Here's your Indie Release Dispatch for December 15, 2023.
Happy Friday everyone! The Game Awards came and went, serving up more memes and ire than I was bracing for. There's a been a few great threads on Bluesky or X that broke down the absolutely abysmal percentage of time awarded to game developers accepting rewards vs. the non-stop thrills of world premieres that Keighly and co. were serving up. Now look, I love a spectacle as much as the next person, and I fully understand that the TGA needs to be a profitable venture. The only reason the show IS so big in the first place is because of all those premieres that they show to build the hype. Your average gamer doesn't care about the industry. They care about the next big thing only. But for those of us connected to the people who make our games, 2023 was a year of massive contrasts. Banger after banger was being served up, delivering what was probably the most landmark year in gaming since 1998, but over 10,000 developers are now jobless while companies are riding record-high profits. To ignore that during a platform that is now the biggest moment of the international gaming calendar with the demise of E3, in favor of selling ad space and dropping hot trailers is pretty shitty. Not as shitty as cutting off Larian studios mid-speech while trying to leave a touching note for developers who passed away during the canonical "best game of 2023" acceptance speech, but still pretty shitty.
But hey, at least Christopher Judge dropped some heat on Activision.
What came out this week?
Developer: LCB Game Studio
Steam rating: Positive
World of Horror took me back to the 2bit days of classic mac games, but this week Bahnsen Knights is taking me back to the EGA-era with it's chunky colors and classic adventure game interface. Set in 1986, you are an undercover agent who is infiltrating a religious cult that is run by a former car salesman turned preacher, as you investigate the disappearance of a fellow agent and close friend. Solve puzzles as you investigate the crime and try to uncover the motivations of the strange cult, and of course, find your pal in the process.
Bahnsen Knights is a standalone game, but it is the third in a series of interactive adventures called Pixel Pulps. You can pick up the whole pack here if you want to experience these inter-connected adventures which all take place in the same universe.
United 1944 (Early Access)
Steam rating: Mostly Positive
OK, so I may have gone on a late night tangent with my wife the other day about the tagline "World War II redefined" in this trailer, but that aside I am super keen to check out United 1944, a World War II extraction shooter that seems to have some interesting ideas for the genre. The game launched into Early Access this week with two game modes. Domination is pretty standard 16 vs 16 territorial control in an urban environment, but unlike Day of Defeat or Battlefield, players can construct their own outposts to build defenses and try to hold off against their enemies. That actually seems pretty fun.
The other mode is what I am really interested in however. Survivor drops 24 players onto a map, and has you vying for survival and precious loot, asking you to extract at the end to keep said loot. I'm a mark for extraction shooters, and Day of Defeat: Source was one of my favorite games growing up, so it's almost like this one was made for me.
There are only three maps right now, but the ratings on Steam are looking good. The publisher actually sent us a few codes, so I will be jumping into this one over the next few weeks for some kind of review. Stay tuned!
Steam rating: N/A
Speaking of being a mark, did you know I am a Netrunner fan? That means I am contractually obliged to be excited about every asymmetrical deckbuilding game in existence, and as it turns out, Card Detective looks to be exactly that. You are Hazel Gong, a reporter who stumbles into a story when investigating a building collapse.
The Steam page claims that the team worked with criminal psychology professionals, and researched a large number of books, which fills me with... curiosity? I have never heard of this team before, but I do love a good detective story, and this looks pretty interesting. It releases tomorrow, so no Steam reviews are available just yet. Approach this one with caution, but be optimistic.
Dungeons of Sundaria
Developer: Industry Games
Steam rating: Mostly Positive
After a stint in Early Access, classic dungeon slasher Dungeons of Sundaria has hit 1.0 this week, and is sitting high with Mostly Positive reviews on Steam. This looks like a classic early 00's game, but with silky smooth animations, and surprisingly 4-player local split-screen co-op.
It seems there is a lot to explore here, with 7 playable races, and 5 classes, Dungeons of Sundaria has 8 massive dungeosn to explore, hundreds of enemies, and interesting bosses to tackle. If playing couch co-op isn't your jam, the game also supports online play. If Diablo IV just ain't doing it for you, and you prefer a third-person perspective when slashing baddies in the face, this one might be worth checking out.
Ready or Not
Developer: VOID Interactive
Steam rating: Very Positive
Controversially dropped by publisher Team17 when the developer announced that there would be a school shooting scenario, VOID Interactive just dropped version 1.0 of their SWAT-team tactical sim, Ready or Not.
Feelings aside about glorification of police brutality aside, VOID Interactive seem completely dedicated to creating a "realistic" tactical breach and clear simulator, rather than the PMC dude bro energy that Tarkov brings to the table, and given the size of the team, I think that is fairly impressive.
Speaking to a few friends who have been playing since the first release, version 1.0 brings new levels, new UI and overall tweaks to the gameplay that make it far more polished. If you grew up playign SWAT 3 back in the day, then this might take you back to those days.
The Finals has some incredible moment-to-moment gameplay
The most wishlisted game on Steam was released during The Game Awards last week, and in what little game time I have had over the past week, I have been completely obsessed. The Finals is the perfection of various competitive shooters on the market right now - the movement of Apex Legends, the destructibility of Battlefield, the fashion and unlocks of Splatoon 3. It takes all of these elements and creates a fast and frenetic combat arena that features some of the most exciting moment-to-moment gameplay that you will find in any online shooter.
A lot of those moments are due to the main game mode, Cashout. In this mode three teams of three competitors launch into the arena, when they are funneled towards a "Vault". When you reach this lockbox, you need to activate and defend the area, and only once it is unlocked, can you pick it up and transport it to the Cashout zone, a metal ATM-like device that takes quite some time to withdraw the cash. Basically there are two hold and defend moments that you need to endure, which is where the action happens.
Because chances are, the other two teams are going to come up and mess with your shit while you are pacing back and forth, trying to get your cash sent out of the arena. If you do manage to hold steady, you want to leap out of your seat in joy, but when you kill a defending team just moments before the cash out happens, steal the objective, and nab the loot for yourself - that is better than any chicken dinner I have experienced in any Battle Royale. Add in the fact that you can literally destroy the walls and floor to make the Cashout zone fall to the basement, and build a quick defendable zone with a combo of Goo Grenades and Barricades, you have some of the most dynamic strategies unfolding in a matter of seconds, every single round of the game.
I am quite smitten with The Finals, and I am actually planning on working on a little bit of a video essay over the holiday break detailing why I love it so much, and where I see it fitting in the current landscape. Now that I have written this down, that means I have to actually do it... right?
Let's get to 50!
This newsletter has only been running for a few months, and it has already grown much more than I ever anticipated. Having 30 of you reading every single week is really exciting, and some of you have messaged me to let me know that this little dispatch of cool games is really helpful to cut out the noise of constant Steam releases every single week.
So let's try and get to 50! If you have enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with a friend. This is the only way that the project can grow! We would really appreciate the support.
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See you next week, and as always, let me know what you are playing this weekend!