Photo-Illustration: Maya Robinson/Vulture and Photos Courtesy Xbox and Playstationof
On the video-game calendar, summers are for surprises. Compared to the first and last few months of a year, when the buzziest games receive much-anticipated releases, the summer months can seem like doldrums. But in practice, that means there’s more room for last-minute announcements, indie titles (which eschew a rigid release schedule and can arrive at any time) that could steal the spotlight, and the occasional Beyoncé-style drop of a new game that you can play right away.
This summer preview comes with an unusual number of caveats given the global pandemic’s effects on the games industry — and just about everything else. Every release date is subject to change, as logistical issues may result in a game missing its planned arrival. The lack of industry conventions and events also eliminates the usual forums for announcements, meaning there are likely notable games inbound this summer that we do not yet know about. Many studios, like the rest of us, are still trying to figure all this out.
A sci-fi shooting/strategy hybrid, Disintegration is the latest attempt to shake up one of gaming’s most stalwart genres. Set in a future where global collapse led to a world where human consciousnesses were embedded in machines to ensure survival, the game seeks to blend traditional shooter action with team management. It’s not the first game to attempt this, but it is the first one led by Marcus Lehto, co-creator of runaway shooter hit Halo, so hopes are high. (June 16)
$50 at Amazon
The sequel to Naughty Dog’s acclaimed 2013 game about life after a viral apocalypse, The Last of Us Part II is easily the most high-profile game set to launch this summer. The new chapter follows Ellie, one of the two protagonists from the first game, forced back into a life of violence after tragedy leaves her hungry for revenge. The Last of Us Part II is both video games’ biggest looming blockbuster and behind-the-scenes flashpoint, an achievement in technical excellence that comes at the expense of developer burnout. (June 19)
$60 at Amazon
The first Deadly Premonition was a deeply funny surprise: a weird horror game that shamelessly lifted from Twin Peaks and won a cult following on conviction and charm alone. With its sequel, the game’s beloved, idiosyncratic designer Hidetaka “SWERY” Suehiro takes Dale Cooper analogue Agent Francis York Morgan into another murder case, tracking a serial killer in the fictional New Orleans neighborhood of Le Carré. (Get it?) The supernatural, of course, isn’t far behind. (July 10)
The swan song for the PlayStation 4 is a sweeping samurai epic set in 13th-century feudal Japan. Ghost of Tsushima casts players as Jin Sakai, one of the last remaining samurai on the isle of Tsushima during the Mongol invasion of Japan. An ambitious, open-world action game that’s meant to cap off seven years of technically impressive marquee games exclusive to the Sony console, it’s made by Sucker Punch Productions — the studio behind Infamous: Second Son, one of the console’s first big exclusives. (July 17)
The Paper Mario games have been in a bit of a slump. A spinoff series starring two-dimensional paper drawings of Mario and friends, the Paper Mario franchise emphasized storytelling, humor, and a wonderful art style. Recent installments, however, have taken heat for not living up to the perfect marriage of charm and strategy present in the first few entries. The hope is that Paper Mario: The Origami King is a return to form. There’s not much known about the recently-announced game, but the game’s quirky story about a wicked king who turns the denizens of Mushroom Kingdom into origami drones sure looks like the ideal summer surprise. (July 17)
If you love gangster movies, you almost certainly would have loved 2002’s Mafia, a game that distilled the essence of mob movies to their most primal elements: driving, cracking wise, and shooting. Set in 1930s Illinois, Mafia kicked off a trilogy of gangster epics with a sequel set in a fictionalized postwar New York City and a striking deconstructionist finale set in a video game riff on New Orleans. Mafia: Definitive Edition is a remade and expanded version of the nearly 20-year-old game arriving late this summer, heralded by more marginally improved versions of its sequels available now. The entire series is worth revisiting, particularly Mafia III, a game that takes a torch to mob stories by flipping the script and casting players not as wannabe mobsters, but a black Vietnam vet out for revenge on the made men who wronged him. (August 28)
$40 at Amazon
Despite being the most overexposed superheroes on the planet, the Avengers have, surprisingly, not featured in many video games. Oddly late to the party, Marvel’s Avengers offers a modern, big-budget video game that introduces as original (albeit heavily movie-inspired) take on the super team. (It’s almost funny how these Avengers get just close enough to the actors that play them without actually recreating their likeness.) Alas, like the movies that inspired it, Avengers has been a secretive production, and there is frustratingly little clarity on the ultimate shape of the game. (September 4)
You’d be hard-pressed to find another nostalgia hit so pure and uncut this summer. The legendary skateboarding game has a legion of fans primed to rise up with the first notes of Goldfinger’s “Superman,” and they are absolutely ready to flash back 20 years and hit the half-pipe. This collection of the first two, most popular games in the long-running series promises nostalgia done right. The 2020 version of Pro Skater 1 + 2 get a graphical facelift to give it a modern look while largely keeping the gameplay (and the indelible soundtrack) the same. How could you say no? (September 4)