In the second and final roundup of my recent intensive experience at Germany’s Gamescom, one of the biggest annual in-person gaming events in the world (find part one here), I’ve once again broken down all the various demos I got to try out into neat little categories for your perusing pleasure. Read on to learn more about such delights as two new Agatha Christie adaptations, the next instalment in the film-noir detective adventure series Chicken Police, a space mystery called The Invincible based on the novel by Polish science fiction author Stanisław Yem, a language-based action-adventure from the creators of Dreamfall Chapters, and (I) doesn’t exist, a modern text adventure using conversational artificial intelligence, among many more.
Detective / Investigation
The Darkest Files
The Darkest Files, a first-person historical investigation adventure by Paintbucket Games, casts you as Esther Katz, one of a group of Nazi-hunting attorneys out to prosecute war criminals for past crimes. Whilst giving the subject matter due thought and reflection (the game is based on real cases and a real group of lawyers), it is brought to life through a stylish comic book art style (though with more cool tones of blue and yellow than bright colours).
Each chapter (four in all) will centre around a different cold case and criminal, where you’ll need to interview the victim’s relatives and interrogate witnesses to gather clues. In the demo this meant also being able to physically walk through your interviewees’ memories as they’re recounted to you and click on objects of interest to get further information. You’ll then be able to reconstruct scenes on your investigator’s corkboard to get to the bottom of what really happened.
All of this evidence is used in the court case that culminates at the end of each chapter, in which you’ll propose your version of the truth to hopefully get a prosecution. The team tells me it is very possible to lose the case, so you’ll need to keep your wits about you. With its unique premise, a sleek art style and lots of personal rivalry and drama weaved into real-life political history, I’m very much looking forward to being able to kick some more Nazi butt when the game comes out on PC – though no firm date has been given for this one yet.
Agatha Christie – Murder on the Orient Express
Yes, it’s Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, but not quite as fans may know it in this latest Hercule Poirot offering from Microids, developed in-house. The classic 1930s murder mystery is being modernised and set in 2023, meaning everyone’s favourite Belgian detective will need to examine evidence such as mobile phones and laptops as well as the usual diaries and letters if he’s to crack the case.
The main components of the iconic story haven’t changed, however. You play as Poirot aboard the luxurious Orient Express, still bedecked like it might have been in the ’30s because they’re celebrating the train’s anniversary. A murder’s happened on board, and with the train stopped in heavy snowfall, whoever dunnit has to still be here. One big difference from the original is that along with Poirot you’ll also play as a second character, Joanna, an American FBI agent who’s investigating one of the passengers on board. I was told that to break up all of the action happening on the same few train carriages, there’ll be moments where you revisit and play through flashbacks of some of Joanna’s previous cases in the US.
In the Gamescom demo I was searching the murder victim’s room for clues, then using the returning “mind map” feature Microids has employed before in Poirot games to piece related clues together to create conclusions. For example, no footprints in the snow outside the stopped train’s window, and an unlocked side door = the killer must have escaped next door rather than outside. There’s also an interesting feature to make sure you’re paying attention during character introductions, where you’ll have to select elements they’ve mentioned such as their nationality and occupation out of multiple choice options to keep you at your detecting best. It won’t be long before we find out which of them is responsible as Murder on the Orient Express will be reaching its final destination on PC and consoles on October 18th.
Tintin Reporter: Cigars of the Pharaohs
Also from Microids but developed by Pendulo Studios, we can soon step into the shoes of the titular 15-year-old intrepid reporter in Tintin Reporter: Cigars of the Pharaohs, a recreation of the fourth volume of the iconic Belgian comic book series. The story follows our whiz kid on a globetrotting adventure as he tries to solve an international drug trafficking case. (I don’t know what’s in the water in Belgium, but I don’t remember being this proactive as a teenager.) It’s not a traditional adventure, as the team tell me there are several types of gameplay you’ll have to master: investigation (searching an area for information and solving puzzles), stealth, chase sequences, fights and even parkour!
In the Gamescom demo I played through three of these scenarios. First in the investigation section I had to sneak around a General’s office, trying to find clues to unlock a safe. That involved examining hotspots around the room to get ideas for the code and sometimes combining items I found too. Next came a thrilling chase sequence, where after getting into trouble (this will happen a lot in the game), Tintin hops into an old-fashioned two-seater plane, pursued by angry authorities. I had to tilt the plane using the controller’s shoulder buttons to squeeze into some tight angles and keep it low to avoid getting shot at (there’s a health bar for the plane so it can explode!). Though not the easiest, this part really felt most in the spirit of the youthful protagonist and his rip-roaring adventures.
The weakest of the three sections I tried was the stealth element, with our reporter trying to sneak past guards in a warehouse area. How far the guards could see wasn’t the clearest to make out, resulting in quite a few mission restarts, and neither were the shadowed sections where you’ll be able to rest without being seen. Still, I was told this aspect is being worked on at the moment and will be much improved for the final product. Speaking of which, you should be able to join Tintin and his faithful dog Snowy on their trip around the world sometime in mid-November this year on PC and consoles.
Chicken Police: Into The HIVE!
The next animal detective game set in the Chicken Police Universe (CPU?) sees you once again reprise the roles of Sonny and Marty, the weathered, feathered detectives just about upholding the law on the dirty streets of Clawville. This time they’ve picked up a case that’ll see them venture into the Hive, a ghetto filled with the kind of insect crooks and cronies that give even our two seasoned pros the shivers.
I’m happy to note that the voice acting in the short scenes I played through still remain as stellar as ever. Whilst the first Chicken Police was notable for its film noir-esque colour scheme of black, white and smokey greys, players will now have the option to see everything in bright technicolour with the click of a button. The reason isn’t just cosmetic either; it’s to signify how Sonny might be starting to regain some of his hope in the world too. I’m also told the sequel will be more replayable and less linear than the first offering, as alongside main quests there’ll be side quests to discover, with much less of a defined order in which you must complete them in order to progress. Chicken Police: Into The HIVE! is set to be released in the first half of 2024 on PC.
Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot: The London Case
In this edition of “Belgian people being real go-getters,” the follow-up to 2021’s The First Cases sees you follow a young and rather dandy Hercule Poirot in The London Case, one of his early assignments. Taking place in – you guessed it – London, our detective is following the trail of a missing painting where all, naturally, is not quite as it seems. Whilst the deduction mechanics of previous Poirot collaborations by Microids and developer Blazing Griffin remain in place (clues all get stored in the Belgian detective’s mind map and you have to try to find connections between them to solve things), the main addition to the series in my demo came in the form of a new sidekick – the even DANDIER British beau, Arthur Hastings, a fan favourite from Agatha Christie novels making his first appearance in game form. And there’s no need to wait – newly released, you can join the pair in their foppish jaunt around the capital city right now on PC.
Symmetry Break Studio’s Misgiven is a 2D sci-fi adventure that explores themes of expression and how difficult it can be to say certain things – as the team explains, the “feeling of having a lump in your throat.” You play a space adventurer who, after crash landing on a planet engulfed in an unbreathable fog, chances upon the mask of an explorer and puts it on to stay alive. What our protagonist hasn’t planned for is that rather than just a mask, this is actually a person’s “face” – or at least their facial ID, and walking into the nearest city pretending to be an explorer who’s presumed dead or lost brings with it PLENTY of problems.
How these issues with communication manifest themselves was really interesting to explore in the demo. Each dialogue option has a circle next to it, and to speak you’ll have to physically drag the circle into a half circle beneath it. If a topic is socially acceptable it’ll be easy to drag the circle in, but something that is harder or less acceptable to say may be a lot more difficult. Or the circle may just be too big to force in at all, until perhaps you get to know the person better. It’s a clever and unique way to physically demonstrate how important communication can be to properly integrate oneself into society, but also how challenging it can be to do so effectively. Plus, the different choices and options you can select will mean there’ll be different endings, too. The demo was created with funding by Gamecity Hamburg, so while there’s no news on when the full game will be complete, here’s hoping with an intriguing premise and smart mechanics it’ll be sooner rather than later!
This high-energy third-person action-adventure game by Red Thread Games (Dreamfall Chapters) is another game that explores the power of words quite literally – although here you’ll use them as weapons against your enemies. In Dustborn you play Pax, a con artist with the ability to weaponise language. Taking place in an alternate-history America where a past apocalypse gave some people superpowers, the story follows you on a road trip with your crew across the authoritarian American Republic to deliver a mysterious but important package, travelling undercover as a punk rock band, The Dustborn.
The demo showcased how conversations between our crew will work. In a car with everyone together, it was possible to move the camera around freely to each character – cutscenes won’t be locked down, to make things feel more cinematic. Dialogue is timed, but that’s to make things feel more lifelike rather than to create panic. So if you don’t say anything, rather than freezing on an NPC’s same idle animation waiting to hear your reply, the game will just move on, with characters of course reacting to your silence too. Sometimes saying nothing will actually allow new topics to pop up, because you’ll be reacting to something new they’ve said in response.
The dialogue and editing has an in-your-face attitude to it that fits well with the graphic novel-style art, reminiscent of Borderlands. As for the action part of the game, you’ll employ the power of “Shout” to use words you’ve mastered (e.g. “Block” sends the literal word “block” spilling out across the screen and stopping enemies from attacking you) along with more familiar weapons to target your enemies. Your friends have different powers too, such as great strength, and will join in the fight sporadically, depending on the scene, to help you out. You’ll also get the ability to craft new words as you go, and of course, as you’re pretending to be a punk rock band, there will be some rhythm games to take part in as you play songs together (either well or badly, it’s up to you!). There’s no word yet on when it will be done, but prepare to crank everything up to eleven when Dustborn arrives on PC and consoles!
We Stay Behind
In We Stay Behind, the third-person mystery by Backwoods Entertainment, the team behind Unforeseen Incidents, you play as Laura, a writer tasked with uncovering the stories behind the residents of Laburnum Creek. What’s unusual about this picturesque but otherwise unassuming town is that a comet is on course to hit it, but many of its inhabitants are still refusing to leave.
The game will see you interviewing the remaining residents, with conversations allowing you to choose what kind of tone you want rather than exactly what you’ll say (e.g. picking between friendly or evasive will open up different dialogue options). The demo allowed me to visit different points around the map and choose who I did and didn’t speak to, reminiscent of Lake’s peaceful natural surroundings of a national park to explore and drive about in. The game is currently on Kickstarter (until September 10th) to add extra features to development, with a planned PC release date in March 2024.
From Die Gute Fabrik, the makers of Mutazione, comes an adventure game set in a flooded, scattered world many years after the great submerging. Here a captain of a ship has gone missing and her crew decide to mount a rescue. There’s no one protagonist in this narrative though, which explores themes of community, capitalism and connection, all with a light touch. Instead, in each chapter after a cold open conversation between the group explaining the latest objectives, you’ll get to pick which secondary character(s) joins the chapter’s main cast member based on details such as which language they can speak or a quote on why they want to join. In Saltsea Chronicles, you’re playing as the community, not the hero.
Each character selection will open up new dialogue options, meaning lots of branching narratives and varied playthroughs. The locations you’ll visit on your rescue mission seem packed full of their own intriguing lore to discover, from a “party volcano island” to a “cat island.” You’ll navigate from section to section using a quick tap of the mouse button (or shoulder button on controllers), and points of interest (people, buildings, objects) sparkle on the pastel-coloured, risograph print-inspired backgrounds, leading you into an 80 Days-style text conversation where choices are paramount.
Relationships between crew members are obviously key, and there’ll be chances to improve them or let them slide depending on what backstory you want to develop. These will take the form of “issues” that highlight tensions between the group. A menu section will highlight all the issues between current members and their status – some will be active, some handled, and some “scuppered” if you failed to resolve them. Rather than this being a mechanical thing, I’m told it’s more to make everyone seem more human and realistic: tensions will naturally occur just like in real life, and both solving and leaving them provide interesting dialogue options.
Add in a special card game you can learn and play with island residents, and the huge amount of choice on offer makes Saltsea Chronicles a tantalising offer indeed. Get ready to call out the search party when it sails onto PC and consoles later this year.
The eponymous star of helpnode’s wholesome 2D adventure Sanya is a little boy who makes friends and lives life to the fullest during a carefree summer. Set against the backdrop of political events of the ’90s, you’ll engage in fun mini-games like racing your bike and playing Hide and Seek, whilst also growing up a little bit with more adult responsibilities (like getting a key to the house from Mum). Most importantly, there’s a puppy you can befriend, and your relationship with the adorable canine will affect your ending. PROTECT IT AT ALL COSTS! Sanya will be pawing its way onto PC sometime in 2024.
Sci-fi and Technology
(I) doesn’t exist
From two-woman indie developer LUAL Games comes (I) doesn’t exist, a modern horror text adventure that bills itself as “classic Zork meets existential crisis.” There’s been a lot more features added since I gave it a look at Gamescom last year. The “modern” part of the text adventure refers to the fact that whilst you are inputting commands for your character to follow like “pick up log,” you’re not just looking at a wall of text but the 2D pixel art rendition of the scene you’re walking about in. It also refers to the fact that the developers are using various Natural Language Processing AI bots running in the background, which will be learning new commands as more players use them, so how you can potentially interact with characters should expand past the usual “look, move, use” basics.
The “existential” part of the game stems from its wrestling with the idea of control. Without spoiling too much, once you manage to leave the first area, you’ll be able to speak directly to your character (by typing in whatever you want) and discover that they’re less a protagonist than a prisoner in this command-based game. A shady figure is pulling all the strings with their toxic positivity, and there’ll be mini-games that pop up throughout as they try to distract you from the real story going on. (I) doesn’t exist will be materialising very soon on PC, arriving September 12th.
The Invincible is a first-person adventure from Starward Industries, adapted from the 1964 novel of the same name by the hard sci-fi Polish author Stanisław Lem. It’s been getting lots of deserved hype for its beautiful 3D graphics and intriguing retro-futuristic world – this is, after all, how people in the ’50s imagined the future, so tools and technology still have an analog, “atompunk” feel.
As the astrobiologist Yasna, you and your crew end up on the unexplored planet Regis III, but the journey soon goes south when crewmates go missing as you start to investigate the area. It’s your job to explore the planet, try to find your crew, and work out just why you were drawn there in the first place. In the demo I played, Yasna had access to several tools like a scanner and a handheld telescope to evaluate the alien landscape around her, plus a clunky rover to drive between locations. She also carries a very retro-looking walkie-talkie device (giving me Firewatch vibes) with which she can communicate with a distant crew member observing from off-planet.
Also much like in Firewatch, timed dialogue options pop up in response to your conversations, but there’s a more in-depth level of how these choices will affect your story. There will be eleven endings in all, which will be shaped by how you treat and respond to your crew and the opposing factions you meet as you inspect Regis III further. The Invincible is due out on November 6th on PC, PlayStation and XBox – so plenty of time to get well-versed in the novel beforehand if the subject matter appeals to you.
With a stellar acting cast (including Troy Baker from The Last of Us and Roger Clark from Red Dead Redemption) it’s perhaps no wonder that Fort Solis sells itself as more like a Netflix series than a video game. The narrative follows researcher and astronaut Jack as he investigates the titular remote mining base on Mars following an unusual distress call, only to be met with an eerie absence of anyone left stationed there, begging further exploration.
The emphasis on story over gameplay is clear as you explore the seemingly empty base; apart from a Quick Time Event to scale the base’s walls, most of the demo I played focused on Jack’s back and forth with another crew member over comms, and his mutterings to himself over what he discovers. The team want this to feel like a high-quality cinematic experience, but in comparison to other story-based games, there won’t be branching narratives – just four chapters over roughly four to six hours, following Jack (a motion-captured Roger Clark) in his increasingly fraught investigation.
If this sounds like a story you want to get stuck into right away, there’s good news: Fort Solis is already out on PC and PlayStation, and Adventure Game Hotspot’s review of the game has plenty more good things to say about it.
Outside Your Adventure Game Collection…
Finally, if you want a story-rich experience outside of the adventure game genre, then look no further than Drop Bear Bytes’ Broken Roads. This narrative RPG is set against the unusual backdrop of postapocalyptic Australia. Alongside standard roleplaying mechanics such as turn-based combat, it’ll feature an intriguing system called the Morality Compass. Rather than just a “good” or “bad” morality system resulting from dialogue and action choices, choosing certain options will skew a character’s philosophical leanings a certain way (utilitarian, Machiavellian, humanist or nihilist). Depending on how their compass is shifted, more options of that ilk will be unlocked to choose from. For non-Aussies there’ll also be an in-game dictionary on hand for any slang that leaves them feeling a bit of a drongo. If you’re itching to crack open a tinnie and investigate the Outback, then no wuckas mate – Broken Roads is out this November on PC and consoles.