Looking back over the shocking number of games I’ve played this year, I came to realize that quite a few of them are still technically not released. There are some in Early Access that anybody can buy into, and some were preview builds kindly provided by the developers. Having scoured my Steam library, I’ve picked the absolute best of the not-quite-released games I’ve been enjoying the most this year. It’s an eclectic mix, to be sure, so they won’t all be for every kind of gamer, but you’ll almost certainly find at least one here to get excited for. The list will be separated between games that you can play now on Early Access, and those games I got a preview code for, that you’ll just have to take my word about. They’re listed alphabetically in each category, rather than any kind of best-to-worst order. Enjoy!
Playable Now on Early Access
While I haven’t played all that much 20xx as yet, the few hours I have committed to it have been nothing but a blast. I had an eye on Mighty No. 9 for a long time, but eventually got bored with the waiting, and started looking for something else to sate my masochistic appetite for trying and failing over and over again. The Mega Man collection came out recently, and I started there, but it turns out the Mega Man games are a whole lot harder than I remember (or I’ve just gotten worse over the years) and I didn’t last too long, since I’m one of those gamers that needs to have some sense of progression to get invested, and most of your upgrades in Mega Man require you to power through a level and take down a boss. Then I got an email about 20xx and, at a glance, it looked like just what I was seeking.
20xx is, at its core, a very Mega Man experience. If you spent as much of your youth jumping and shooting baddies as a little blue robot, you’ll be instantly familiar with the gameplay of 20xx. It’s got a modernized progression system, though, so it’s a lot easier to get invested, even if you’re not a masterful player. It’s rogue-lite, so each run will be unique, and you’ll be able to collect new weapons, purchase new upgrades, and unlock special missions and modes. The local co-op is just icing on the Mega Man-flavored cake.
Darkest Dungeon from Red Hook studios is a party-based dungeon crawler with procedural dungeons, an impressive number of playable classes, and a delightfully dark Lovecraftian aesthetic. You’ll assemble a team to risk life and limb to explore dungeons and eliminate bosses, all the while leveling up skills, collecting new trinkets to aid them in their adventures, and, of course, suffering from the mental and physical ailments that you rarely see in other games, but make a whole lot of sense when you think about the realities of encountering a Cthulhu-esque creature in the dark, damp pits of a dungeon.
I wrote about my time with Darkest Dungeon earlier in the year, and months later, I’m pleased to see that a handful of content updates since I last played have added even more content to consume, despite the build I played at first sucking up 110 hours of my life in under two weeks. When i find a game I really enjoy with RPG-style character progress, I have a tendency to go a little overboard in trying to max out my crew and arm them to the teeth. A bit over 100 hours into the game, I had maxed out nearly the entire roster of characters, and finally decided to give it a break for a bit.
In the last couple of months, developer Red Hook Studios has added not only another zone to explore, complete with new enemies and bosses, but a new playable class to tinker with. Sure enough, I lost several more evenings enjoying the new content. Given the Early Access status of Darkest Dungeon, combined with the number of hours of gameplay I got out of it, it stands as one of the most impressive Early Access experiences I’ve come across.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of Leap of Fate at first glance, but once I got into the game, I knew it was going to be an exciting ride. I loved the game Hand of Fate from earlier in the year, and it turns out that LoF has a lot in common, while also distinguishing itself very well in its different focus. You play a technomancer in this rogue-lite, though the focus is taken off exploring dungeons, and put squarely on the combat. The isometric perspective and action-oriented combat keeps things exciting, despite a relative lack of enemy variety. Your map is a pyramid of Tarot Cards, through which you’ll pick your path in your effort to find and destroy the boss of the level. With frantic gunplay and tactical specials to keep you alive, you’ll have to utilize both your reflexes and your tactical thinking to make it very far.
When I first played, only the main character was playable, but over the past few months they’ve implemented two more playable characters, which have impressively distinct play styles. Where your first character, Aeon, shoots a medium-range spread-shot gun by default, the next unlock is Big Moe, who utilizes an energy beam weapon that deals continuous damage, increasing in power the longer you fire it. As you approach overheating, which stops you from firing for a short time as it cools, your regular beam will amplify into a devastating blast. The most recent addition is Mukai, who is actually more melee focused, which sets her apart even further on the style differences.
As you attempt runs and push past your previous bests, you’ll unlock new perks, talents, skills, and buffs for your characters, which are imperative to pushing further than before. The sense of progress is undeniable here, since after two or three failed attempts at the second boss, you’ll likely have unlocked the perks you need to bump your character’s power up enough for you to push past the problem boss. it’s a tough game, to be sure, but the regular upgrades keep it from feeling like bashing your head against a wall. Mostly.
Rogue Continuum had a rough start for me through no fault of its own. We’ve been fighting with our PC controller setup, since we’re using two wireless and two wired controllers, which apparently computers absolutely hate. After a number of false starts, though, we got all four controllers working properly, and it was absolutely worth the troubleshooting effort. It’s an odd sort of setting, with your squad witnessing the annihilation of humanity, forcing them to do a short hop through time to try to stop the alien assault before its tragic conclusion.
There are only four characters to play which will inevitably cause some conflict as you’re deciding who plays which character, but once you’ve rock-paper-scissored or knife-fought your way to a decision, you’ll hop directly into a frantic fight against an alien power. Your classes are quite distinct, with a long-distance and high-powered sniper, a heavily armed and armored robo-mech, a snarky but combat-ready space marine, and, of course, the odd man out, a hoity-toity aristocrat with a penchant for chainsaws. Each time you try and fail (which is most times you try, to be fair) you’ll get points to upgrade your characters, so you’ll be just a bit more effective on your next attempt.
It’s definitely the sort of game that you’ll want to commit a couple hours to when you get started, since getting the first few upgrades for your crew will make hopping in for shorter sessions later a much more gratifying experience. I usually play local co-op stuff at my own place with friends, so I had the home-field benefit of calling dibs on the robo-mech most of the time. Other characters don’t have a reliable way to regain health, but mister mecha has a recharging shield. It can’t take much punishment at any given time, but being able to duck in and out of cover, take a few hits, and recover that damage is incredibly valuable. Your more precise gaming friends will do well with the sniper, whose powerful attacks can be difficult to aim, but devastating when they land.
It has the benefit of not taking itself too seriously – or seriously at all, for that matter – so you’ll have as much fun learning about each character as you do dominating the invading extra terrestrials.
When I first checked out Chasm, I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but I was very glad I did decide to play, as it was one of those game experiences that had enough familiarity to it that you can grasp what you’re doing immediately, but offered enough newness that it’s never stale. Chasm is a metroidvania of sorts, so you’ll naturally be on the hunt for upgrades, but there’s a bit more depth to the progression systems that made it stand out for me. You’re just a run-of-the-mill soldier, investigating some mysterious circumstances in a small town, discovering – of course – a dungeon filled with malicious creatures and unknown dangers.
As I mentioned, the gameplay is standard fare, so you’ll know what you’re doing right away, but the exploration, enemy encounters, and bosses mix things up all the time. You’ll always end up backtracking at certain points in this style of game, but there is a fantastic checkpoint system that minimizes how much extraneous running you’ll be doing to explore that nook you can finally fit into, thanks to your most recent unlock. Those bosses get tough, though. Watch yourself!
If you’re a regular on our Twitch channel, you may well remember Enter the Gungeon, which former Escapist artist, Jose, committed to conquering on stream a while back. The early preview build I’ve had the chance to play only had the first couple of levels available, yet we collectively spent a dozen or more hours clearing them. Gungeon is a top-down roguelike shooter, where you play one of four characters who all share a goal: Find the gun that can kill the past. This plot overview has a serious-sounding philosophical slant to it, but rest assured, the game itself is not trying to teach you any lessons. Except dodge rolling. You’ll need to learn that one early.
Illustrating the levity of the game, most of the enemies you’ll fight are actually just anthropomorphic bullets carrying weapons, and the first boss you encounter is a giant bird person with a gatling gun. Then there’s the useable arsenal. The build I played offered a showcase mode where you got to tinker with the entire dozens-to-hundreds-strong collection of weapons in the game, ranging from a standard pistol to a rainbow laser rifle to a mailbox gun that shoots stationary.
Enter the Gungeon will offer a serious challenge to most gamers, and the recent addition of co-op to the game means that the 2016 release will herald a new age of blaming your co-op buddies every time you die.
The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild and designer Ty Taylor – the developers behind one of my all-time favorite artistic indie titles, MC Escher-inspired puzzle platformer The Bridge – have been talking about their next project Tumblestone for a couple of years now, but I didn’t pay it much mind until this year, since it just looks like standard match-3 fair at a glance. When I did finally check it out at PAX this year, though, I was absolutely shocked at how much fun they had managed to make the played-out game style. Tumblestone eschews the black and white lithograph aesthetic of The Bridge in favor of a vibrant, colorful cartoon motif.
Tumblestone gives you a simple board with blocks of different colors, which you’ll need to match up in sets of three of the same color to clear from the board. Your goal is to clear all the blocks. It’s incredibly simple, but the layout for the matches are often set up such that you’ll need to consider all your options before you start clearing. Wiping blocks in the wrong order will often result in hitting a fail state where there are fewer than three blocks of any given color accessible, forcing you to restart. Competitive play is a delicate balance of keeping up your speed, while also spending the time you need pondering the right move, so you can avoid a reset.
While the unexpectedly intense multiplayer is what sold me originally, having chatted with designer Ty Taylor about the single player campaign, I learned just how robust the SP offerings are. There will be dozens and dozens of handcrafted puzzles for you to figure out, with more advanced stages in the campaign teaching you the basics of the advanced features, like blocks that can only be cleared in certain circumstances. Most of these can be enabled in multiplayer as well, so if nothing else, the campaign will help keep you a step ahead of your competition when you start toggling the match options.
I’ve said it before, but 2015 has been an incredible year for indie games, and I’ve been absolutely blown away by some of the titles I’ve had the opportunity to play. If this early lineup of 2016 titles is any indicator, however, next year may well be even better. This is the kind of trend I think we can all get behind.