Accepted wisdom is that August is a shoddy month, full of games that are too scared to launch in the FIFA and COD wasteland. Everyone’s still hungover from E3 and the sun is out, too, so no one is playing games, right. Right?
Stick a Family Fortunes-style ‘Nuh-uh’ here, as the accepted wisdom is wrong! August is a smorgasbord of gaming, with a finger-buffet of cracking Xbox games. In particular, if you like your games critically acclaimed, then August has you served. There’s Hades, which we’ve been courageously holding off from playing until it hits the Xbox, plus Crown Trick, which has been making waves on the PC and Switch.
There’s a wide array of sequels too, from the incremental sports game (Madden NFL 22), to the granddaddy of RPGs (King’s Bounty II), all the way to Psychonauts 2, which feels like the return of an old friend. Add in some hot-looking indies and the almighty Lawn Mowing Simulator, and you’ve got a month with huge potential.
Outside of Star Citizen and Beyond Good and Evil 2, there aren’t many games as simultaneously demanded and delayed as Psychonauts 2. But the acquisition of Double Fine by Microsoft seems to have given the sequel a well-funded kick up the pants, and it’s finally arriving in August.
As with the first game, released way back in 2005, you play Raz, a gifted psychic who ran away from his life in the circus to join the titular Psychonauts, a Men in Black-style agency that saves the world on a regular basis. Again, like the first game, the joy of Psychonauts is both the patented Schaefer humour and the trippy adventures into the minds of enemies.
Psychonauts 2 is delivering more of the same, but taking advantage of the 16-year span since the first game. While Psychonauts 2 is multi-platform, the only place to play it at 120fps or at full 4k resolution is on the Series X|S.
Oh man, I am so excited to play Hades. As an enforced Lent, we’ve denied ourselves the ability to play it, just so we can come in cold when it hits on Xbox. And lo, it’s here in August.
Shall we list the many reasons to get excited? It comes from indie super-developer Supergiant, who started with Bastion and have gone on to give us Transistor and Pyre. They’re incapable of making a bad game, it seems. And so it went with Hades, which ended 2020 with countless awards, including the BAFTA for Best Game.
Oh, you want more reasons? Well, it’s arriving day one on Game Pass, which is a pretty hefty, free(ish) reason for giving it a play. But the top-of-the-topmost reason for playing Hades is that it’s hella good. It’s a rogue-like dungeon crawler with an action-RPG edge, and you’ll be playing over and over again in an attempt to make your next run optimal. Zagreus, the main character, unlocks upgrades, weapons, additions for the hub and even improves their standing with the characters in the game, making Hades as more-ish as Barbecue Pringles.
Lawn Mowing Simulator
Ever driven past a country house and seen someone on the back of a ride-on mower? Your first instinct might have been ‘what a boring job’, but think about it for a moment: wind in your hair, riding at 3kph, nobody bothering you as you trim acres of grassland. There’s a sense of peace to be had, and it might not be such a bad gig after all.
Curve Digital and Skyhook Games know what they’ve got, and they’re going big with Lawn Mowing Simulator. It doesn’t just attempt to capture the serenity and smell of freshly cut grass; you’re getting your own lawn mowing business, as you take on contracts within a single rustic British village. Set your blade height, survey the land, and do donuts in your fancy wheels.
There are twelve ride-on mowers to unlock, and they’re proper brands. You get Toro, SCAG and STIGA front line mowers to unlock, as long as you have generated the funds from mowing equestrian fields, country manor grounds and the like. You can even take on other businesses in a case of literal turf wars.
There’s a cult following on this one, with 250,000 people downloading the demo when it first launched on Steam. This will flymo off the shelves.
Madden NFL 22
Alright, we’ll admit that we struggle to get excited by a new Madden, but plenty do. From the hoo-hah over the cover stars (Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes make it this year), to the newest features, Madden still does enough to justify a yearly iteration with Madden NFL 22.
The headliner this time out is Dynamic Gamedays. This is a fancy strapline that encapsulates a few things. The first is Gameday Atmosphere, which looks to capture the atmosphere of each stadium through individual crowd animations, team-specific celebrations, and even super-fans of each team. Then there’s Gameday Momentum, which unlocks new plays based on the swinging momentum of the game. Finally, there are the Next Gen Stats, which level-up the AI, particularly useful when 80% of Madden games are played against the CPU.
We’ll try not to smirk at the very, very EA approach of coming up with a fancy brand for something so simple, and instead give this one a verdict when it arrives in August.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite
Stay frosty! If Alien: Isolation took the atmosphere and tension of Alien, the first in the Alien saga, then Aliens: Fireteam Elite is opting for the more James Cameron-like thrills of Aliens. Now, Aliens: Colonial Marines tried the same trick, so colour us suspicious. We can imagine that thousands of Alien fans around the world are holding fire on the pre-order button.
But previews have been positive and trailers look great. It’s a cooperative, third-person adventure that’s set 23 years after the Alien saga, so the world knows about the Xenomorphs. The time-jump should allow for some novel takes on what’s happened since Ripley, Weyland and Ridley Scott last came to the universe. This will happen across four separate campaigns, which gives Aliens: Fireteam Elite an anthology structure.
Cold Iron Studios are known for MMOs and strategy games (mostly) like Neverwinter and Star Trek Online, so this is a leap into the unknown for them. But they know how to make universes feel like livable spaces, and they know their way round a multiplayer raid, so maybe it’s not too big a leap after all. Let’s hope it’s the start of a new Alien saga, rather than game over, man.
King’s Bounty II
Excuse us for getting misty-eyed and nostalgic, but we played the original King’s Bounty on the Amiga and Sega Megadrive, so this one has a place in our hearts. What’s more, it hasn’t changed a huge amount over its life, from those original games to the reboots on PC: this is still turn-based strategy on a hex grid, with as many griffins and manticores as you can pack into a game download.
What has changed in King’s Bounty II is the emphasis on non-linear story, as you choose one of three heroes to return peace to the kingdom of Antara. You will be building and outfitting an army of fantasy creatures, then taking them onto the battlefield, where you need to match them to the terrain that best suits them, and gang-tackle your opponent.
The biggest question marks hang over the suitability for console, as this is an intricate strategy game that’s thrived on PC. We’re also keen to see if the franchise is stale after all of these years, but you can be sure that our inner ten-year old who completed it aeons ago will be all over this.
One of the benefits of game development under lockdown is that you have plenty of voice actors sitting on their hands, eager for something to do. Twelve Minutes has capitalised on this, drawing some household names including Willem Dafoe, James McAvoy and Daisy Ridley to lend them their lungs.
Beyond the Hollywood A-list cast, there’s plenty to intrigue here. It’s from the Annapurna stable, which is a guarantee of quality if there ever was one. Plus, it’s from the art director of The Witness, Luis Antonio, who has let the premise simmer with him for years before finally releasing it.
It’s that old cinematic chestnut of a time-looping scenario, similar to Groundhog Day, Source Code and Happy Death Day. You play the husband, as a cop enters your room, accuses your wife of murder and then shoots you. But you wake from your death, fresh as a bag of roses, with the ability to replay those twelve minutes. Can you break the cycle and save both you and your wife? We’re betting it won’t be as simple as playing Home Alone and leaving an iron as a swing-trap.
We’re not going to (overly) complain, but Hades and Crown Trick are good examples of a trend: critically acclaimed games that seem to come to Xbox last. But let’s admire the silver lining, as we’re just chuffed to get them at all.
On one hand, Crown Trick is as conventional as they come. We’re drowning in roguelike dungeon crawlers and this is yet another. You’ve got two in this Up Next and we had a couple in last month’s too. But while the bedrock is super conventional, what developers NExT Studios do on top of it is not. Every move you make in the dungeon causes the rest of the dungeon to move, not so dissimilar from Crypt of the NecroDancer. But instead of making this a rhythm-based hack-and-slasher, it’s about switching from real-time battling to turn-based battling whenever it suits you. That strategy is at the heart of Crown Trick, and it makes for a novel mix.
Strap that onto some one-more-go mechanics, and a procedurally generated dungeon, and you have a game that you’ll be returning to for hour-long stints.
We’re a sucker for style over substance, and Foreclosed has oodles of style (we’re not sure about the substance – yet). If you haven’t had the chance, check out the trailer: this is a game that’s decided to bridge video games and comic books, and it looks sensational.
It’s set in this decade’s setting of choice, the cyberpunk genre, where you follow the story of Evan Kapnos. At least, you will only be Evan Kapnos for a short while, as he lives in a world where identities can be stripped from people and then auctioned to the highest bidder. Yours has been foreclosed in this way, and you’re on a race against time to ensure that you’re not erased from existence.
This is a narrative-focused game which has the aim of narrowing the distance between game and cinematics. You will be moving between cutscenes and gameplay with barely a notion that you’ve done so. We’re eager to see if that works, or if we’ve just got a modern day Dragon’s Lair on our hands.
In Sound Mind
Ah, the streamer-friendly psychological horror game. From Five Nights at Freddy’s to last year’s underrated gem Visage, there will always be room for a game that makes wailing man-children scream and wet themselves in front of an audience.
But rather than be the one-trick pony that we’re portraying it as, In Sound Mind has a lot going for it. It’s from We Create Stuff, who made internet darling and superlative mod Nightmare House 2, so it will be interesting to see what they do with their first fully commercial release. It’s also soundtracked by The Living Tombstone, who gave Five Nights at Freddy’s its signature sound.
But more than this, it’s a dive into the subconscious, as they try to capture our fears and then distill them into a video game. We are going to be right at the back of the queue for this one – we’ve got the nerves of a chihuahua – but we know plenty of people in the office who will be raring to give this one a try.
If you’ve been angling for a summer holiday this year but lockdown keeps scuppering you, perhaps an Xbox holiday is on the cards. There’s certainly plenty of places to go, from the rings of hell to cyberpunk far-futures. A couple are on Game Pass too, so you won’t even have to shell out for more than a cheap subscription.
Join us next month for September’s games, where the silly season starts. It’s a Life is Strange double bill, with both the Remastered first game and the newest one, True Colors, taunting us with its American spelling. There’s Diablo II: Resurrected too, which continues the remastery theme. Don’t judge us, but we’re quite up for Hot Wheels Unleashed.
In the meantime, have a swell August, and enjoy the many acclaimed and exciting comes that are arriving soon.