It was a weird year for Gamescom in 2022; with the absence of two of the big three (and Microsoft only making a showing of a few Game Pass hits), the schedule was cleared for smaller publishers to put their best foot forward and show off the goods. The result? A pretty interesting and esoteric show, with a massive focus on horror, and with the spotlight shining bright on studios that may otherwise have been overshadowed by their first-party peers.
Smaller publishers, then, had a killer show. Whether that was Koch with System Shock, Dead Island 2, and Goat Simulator 3, or Krafton with Moonbreaker and The Callisto Protocol, the not-Ubisofts and not-Microsofts of Gamescom made a lasting impact. But amongst them all, there was one publisher that really stood out to me, and you’ll probably be able to guess who that was based on the coverage myself and Alex Donaldson have put out from the show to date. It was Focus Home Interactive.
First up, there’s Evil West: a game which sells you as a Wild West Superhero, armed to the teeth and pissed off about the vampire threat that threatens to shake the frontier lands of a fledgling USA. Part-Bulletstorm, part-Devil May Cry, and part-Clint Eastwood via Tarantino Western B-movie, Evil West has everything I want from my action games in 2022. Explosions, foul mouths, tight and responsive gameplay, and the most ludicrous, over-the-top nonsense you could ask for.
Flying Wild Hog knows what it’s doing – just look at the Shadow Warrior series – so you know the game is in good hands. Whether you’re popping shots from your six-shooter at crates of dynamite left uncaringly below saloon balconies, dodge-rolling out the way of vampire bosses bristling with teeth and claws, or simply wandering around a canyon that looks like something H. R Giger dreamed up, Evil West keeps you engaged. I can’t wait to get my hands on the full thing and play through it all with a mate, laughing my boots off all the while.
Next, there’s A Plague Tale: Requiem. A follow-up to the sleeper hit from the Xbox One and PS4 era – A Plague Tale: Innocence – Requiem is very much more of the same: high fidelity graphics, an emphasis on stealth, deep and unsettling horror thumbed into every pore of the game. Where the first game made you feel underpowered and vulnerable, just children tasked with survival in a world succumbing to plague and religious fascism, Requiem flips the script a little.
In an hour-long demo at the booth, I got to experience Amicia and Hugo’s continuing story from a way into the follow-up – Amicia has been badly hurt, and appears to not have much strength left in her. Hugo has been opening up to his older sister about his relationship with the rats – how he can talk to them, feel them, control them. Amicia, initially, seems wary. These are just the fantasies of a poor, traumatized boy, right? No.
After an encounter with some soldiers, pissed at Amicia for slaughtering some of their number in a previous chapter, our protagonist siblings are caught off-guard: Amicia falls to the floor, her head wound preventing her from moving on. Hugo, distraught, and about to be spirited away from his sister, calls out to the rats – and the true horror begins. You control the swarm, crazed and gnashing, and you’re forced to chase down the guards, chattering away and stripping flesh from the bones of any living thing in your path.
Aside from the grotesque nature of willing a five-year-old boy’s consciousness into a horde of rats in order to viciously murder your enemies, this new mechanic opens up the straight-forward stealth nature of the series to date. Intersecting this with a few other mechanics – new ranged takedowns, more options with light and fire, and a revamped take on melee combat – A Plague Tale: Requiem has what it takes to recreate the successes of its predecessor on a whole new generation. It’s a cult hit in the making, for sure. Just try not to lose your lunch whilst playing it.
Following the two hands-on demos, attendees of the Focus Home booth were ushered into a presentation room to get the next one-two hit from the publisher: Atlas Fallen and Aliens: Dark Descent. The former, as Alex has already noted, feels like so much more than an XCOM clone, and is surprisingly true to the license it’s based on, too. It’s a strategy game with some Diablo-inspired loot systems in place, making it not only a unique prospect, but one that genuinely seems to understand what makes the Aliens license so appealing. Move along, Aliens: Fireteam Elite, there’s a new spin-off in town.
Then there’s Deck 13’s Atlas Fallen: a mythological fantasy epic, which casts you as a member of the enslaved human race that gains the power to rip a wrathful god from its throne with a divine gauntlet. It’s definitely not a Souls-like, unlike the studio’s previous series The Surge, and instead cites PlayStation’s triple-A output like God of War and Horizon as an inspiration instead. To my eyes, it looks more like a modern take on Asura’s Wrath, or an old-school double-A action hit… maybe even the game that Too Human secretly wanted to be. None of that is a bad thing; by all means, give me more mid-tier action-adventure fare! I love that shit.
There are four distinct corners propping up Focus Home Interactive’s Gamescom 2022 effort, then: on one end, there’s a cult-hit sequel that’s guaranteed to set the teeth of anyone with Game Pass on edge when it launches later this year, backed up with a balls-to-the-wall action epic from a team that seem incapable of putting out a bad game. On the other end, there’s two as-yet-unproven games, but with either a good license or a good premise behind them, making sure they’ll deliver something that’s at least worth your time (and, hopefully, your money).
Focus Home Interactive is proving, with a platter that caters to so many varied tastes, that it has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the ‘bigger’ publishers. As we approach the end of 2022, we’re starting to see a serious shift in the way publishers are operating: the previously ‘untouchable’ houses of EA, Ubisoft, and others are starting to lose power, and smaller, more atomized companies are taking up more room. Then there’s the likes of Embracer and THQ Nordic, hoarding IP and no doubt making plans with long, long tails into the future of the console and PC market.
So it’s refreshing to see Focus Home Interactive nail this show – truly understand where the appetite of the gaming audience, at large, is right now, and provide opportunities for them to try something exciting. Something new. Focus Home Interactive won Gamescom 2022, for me, and this may just be the start of a whole new chapter for the plucky French publisher.