There was a time when it was possible to play pretty much every interesting video game released in a given year, from nailed-down 9/10 blockbusters to that divisive horror curio. That’s not the case now – not only because games have gotten longer and more involving, as I wrote about last week, but also because so many of them are released. The publisher model, where a few big companies controlled the release calendar, has given way to a mix of legacy megaliths (Sony, EA, Nintendo, Microsoft), indie publishers (Devolver, Annapurna, Team17), self-releasing developers and everything in between. How is a player supposed to keep up?
Good curation is one of the most useful things a games critic can offer in 2022. But even though it’s my job to know what’s going on in video games, stuff flies under my radar all the time. There used to be a few days of game announcements a year at big conferences such as E3 and the Tokyo Game Show (and Nintendo Space World, for fans of a certain vintage). Now there is a year-round stream of announcements, updates and teases. Sometimes I’ll have kept an eye on an interesting game for a year, only to discover that it was surprise-released two weeks ago. It drives me nuts.
To help make sense of the relentless morass of information, I asked Guardian contributors to pick out a game or two that stood out to them from the onslaught of summer announcements. Then I asked them to interview the creators. The resulting stories will be published throughout August. First up: Edwin Evans-Thirlwell on Animal Well, a fascinating pixel-art puzzle/adventure game that he describes as “a deliberate time capsule, a refuge for its creator’s daydreams and nightmares”. It’s vaguely creepy, a technical marvel – I’ve never seen pixel animation quite like it – and hard to pin down genre-wise (a bit like Fez, say, or Hollow Knight).
Later this week, Malindy Hetfeld will shine some light on Venba, the cooking game about a Canadian immigrant family that I wrote about a few weeks ago; and Nic Reuben takes a look at Scorn, a Cronenbergian horror game from Serbia. Next week, Lewis Gordon profiles Skate Story, a skateboarding game where you are “a demon made out of glass and pain”. Visit this page if you want to see all our summer games previews as they go up – you can find them in the links section of the newsletter all month, too.
Exhausting though a flood of fresh releases and info can be, it is one of the reasons why I love covering games: you don’t always know what’s coming. There are predictably exciting titles around which hype always gathers, of course – who wouldn’t be keen to see what Rockstar has been doing with Grand Theft Auto 6? – but then games like Untitled Goose Game or Neon White can come along and take me by surprise. Summer is usually quiet for games news, but this year there have been at least 10 noteworthy titles released so far (Stray, Live a Live, Neon White, Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course, As Dusk Falls, The Quarry and Xenoblade Chronicles 3, to name some off the top of my head). And we’re only just into August. The unpredictability can throw you – but it’s also exciting.
What to play
South of the Circle has been out on Apple Arcade since 2020, but it’s released this week on all other platforms. I played this cold war love story back then and I still recommend it as a compelling (if short) piece that weaves an Antarctic survival adventure with a tale about two academics, Clara and Peter, coming together in 1960s Cambridge. It is beautiful in an understated way – the colour palette accentuates mood and feeling and the cutscenes are lovely to watch. Which is just as well, because this is one of those narrative games without much gameplay to speak of. Don’t hold that against it, and you’ll find an intimate and memorable story here.
Available on: iOS, PC, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch
Approximate playtime: 4 hours
What to read
Bloomberg reports on some good goss about Rockstar Games and Grand Theft Auto 6: working culture across the infamous developers’ studios has reportedly improved hugely, but development on the game is slower than expected. With the departure of creative lead and studio co-founder Dan Houser, the tone of the game has changed significantly, say Bloomberg’s sources. It will also reportedly feature a female protagonist for the first time in the series’ history.
Employees at Ubisoft are frustrated with their efforts to change the company’s culture after years of scandals. The Twitter handle A Better Ubisoft, run by current and former Ubisoft employees, claims that 25% of the people who signed the original open letter demanding change have since left the company.
Generation Games, the Radio 4 documentary I wrote and presented about the cultural history of video games in the 50 years since Pong, is on BBC Sounds now.
What to click
Before we get to this week’s query, reader Anne wrote in to recommend a game about fixing things for Adam, from last issue’s question: the endearing-looking Fixfox, about a space engineer who is also a cartoon fox.
On to this issue’s question, which comes from Paul: I’ve just started playing Sable. Can you recommend other non-violent, open-world, video games for the PC?
Old-school recommendation: Proteus, a generative-art game about wandering in pixel-art countryside that I sometimes return to when I need to zone out. For something more game-y: A Short Hike is a small, contained open world full of fun secrets that remind me of an old Zelda. You mentioned Eastshade in your email, a beloved game about being a travelling painter in a beautiful natural world. The Witness is a beautiful island full of brain-scrambling puzzles – a more intellectually demanding vibe than Sable – and I fondly remember Rime as a combat-free exploration game. Or you could always play Minecraft with the enemies turned off.