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!
After tons of hype and a little early hand-wringing, players who’ve pre-ordered early will finally have their first chance to get hands on with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes next week. Marvel’s Avengers opens the first portion of the game for beta play on Aug. 7, and as part of this week’s War Table online event, developer Crystal Dynamics hit the bullseye of buzz by revealing Hawkeye as the game’s first post-launch playable character.
From the glimpses we’ve seen so far, this isn’t Jeremy Renner’s conflicted family-man Hawkeye from the movies. Scroll to the 14-minute mark in the War Table stream below, and you’ll hear the development team talk about one of their biggest inspirations for their version of Hawkeye: Writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja’s 2013 graphic novel Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon.
Citing My Life as a Weapon as one of their favorite representations of Hawkeye in more than 50 years of depictions in Marvel comics, Crystal Dynamics teases they’ve “taken some exciting ideas from it — so much so that Hawkeye has his own in-depth story mission chain, and it is unique from the main campaign because it can be played in co-op or solo — whichever you prefer.”
Also interesting is Hawkeye’s brief appearance (shown below) with what looks like either an earpiece or a hearing aid in his ear — a source of early speculation among eagle (or perhaps hawk) -eyed comics fans that Clint Barton in game form may even show up as a hearing-impaired character — something the comics have long represented, even though Renner’s MCU Hawkeye can hear (and shoot) just fine.
The beta for Marvel’s Avengers will take players through an early slice of the game, beginning with the backfire of A-Day events at the Golden Gate Bridge in solo mode before spinning off to highlight how the four-player co-op mode will work. We don’t know when Hawkeye’s free DLC will show up after the game’s release, but the beta begins Aug. 7, with the full game set to land on Sept. 4 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Google Stadia, and PC. Enhanced versions for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are also on the way, once the new consoles arrive this holiday season.
Xbox Series X games the future
Microsoft likely got more buzz than most players expected with last week’s hour-long rollout of new game announcements for the Xbox Series X. But even Master Chief’s time in the spotlight was soon upstaged by Comic-Con@Home 2020, which kicked off just as the internet began buzzing over the new console’s robust lineup of planned Xbox-first and Xbox-exclusive games.
With that in mind, it’s worth taking a backward glance at some of the titles shown off during the Xbox Games Showcase that aren’t named Fable or Halo Infinite — a handful of which look worthy of attention beyond their momentary blip before the world’s attention span snapped into Comic-Con mode. We’ve covered some of the biggest announcements here, but there were many more that also caught our eye. Most of these don’t have release dates yet, but where they do, we’ve included them. Here’s a quick rundown:
Ukrainian developer GSC Game World’s alt-history take on the horror-tinged aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster is getting a sequel with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, promising an enormous open world that’s tailor-made for next-gen platforms — including megatons’ worth of radiation, mutants, and anomalies. And unlike the PC-only first game, this one’s coming to the next Xbox.
Developer Bloober Team’s innovative horror thriller The Medium puts a novel spin on psychological scares: Take a psychically gifted woman and let the player see two versions of the events that she voyeuristically relives: the one that actually happened, and the one that bears the terrifying hidden truths that her spirit-attuned insights uncover. Expect The Medium sometime soon after the Xbox Series X hits store shelves.
As Dusk Falls
Think of this one as more of a story that you play, and you’ll be in the ballpark. As Dusk Falls is an all-new interactive drama from new Microsoft in-house studio Interior/Night that spans three decades in exploring two families’ intertwined lives. “Starting with a robbery gone wrong in small-town Arizona, the choices you make will have a powerful impact on this epic story of sacrifice, betrayal, and resilience,” the developer teases.
Until now, SteamWorld developer Image & Form had stayed in the 2D gaming realm. But that’ll change when Xbox exclusive The Gunk arrives next fall. The stylized animated 3D adventure puts your kitted-out protagonist in a vast alien world to take on creepy enemies, solve environmental puzzles, and vacuum up lots and lots of, well, gunk, on a quest “to unravel the mystery of a forgotten planet, while saving it in the process.”
Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis
SEGA’s getting in on the HD-remake action with its incredibly pretty teaser for an ambitious ground-up overhaul of the free-to-play 2012 action-RPG Phantasy Star Online 2. Tagging the new version New Genesis, the reworked graphics shown off in the trailer tease a game that promises to pack in so many upgrades that its predecessor, by comparison, may end up feeling like a different game altogether. Watch for New Genesis to give Phantasy Star Online 2 new life sometime in 2021.
Old-school Banjo-Kazooie developer Rare showed off a new look at Everwild, the upcoming Xbox Series X adventure that promises to merge magic and nature in a highly stylized setting that — despite all we’ve been shown so far — remains alluringly mysterious. Everwild is a brand-new IP from Rare, a studio that used to knock the hits out of the park back in its days as a Nintendo 64 developer — so we’re eyeing this one closely as we await word from Microsoft about a release date.
The Best of the rest
PlayStation, documented — With the fifth incarnation of Sony’s PlayStation just over the horizon, it’s as good a time as any for a nostalgic look back at the Sony family tree that took root in the 1990s and branched out to the present day. That’s the aim of From Bedrooms To Billions: The PlayStation Revolution, a new PlayStation documentary featuring interviews with Metal Gear mastermind Hideo Kojima, PS4 and PS5 system architect Mark Cerny, Resident Evil director Shinji Mikami and more.
The feature-length documentary comes from British doc directors Anthony and Nicola Caulfield, and takes an in-depth look into “how and why” the original PlayStation was created, as well as “how it was distributed against a fiercely competitive early 1990s backdrop and…why it was a revolution for the video games industry,” according to the project’s successfully-funded Kickstarter page.
The PlayStation Revolution is available for digital pre-order ahead of its Sept. 7 debut, but springing for the special edition will also net you extras including a pair of shorter documentaries on the making of Wipeout and Gran Turismo, as well as a directors’ commentary track and photo gallery. A Blu-ray version is also in the works, though a release date hasn’t yet been announced. Check out the film’s landing page for more info, and to reserve your download ahead of time.
QuakeCon roadmap — Bethesda has revealed the scheduling lineup its first-ever digital QuakeCon event, and the three-day fan fest kicks off next weekend with a lineup that’s top-heavy with the biggest names. Expect tons of love for Fallout and The Elder Scrolls with panel discussions and friendly competitive face-offs, as well as new behind-the-scenes looks at DOOM Eternal.
Sunday, Aug. 9 brings everything to a head with the Quake grand championship, along with a “global community” team freeplay event for Fallout 76. But buried throughout the entire weekend are cool gaming nuggets from Bethesda-published titles like Dishonored and Prey that assure there’s something for just about every fan.
While there’s plenty of Skyrim and TES talk peppered throughout the schedule, there’s no indication that QuakeCon is the place we’ll be hearing new updates on The Elder Scrolls VI or the upcoming, shrouded-in-mystery sci-fi game Starfield. But hey, as long as we get to see UFC fighter Robert Whittaker and Bethesda marketing guru Pete Hines trek through Tamriel together on Sunday, we’ll stay patient for news about where Skyrim’s successor might take us next.
Visit Bethesda's QuakeCon page for an expanded look at next weekend's full schedule.
- Talk about a high-profile ghost. Ghost of Tsushima, the swan song exclusive for the PlayStation 4, has snuck past Horizon Zero Dawn to take the crown as Sony’s fastest-selling new game IP in the console’s stellar history. The Last of Us Part II shattered the overall record earlier this summer, with Ellie’s solo sequel moving more than 4 million copies at launch. But for a brand-new game with no name recognition to precede it, Ghost’s 2.4 million in launch sales is almost as impressive as developer Sucker Punch’s gorgeous Tsushima Island vistas.
- PlayStation isn’t the only game in town to get its own documentary. This week Netflix debuted The Speed Cubers, a quirky, fascinating look inside the competitive world of jet-fueled Rubik’s Cube puzzle solving. Of course there’s a deeper human story at the heart of The Speed Cubers, so check out the trailer above — and then block out some free space in your streaming queue.
- How many times do you wanna die twice? If you’re up for more self-inflicted challenge than the original Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice threw your way the first time, FromSoftware is releasing an update to the brutally difficult game that’ll have you running a new back-to-back boss gauntlet. Slated to arrive Oct. 29, the free add-on will also bring new outfits for the Wolf, as well as a twist on a coveted feature from the Souls series: the ability to interact with other players via “Remnants,” 30-second recordings that broadcast your cruel demise with a message of your choosing.
- The new Season 8 update for PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is officially out of beta and ready for prime time on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Google Stadia. The new big thing in PUBG’s battle royale playground is an updated and remastered Sanhok map, which promises better graphics, new ways to navigate, and more balanced gameplay. As always, PUBG remains free to play, so check out the extensive patch notes and then pick your console flavor for what remains one of the world's most popular free-to-play games.
- If some demented genius combined the aesthetic of the Souls series with retro 2D pixel art gameplay, they’d end up with something like Blasphemous, developer The Game Kitchen’s 2019 Metroidvania-style side scroller that takes its cues from the darker side of religious iconography. Now Blasphemous is getting a free update in the form of The Stir of Dawn, which adds new bosses and enemies, a new game+ mode, and and more. The musical score alone made us fall in love with the original, so we're praying the new DLC picks up right where Blasphemous left off. The Stir of Dawn beckons beginning Aug. 4 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
- If you’re not a PlayStation Plus subscriber but want a sneak peek at what you’ve been missing, mark your calendar for next Saturday. Beginning at 12:01a.m. local time on Aug. 8, and extending 24 hours until midnight on Aug. 9, PS Plus will unlock all of its multiplayer modes for a day-long free-to-play marathon. Check out the PlayStation Blog for details, along with a look at the newest lineup of free PS Plus games.
- We admit it: We’d love to see a glorious return to form for Contra, the Konami classic that began in a blaze of glory all the way back in 1987 for the original NES. But in the meantime, we’re not exactly against the idea of Contra: The Board Game, a just-announced run-and-gun co-op adventure from Blacklist Games that’s based on the original video game franchise.
Packaged in a box that looks like an NES cartridge and lavished with edge-to-edge color in the tabletop set and playing cards, the analog version of Contra is designed for 1-4 players and lets you select both your Commando deck as well as your Enemy deck — a choice that always ends with “a deadly boss that must be destroyed to continue your mission,” according to Blacklist. Pre-orders are live at the game’s website, so get ready to take the fight behind enemy lines when Contra: The Board Game drops you in hostile territory sometime in the first half of 2021.