Indiana Jones And The Great Circle key art (Picture: Bethesda)
The first preview showcase of 2024 has offered extensive looks at Indiana Jones And The Great Circle, Avowed, Hellblade 2, and more.
Up until just the last few years, Xbox has been really bad at showcase events, with overly long E3 presentations and livestreams featuring nervous-looking developers pretending to be spontaneous. With last year’s summer showcase though they started to beat Sony at their own game and Thursday’s Developer_Direct was another unqualified success.
While PlayStation Sate of Plays are direct copies of the Nintendo Direct format, Microsoft’s equivalent tries to do things a little differently, with only limited narration and much more comfortable looking developers speaking from the comfort of their own studios.
As was expected, this Developer_Direct was focused purely on first party games (and one other) coming out this year, so there was no talk about multiformat releases and nothing on games that are further out. Although Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024 wasn’t mentioned and presumably that is also coming out this year, so what was shown on Thursday wasn’t necessarily everything for the next 12 months.
The most important reveal was Indiana Jones And The Great Circle which, if its name hadn’t leaked out earlier, was a complete mystery until now, other than it being by Wolfenstein developer MachineGames.
MachineGames has long been one of our favourite Western developers, including when many of the same staff worked at Starbreeze on games such as The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay and The Darkness. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this seems to follow the same basic formula, with primarily first person action but quite a lot of downtime for dialogue and exploration.
Since this is an Indy game there’s a lot more puzzles than normal for MachineGames but we wouldn’t be surprised to find that each of the different locations were small semi-open world areas, just like their other games. The graphics look fantastic, with excellent recreations of not just Harrison Ford’s face but also Denholm Elliott as Marcus Brody. Whoever’s doing the voices sound just like them too.
There doesn’t seem to be a central MacGuffin that Indy and the Nazis are after though and instead the Great Circle seems to be some kind of Graham Hancock style pseudo-science nonsense about all ancient monuments lining up in a circle, but hopefully that won’t spoil anything. The game was given no release date more specific than this year but, again, if not for the rumours spoiling it, that would’ve been a pleasant surprise.
Avowed, by Fallout: New Vegas and The Outer Worlds developer Obsidian, was the other great unknown, as little had been seen of it before now, other than some brief footage that suggested it was a Skyrim clone – which is still the impression it gives. It was first announced before Microsoft bought Bethesda but given it could be 2028 until The Elder Scrolls 6 that’s not an intrinsically bad idea.
That said, it’s not exactly going out of its way to distinguish itself from its inspiration, with some of the steals from Bethesda seeming very obvious – especially only seeing one person at a time talk during dialogue.
Environments are much more varied than Skyrim though and the weird colour schemes many of them have seem interesting. Combat also appears more robust, with more complex enemy behaviour and oddities like dual-wielding wands and matchlock pistols. That said, it does all look and sound very generic, so this is going to be one you’d have to play to know whether it’s more than the sum of its parts (and inspirations). It’ll be out this sometime this autumn.
Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 has been shown off more than the other forthcoming game and was the only one to get a specific release date, of May 21. We weren’t the biggest fans of the original game, back when it was multiformat, but there’s no denying it had some fantastic visuals and great combat, which also seems to be true of the sequel.
The trailer from The Game Awards in December showed a more substantial slice of gameplay but perhaps the most important comment from developer Ninja Theory was when they described it as being a ‘shorter, narrative led experience’ like its predecessor. The first Hellblade only took around eight hours to complete, and the implication was that Hellblade 2 will be much the same.
Rounding out the event was Ara: History Untold and Square Enix’s Visions Of Mana. The former is a Civilization clone from new studio Oxide, which Microsoft don’t own but is made up of a number of former Firaxis developers, who worked on Civilization 5. Presumably this is what they would’ve done for Civilization 6, which is no doubt why it all looks so complex and confident.
As the recent Humankind proved, there’s never been any proof there’s room for more than one Civilization style game in the world but at least this has better graphics than usual. Although it’s a shame it’s PC only. It’s out this autumn.
As for Visions Of Mana, it was already announced as a multiformat game in December, so it’s also coming to PlayStation 4 and 5, but this is the most that’s been seen of it so far. According to Square Enix there’s been 17 entries in the Mana franchise since 1991, which seems shocking given the only universally popular one is Secret Of Mana on the SNES, which this new game very consciously borrows from.
The homage seems to work though, and the combat and world does look very much like you would expect from a modern, mid-budget sequel. We didn’t see any sign of co-op options though, which were intrinsic to the original’s appeal, so we hope they haven’t been forgotten. The game’s out this summer.
At just under 50 minutes, the Developer_Direct seemed exactly the length it needed to be, with not too much waffle and pretty clear looks at each of the games. There are rumours of a State of Play ‘in the next few weeks’ but they’re much vaguer than those that predicted this Developer_Direct, so there’s no guarantee there will be one soon.
If there is though it will have to go some way to bettering Xbox’s showcase, in terms of genuinely new and interesting information, and given how disappointing the last few State of Plays have been that’s not something we’d bet on.
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