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Sunday 28 January 2024

Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2024 Hot List. This week we will be having a look at the most exciting theatrical productions coming to the stage in the coming year.

best anticipated new theatre theatrical production 2024 hot list
As many of my most loyal readers will know, I have recently relocated to Zurich. This presents a challenge for this particular Hot List, as Zurich does not have much of a theatre scene compared to London. What it does have, is a beautiful opera house. So don't be surprised if this list takes a more international and opera-tinged flavour going forward. I am nothing, if not open-minded!  

So here it is, our list of the top 10 theatrical productions to keep an eye on in 2024, perhaps with a slight London and Zurich bias, starting with number 10:

10. "Opening Night" by Ivo Van Hove and Rufus Wainwright, at the Gielgud Theatre

london best theatre 2024 opening night john cassavetes ivo van hove rufus wainwright annie lennox
Starting with a bang, we have Opening Night, a bold musical adaptation of the 1977 psychological drama by John Cassavetes. The plot follows a stage actress who, after witnessing the death of a fan, is haunted their recurring apparition, leading to a nervous breakdown as she prepares for a big curtain on Broadway.

This new adaptation is penned by the prolific Belgian director Ivo Van Hove, with music and lyrics from prominent songwriter Rufus Wainwright. The cast is led by Sheridan Smith and Hadley Fraser.

Opening Night begins previews at the Gielgud Theatre in March, and will run until the end of July.

9. "The Hot Wing King" by Katori Hall, at the National Theatre

london best theatre 2024 hot wing king national katori hall
Coming late in the 2024 season, we have the London premier of The Hot Wing King, a 2020 comedy by Katori Hall that follows a group of friends in Memphis Tennessee as they prepare for an annual hot wing festival. 

Despite its original off-Broadway run being cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hall did end up winning the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for this work, earning praise for its humour and sensitive consideration of issues of race and masculinity. 

A full length run on a major stage could bring a new lease of life to a production whose initial release was so tragically curtailed. The Hot Wing King opens in July and runs until mid September.

8. "Carmen" by Georges Bizet, at Opernhaus Zürich

best theatre 2024 zurich opera opernhaus carmen bizet
As long as I am living La Vida Swizzera here in Zurich, I might as well give some love to my new adopted home. 

Zurich is, of course, home to the famous opera house, and their tentpole production in 2024 will be a new production of Georges Bizet's Carmen, a classic opera famed for its passionate melodies and intense drama. 

This new production features the star tenor Saimir Pirgu, known for his close association with the Zurich Opera House, as well as Marina Viotti in the title role. Carmen opens in April and will run through the summer.

"Nye" by Tim Price, at the National Theatre

london 2024 best theatre nye national michael sheen
Heading back to London's National Theatre, Nye is a new play by Tim Price, directed by Rufus Norris delving into the life and legacy of Aneurin 'Nye' Bevan, a monumental figure in British history renowned for his pivotal role in establishing the National Health Service (NHS). 

Michael Sheen will bring Nye Bevan to life, portraying him in a surreal and mesmerizing journey that spans his early days campaigning at the coalfield to his monumental battle to create the NHS. Nye is a co-production between the National Theatre and Wales Millennium Centre, and it promises to be both an epic and deeply personal Welsh fantasia, offering audiences a unique insight into the man who transformed Britain's welfare state.

Nye opens in February and will run until the end of May

6. "Dr. Strangelove" by Armando Iannucci at the Noel Coward Theatre

best theatre london 2024 dr strangelove stanley kubrick armando iannucci noel coward steve cooganShould this be higher up the list? Probably. The London stage is set to witness the theatrical debut of Stanley Kubrick's iconic Cold War satire, Dr. Strangelove, in a highly anticipated adaptation by the acclaimed Armando Iannucci

The production, marking the first-ever stage version of a Kubrick film, will star comedian Steve Coogan, a seven-time BAFTA award winner, who is set to embody several characters. The play, co-adapted and directed by the Olivier Award winner Sean Foley, is expected to be an explosively funny satire that delves into the absurdities and fears of the nuclear age, resonating with the original film’s dark humor and sharp critique of mutually assured destruction.

Dr. Strangelove will play at the Noel Coward Theatre and opens in October.

5. "The Cherry Orchard" by Anton Chekhov, at the Donmar Warehouse

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It seems the London stage will never tire of a good Anton Chekhov production. The Cherry Orchard stands among the most enduring and beloved of these works. The last of Chekhov's plays, The Cherry Orchard is renowned for its exploration of the changing social landscape in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, and the decline of the aristocracy.

This latest production comes from the Donmar Warehouse and Benedict Andrews, a director with a formidable track record of adapting Chekhov, following his recent successful adaptations of The Seagull and Three Sisters. The cast features some recognisable faces in Adeel Akhtar and Nina Hoss

The Cherry Orchard opens in April and will run until June.

4. "My Neighbour Totoro" by Joe Hisaishi and RSC, at the Barbican

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In case you missed it back in its original 2022 run, not to worry, My Neighbour Totoro is making a return to the London stage. This is the Barbican's highly acclaimed stage adaptation of the classic Ghibli film, a magical exploration of the bond between humans and nature, told through the adventures of sisters Satsuki and Mei.

In its initial run, the production was widely praises for creating an innovative visual and aural experience, boasting life-sized puppets to bring the iconic Totoro and other forest spirits to life, set against a backdrop of a lush and immersive scenic design.

Totoro will run at the Barbican until the end of March.

3. "The Hills of California" by Jez Butterworth, at the Harold Pinter Theatre

london best theatre 2024 hills of california jez butterworth sam mendes harold pinter
In the London theatre scene, Jez Butterworth is one of those names that demands your immediate attention. The award winning playwright has produced some extraordinary theatre (and more recently, film and television) including Jerusalem and The Ferryman

In The Hills of California, Butterworth teams up again with his collaborator on The Ferryman, Sam Mendes. Mendes is, of course, the world famous film and theatre director, best known for American Beauty and the recent James Bond films. This new drama unfolds in the sweltering summer of 1976 in Blackpool, the driest in 200 years. Amidst packed beaches and bustling hotels, the narrative delves into the intense, hidden lives of the Webb Sisters in the sweltering backstreets, far from the seaside frivolity.

The Hills of California opens in January and will run until June. Expect this to be one of the hottest tickets of the year.

2. "Mnemonic" by Simon McBurney, at the National Theatre

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The National Theatre welcomes back Simon McBurney and his legendary Complicité production company, with this revival of Mnemonic, 25 years after its initial staging. 

Running on the Olivier stage, this production weaves together narratives of personal and historical discovery, including the search for a lost father and a lover, and the intriguing tale of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5,000-year-old body found preserved in ice. Complicité are known for their experimental and immersive storytelling, making this a must see experience.

Mnemonic will open in June and run until mid October.

1. "Stranger Things: The First Shadow" by Jack Thorne, at the Phoenix Theatre

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It would be easy to dismiss Stranger Things: The First Shadow as a bit of an easy money-grab, but the more you look into the work that was done here, the more apparent it is that this is a very ambitious and substantial production.

A prequel to the hit Netflix series, this production is set in 1950s Hawkins and follows a (attempting to avoid spoilers) very prominent character featured in the most recent series, as well as younger versions of the adult characters from the show.

But it's the creative talent behind this show that really stands out. This is an original story written by the show's writers, The Duffer Brothers in collaboration with Jack Thorne, a very accomplished writer best known in the theatre world for creating the Olivier award winning Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Direction comes from Stephen Daldry, the Olivier, Tony and BAFTA winning director known for Billy Elliott, The Crown, The Inheritance, and numerous other works. An outstandingly exciting production for new and old fans alike, one which is hotly tipped for awards this year. 

So there you have it folks: 2024 in theatre. Tune in soon for our next instalment of the Hot List, covering the essential new music coming this year!

Sunday 21 January 2024

Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2024 Hot List. This week we will have a look at the most exciting new literature and novels you'll be reading in the coming year.

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Best advice I ever received: you can't read too much. If you can find the time, reading a book can offer greater enrichment than any other activity. But time is precious. There's only so many books one can reasonably find time to read. 2024 is shaping up to be another year blessed with an abundance of tantalizing new stories and perspectives, and here I am going to try and whittle that long list down to just the very best.

So here it is: your reading list for 2024, our list of the top 10 upcoming releases from the world of literature to keep an eye on this year, starting, as always, with number 10:

10. "Anita de Monte Laughs Last" by Xóchitl González

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When Anita de Monte, a rising star in the art world, is found dead in 1985 New York City, her death becomes the talk of the town. But by 1998 her work and legacy are all but forgotten. That is until Raquel, a third year art history student, stumbles upon Anita's story and begins to notice eerie parallels with her own life.

Anita de Monte Laughs Last is the second novel of Xóchitl González. A story of art, power, and legacy told from dual perspectives across time that is being tipped as one of the essential reads of early 2024.

Anita de Monte Laughs Last releases in March.

9. "You Like it Darker" by Stephen King

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The latest work from horror maestro Stephen King, You Like it Darker is a compelling collection of twelve short stories, showcasing the legendary author's expertise in the realms of horror, suspense, and the supernatural. 

Published by Scribner in May 2024, this 512-page anthology delves into the darker aspects of life, both metaphorically and literally, and includes many stories that have never been published before. 

This collection is a testament to King's ability to weave tales that are rich, riveting, and thematically weighty, offering readers a mix of thrills, joys, and mysteries.

8. "The Demon of Unrest" by Erik Larson

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The Demon of Unrest by Erik Larson is a historical narrative that captures the tumultuous five months between Abraham Lincoln's election in November 1860 and the onset of the Civil War. 

Larson, known for his mastery in blending historical detail with compelling storytelling, brings to life this critical period marked by political strife, division, and a nation on the brink of collapse. The book focuses on several key figures: Major Robert Anderson, the commander of Fort Sumter; Edmund Ruffin, a radical secessionist; Mary Boykin Chesnut, a planter's wife conflicted over marriage and slavery; and Abraham Lincoln himself, struggling with a duplicitous Secretary of State, William Seward, and the looming threat of war. 

The Demon of Unrest releases in April.

7. "The Cautious Traveller's Guide to the Wastelands" by Sarah Brooks

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It is the end of the 19th Century and the world is awash with marvels. But there is nothing so marvellous as the Wastelands: a terrain of terrible miracles that lies between Beijing and Moscow. Nothing touches this abandoned wilderness except the Great Trans-Siberian Express: an impenetrable train built to carry cargo across continents, but which now transports anyone who dares to cross the shadowy Wastelands.

The Cautious Traveller's Guide to the Wastelands by Sarah Brooks is a historical fantasy novel set on the grand Trans-Siberian Express. It portrays a group of passengers embarking on a perilous journey across a magical landscape. 

Set for release in June, this novel explores themes of humanity, nature, capitalism, and empire

6.  "Godwin" by Joseph O'Neill

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Mark Wolfe is a technically gifted but self-sabotaging writer living in Pittsburgh with his wife and daughter, and his half-brother Geoff, a young, desperate soccer agent from the UK. Godwin by Joseph O’Neill follows the odyssey of these two brothers on a global journey in pursuit of an African soccer prodigy named "Godwin," believed to be the next big thing. 

The narrative, alternating between the perspectives of Mark and his work colleague Lakesha Williams, weaves together themes of family, migration, and the entwining beauty and darkness of soccer. The brothers' adventure implicates them in the complexities of international business, revealing the perils and promises of the global capitalist system and the lingering shadows of colonialism. 

Joseph O’Neill began his career in non-fiction, but is building a reputation for incisive writing on the subjects of capitalism and the colonial legacy, set here against a humanist backdrop of familial love and the highest aspirations. Godwin releases in June.

5. "The Last Murder at the End of the World" by Stuart Turton

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A high-concept murder mystery set in a post-apocalyptic world, The Last Murder at the End of the World by Stuart Turton depicts an idyllic island, home to 122 villagers and 3 scientists, which represents the last bastion of humanity after the rest of the world is destroyed by a deadly fog. The tranquility of the island is shattered when one of the beloved scientists is brutally murdered, triggering a security system failure that threatens to expose the island to the lethal fog. 

This blend of mystery, suspense, and science fiction, coming from the author of the acclaimed The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, promises a story full of twists and ingenuity, exploring themes of survival, memory, and human nature under extreme circumstances. This novel releases in May.

4. "I Cheerfully Refuse" by Leif Enger

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I Cheerfully Refuse by Leif Enger revolves around Rainy, a bereaved musician, as he embarks on a surreal journey across a sentient Lake Superior in search of his lost, deeply beloved bookselling wife. 

What follows is a narrative rich with elements of adventure and exploration, as Rainy navigates through harrowing storms and finds a land rife with desperation, illiteracy, and a ruling malignant billionaire class. 

The novel, described as a symphony against despair and a rallying cry for the future, combines lyrical prose with a reflection on love, loss, and resilience in a world grappling with profound transformations​.

3. "James" by Percival Everett

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Certainly one of the major literary events of 2024, James is a provocative and inventive reimagining of Mark Twain's classic Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, told from the perspective of the enslaved character Jim, more commonly known under a name now considered too offensive to use.

Percival Everett's narrative retains many of Twain’s original set pieces but grapples with the prejudices of the time to recast Jim as a character of profound agency, intelligence, and compassion. The novel is both a gripping adventure and a deep exploration of themes like freedom, identity, and the human spirit. 

James is being tipped as one of the most significant releases in recent years, offering a fresh and critical perspective on a classic tale​. James releases in March.

2. "Evenings and Weekends" by Oisín McKenna

best literature 2024 novel book evenings and weekends oisin mckenna
Described as a Richard Curtis movie in novel-form (with a hint of Sally Rooney), Oisín McKenna's debut novel, Evenings and Weekends, follows three young adults through a sweltering London heatwave, weaving their interconnected lives as heat and tensions rise.

This heartfelt, sexually charged, and humorously disarming narrative offers a mesmerizing dive into the soul of a city and examines the challenges facing young adults in contemporary urban life.

McKenna has received a great deal of buzz with this first novel, which releases in April.

1. "The Life Impossible" by Matt Haig

best literature 2024 novel book life impossible matt haig
Matt Haig achieved global success and recognition with his last novel, The Midnight Library. His newest work, The Life Impossible, follows Grace Winters, a widow and retired math teacher. Grace's life, which revolves around solitude, bird watching, and crossword puzzles, takes an unexpected turn when a long-lost friend passes away under mysterious circumstances, leaving her a house on the Spanish island of Ibiza. This unexpected inheritance marks the beginning of a wild adventure and a profound transformation for Grace. 

The novel promises to be a heartwarming narrative filled with colourful characters, showing how a sudden change in perspective can dramatically alter one's life. Expect a heart-warming narrative, demonstrating how a new outlook can emerge at any moment and change everything

So there you have it folks: 2024 in literature. Tune in soon for our next instalment of the Hot List, covering the essential new theatre coming up in 2024!

Sunday 14 January 2024

Hello and welcome back to the Hot List. This week we will turn our attention to the videogame industry, previewing for you loyal readers the most exciting videogames set for release in 2024.

new videogames games gaming 2024 ephemeric

What more is there to say about 2023 in gaming? I already expounded at length in the 2023 Debbie Awards on this subject. This was an exceptional year, the year in which all the delays of the pandemic and its knock-on aftershocks finally caught up, and the result was 12 months of near weekly blockbusters, not to mention some of the finest independent output in recent memory. It will surely be remembered as one of the finest ever years for gaming.

How do you follow up on such a year? In all probability, you don't. Make no mistake, there is still plenty to be excited about in 2024, but don't expect the same absurd abundance of riches as last year. In some ways, this might be a good thing, giving smaller and independent developers a chance to shine without the big dogs sucking all the air out of the room. To that end, here are the 15 key videogames to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 15:

15. Citizen Sleeper 2: Starward Vector (PC, Mac, Xbox)

citizen sleeper 2 sequel starward vector 2024 best gameLet's start off with a sequel to one of the most hyped indie releases of recent years. Citizen Sleeper 2: Starward Vector is the sequel to 2022's Citizen Sleeper, a narrative title about a runaway android on a space station, trying to survive and stay hidden from his former corporate masters.

If the gameplay was a little simplistic - a blend between a virtual novel with outcomes determined by the role of dice and the player's balancing of different priorities - the art style, world-building, and timely narrative helped Citizen Sleeper rise to become one of the most acclaimed titles of 2022. 

With this sequel, developer Jump Over the Age is looking to build on these successful foundations, but add more depth, more complexities. A new location and character, this time with your own ship and crew to manage. Release date has yet to be confirmed, but is expected to arrive some time in 2024.

Release Date: TBD 2024

14. Life By You (PC)

life by you paradox sims beater best games 2024 pcGiven the wild, runaway, money-printing success that EA have built out of The Sims franchise, it has always perplexed me that there aren't more developers trying to get in on this genre, building their own alternative life-sim
. Lord knows there is room in the market, with EA's questionable polices, micro-transactions and, well... everything. Especially after the debacle that was 2013's Sim City, which resulted in EA losing their monopoly of the city-building genre to Paradox's Cities Skylines. It has always felt like a matter of time before someone attempted to pull the same trick on The Sims.

That someone, as it turns out, is the same someone who defeated Sim City. Life By You is a new title in development by Paradox, which aims to be that developer's take on the life sim genre. Much like Sim City, The Sims has long been on the decline with its increasingly narrow focus, abandoned features, lack of fresh ideas, and focus on lazy microtransactions. Life By You is aiming high, taking the core concept of The Sims, bringing back some of the key elements that have been abandoned in the more recent iterations, and adding a few new tricks of its own. An open world, real-language conversations, greater customisation, greater modding support. In short, Life By You aims to be everything The Sims was but no longer is, everything it could have been but never achieved. At the very least, it could offer some much needed competition in this genre.  

Release Date: March 2024 (early access)

13. Lost Records: Bloom and Rage (PC, Xbox, Playstation)

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As technology has improved and, with it, the capacity for complex storytelling in gaming, a genre of narrative-focused titles has begun to take greater prominence. Developers Don't Nod are arguably at the forefront of this genre, with the great success achieved by their Life is Strange franchise. 

Their newest title, Lost Records: Bloom and Rage is being billed as a sort of spiritual successor to the series that put this dev team on the map (now that Life is Strange has been moved on to other developers) and is expected to feature a similar coming of age story with surreal, thematic elements. For fans of their earlier work, this is looking to be an essential purchase. With those who never experienced the original Life is Strange, this could well replicate that moment for a new generation. 

Lost Records is currently expected to release in late 2024.

Release Date: Late 2024

12. Fallout: London (mod for Fallout 4) (PC)

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I am about to do something highly unusual, something I have never done before on this blog. Fallout: London is not, in fact, a new game, but a fan-made mod for an old game, Fallout 4. This is the first time that my Hot List has picked a title that was not its own game, much less a fan-made title produced by an amateur team. The cynical among you could look at this and say, well there must not be much coming in 2024 if this makes the list, but on the contrary. This is here entirely on merit. 

Fallout: London is a fan-made conversion of Fallout 4, one of my favourite titles. Set in a retro-futuristic post-apocalyptic London, within the Fallout universe. While it may be a amateur project, the level of quality on display here is something quite remarkable. An entire open world, built from the ground up, as large in scale as that of the base game. Writing, narrative and original music that looks to be pretty damn near professional quality - that several members of this dev team have since been hired by Bethesda, the original developers of Fallout, says a lot. 

This looks fantastic. That something of this ambition has been built by non-professionals, non-profit, just out of passion and dedication, is remarkable. I have long been of the view that mods and fan-made games are deserving of a greater spotlight, and this year I am willing to make that statement. After many years of development, Fallout: London releases in April.

Release Date: April 2024

11. Hades II (PC, Xbox, Playstation)

hades 2 ii sequel 2024 best gameAnother sequel to another widely celebrated indie title. 2020's Hades was not just a success, it was the pick of many as the best game of 2020. Needless to say, when the sequel, Hades II, was announced, it instantly shot near the top of many pundits' list of most anticipated 2024 games.

Set in the same universe as the first game, "Hades II" expands upon the story and world-building of the original. The game introduces a new protagonist, offering a fresh perspective and new dynamics in the narrative. This new character is set to have their own unique backstory, abilities, and relationships with the gods of the Greek pantheon, adding depth and complexity to the game's lore.

Hades II is still in production, but expected to be ready for release in the second half of 2024.

Release Date: Late 2024

10. Suzerain: Kingdom of Rizia (PC, Mac, Switch)

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Sticking to the theme, here's another sequel to a beloved indie title. Suzerain was a masterpiece, a roleplaying game about politics in a fictional world. On paper, it sounds like the sort of subject that would put most to sleep, in practice it was a riveting, clever and exceptionally well crafted narrative title.

Suzerain: Kingdom of Rizia is the follow up to this title, a prequel set in a monarchistic kingdom. As before, players will govern, engage in diplomacy and politics.

It will be interesting to see how developers Torpor Games develop the formula further following the acclaim of their first title, especially with the greater resources and expertise that come with such a success. KoR releases in March.

Release Date: March 2024

9. Forever Ago (PC)

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I've said as much in previous previews, but Annapurna Interactive might just be the best developer in the game right now. An offshoot of the successful, award winning film studio, Annapurna have managed to replicate that success in gaming, producing some of the finest games of the past decade, including What Remains of Edith Finch, Outer Wilds, Sayonara Wild Hearts, Stray, The Artful Escape, and so many others.

Forever Ago follows in the style of earlier Annapurna titles by focusing on narrative depth, with mature themes and characters. It's a classic story of redemption, with a protagonist embarking on a road trip north, meeting new people, encountering beautiful places. 

Forever Ago is poised to offer a refreshing take on adventure gaming, appealing to players who enjoy rich storytelling, emotional depth, and exploration. Its unique perspective and heartfelt narrative are set to make it a memorable addition to the narrative game genre.

Release Date: TBD 2024

8. Nivalis (PC)

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Ion Lands' debut title Cloudpunk placed them as one of the new darlings in indie gaming. But while the cyberpunk taxi simulator was blessed with tight driving mechanics and surprisingly adept storytelling, what really elevated the game to prominence was its setting, a stunning voxel cyberpunk dystopia oozing with atmosphere. Follow up project Nivalis builds on that strength. A slice of life sim set in that same immersive setting.

In Nivalis, players control a new character aiming to build a life in this city. The game will feature business management, social simulation and home decorating. Like a cyberpunk version of Stardew Valley, with more life-sim features. Ion Lands recognise that the biggest asset of Cloudpunk was its world, and Nivalis aims to capitalise on that asset by turning it into a fully immersive experience in which players can live and explore, and really feel a part of the setting.

After many years of development, Nivalis has been confirmed for a 2024 release.

Release Date: TBD 2024

7. Pacific Drive (PC, Playstation)

pacific drive best game 2024On the surface,
Pacific Drive looks like just another crafting survival sim, the likes of which there are already far too many in today's industry. But what Ironwood Studios understands is that gameplay mechanics are only one component, albeit a necessary one, that makes a great game. You could liken it to the engine of a car.

Around this engine, Ironwood have built a dynamic, unpredictable world shrouded in mystery and tension. In "Pacific Drive," players find themselves navigating the perilous roads of the exclusion zone, a region filled with supernatural phenomena and dangerous anomalies. The game's central premise revolves around a road trip through this hazardous area, with the player's car serving as their primary means of survival and a mobile base of operations.

A unique blend of survival, exploration, and horror, set amid an intriguing and mysterious setting. This is a game that will appeal to fans of survival challenges, atmospheric storytelling, and anyone looking for an adventure off the beaten path.

Release Date: February 2024

6. Frostpunk 2 (PC)

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2018's Frostpunk was perhaps the greatest survival city builder yet created. Set in a steampunk post-apocalyptic vision of Victorian England that had descended into a new ice age, the survivors of this world survive in ramshackle towns built around great coal-burning furnaces for heat and warmth. Players built and managed their city, exploring the wastes, managing resources, and making the difficult policy decisions needed to survive the harsh environment.

Set thirty years after the first game, the world has changed in Frostpunk 2. Humanity survived, and now it must figure out how to move forward. Players control their much larger and more developed cities at the district level, managing factions and debating policy to decide what kind of society will grow in this new world.

City builder is not a genre that often meshes well with narrative and complex themes, but what 11 Bit Studios achieved with the first game was truly excellent. This sequel easily sits high up our list of the most anticipated titles in 2024.

Release Date: TBD 2024

5. Skate Story (PC, Mac)

skate story sam eng blood cultures best game pc mac 2024Sometimes a project will sell you on the tagline alone: "You are a demon, made of glass and pain. And yet you must skate." The Devil has given you a skateboard with a simple deal: Skate to the Moon and swallow it — and you shall be freed.

Skateboarding games have long fallen out of fashion since the halcyon days of Tony Hawk and Skate. Perhaps what they've needed is something more than just generic urban grit. Such is the thinking of Sam Eng, the one man band behind Skate Story

There's a lot to love about this project. It is visually absolutely stunning, with great music to complement the lonely, wistful themes. The story is just daffy and over the top enough to work. If they can nail the feel of the controls, this looks like it will be solid gold. A baffling, brilliant original.

Release Date: TBD 2024

4. Final Fantasy VII Remake Part II: Rebirth (Playstation)

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Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is the highly anticipated second installment in the Final Fantasy VII Remake project, continuing the reimagining of one of the most iconic and beloved games in the Final Fantasy series. Developed by Square Enix, this title promises to build upon the success of the first remake, offering fans and newcomers alike an even deeper and more immersive experience into the world of Gaia.

Picking up where the Final Fantasy VII Remake left off, Rebirth delves further into this remixed journey of Cloud Strife and his companions as they continue their battle against the malevolent Shinra Corporation and the enigmatic Sephiroth. The game is expected to expand on the story, exploring new areas of the narrative and potentially offering alternate perspectives on key events. 

The Final Fantasy franchise has been met with some fairly mixed reception in recent years. The first episode in this remake trilogy stands as one of the most unequivocally praised entries in years, taking a classic and expanding it into something bigger, better and more richly detailed. I can't wait to continue the journey.

Release Date: February 2024

3. Harold Halibut (PC, Xbox, Switch, Playstation)

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Taking inspiration from the likes of Wes Anderson and Aardman Animations,
Harold Halibut is the culmination of ten years' painstaking work in perfecting a unique and, frankly, stunning hand-made claymation art-style. The result is one of the most striking games in recent memory, which from early appearances seems to have the humour and narrative flair to match. 

Looking past the aesthetic flair, one finds a fairly traditional point-and-click adventure game in the style of Monkey Island, Sam and Max, or for more recent gamers the various output of Telltale Games. Set on a marooned space ship some 250 years in the future, players must help unravel the mysteries of their new home and find a way to return their ship on course before time runs out.

After many years of delays, Harold Halibut is due for release in 2024.

Release Date: Early 2024

2. Avowed (PC, Xbox)

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There is not a single thing about the pitch behind Avowed that I do not like. Obsidian are masters of the RPG genre, known for the excellent Pillars of Eternity series as well Fallout: New Vegas (and indeed the team features many of the original creators of the Fallout franchise) and most recently the award winning The Outer Worlds. This is a Skyrim-like first person action RPG set in the same world as their Pillars series.

Obsidian are known for crafting immersive, fully fleshed out worlds that provide a high level of player agency, where the player's decisions have a real tangible impact on the story. The opportunity to dive into a new Obsidian RPG is always a reason for excitement, but I am especially excited to see the Pillars series (previously an old-school isometric RPG) reimagined from a fully immersive first person perspective.

A perennially delayed title. After a, clearly premature, reveal several years ago, Avowed will finally see release in 2024 and I can't wait to sink my teeth into this.

Release Date: TBD 2024

1. Homeworld 3 (PC)

homeworld 3 best games 2024 pcThe original Homeworld was a title that carried a great amount of hype when it launched in the late 1990s. An epic, bombastic space opera with cutting edge graphics and presentation, not to mention pioneering 3D gameplay unlike anything other developers were putting out back then. It was a game of unprecedented cinematic flair for the time, which went on to greatly influence the genre and industry as a whole going forward. While critically acclaimed at the time, the series has laid dormant since 2003's Homeworld 2, due in part to the IP kerfuffle in the wake of original publisher Sierra's collapse. 

Homeworld went on to form something of a legendary cult status and has seen a revival in recent years with a prequel spin-off and remastered versions of the original games finding release. The announcement, finally, of Homeworld 3 may have been somewhat inevitable in retrospect, but still a very welcome surprise. 

Originally due for release in 2023, Homeworld 3 was tipped to be one of the biggest releases of the year until some late delays pushed it to 2024. The title finally releases in February, and I can't wait. The Ephemeric's most hotly anticipated title of 2024.

Release Date: February 2024

So there you have it folks: 2024 in videogames. Tune in next week for the most exciting new novels and literature coming this year!

Thursday 4 January 2024

Happy New Year to all and welcome back to The Ephemeric. No rest for the weary blogger. It seems like just days ago I finished writing up the Debbie Awards and already it's straight back to the grind with the first installment of The Hot List, this week focusing on the most exciting new TV series set to drop in 2024. 

So here it is, your ultimate guide to the year ahead, The Ephemeric's 2024 Hot List. In this first entry we will be looking at the most exciting things happening in the world of television over the next 12 months, with a particular eye cast over the brand new shows hitting your screens in 2024.

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At a time of relative cultural abundance, with many industries finally playing catch up in the wake of the great disruptions of the last few years, 2023 ended up being a strangely bland year for television. Much of this can be attributed to the various strike actions in 2023, which ran from May until the end of September and resulted in many of the year's most anticipated releases being delayed or bumped into 2024. Make no mistake, there was still plenty of quality to be found, with high quality returning series such as The Bear, Ted Lasso and For All Mankind, and exciting debuts for series including The Last of Us, Shrinking and Daisy Jones & the Six. But it's fair to say it was a fairly front-loaded year, with the period from early summer onwards fairly "mid" by the standards of recent years.

By contrast, 2024 is looking to be a bumper year for television, with many of these delayed productions now back on track and set for release in what may be one of the most overstuffed television lineups in a long time. Whittling this long list down to just 15 proved to be a genuine challenge, but this final list should have something for everyone. 

So without further ado here are the top 15 essential television shows, both new and returning, that will hit the airwaves and their web-equivalent in 2024:

15. The Regime - HBO (New TV Show)

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We will start off with some good old fashioned political satire, in HBO's The Regime

Directed by the great Stephen Frears, best known for The Queen and High Fidelity, but with a long and accomplished CV to his name. This series depicts the final year within the palace of a crumbling authoritarian regime, and from the looks of the trailer will stick to a decidedly comedic satirical style, focusing on the inherent absurdity prevalent in such forms of government. 

The cast is led by Kate Winslet and includes some big names such as Hugh Grant and Matthias Schoenaerts. The Regime is scheduled for release in March.

Start Date: March 2024

14. Shogun - Hulu/Disney+/FX (New TV Show)

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Based on the 1975 novel of the same name by James Clavell, Shogun is a historical drama set in feudal Japan.

Starring Cosmo Jarvis and Kiroyuki Sanada, Shogun is a fictionalised version of real history, telling the story of an English sailor shipwrecked in Japan, who would go on to become a samurai and become embroiled in the political conflicts between a powerful Daimyo and his rivals.

As someone with an interest in history, I'm always pleased to see new work in this genre, particularly that relate to under-represented chapters in our history. World War 2, the American Revolution and the Royal Courts of England are all very well covered, it's nice to get a look at other moments in our world's fascinating lore.

Start Date: February 2024

13. The Last of Us - HBO

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To say that videogame adaptations have a poor reputation, probably harshly in this day and age, would be an understatement. As such, few were expecting much from HBO's adaptation of The Last of Us. It ended up being arguably the surprise hit of 2023.

Where many videogame adaptations fail by adhering too closely to the source material, or by attempting to pander to the perceived demographics of the source games, The Last of Us succeeded by focusing first and foremost on being a good TV series. It will be interesting to see what the showrunners make of the material's second chapter, which was generally not as well received by the gaming community.

Season 2 entered production in late 2023, so it is not expect that we will see this for some time, but a late 2024 release is still on the cards.

Start Date: Late 2024

12. Curb Your Enthusiasm - HBO 

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The end of an era? Curb Your Enthusiasm is the vehicle of comedian Larry David, stand up comedian and co-creator of Seinfeld. 

Since its debut in 2000, Curb has developed a legendary reputation as a comedy series, with its acerbic wit and lack of filter depicting a fictionalised version of the comedian's life. Curb succeeds by its focus on the mundane trivialities of life and taking them to their absurd extreme.

Curb also has a reputation as a somewhat sporadically produced series - despite it's debut 24 years ago, it's now just entering its twelfth season. So, while this new season is being billed as the series finale, we've heard this before. It's only final until Larry decides to come back.

Start Date: February 2024

11. Squid Game - Netflix

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Well, it has to be on here somewhere. Netflix's biggest ever series, Squid Game is confirmed to be coming back for a sequel. 

Squid Game is, of course, the crown jewel of westernised South Korean culture. A series about desperate people engaging in a series of games where the prize for winning is a life changing amount of money, and the penalty for losing is death. The social commentary is incisive enough, but it's the panache with which it is told that most elevates Squid Game from just another exploitation story to something truly global.

In fact, the only reason this is as low as it is on this list is because of how doubtful it is to evene release in 2024. No release date has yet been announced, but with the teaser dropping over a year ago at this point, there is every hope that it may be finished in the not too distant future. Absolutely nothing is known about this series for now, but it's safe to say that when it finally drops, it will be big. 

Start Date: TBD 2024

10. Death and Other Details - Hulu (New TV Show)

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Hulu's new series, Death and Other Details is a delightfully schlocky murder mystery crafted in the same vein as the likes of Only Murders in the Building and Knives Out.

Set on a luxury cruise, amid the glamour of the global elite. Mandy Patinkin plays a curmudgeonly but brilliant detective tasked with solving this locked-door murder mystery, when the only suspect, played by Violett Beane, protests her innocence.

An homage to Agatha Christie, this series should be a good, fun time when it releases later this month.

Start Date: January 2024

9. Severance - AppleTV+ 

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The original content coming out of AppleTV+ has been remarkable in recent years, propelling them almost instantly to the top tier of streaming networks. 

Severance was a real surprise package in 2022, a quirky, humorous, pitch black satire of corporate exploitation. Anchored by strong performances and whip-smart writing, the first season ended on the mother of all cliffhangers, making a follow up not only essential, but a mere formality with the success of its debut. 

Initially due for release in 2023, season 2 was ultimately delayed by the strikes. With production now resumed, filming has wrapped and we are expecting a release some time in 2024.

Start Date: TBA 2024

8. The Way BBC (New TV Show)

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Next we have a tasty new BBC political drama, The Way

Penned by James Graham, perhaps Britain's best political playwright. With a cast that features Michael Sheen, Paul Rhys, Luke Evans and Callum Scott Howells, The Way focuses on a family caught in the middle of a civil uprising in an industrial town.

Said to be darkly humorous in its depiction. There is no doubt that, with a writer of this calibre, The Way will be something very much worth watching when it releases later in 2024.

Start Date: TBA 2024

7. Manhunt - AppleTV+ (New TV Show)

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AppleTV+'s latest series, Manhunt, is a historical drama based on the James L. Swanson novel, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer.

Set after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Manhunt focuses on his friend and Cabinet member Edwin Stanton. A desperate manhunt ensues for the assassin, John Wilkes Booth, which gradually takes its toll on Stanton's mental health. 

The cast features Tobias Menzies, Anthony Boyle and Patton Oswalt, with creatives who have previously worked on genre shows such as Fargo, Mindhunter and Dahmer. It's clear this series is in the best of hands, and I can't wait to see it when it releases in March.

Start Date: March 2024

6. Disclaimer - AppleTV+ (New TV Show)

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A new thriller and the latest addition to AppleTV+'s increasingly impressive line up of original content, Disclaimer is based on the 2015 novel of the same name by Renée Knight.

The story follows Catherine Ravenscroft, played here by the great Cate Blanchett, a famed TV journalist who discovers that she is a prominent character in a novel that reveals a secret she has long tried to keep hidden. Blanchett is joined by an impressive cast that includes Kevin KlineLesley ManvilleSacha Baron Cohen in his latest dramatic turn, and HoYeon Jung in her first major role since her breakout performance in Squid Game

Perhaps most exciting is the attachment of Alfonso Cuarón, the Academy Award winning director of GravityRomaChildren of Men, and, surprisingly, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as showrunner.

Release date is still TBD, but expected for release in 2024. 

Start Date: TBD 2024

5. Fallout - Amazon (New TV Show)

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Yes, this is really happening. Amazon have ordered a TV series based on the celebrated videogame franchise Fallout.

For those not in the know, Fallout is a series of mostly RPG videogames, set in a post-apocalyptic world heavily stylised by the retrofuturism of midcentury America. It's a largely lighthearted affair that plays as a clever satire of post-war American exceptionalism and the unbridled optimism of the atomic age. It also happens to be one of my favourite series.

Quite how they turn this into a TV show, I am not sure. Getting the balance right for a witty comedy-adventure set in a nuclear wasteland will be tricky enough, but such a significant part of the Fallout series lies in player choice and autonomy, that I really wonder how well it will translate to a non-interactive format. 

That said, Fallout has some solid creative talent behind it, with Lisa Joy (Pushing Daisies) and Jonathan Nolan (Person of Interest, as well as co-writer on his brother's films The Dark Knight and Interstellar) attached as showrunners. This, combined with the good track record that Amazon has with sci-fi and other high concept works, has me cautiously optimistic for now.

Start Date: April 2024

4. Masters of the Air - AppleTV+ (New TV Show)

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Cary Fukunaga, a director best known for True DetectiveThe Alienist, and the most recent Bond film No Time To Die, brings us this new war drama, courtesy of AppleTV+.

Masters of the Air tells the true story of the Eighth Air Force of the United States during World War II, backed by the production companies behind Band of Brothers and The Pacific, headed by none other than Steven Spielberg.

With the talent involved, this could well end up being one of Apple's flagship dramas in 2024. Initially slated for a 2023 release, Masters of the Air is one of many productions delayed by last year's strikes. It will finally see release this month.

Start Date: January 2024

3. The Bear - Hulu 

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Arguably the best show on TV right now. Fresh off its historic Debbie Award win, The Bear is returning for a third season in 2024.

For those not acquainted, The Bear focuses on a formerly up and coming young chef, suffering from burnout, who takes over his deceased brother's run-down sandwich shop in downtown Chicago. A drama with elements of comedy, filmed in a realistic, diegetic style that allows the directors to dial up the intensity when needed. The Bear is a magnificent roller coaster of a series that can both stress and delight when needed, making its moments of relief all the more cathartic.

The Bear's new season is said to be in the later stages of production, with filming expected to wrap by the springtime, targeting a June release.

Start Date: June 2024

2. Stranger Things - Netflix

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All good things come to an end. This is the final chapter in what has to be one of the decades defining TV series, Stranger Things.

For many, this is the series that put Netflix's original content department on the map. A glorious homage to the horror and adventure films of the 1980s, which expertly manages to balance its frights with humour, all presented with impeccable style. Stranger Things is a nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up in the 1980s or 1990s, but it is also so much more than that.

So what do the Duffer Brothers have in store for this final series? They are understandably playing their cards close to their chest, but it is safe to say that ST5 will build towards a final, climactic battle with Vecna, revealed in season 4 to be the mastermind behind all the spooky shenanigans that have plagued Hawkins over the years. It's a shame that Stranger Things has to end, but at least its creators will get to end things on their own terms.

Start Date: Late 2024

1. 3 Body Problem - Netflix (New TV Show)

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And finally, our top pick for 2024 goes to another long-gestating project. The oft-tipped, highly anticipated, eye-wateringly expensive adaptation of Liu Cixin's award winning series of novels, Death's End. This series takes its name from the first book in that series, 3 Body Problem.

Put simply, the novel is a masterpiece of science fiction. A deeply intelligent series that draws on mankind's history and contemporary society to depict a hypothetical first contact scenario. Everything about the novel is sublime, from its clever real-world allusions to the tantalisingly slow-paced drip-feed of revelations as we learn more of its central mystery, and its rigid adherence to hard-science and the constraints that puts on many of our most common sci-fi tropes.

After a protracted bidding war (at one point Amazon were allegedly willing to drop $1billion on it), the series has ended up at Netflix, with a cast that includes Benedict Wong, John Bradley, Liam Cunningham, Jonathan Pryce

The one thing that gives me pause is the involvement of Game of Thrones showrunners Benioff & Weiss (some may see this as a good thing). In my view one of the worst scourges of current sci-fi/fantasy TV is the tendency for producers to try and "Game of Thrones-ify" their series. The recent Star Trek series are a great example, Apple's Foundation as well (albeit to a lesser extent). I really hope that doesn't happen here.

After many delays, most recently with the strikes, 3 Body Problem will finally release in March. If they manage to do the novel series justice, then it could well be a landmark series. Fingers crossed.

Start Date: March 2024

So there you have it folks: 2024 in television. Tune in next week for the essential new videogames of the year!

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