The annual Game Developers Conference is many things. A time to learn, a time for fellowship. A time to wake up drunk from attending yet another late night party. It’s also a time to demo the new games that will challenge and shape the mechanisms, tropes and themes that will inspire minds and infiltrate the mainstream in the years to come. In that vein, this year’s event did not disappoint. Here are our ten favorites from the show.
After sitting down with Rogue Process for about thirty minutes, I couldn’t help but describe it as something like Gunpoint by way of Typing of the Dead, or even Mavis Beacon. The procedurally generated 2D stealth-platformer manages to stay impressively action-packed while nearly every interaction the player has with the game is facilitated by a tense, time-slowing hacking mechanic.
Got an angry guard running at you? Hit Tab to begin hacking, then type “shock” to take him out with a bolt of electricity. Random commands must be used to hack things like security cameras and windows so you can leap past and through each respectively. Once you’ve shattered that glass and are plummeting to the streets below, type “boost” to rocket up to the next building.
Recently approved by Steam Greenlight, you can already check out the game’s page here. Though there’s no concrete release date as of yet, you can expect the full title to come out sometime in late 2017 on Steam, Mac and Linux. —Peter Amato
If you’re like me and think traditional fighting games sound cool but aren’t really your jam, Sloclap’s Absolver might be for you. A systemically deep martial arts-centric action-RPG, Absolver lets players choose between four main fighting styles, and then further customize their stances and abilities within those distinct movesets. Add weapons and magic abilities on top of that, and you’ll start to get an idea of how much there is to mastering this game. Timing is key when dodging, parrying or striking opponents, which can be either AI other players encountered in the open world.
Don’t let its intricate animations and gorgeous art style fool you. Absolver’s design is as intelligent as the game is pretty. Made up mostly of ex-Ubisoft employees, Parisian indie studio Sloclap hopes to have this game out sometime in 2017. —Peter Amato
Perception was built by The Deep End Games, a studio made up of former members of the Bioshock and Dead Space teams, and despite its “indie” label, the AAA publishing pedigree shows. The game is polished and well put together. The lead character Cassie is a detective and a blind woman with a heightened sense of awareness used to navigate her surroundings as she makes her way through the abandoned mansion haunting her nightmares. In terms of gameplay, think a less-hokey Layers of Fear, with the detect mechanism from Dying Light. —Holly Green
Ooblets might be the cutest game I’ve ever played. Already best described by developer Glumberland as “Harvest Moon meets Pokémon meets Animal Crossing meets the weird awkward people [they] are,” I could not stop smiling while playing the demo. It centers around the collecting and battling of the preposterously adorable “Ooblets,” each with names like Pantsabear, Shrumbo and Gloopylonglegs. After an Ooblet is defeated, they drop a seed that the player can plant to grow their own version of the creature.
Players can grow their farms, open a store and explore the world in this charming, brightly-colored adventure. Seriously, even the little dance your character does after winning a battle is just wonderful. Double Fine Presents is publishing the title, which is currently aiming for a release sometime in 2018. —Peter Amato
I’m not much for dating sims but Monster Prom has won me over. With a cast of mythical creatures spanning several mythologies, the game operates much like a traditional dating sim with choose your own adventure elements—players pick an avatar, make choices along unpredictable narrative paths, and build stats that will affect the outcome of other scenarios and decisions—but with an absurd, self aware sense of humor that kept me laughing out loud throughout the entire demo (at least once every twenty seconds or, just often enough to completely embarrass Paste intern Peter Amato). Intended as a multiplayer party game, Monster Prom is probably one of the few dating sims, besides Hatoful Boyfriend, that you could play with a group of friends and be laughed with and not at. —Holly Green
Mineko’s Night Market
Again, much like with Ooblets, there might be something wrong with you if Mineko’s Night Market doesn’t constantly make you smile. Hilariously written and charmingly animated, the game is a silly, cat-packed adventure.
The demo I played saw me manning my own market stall, competing in a cat-riding race (which was won by a cat riding another cat) and running from government agents who were in pursuit of my friend Abe who is, you guessed it, a giant bipedal cat. Mineko’s Night Market doesn’t yet have a release date, though it’s planned to head to PC sometime into the not-so-distant future. —Peter Amato
“Dark” isn’t the right word to describe _Transfer. Dark is what you call a game that explores depressing subject matter. It’s not the word you use for a game that evokes the quiet terror of wondering if you are dead.
With only a blurry black computer screen and the glowing text of an input terminal, _Transfer manages to simultaneously be one of the most terrifying games and thought provoking metaphors I’ve ever played. It reminds me of every paranoia-fueled Wiki rabbit hole I’ve ever gone on. The questions are many, the answers withholding, and overall the feeling is that of a late night /nosleep binge, a wincing, tentative probe into the unknown that is as delicious and irresistible even as it paralyzes with fear. I almost forget it was written as a comment on identity issues and gender dysphoria. It excels at both. —Holly Green
If 2013’s Gone Home told players the story of an empty house and those who dwelled in it, this year’s Tacoma promises to deliver the same type of narrative on a larger, more open-ended scale. Set in 2088 on the abandoned space station Tacoma, players are again tasked with answering the central question: what the hell happened to the people who live here?
This time, instead of relying solely on traditional environmental storytelling and discoverable notes (which were functionally audio logs, albeit well-crafted ones), developer Fullbright is also letting players relive first-hand the maybe-final days of those missing via an in-game AR interface, complete with rewind and fast forward buttons so you can take in every last detail of what they left behind.
Early on, we learn of the apparent loss of the crew’s oxygen supply and communications, as well as the existence of an assumedly-rogue AI named ODIN. That considered, based on the tonal upending of any and all “scary empty house on a stormy night”-related tropes in Gone Home, you probably shouldn’t take these seeming sci-fi clichés at face value. Keep an eye on Tacoma for a hopefully fresh take on space-set human drama. —Peter Amato
If the entire world were ambidextrous, Keyboard Sports would be dull. Fortunately for all of us, human beings are very bad at distributing tasks equally between both hands, and thus Keyboard Sports is one of the funnest, most innovative and most difficult games I’ve experienced in a long time. Instead of using WASD or the arrow keys as the primary means of controlling the main character, the player must use the entire keyboard to move around. The levels play out like mini-games, each with their own challenging take built around the game’s premise, so the gimmick, while fundamentally simple, doesn’t wear out immediately. Its art style also has a touch of storybook whimsy that suits the game well. Keyboard Sports is a complete charmer. —Holly Green
A Dual Hand Disaster: Trackher
Like Keyboard Sports, the challenge of A Dual Hand Disaster: Trackher relies on the mad scramble that comes of trying to use both sides of your brain at the same time. The astonishing and impressive work of a single developer, the game creates a split screen with two ships, both of which must be simultaneously maneuvered to the benefit of the other. On the left, the ship attacks enemies, who navigate to the right if they are not defeated. On the right, the ship flies around at high speed, collecting defensive resources and power-ups like speed boosts and shields, while earning bonus point multipliers and trying to stay alive. The player’s actions on both sides of the screen are deeply tied to one another, and the resulting chaos is challenging but enormous fun. —Holly Green