If you think Google Stadia was the only important thing at GDC 2019, have we got some surprises for you.
There's never a shortage of interesting games at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, but with the big announcement of Google's game streaming service, Stadia, it was all too easy to get drawn into conversations about the future of gaming at this year's show. As in year's past, we've gathered up a selection of our favorite games from GDC and compiled them into a handy guide so that you don't miss out on some of the best-looking, creative, and innovative games on the horizon.
If you'd like to hear from the developers behind some of the games on this list, be sure to revisit our livestream in partnership with the Indie MIX, where we played games live and got to the bottom of their conception and ongoing creation. And to catch up on everything related to GDC, including our impressions of playing with Google Stadia, head over to our GDC 2019 hub for every bit of news and video that came out of the show.
Now, for the good stuff: a bunch of exciting games coming soon to PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One in 2019 and beyond.
Metamorphosis | PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One, Switch | Ovidworks | Release: Fall 2019
As a reimagining of Franz Kafka's short story, The Metamorphosis, Ovidworks' homage is a narrative-focused puzzle-platformer with a decidedly surrealist atmosphere. Focusing on the story of Gregor, who suddenly finds himself transformed into an insect, you'll use your newfound abilities to explore environments and solve some unusual puzzles, all of which lead to strange events that reveal more about Gregor's present circumstances.
This emphasis on surrealism was demonstrated to us in one level set within an office that has floating sheets of paper and office supplies serving as platforms. These strange environments set up some particularly clever platforming challenges, which can take of put many of Gregor's insect abilities to use--such as acquiring liquid to create sticky surfaces to crawl on the walls and steep surfaces.
Though it's directly inspired by the short story, Metamorphosis the game pays tribute to Kafka's larger body of work. It attempts to poke and prod at the inherent ridiculousness of the game's mechanics in order to state something about the central character's bizarre transformation. Whether it will succeed in that remains to be seen, but the peculiar atmosphere does inspire a lot of curiosity about what's to come, and what that means for the former-human turned insect. - Alessandro Fillari
Stela | PC, Xbox One | Skybox Games | Release: TBD 2019
Coming from Skybox Labs, one of the co-developers of Halo Infinite with 343 Industries, the upcoming Stela for PC and Xbox One is an atmospheric puzzle-platformer focusing on the isolating and moody journey of a lone heroine. Beginning her trek in an underground cavern, you will slowly guide the main character back to the surface, where you'll find that civilization has fallen into ruin, and dangerous insect creatures have taken over.
Stela evokes a similar vibe to Playdead's Inside and Sony's Ico, focusing on a highly vulnerable protagonist's quest through a world that's designed to kill them in a myriad of different ways. During one particularly nerve-wracking moment, you have to evade a horde of creatures by taking advantage of obstacles and other objects in the environment to impede their progress. You'll gradually learn more about the world that once was over the course of the heroine's journey, and how many of the relics and structures from the old world may have a deeper connection to her.
With no dialog present throughout, it uses its presentation to the story. Though the atmosphere and presence of danger may make it seem like a largely bleak adventure, there is a subtle beauty in the environments you explore. Some of these levels focus on some compelling periods of exploration, with the vastness of the silent landscape offering some serene if fleeting, moments of peace and reflection. Releasing later in 2019, Stela's uses its incredibly detailed environments and puzzles to show off its haunting and quiet world in rather expressive detail. - Alessandro Fillari
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech | Switch | Release: TBD 2019
Developer Image & Form is once again blending genres in unexpected ways with SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech. As the latest entry in its interconnected SteamWorld universe, Quest combines tactical card game mechanics with the grand scale and storytelling of Japanese RPGs.
Like previous SteamWorld games, the intersection of Quest's mechanics is one of its most satisfying qualities. Choosing a trio of cards to create the most effective attack combos against a group of enemies proved a rewarding strategic challenge during a recent demo. Often I deliberated which combinations could do the most damage, while taking risks discarding other cards in my hand to potentially expand my options. This is to be expected from an RPG revolving around card-based combat; though, the way it's recontextualized in Quest to work as direct attacks to enemies in a turn-based battle offers a stylish flair that I enjoy far more than other games of its ilk.
The amusing backdrop in which Quest presents its mechanics gave me the most joy. The world was notably more vibrant than previous SteamWorld games, which were constrained by post-apocalyptic desert hues and neon-tinged sci-fi color palettes. Energetic characters and pun-laced dialogue kept me thoroughly entertained. And as a longtime fan, there was a great sense of intrigue. After all, Quest seems to be setting itself as a prequel to the series given its fantasy setting.
SteamWorld Quest is looking to be yet another well-executed and endearing adventure from Image & Form. Whether you've played a SteamWorld game or not, its entertaining blend of mechanics and lovable characters make it well worth paying attention to. - Matt Espineli
Ghost Giant | PSVR | Release: April 16
I typically can't handle VR. After some wild episodes of motion sickness, I've generally avoided putting on headsets. However, the upcoming PSVR-exclusive Ghost Giant charmed me in ways I didn't expect. It's a stationary experience (a plus for my fragile disposition) that puts you in the role of a ghostly giant that watches over a lonely little cat boy named Louis. As his protector, you follow Louis on his adventures, interacting with the environment to solve puzzles, and helping him overcome many of his daily personal struggles. It's all pretty straightforward and simple, but it's Ghost Giant's visual style that has me yearning to return--despite feeling some sickness from prolonged VR headset use.
Ghost Giant's characters and environments appear as if crafted by hand with cardboard, paper, and other objects lying around the house. The result is a cross between a pop-up book and a puppet show. Alongside this attractive hand-crafted style were well-acted performances that pulled me deeper into the events unfolding before me. I loved getting in close to Louis as he spoke to me, giving the lil' buddy a high-five and patting him on the head before setting forth to accomplish the next objective. And when drama ensued, I longed to do whatever I could to help him feel better.
Ghost Giant's child-like wonder and sprightly presentation captured my imagination. While I only played a small chunk, I'm excited to continue my adventure once the game launches next month. - Matt Espineli
Creature in the Well | Switch | Release: Summer 2019
Creature in the Well is a fascinating mix of the score-chasing antics of pinball with the twitch-based action of hack-and-slash games. Like any pinball game, your goal is to rack up points by propelling balls into various targets on the field. You do this by using the main character's two sword types; one for hitting balls and the other for charging up those balls with energy, allowing it to accumulate more points upon hitting a target. As balls start flying, you must move quickly, so as to avoid being hit by the balls you charge up and by dangerous obstacles, like turrets and floor covering lasers. The points you accumulate are then used to unlock the path ahead.
It sounds simple on paper, but the chaotic nature of constantly moving around, hitting ricocheting balls off walls and charging others to increase my score sparked a thrilling high. This momentum followed into subsequent rooms that fed into my desire to get better while unraveling the mystery of the abandoned facility I was exploring.
As the last remaining repair bot on the planet, your mission is to restore power to the facility while avoiding a mysterious creature who seemingly haunts its numerous labyrinthine hallways. It makes for an intriguing backdrop to what's essentially a fast-paced pinball action game. My time with Creature in the Well was relatively short, but the juxtaposition of mechanics on display charmed my heart in ways I didn't expect. - Matt Espineli
Silver Chains | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch | Headup Games | Release: Q3 2019
Silver Chains hides a pretty cool Resident Evil Easter egg in its opening moments, which you can see in these 13 terrifying minutes of gameplay. The scene encapsulates my takeaway from my brief experience with the game fairly well--that Silver Chains seems to be an amalgamation of themes, mechanics, and references to horror titles that came before it. Not that that's a bad thing.
In Silver Chains, you play as Peter, a young man who wakes up in a dilapidated mansion, only to discover the building is haunted by a monstrous entity referred to as "Mommy." Even without headphones and with some lights on, Silver Chains is still pretty scary. Visually, I didn't find the game too impressive, especially when you take a real close look at Mommy. But when the game's chilling soundtrack was pumping in my ears, and Mommy's guttural snarl reverberated from down the hall, I frankly didn't care. I just needed to hide.
Silver Chains managed to capture my attention with its mystery and characters. Peter will both speak out loud and provide mental commentary on the items you discover, providing greater insight into his psyche and revealing additional clues about what might be going on. I left the Silver Chains demo wanting to know more, and hoping Peter eventually gets out alive. - Jordan Ramee
Boyfriend Dungeon | PC | Kitfox Games | Release: TBD
This isometric action RPG caught my eye at PAX West 2018 and I gave it another go this year at GDC because it merges fast, tight combat with social simulation elements supported by wonderful hand-drawn artwork. But that's not all that makes the game stand out. In Boyfriend Dungeon, you date your weapons! Out in the real world they're just normal people with distinct personalities, and you can take them out for a nice walk in the park or out for a night clubbing. But when it comes to the dungeon crawling, your good friends transform into the weapons you use to hack and slash through enemy hordes.
Strengthening your bond with your anthropomorphized weapons makes them more effective in combat which ties the social and action elements together. And thanks to some genuine, progressive writing and conversations, and fluid combat with a variety of combos to take down different enemy types, it seems Boyfriend Dungeon is making good on the things it's going for. - Michael Higham
Black Future '88 | PC | Good Shepherd Entertainment | Release: 2019
Last year's Dead Cells captivated so many of us with its fast, buttery-smooth gameplay. And this year, we may have something similar on the way. Black Future '88 is bringing its own twist to the roguelite genre with a cyberpunk 80s-themed post-apocalypse packed into a hyper-fast 2D shooter. With each run, you're given 18 minutes to fight through deadly enemies and avoid lethal hazards in a series of branching rooms using a variety of wild weapons. From homing launchers that use time as ammo to laser rifles that teleport you to the enemy you kill, Black Future '88 keeps surprising you with its arsenal.
The hope is to eventually take down Skymelt, the oppressive tower that you're fighting through. But Skymelt essentially has a mind of its own by constantly changing the conditions that affect your run. You'll get an overload of visual flair as lightning and explosions shake the screen and disorient the action--it can be distracting, but this effectively communicates that Skymelt is a force to be reckoned with. Creator and composer Don Bellenger describes the sound and aesthetic as 'synthpunk' which is apparent in the heavy 80s synthwave-inspired soundtrack that layers on top of the overwhelming, momentous action. - Michael Higham
Project Witchstone | PC | Spearhead Games | Release: TBD
GDC 2019 was the first time Project Witchstone was shown publicly, and it appears to be an ambitious pen-and-paper-style RPG experience in the same vein as Baldur's Gate and Divinity: Original Sin. The game uses traditional CRPG elements for its continuous turn-based combat, but adds an extra variable with Attack Modifiers which are essentially quick-time events that can make you even more effective in fights. But the more intriguing aspect of Project Witchstone seems to be in its narrative possibilities.
There are multiple factions that exist in its world and you decide who to align with and how to interact with all its characters. The game seems to give you a lot of freedom with a wide range of options for affecting the game world. For example, you can steal a weapon from one faction and plant it near a dead body to essentially frame another, smooth-talk your way to convincing some NPCs to do the good or evil deeds you wish, or even decide the fate of an entire town. Consequences to your actions loom around every corner, and I'm excited to see just how dynamic the game can get. | Michael Higham
Untitled Goose Game | PC, Switch | House House | Release: 2019
If you're looking for something incredibly silly, the team at House House has a treat for you. Untitled Goose Game is a relaxing, adorable, and hilarious game where you play as a goose that just ruins people's days. During my hands-on experience, I waddled around a gardener's backyard only to steal his carrots, take his keys, and throw his hat into a lake. The gardner doesn't attack you or cause a fail state, he just tries to undo the mess you make. There's a bit more to just being an annoying goose, though. You'll have a number of distinct instances with a "to-do list" which is a series of specific actions you'll need to clear, like stealing the gardener's hat and make him put on a different one, or steal all his food to create a picnic for yourself.
When I think about it, Untitled Goose Game really just taps into my love for stealth-action games, but with a lot less violence and a lot more cuteness. - Michael Higham
Afterparty | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch | Night School Studios | Release: TBA 2019
I've always been a pretty big fan of comics and manga, so Night School Studios' first game, Oxenfree, felt right up my alley--as it's animated almost like a graphic novel brought to life. I got the same feeling with Afterparty, which sees Night School tackle a comedic tale of two young adults stuck in hell.
Why are Milo and Lola stuck in hell? Frankly, I don't care. I'm too busy laughing at their banter, as well as the absurdity of two childhood best friends plotting to escape the underworld by drinking Satan under the table. Afterparty is well-written, and jokes land one after the other. Lola (voiced by Battlefront II's Janina Gavankar) is easily my favorite of the two playable protagonists, as her never-ending sass and quick-witted responses lead to all sorts of hilarious moments and drunken shenanigans early in Afterparty's story.
Afterparty looks to build upon Oxenfree's mechanics in every way, while also delivering a story that's just as full of soul and emotional exploration as Night School Studios' first title. I sure hope so. I can't wait to play it. - Jordan Ramee
Dead End Job | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch | Headup Games | Release: TBA 2019
If you've ever wished Luigi's Mansion played like The Binding of Isaac, then you'll probably be as excited about Dead End Job as I am. The late '90s cartoon aesthetic is a fun touch too, and the catchy soundtrack left me bobbing along.
In Dead End Job, you're a ghost hunter who takes up odd jobs in order to earn enough cash and abilities to bring your boss back to life. This twin-stick shooter plays out over procedurally generated levels where you blast evil specters until they're stunned, and then suck them up with your vacuum. What starts as a relatively simple game quickly transitions into a frantic dance of death, as the ghosts evolve in both number and ability. Dying yourself sees the loss of your promotion and abilities, and with only 30 in-game days to complete your objectives, you can't afford to spend too much time requiring everything you've lost.
Dead End Job seems to fall into the same rhythm of play as Dead Cells, where you're always pushing yourself to just try and complete one more area. You're not necessarily getting a deep story here, but the gameplay more than makes up for that. There's also drop in/drop out co-op and Twitch integration that allows viewers to choose the type of power-ups you'll unlock. And no, your viewers don't have to be helpful with their choices. - Jordan Ramee
Void Bastards | PC, Xbox One | Blue Manchu | Release: Spring 2019
Revealed last year at XO18, Void Bastards is a really clever blend of the methodical progression of a roguelike and the nerve-wracking sense of dread from a spacefaring exploration game. That may sound bleak, but this game is anything but. Coming from developer Blue Manchu, the concept shows a fun appreciation for '80s comic-books and hard sci-fi, presenting an incredibly colorful universe that can hide some brutal challenges. Taking on the role of a thawed out prisoner, you'll attempt to travel through the incredibly dangerous Sargasso Nebula, an interstellar field full of pirates, lost ships, and the occasional convenience store chock full of supplies.
In familiar roguelike fashion, you will go on a journey fraught with unexpected gains and losses. And given the danger of space travel, you can easily mark the end of your journey by making a wrong turn somewhere in the nebula. After the character's death, the next prisoner--all of whom are procedurally generated--will be ready to start their trek from the beginning. Though every character is capable of facing off against the many robots and bizarre alien entities throughout the nebula, they also have their own particular baggage. These quirks can even create an extra challenge and some added laughs, such as characters with persistent coughs that can alert nearby enemies.
Void Bastards has a style that I just couldn't help but admire. Truth be told, I tend to find the roguelike sub-genre to be a bit overdone, however, I really appreciate how much fun this game is with the setup. It's a really odd mix of genres that offers some incredibly quirky humor throughout, which kept my somewhat short-lived interstellar jaunt interesting up until its inevitable conclusion. - Alessandro Fillari
Close To The Sun | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Storm In A Teacup | Spring 2019
Imagine for a second that Bioshock, a game that possessed some interesting alternate-history world building and a rich retro-futuristic aesthetic, didn't lean so heavily on combat. Well, that's essentially what developer Storm In A Teacup is going for with their upcoming adventure-horror game Close to the Sun. Set in an alternate universe where Nikola Tesla--a pioneer of alternative energy in the 1800s--became the world's leading technological force, you'll play as a journalist named Rose who uncovers the inventor's massive city-ship known as the Hermes. Once a haven for scientists and creatives looking to explore new possibilities, a rogue experiment has turned the utopia into a horrific shell of its former self, and you'll need to explore the ruins to discover what happened before your arrival.
During my playthrough, it all came across eerily similar to the classic FPS, which was most apparent with the use of the distinctive art-deco decor--and along the occasional jump-scares. Instead of gunning down depraved survivors with hobbled together weapons, you'll spend most of your time learning about the former residents of the ship while evading any threats that you come across. It's really Bioshock by way of Firewatch, and there was something really engaging about the game's emphasis on discovery, which felt surprisingly refreshing.
I really dig alternate-history storylines and Close to the Sun's take on a familiar premise is something I want to see more of. With a planned release on PC--via the Epic Store--and for consoles later this spring, it'll be interesting to see how its bizarre, retro-futurism will unfold come release. - Alessandro Fillari