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james debate

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.

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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!

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