrion casts you as the horrible monster and your erstwhile human captors as the villains. Or at least, the people you’re trying to kill and consume to grow in mass. Flop around the 2D tunnels of a secret research facility, terrorising and eating those who had imprisoned you – here’s the Steam page.
July 31 – Monster Crown
It’s a long shot, but have you ever heard of Pokémon? We thought not. Not many have. This obscure Japanese phenomenon – searched by only about 60 million people a month during the height of its little-known mobile game Pokémon Go in summer 2016 – never officially made it to PC, but we do have many excellent Pokémon alternatives, and the latest addition to that list is Monster Crown.
In a darker world where monsters rule, you’ll still need to hunt, capture, tame, breed, and battle said monsters to establish your own legacy, defeat an evil megalomaniac, and restore balance to Crown Island. Don’t be fooled by the classic pixel graphics – this is Pokémon for grown-ups, and as they say, gotta catch all the Steam page. Pages. Of which there are/is one.