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Welcome to The Week in Gaming, the place where we pause each week to take a look at the video game news beats both big and small that you might be missing — while also taking a peek around the corner at what's ahead. Check in each Friday for news (and occasionally even views) on everything from sprawling RPGs to Metroidvania platformers to the latest in VR and free-to-play. We'll even throw in a good old-fashioned board game every now and then!
There’s a new breed of Aliens game on the horizon, and that “S” at the end is there for a reason. Disney’s 20th Century Studios and California developer Cold Iron Studios announced Aliens: Fireteam this week as an upcoming action-heavy, team-based survival horror shooter set in a new timeline moment in Ridley Scott’s iconic Alien movie-verse.
If James Cameron’s more fast-paced, frantic pace from 1986’s Aliens sounds like a winning video game formula, Cold Iron’s first look at Fireteam’s setting and gameplay will probably stir that little Xenomorph-fearing flame in your monster-fleeing heart. Where SEGA & Creative Assembly recalled the 1979 original film’s more atmospheric, solitary horror beats to great effect with 2014’s Alien: Isolation, Fireteam is going for something a little more James Cameron-y: squadding up and taking the fight — however overwhelming it might be — straight to the seething, hissing hive.
Cold Iron didn’t announce Aliens: Fireteam with some half-baked teaser, either. The studio’s first glimpse sets the tone with both cinematics and tons of up-close gameplay action:
SEGA & Borderlands developer Gearbox Software tried an earlier version of capturing the Cameron magic with 2013’s Aliens: Colonial Marines, even bringing in the late, great Syd Mead to help with location design. But that attempt garnered middling to poor reviews from critics, many of whom found Colonial Marines promised a far more authentic Aliens-inspired art style than its choppy first-person shooter mechanics and wacky enemy AI could deliver.
Cold Iron is hoping to carve a different path with Aliens: Fireteam, bringing a slew of current-gen possibilities to its third-person co-op gameplay. Fireteam will be playable either with friends or with AI that helps round out your three-person crew’s firepower, and, via Game Informer, will feature default offline play that won’t force players to go the live-service route.
The early gameplay glimpse definitely gives off that dire, fall-back-and-shoot vibe…and, as Cold Iron studio head Craig Zinkievich recently told VentureBeat, that’s by design. “It’s not an easy game,” he said, explaining how players will have to funnel their trio’s attack strategy through five character classes (gunner, demolisher, recon, technician, and doc), with pre-deployment “challenge cards” (conditional parameters that add different twists to each mission) offering a big incentive to play through each of the new storyline’s 4 campaigns (ringing in at 3 missions apiece) more than once.
“As a game designer, I’m really excited about our challenge card system,” Zinkievich said. “This system is a series of cards that the players end up earning that they can play at the beginning of missions when they’re queuing up. And they’re really mutators and really change the way that you play the mission. If you play the challenge card successfully, you end up getting additional rewards, additional cosmetics, additional attachments, things like that.”
Aliens: Fireteam is set 23 years after the events of the original film trilogy, in a time when the United Americas is taking its first faltering steps toward actually doing something about all the twisted, spine-toothed creatures wreaking havoc on the outer colonies. Media outlets that had the chance to preview an early mission say the story finds its legs as your small, understaffed, newly-trained team responds to a distress call; while Cold Iron teases a lore-spanning lineup of hostiles featuring more than 20 enemy types, “including 11 different Xenomorphs along the evolutionary scale from Facehuggers to Praetorians.”
Whatever’s lying in wait out there, the best part is how short that wait will actually be. Aliens: Fireteam is set to launch for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC sometime this summer. Maybe when you’re playing as a Xenomorph-slaying space squad, at least someone will be around to hear you scream.
The best of the rest
Dungeons & Dragons…open world style
We don’t want to get too excited about this yet, because it just sounds too cool to be real. A new Dungeons & Dragons game is early in development, and it’s going somewhere that, for more than 40 years, fans of the genre-defining tabletop series have mostly been able to explore only via the power of their own imagination.
Yep, an open-world D&D game is in the works; one that seems to taking a different approach than the handful of other games currently brewing within the burgeoning D&D media-verse. Washington-based developer Hidden Path Entertainment, the relatively young studio that partnered with Valve for 2012’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, revealed via Twitter this week that it’s hiring for “a AAA, third-person, open-world fantasy RPG that will be taking place inside the Dungeons & Dragons franchise.”
While that’s not a lot to go on, the early signals (as well as Hidden Path’s recent pedigree) have us eager to roll the dice — at least when it comes to hype. The studio’s job descriptions reveal that the game is being made using Epic’s Unreal Engine 4, and that it’ll feature “a high volume of quality voice-driven dialogue” grounded by a narrative that offers branching paths — which sounds like a must-have for an open world game framed within everyone’s idea of gaming’s definitive RPG franchise.
Beyond the open world, there’s a ton of current bustle in the larger Dungeons & Dragons universe. In addition to Larian Studios’ upcoming turn-based Baldur’s Gate III and Wizards of the Coast’s Dark Alliance game (both of which will take place within the Forgotten Realms campaign setting), D&D is also enjoying a screen renaissance with several planned projects — including an upcoming live action movie starring Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, and Hugh Grant as the yet-unnamed villain.
ICYMI: Does Nintendo have bigger Switch plans?
In one form or another, whispers of a boosted Nintendo Switch have been circulating online almost as long as the world’s most popular game console has been on sale. But as the Switch officially turned 4 years old this week, Bloomberg dropped what may be the most credible report yet on the possibility that players could soon get their paws on a new and improved version.
Citing unnamed sources “familiar with the plan,” Bloomberg reported that the Big N has an upgraded Switch in the works; one whose biggest selling point is an upsized 7-inch OLED touchscreen capable of running games in portable mode at 720p resolution. The still-unnamed new model, per the report, would also come with improved battery life, 4K resolution when in TV mode, and a possible arrival date that’s “in time for the holidays” this year.
While the new tech-y perks don’t compare with the high-horsepower new-gen consoles from Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo’s sales numbers suggest the biggest competitor it faces — at least for now — is the Switch’s own success. “Nintendo seeks to sustain a Switch lineup that continues to sell well against the Xbox and PlayStation, thanks to pandemic-era breakout hits like Animal Crossing and a chip crunch that’s plagued supply of rival devices,” Bloomberg notes.
For fans, a bigger Switch screen, better HD graphics, and the ability to squeeze more on-the-go gameplay hours out of a single battery charge may be more than enough to keep Nintendo busy cranking out consoles. Of course we’re hoping the report pans out…but what we’re really hoping for is a new signal — any signal — from Samus Aran and Link, both of whom are waiting in the wings with announced Metroid and Zelda games that Nintendo continues to work on in tantalizing silence.
- DOOM 3 is going virtual, thanks to Sony’s fresh roundup of titles bound for the PlayStation VR platform. Id Software’s classic future shooter heads to PS VR this month, featuring the base game alongside both the Resurrection of Evil and The Lost Mission expansions. Sony teases that the bullet-riddled 2004 trip through the Martian demon-scape has been “retooled for PS VR technology,” with “new textures, shaders and sound effects as you survive against the forces of Hell across over 15 hours of heart-stopping action.” Check out full details at the PlayStation Blog ahead of the game’s March 29 release.
- The Switch and PS4 are both getting in on the old-school action with next month’s arrival of Star Wars: Republic Commando. LucasArts’ 2005 tactical FPS still holds up with a Clone Wars-era story and graphics that’ve always reminded us of a mash-up between the original Halo: Combat Evolved and the GameCube’s Metroid Prime series. Take a blast into the past with Delta Squad when the game hits hyperdrive for both consoles beginning April 6.
- More than 30 years ago, Hironobu Sakaguchi made gaming history with a little under-the-radar NES title called Final Fantasy — named, according to an original team member, as an overt nod toward Square's last-ditch effort to crank out a Nintendo hit. Now the original creator of gaming’s most iconic JRPG franchise is set to release Fantasian, a new game developed by the Mistwalker Studios development house he founded.
Fantasian is meant to be a modern take on the classic RPG themes Sakaguchi and Square brought to Final Fantasy’s early Nintendo days — but the real appeal, we think, is in the handcrafted dioramas — more than 150 in all — that the studio commissioned as backdrops for the game’s whimsical 3D environments. The Verge has a fascinating deep dive on how it all came together, but the Sakaguchi pedigree (plus music from revered Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu) is reason enough for us to get on board. Fantasian doesn’t have a release date, but it’s bound for iOS mobile devices and Mac via Apple Arcade.
- Sorry, Mario: our princess isn’t coming to a U.S. castle…at least not for a few more years. Via The Orlando Sentinel, the opening of Super Nintendo World in Florida, part of Universal’s under-construction Epic Universe park, has reportedly been delayed until 2025 — a 2-year setback from the park’s previously-announced 2023 power-up.