E3 is often where we get to see or hear about major games for the first time (this year featured Metroid Prime 4 and Anthem, for instance) or where we see more of a previously announced big-name game (like Super Mario Odyssey or God of War). But there’s far more at E3 than just those huge games with major franchise or developer names attached to them. Many other games fly under the radar but are nonetheless well worth your attention. We’ve rounded up a small handful of these games for you below.
Alex Newhouse | News Reporter
I’m always on board with a platformer that manages to find an innovative mechanic, since the platformer genre is so saturated with games. Semblance, a game that started as a South African developer’s final university project, creates a world that’s essentially made out of Play-Doh, and it lets you deform it to achieve your objectives.
Slamming into certain walls or floors compresses or warps them to allow you to reach higher places or avoid spikes and other obstacles. Further, even in my short E3 2017 demo, I was progressively introduced to more mechanics that involved this terrain deformation. At one point, using a certain device that resets deformation, I was able to create catapults to launch my character to high, hard-to-reach places. It also helps that it’s a beautiful game, with a colorful, cartoony aesthetic that goes well with the Play-Doh world.
I hope that the final game makes good on the promise of this mechanic, because I had a great time with my short demo. It launches next year on PC; console releases have not been announced yet.
Chris Pereira | News Editor
The moment Kingsway begins, its novelty is apparent: It’s an RPG in the mold of FTL that’s played entirely through the guise of a classic, Windows 95-esque operating system. Quests are accessed through a desktop icon for your email, the overworld is navigated by clicking on the browser, your inventory is merely a folder, and so on. But what could have been a merely surface-level wrinkle to the traditional RPG formula is in fact a concept that pervades all aspects of the game. This includes more minor things: There is no music–that is, not without first opening a Winamp-esque program and hitting Play–and you can go into the system’s settings to tweak your desktop wallpaper or an enable a mouse-trail effect.
But all of this also extends to the gameplay itself. Selecting a destination on the world map sends you on your journey, where you may randomly encounter enemies. These manifest themselves as pop-up windows that then move around the screen, making it challenging to select the button you want for Attacking, Defending, or other commands. The window’s movement is dictated by the type of enemy you’re facing, and other windows occasionally pop in and move across the screen (sometimes hiding under other windows) and have to be closed before they can poison or otherwise harm you. This all adds up to an experience that feels distinct in a sea of roguelikes, though your enjoyment to some extent may hinge on being old enough to remember the days of the spartan, utilitarian operating systems from the ’90s.
Gorogoa (PC, mobile)
Miguel Concepcion | Editor
Gorogoa zeroes in on what makes visually intensive puzzle games so appealing. With every new batch of clues you’re presented, you’re temporarily left to ponder how these hints are connected. Yes, you’ll be stumped, close to the edge of frustration, but the solutions are almost always a couple steps away. And it’s these eureka moments that kept me going for as long as the demo allowed me at E3 2017.
Gorogoa’s playing field is a 2-by-2 set of gorgeously illustrated tiles, constantly evolving as you solve each puzzle. It often feels like an evolution of hidden-object games where the screen changes as you slowly make progress. Deciphering the clues is a two-step process: you search for solutions hiding in plain sight in both the drawings’ foregrounds and backgrounds while also figuring out how the characters and objects in the tiles might hint at possible answers and how they relate to their surroundings. Gorogoa’s depth shines during the myriad moments when you have to do more than click on objects to advance through the game. Sometimes you have to zoom in on a tile or slide tiles on top of each another to make progress.
Along with the dopamine-hitting satisfaction of solving puzzles, Gorogoa’s story–told through the visuals that morph as tile images change–is both intriguing and thought-provoking. One section plays out innocently enough: by sliding specific tiles on top of other tiles, you’re helping a boy traverse his urban surroundings while he holds a bowl intended to carry objects. Yet it doesn’t take long to discover that the setting isn’t as idyllic as it seems. With the movement of each tile, Gorogoa’s visual exposition reveals a darker side to its story, a side that I am eager to learn more about.
Seven: The Days Long Gone (PC)
Aiden Strawhun | Weekend News Editor
I’m generally not a fan of isometric titles. They just don’t grab me in the way that really intense RPGs or obscenely weird Japanese games do. Seven: The Days Long Gone changed that just a bit. It’s set in the post-apocalyptic world of the Vetrall Empire. You’ll play as a thief who is possessed by an ancient daemon and trying to escape the prison island of Peh. Around you are two warring factions, the biomancers and the technomagi, and plenty of corruption to be stopped. As with many RPGs, the fate of the world is in your hands.
Where it separates itself is in its gameplay: take the free-running movement of Assassin’s Creed and throw it into an isometric RPG like Diablo. It feels both familiar and new with this kind of gameplay, as it provides expertly designed layered level designs that coax you into exploring more. The art, the universe, and the music set the scene incredibly well, and it’s definitely a game to get lost in. It’s also by a handful of former Witcher developers, so if there’s one thing you can count on, it’s a phenomenally cohesive world.
The Artful Escape (Xbox One, PC)
My personal award for the game with the most style goes to The Artful Escape, which was unveiled at the Microsoft press conference. It’s an utterly gorgeous game, with a beautiful art style suffused with neon accents. Oh, your character is also a badass guitarist who shreds his way through levels.
It has the most novel double-jump mechanic I’ve seen in quite some time; you can tap the A button to shred on your guitar, which slows your descent and lets you float, thus covering more distance than otherwise. And the one “enemy” I encountered tasked me with matching colors in a Simon Says-like way. But, in keeping with the aesthetic, every button press sends the character into an incredible guitar solo. It’s awesome, and I’m completely enraptured by the style of it all.
I’m not completely convinced that the game will be deep enough to be fun to play; I’ll have to see a lot more than just the 15-minute demo I played. But not much is cooler than a game with a guitar-wielding adventurer who rocks his way through levels. The Artful Escape an Xbox One and Windows 10 exclusive, and there’s no release date yet.
Songbringer (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Songbringer mixes the classic isometric Zelda formula with procedural generation. While I can’t speak to what other possible world configurations might play like, the one I did check out provided me with a glimpse of an interesting, sci-fi world that felt more open-ended than I anticipated. Songbringer provides you with freedom to (mostly) go wherever you want, and the way in which any playthrough might unfold can be radically different, as items are obtainable in any order and dungeons can be tackled in the sequence you choose.
And while the world is procedurally generated, this is done by first inputting a six-letter seed. This means you can share the seed you use with a friend, allowing you to share the same experience or compete to finish the game first. Much of the game’s appeal appears to lie in repeated playthroughs to see how differently things can go. But even my brief time with the game showed that a single run may take you through a visually impressive world filled with exploration, puzzles, and secrets.
Starlink: Battle For Atlus (PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
Oscar Dayus | Staff Writer
If I were eight years old again, I think I would love Starlink. Its swapping and changing of spaceship parts and guns and shields and heroes would’ve thrilled young me, a boy who grew up playing with toy rockets and cars whenever he wasn’t playing video games.
As a toys-to-life game, its hook is simple. Plugged into your controller is a physical space fighter vehicle, on which you can attach modifications like different weapons, wing types, and playable character figurines. Switching these in and out is reflected immediately in-game, where you’ll see your gatling gun disappear and your flamethrower appear in its place, for example. The tactile nature and immediate feedback this offers is satisfying–so it’s a shame the game it’s wrapped in is so generic. Then again, if eight-year-old me was ploughing a fighter ship into space, I don’t think I’d care whether or not the stars looked distinct.
Strange Brigade (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Eddie Makuch | Associate Editor, Australia
The next game from Sniper Elite and Zombie Army Trilogy developer Rebellion Developments, Strange Brigade is weird and wonderful. Set in the 1930s around Egypt, the shooter supports 1-4 players working together to fight off hordes of enemies, including fantastical ones like mummies. You start by choosing one of four characters, and each has its own unique set of weapons and attributes. Putting a team together that makes the most of each player’s abilities adds an element of strategy.
You progress through areas of bright, colorful, and varied environments as you take down minion enemies before the big bosses come out. Even with a team of four, you will be greatly outnumbered by enemies, so you need to make use of environmental elements such as traps. You trigger the traps by shooting orbs near them, and some of the traps include Indiana Jones-style spikes that shoot out of the floor and flames that cook your foes to a crisp.
Key to Strange Brigade’s combat is your super-ability, which comes in the form of an amulet. You can activate this by filling up a meter, which only rises when you’re attacking enemies. So you must continually engage in combat, so hanging back and taking it easy won’t work. This makes for fast and frenetic gameplay. I played local co-op with another GameSpot editor and teamwork was absolutely a part of our success.
We only played a couple of matches, but we tried all the characters, and also got a glimpse of Strange Brigade’s light puzzle-solving elements, too. Also of note is the game’s delightful over-the-top tone that reminds you Strange Brigade never takes itself too seriously–and that’s great. Strange Brigade is “coming soon” to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
Ashen (Xbox One, PC)
Kevin Knezevic | News Reporter
Microsoft showcased a number of intriguing indie titles during its E3 2017 press conference, but the one that caught my attention was Ashen. Billed as an open-world survival RPG, the game has players exploring a world devoid of sunlight, and its stylish visuals and high-risk combat system help imbue its setting with a genuine sense of mystery and danger.
What was most interesting about the game, however, was the element Aurora 44 didn’t show off during the press conference: its passive multiplayer. Like Journey, multiplayer is handled a little differently in Ashen than in a typical title. You’ll encounter other players while exploring the world, but you don’t always directly interact with them: they can appear in your game as NPCs.
This adds an interesting cooperative aspect to the game. You’re free to ignore any other travelers you encounter and go about exploring on your own if you so choose, but it would be much more prudent to band together. Not only does this make exploring the game’s enemy-infested dungeons easier (there is strength in numbers, after all), it feels strangely comforting to come across another player while venturing out in the hostile wilderness, even if you can’t communicate with them. Ashen doesn’t have a release date yet, but it’s certainly one to keep an eye on.
Last Day of June (PS4, PC)
I’ve never played Murasaki Baby, the previous game from developer Ovosonico, but its newest project, Last Day of June, certainly left an impression on me at E3. For one, the game is visually stunning, featuring an art style that’s inspired equal parts by Impressionist paintings and Tim Burton.
More intriguing, however, is the game’s premise. Last Day of June is the heartrending tale of Carl and June, a couple deeply in love. Early on in the story, the couple experience a heartbreaking tragedy: June is killed in a car crash. Following her loss, the game sees Carl going back in time and reliving the days leading up to the accident, making incremental changes each time in an attempt to avert the tragedy and save June.
We didn’t get much hands-on time with Last Day of June at the expo, but that doesn’t matter much; it’s not exactly the kind of game you need to play to get a feel for. And based on what we’ve seen so far, it looks like it’ll be a touching and memorable experience when it launches later this year for PS4 and PC.
Donut County (iOS)
The easiest way to describe Donut County is as an anti-Katamari. Whereas Bandai Namco’s colorful series has you expanding a ball by rolling over everything in your path, Donut County is about clearing areas by sucking up objects in a hole.
The premise is exceedingly simple yet surprisingly satisfying: a hole appears in the ground, and you need to maneuver it beneath every object you see in order to make them fall in. There’s a degree of puzzle-solving involved; the hole starts out small and gradually grows in size as you swallow more objects, so you need to figure out the right order to suck up plants, chairs, buildings, and all other manner of scenery.
Despite its simple gameplay hook, Donut County was one of the more compelling titles I got to try at E3. It certainly helps that the game is set in a bizarre rendition of Los Angeles populated by anthropomorphic animals, who sit around a campfire between chapters trying to figure out the mystery of the hole and why they got sucked in. It’s strange and surprisingly cathartic, making it one of the most memorable games of the show. Donut County is coming to iOS later this year.