SAN FRANCISCO – Whenever I cover a tech show like the Game Developers Conference, I make a point of seeing games from Raw Fury. True, the Swedish company is just one among hundreds of indie game publishers, and their titles aren’t always breakout hits. But Raw Fury is willing to take chances on bizarre, niche games that couldn’t have been easy to pitch.
This year’s crop (pun intended) from Raw Fury includes a roguelike farming sim, a taxi-driving murder mystery and a sci-fi RPG where death is almost guaranteed. And, as expected, they’re not quite like anything else I’ve seen at GDC 2019.
I went hands-on with Atomicrops, Night Call and Star Renegades, and each game was oddly charming, whether I was blasting my way through ravenous garden pests or confronting a foul-mouthed police lieutenant about catching a serial killer. Here's a quick look at each game to help you decide if you should keep them on your radar when they launch. Pricing for the titles is still up in the air, but they’ll come out between summer 2019 and early 2020.
Atomicrops feels like a cult hit in the making. You play as a farmer, who must till her soil, water and fertilize her crops, harvest her fruit and sell her goods at a market. But Atomicrops isn’t just a pixelated Harvest Moon, as you also have to brave dangerous biomes to hunt down new seeds, and defend your plants from bothersome beasts that stalk the farm at night.
Gameplay is divided into three basic sections. During the day, you’ll till soil and plant seeds. Once that’s done, you can venture into a region adjacent to your farm: a desert or a jungle, for instance. Each region provides new seeds, which you’ll plant back at home. At night, monsters attack your farm, and you’ll have to fend them off — at first with a dinky pea-shooter, later with semiautomatic pistols, shotguns and other impressive weaponry. Between days, you’ll visit a market, where you can sell your goods, upgrade your gear and marry the townsfolk (if that’s why you love farming sims).
However, if you die, the game resets, and all you’ll have left are your cornucopias: meta-currency that allows you to buy permanent upgrades for your farm and characters. Eventually, you’ll become hardy enough to survive all five seasons the game has to offer: spring, summer, fall, winter and nuclear winter (where things, understandably, get very weird).
I spoke to Danny Wynne, the game’s developer, who explained how Atomicrops came to be. He was playing Stardew Valley, and wished that the game’s combat and farming elements were a little more integrated. Then, he decided to go ahead and just make that game himself. Sometimes, a little programming know-how can make your dreams come true.
Surprisingly, Night Call was not the only taxi adventure game I've seen at GDC 2019. But it's easily the darkest and most atmospheric one.
In Night Call, you play as a Parisian cab driver, who narrowly escapes becoming a serial killer’s next victim. Once you’ve recovered, a harried police detective conscripts you to hunt down the killer within a week, or else she’ll use your own checkered past to put you behind bars in his place.
As you can imagine, Night Call is a dark game, both in subject matter and in visuals. The map of Paris and the inside of your cab appear in stark blacks and whites, with a few mellow grays and yellows for contrast. Gameplay itself is simple: Just take customers and drive them to their destinations on both sides of the Seine. As you go from place to place, you’ll also talk with your passengers, each of whom has a unique story. Some are funny, some are sad and some will help you unravel the mystery of the serial killer.
This is where Night Call shines, as your passengers are randomized depending on your location and the time of night. No two people will play quite the same game, and how much money you get will depend on how you engage each passenger. For example, during my demo, I met a programmer who was convinced that the whole world was a big computer simulation. We eventually got to talking about spirituality and existentialism, until he departed and left me a nice tip. (I proceeded to promptly spend it on gas and lotto tickets, your two big expenses in the game.)
There’s also a portion of Night Call that takes place in your apartment, where you try to piece together the clues that you’ve acquired from plot-relevant passengers. If you like neo-noir mysteries, Night Call could be right up your alley.
People love roguelikes, and people love turn-based RPGs, but they’re not the easiest genre to combine. The former relies on killing its players over and over again until they earn enough meta-currency to withstand the game’s challenges; the latter relies on long-term investment in characters and story. However, Star Renegades might be able to split the difference while making both camps happy.
In this game, you take control of a small party of sci-fi heroes as they confront the mechanized soldiers of a hostile starfaring regime. Simply mashing the attack button is a surefire way to get killed, but Star Renegades gives you a huge advantage: You can see exactly when your enemies will attack, and what moves they will use. This allows you to strategically use interrupts and plan out healing moves. However, each action takes a few rounds to recharge, meaning that you can’t interrupt indefinitely. You’ll need to decide which attacks you can withstand, and which you need to delay.
Battles give you experience, currency, items and all the regular RPG paraphernalia. You can level up, equip new weapons and armor, and combine your party members’ skills in unexpected ways. But you’ll also be able to unlock character synergies and upgrades that stay with you between playthroughs.
As the world is procedurally generated, you can never be sure what kind of enemies you’ll run into, or how long any given run might last. But you’ll also never lose all of your progress, as your hard-won upgrades will eventually triumph over the increasingly difficult enemies and environmental hazards. The development team at Massive Damage cited Dead Cells as a major influence, so that may give you a good idea of whether you’ll enjoy Star Renegades.
Be sure to check out our GDC 2019 hub page for all of the latest gaming news and hands-on impressions straight out of San Francisco.