Summer Games Fest 2023: seven huge games to keep an eye on
The dust’s settled on the biggest event on the games industry’s calendar. Here are your standouts
It all used to be so simple. Every year you'd watch all the biggest games on the planet being announced in a giant convention centre. It was called E3, and if you liked $14 burritos served at bacteria-nurturing temperatures and three-hour toilet queues, it was nirvana.
E3 isn’t happening this year, but in its place there’s Summer Games Fest, a collection of video conferences and in-person showcases where more games than any human could possibly play in a lifetime are revealed.
Among the morass of new titles announced at this year's event, here are the seven you really should pay attention to. They discerned themselves from the throng with bold new gameplay ideas, innovative approaches to interactive storytelling, and if we’re being truly honest with ourselves, just wicked graphics and stuff.Advertisement - Page continues below
7: Alan Wake 2
Nobody tells a story like Finnish studio Remedy. The creators of Max Payne, 2019’s sublime and criminally slept-on Control, and now an Alan Wake sequel, have a real penchant for fourth wall-breaking, dark comedy and mind-wrecking Twin Peaks-esque absurdism. With that in mind, spare your gasps when you find out this sequel’s a tale about an FBI agent and a crime writer whose own works of fiction came to life and trapped him in a haunted island for 13 years.
There’s a million ways to mess up that story and, one suspects, only one way to wield it for full effect. With two protagonists at your disposal, one of which is a shrewd FBI investigator who can access her ‘mind place’ at will and arrange clues to reach conclusions and further the plot, there’s fertile ground for another properly bizarre Remedy adventure here.
And obviously it’s draped in 2023’s very best graphics, which really lends a quiet majesty to the furious 'roided-up deer-people who stalk you at every turn.
6: Marvel’s Spider-Man 2
If there’s one thing a superhero game needs to do to justify its existence, it’s making you actually feel superpowered. Within the first few minutes of Insomiac’s Spider-Man sequel for PS5, we’ve seen our titular protagonist fight off a massive robot dog with his bare hands, terrorise an entire mob of goons and leave them unconscious while hovering in the air, stopping only to perform some balletic twirls and kicks at ground level to take out the next mob. It’s all a bit “look at me”, frankly, but we're not going to take him to task on that. Suffice to say: here’s a game that very much makes you feel like a superhero.
The stellar production values from the first title have carried over here and received even more of a polish, as Kraven’s hunters continue their pursuit of Peter Parker and Miles Morales. Personally, we're betting on the invincible guys with mutated blood, inhuman strength and the power to soar across cityscapes.Advertisement - Page continues below
5: John Carpenter’s Toxic Commando
With a name like a bulging bicep and a reveal trailer featuring an even split of zombie massacre and Bon Jovi karaoke, this one’s setting its stall out pretty clearly. It’s pulpy ‘80s horror cinema, expressed as a co-op zombie shooter from the Left 4 Dead mould. That’s well-trodden ground for the medium, truthfully, but we're surprised just how far a well-chosen hair metal song will go towards alleviating any fatigue.
The big draw here is the sheer number of onscreen enemies, powered by developer Saber’s ‘Swarm’ engine which is proof of nominative determinism if ever we heard it. It’s not clear how involved the legendary movie director is in this project, but if even one bar of the Halloween theme features at any point it’s basically Game of the Year already.
4: Forza Motorsport
Granted, it was first announced long before this year’s SGF but come on, it’s Forza. Once the enfant terrible to Gran Turismo’s imperious sim racing series, it’s since become a juggernaut in its own right. And in this eighth title, inexplicably called Forza Motorsport (like the first game never existed), it wants you to take real ownership of your car and commit to it for the long haul.
Previously, the received wisdom in games like this was that you bought an RX-7 for drift events, a nice lithe track day car for circuit racing, and then a very slightly faster lithe track day car the second you could afford it. Here though, you’re levelling up your car corner by corner and unlocking upgrades as you level. The idea’s simply that you pick a platform and build it over the long-term.
For this reason, Forza Motorsport calls itself a car-PG and if you can refrain from being sick in your mouth upon reading that, there’s plenty else to sweeten your investment including a super-detailed damage model and revamped AI that can and will show off that damage model if you try to stuff one up the inside. It’s launching with over 500 cars too, including the new Nissan Z, so it’s really asking quite a lot of you to commit to just one.
3: Dragon’s Dogma 2
When you step out of the friendlier, well-lit areas of the games industry and out into the weirder neighbourhoods you find games like Dragon’s Dogma, a 2012 RPG with an innovative companion system and myriad clever little touches that made you nod to yourself. In the decade-and-a-bit since release it developed a real cult fanbase, which makes this sequel a very big deal.
This one’s built in an all-new game engine with a focus on accurate physics and letting you experiment with multiple solutions to any encounter. Destroy that bridge, sweep that tall monster’s legs out, or just stand back and watch your companion Pawns go to work on your enemies, employing tactics they’ve learned from previous encounters. Gracelessly flailing a sword about usually works fine too, we can confirm.
2: Assassin’s Creed Mirage
Over the years, Assassin’s Creed has evolved from a pretty specific premise about parkour and assassinations in the robe-laden Middle East of olden days to some pretty tenuous releases set in the American frontier, a pirate ship, and Viking-occupied East Anglia. The new game Mirage, though, feels really in touch with its roots. It’s not quite a reboot of the 2007 original, but it’ll still make you feel a little bit nostalgic for nu-rave and E92 M3s.
This one was teased back in late 2022, but SGF was the first time we got a properly satiating look at Mirage in action. Set in 9th century Baghdad, it features the smallest map size the franchise has seen for years. That might sound like a bad thing to anyone who hasn’t lost months of their life trying to clear out all the minimap icons from AC Origins, Odyssey and Valhalla’s unfeasibly large environments, but it’s been very well received by the community and suggests a narrowed focus.
In other words, all the good stuff’s placed closer together so you don’t spend hours schlepping between quest markers. The freerunning looks more fluid than ever, and the city of Baghdad feels properly alive with NPC activity. Until you get your blades out, anyway.Advertisement - Page continues below
It’s been the most anticipated upcoming game for years already, purely on the strength of Bethesda Game Studios’ name. At Summer Games Fest this year though, we all got vindication for boarding the Starfield hype train many moons ago.
We always knew it would be more than ‘Skyrim in space’, even though that premise would absolutely be sufficient. What we’ve got instead is an RPG with countless distinct worlds, all of them lit like Bethesda’s going for a cinematography Oscar, and a spaceship that you can customise with an impressive amount of detail before heading up into the atmosphere to check out the next planet.
It’s No Man’s Sky: Story Edition. It’s Fallout painted in colours beyond brown. It’s a solo adventure on the kind of neuron-frying scale the industry’s been teetering towards for years, crafted with - whisper it - a decent amount of polish. Which is saying something, for a game with so many distinct components. Shooting looks solid. Piloting a spacecraft looks meaty and involving. Talking to people: also robust. We’ve all been hurt before by our own impossible expectations of BGS releases, but maybe if we all hum the right cosmic frequency from now until release later this year, Starfield will turn out alright.