Anyone remember the Summer of Arcade events from back in the day? I used to love the focus Xbox put on curated indie games at gave them a real spotlight and a chance to shine. Due to the sheer variety and number of well-made games releasing nowadays, it’s a little harder to pick just 4, but it looks like Microsoft and Xbox are doing more to shine a light on some of the best of indie developers and their games.
Earlier this week, Jesse and I got to take part in a ID@Xbox Hands-off Preview event for 4 great looking games coming later this year to GamePass. The ID@Xbox program turns 10 years old this summer, and according to the Director of ID@Xbox, Guy Richards, the program has helped generate a whopping £2.5B in revenue for indie creators across the globe.
There are now over 4600 creators across 95 countries registered to the program itself, whether they are “one person in a room or teams of thousands” and developers are given full access to the Xbox SDK and multiple dev kits without charge. Sounds like a pretty good deal, and it also includes access to industry best practice and marketing advice. They’ve even set up incubator teams for emerging markets and teams, like Africa and India.
Great for the indie developers out there, but assuredly great for lovers of indie games (Which is us, and indeed, perhaps you dear reader!)
So read on, as we take a look at The Last Case Of Benedict Fox, Everspace 2, Planet of Lana, and Lightyear Frontier.
The Xbox wire has their own article with each team discussing the benefits of being on PC Game Pass as well.
The Last Case Of Benedict Fox
Our good friend Bartek (see episode 135 of the XboxEra Podcast for a chat about the game – and feet of all things!) is the Creative Director of this gorgeous looking metroidvania from developers PlotTwist, which the studio just likes to call “Ben Fox”. We got to see a lot of new gameplay and dive into some of the key systems. Worth mentioning up front, this is still a development in progress, so there are some glitches here and there. According to Bartek, the main inspiration for the game and atmosphere was mixing ‘lovecraftian’ vibes with film noir beats, wrapped into a 1920’s era world. Overall, it’s very dark in some of its themes, so don’t expect a game for kids here.
The demo itself occurs in the second hour or so of the game, so we’ve already unlocked some of abilities and items. First up is our lovecraftian, demon companion, which allows titular character and self-proclaimed detective Ben to plunge into memories and feelings of characters, which makes Ben (according to Bartek) a “peculiar detective, with a troubled past”. I particularly liked the discussion and conversation between Ben and the creature within, who is less than pleasant at times. Fans of the character Venom will enjoy the interplay between the two.
The family mansion acts as a sort of hub for the player, to come back to and unlock new abilities and check in with characters, and is a detailed visual feast to say the least, chock full of clues relating to the case you’re investigating. You can purchase upgrades for existing items and even get tattoos that unlock new powers for your tentacled companion. The game is a mixture of all the things metroidvanias are known for – platforming, combat, exploration – but there’s also an emphasis on investigation (you are a detective after all) so players can expect plenty of rituals and puzzles to figure out. Oh, and of course – epic boss fights.
Descending into Limbo, in what I presume is Bens fathers mind, the world becomes eerie and distorted, a mixture of warped architecture and overgrown wildlife. It’s also full of all sorts of monsters and foes to avoid or exterminate, and we got to see some of the powers Ben can wield, from defensive barriers and what I can presume is an old-school flintlock pistol. One standout for me was the stoneskin ability, where Ben literally became rock to avoid damage from incoming attacks, as well as using it offensively to barrel through stunned enemies. We also see a glimpse of the Twilight Zone, an area constantly shifting and wriggling, where players seemingly use light as the main way to stay off harm. We get a few glimpses of the sprawling and vast in-game map, and it will certainly tick all the boxes for Metroidvania fans.
On speaking with Bartek, there is some great accessibility options planned, with different modes for colour blindness, combat simplification, subtitle options and puzzle hints and prompts, which is great to see from smaller titles, so I applaud the developers on this. We’ve been spoiled on Xbox with recent genre greats like the Ori franchise, but thankfully, The Last Case of Benedict Fox is most assuredly a looker. I have some concerns around some of the animations and movements, as they seemed a little awkward at times. Again though, this is not final footage, but it is a confident look at what is sure to be one of the highlights from ID@Xbox this year. I can’t wait to go hands on myself later this spring, straight on to Xbox Game Pass.
The original Everspace was a gorgeous roguelike space combat game from Rockfish games, where every death forces you to begin anew, in true Roguelike style. Everspace 2 is a much bigger game, changing the scale, scope and surprisingly, the genre itself, now becoming a semi-open world action RPG. It’s been in development for 5 years, and in early access via Kickstarter on PC for 2.
The game is set after of the events of the first Everspace, and you will take the role of “Adam” a cloned pilot, with a cool ship to fly. In a rather substantial change, the game sheds it’s roguelike beginnings, and instead, according to Rockfish CEO Michael Schade, “the heart of Everspace 2 is a ‘looter-shooter.’ ” As someone who spent some time with the first game, this is a pleasant surprise, and instantly makes me more interested in the game.
You can take on various missions from job-boards throughout the game, constantly on the lookout for better gear and weaponry for your ship. You can even customise it with different colours for the hull, thrusters and more to be found throughout the world, and there are 9 different ship types to earn, with 4 subclasses to then experiment with, each with various abilities and ultimates. In Everspace 2, the ship is the “character” you’ll spend time with, levelling up and getting stronger, changing loadouts depending on what you’ve looted from the world.
There’s a big focus on story this time around, with approximately 4 hours of dialog in the game. The story involves a number of factions around a demilitarised zone, with alien life looking to ensure peace with humanity. There are however, other forces at play that seek to subvert that peace, and you’ll work with your NPC companions to investigate. There are 6 in total, and you’ll meet and work with them to further the story, including upgrading them to help you out in a fight.
The semi-open world is connected by Jump-Gates, in a similar vein to space fighter Chorus. There’s a huge amount of variety in 6 star systems, with more than 100 hand-crafted locations you can travel to, and exploration is strongly recommended. And it’s not just space to explore, but planet surfaces, subterraneous locations and even under water biomes. There’s also trading, crafting, puzzles and mysteries to unravel, so it certainly sounds like we won’t be short on things to do.
There is an “End-game” state to gun for to get the best items, which is available approximately 30 hours or so into the game. this neat twist is Everspace 2’s takes on “raids” where players can enter rifts and earn multipliers across 4 stages for the best loot. In order to see everything Everspace 2 has to offer though, you’re looking at up to 100 hours worth of play. The game supports both 1st person and 3rd person view, and the game supports a full HOTAS set up on PC, so plenty of flexibility to suit your individual preferences.
I went from mildly interested to definitely going to play this just based on the preview, and the great news is I won’t have to wait long – Everspace 2 is available in Game Preview on Game Pass for PC, with the full release set for April 6th. Xbox players will have to wait until later this summer to get their turn in the cockpit.
Planet of Lana
Planet of Lana has been shown off a lot over the past few years, and it’s finally coming to Xbox and Game Pass this Spring. During a presentation from the developers, they stated that their major inspirations for Planet of Lana were games like Limbo and Inside. That was sweet music to my ears as we were able to watch over 15 minutes of new footage from this stunning-looking game. You play as Lana, a young girl who befriends a small creature named Mui. You’ll traverse through a desolate, but beautiful planet filled with cold, emotionless robots. This is the first title from developer Wishfully, and it is gorgeous.
The developers describe their game as “a cinematic puzzle adventure framed by an epic sci-fi saga that stretches across centuries and galaxies.” Planet of Lana plays on a 2d perspective with gorgeous hand-painted visuals. The animation work is particularly superb, giving off the old Disney rotoscope feel. Lana’s movements had weight and she moved through the environment in a very natural and believable way.
The section we saw was set short ways into the title. Lana and her companion are already familiar with each other, and they worked together to solve puzzles. A lot of these involve the fact that Mui is afraid of water. Lana will have to swim around and figure out ways to open up a path for Mui to make it over any body of water you come across. The other main mechanic showed off was Mui’s ability to mind control the various creatures in the environment. Through this connection, you are able to control a large creature that can raise and lower the water level. Raising it up allows Lana to swim across, and lowering it down gave Mui the path they needed to make it through.
No combat was shown off, and this doesn’t seem to be the type of game built around that. I got heavy PlayDead vibes in the controls. The movement was fluid, in a way most indie games struggle to be. There is a lot of jumping and as long as you reach the edge Lana will mantle herself up. The developers talked about mixing up the gameplay with a variety of puzzle and platforming types of gameplay, as well as action sequences to “keep you on your toes”. We only saw the light puzzle platforming gameplay in the swamp, though.
The final footage we were shown teased the Sci-fi aspect of the story. Lana came across a derelict ship full of trees and grass as nature has taken over the structure. Are you descendants of a long-ago space-faring race? It sure seems like it, and the music that played throughout the game was beautiful. It matched the tone of the mysterious, gorgeous world perfectly. I can’t wait to get my hands on Planet of Lana, which is due to hit Xbox and Game Pass on Day One in Spring 2023.
Last we were shown some footage of Lightyear Frontier. Sadly we didn’t get any of this ourselves to show off in a video. There is a mysterious narrative aspect to this mechs who farm title. The planet the game takes place on is covered in mysterious alien ruins, and you can search out the narrative at your own pace. You and up to three friends can farm, explore, and complete quests together in a lush, colorful environment. The loop of the game is a simple and familiar one. You’ll start out with alien plant seeds which allow you to upgrade your farm and your mech which allows you to access new areas of the planet. There are neighbors on other planets who you can interact with for quests. To talk with them you’ll access the radio tower, which is your main side quest hub.
The video we were shown featured the music from last year’s reveal trailer and a lot of scenic footage of gameplay. Sadly there wasn’t much direct gameplay footage shown off. Solo and co-op play featured cameras pulled back from the players and not exactly what the game itself will look like most of the time. Some drone footage was shown, this is a little flying robot that you can use to scout the environment. There was a lot of verticality in the footage, and upgrading your mech would appear to be key as you’ll have to climb up
Finally, we were shown how you’ll customize your homestead. Solo or in co-op you can use your farmed resources to build things like BBQ grills, place decorative bales of hay, and more to make it feel like a little slice of earth. The final tease was that they are experimenting with out-of-mech gameplay, though what that might entail we’ll have to wait to find. Lightyear Frontier has a release window of the first half of 2023