Deathloop is the upcoming action-adventure game that has graced our cover for the last month, and as part of our exclusive coverage, we sat down with the game's narrative designer to chat about Deathloop's story. Following their critical success with the Dishonored series, Arkane Studios has crafted a brand new world to explore. Set on the island of Blackreef, Deathloop is a story that follows Colt Vahn, a man who is stuck in a never-ending loop with a secret society that's led by antagonist Julianna.
In this exclusive interview, we chat with Bennett Smith about the backstory of Blackreef and why the island's time loop was originally set up by the AEON Program. We also asked about the relationship between Colt and Julianna, and more specifically, why the latter wants the former dead. Separate from the main narrative thrust, we learn more from Bennett about how the game encourages players to become comfortable with death in an effort to gain more knowledge about their surroundings.
It's morning on Blackreef Island, and Colt has just emerged from the underground tunnels that wind their way across this desolate landmass. Colt just woke up, but he's already ready to collapse. His legs feel heavy; his arms are dead weights. A hangover from the night before is beginning to ease, but Colt's real troubles have only begun. So, Colt fights through the pain - pushes against entropy - and presses deeper into the island. He knows he's marching toward his own death, but he has no other choice. If Colt wants to get off this blasted rock, he must orchestrate a seemingly impossible series of assassinations in less than 24 hours.
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As a black man with a lifelong obsession with games, I’ve either heard or been asked this question many times in my life: What games let you play as black characters? My answer is usually pretty short. Anyone paid attention knows that games have predominantly featured white protagonists for decades. There are plenty of great-looking games on the horizon, but finding titles starring heroes that resemble the people in marginalized communities can be like finding a needle in a haystack. That's unfortunate because no matter the shape or size of a game, it's always a powerful feeling to see a character that looks like you.
So, I’d like to prepare an answer for people who are regularly asked the same question and for those who ask it themselves. I’ve compiled this list of upcoming games featuring protagonists who are black, brown, or just non-white in general. To that end, this list excludes games with user-created protagonists. Character creators are great and all, but they also put the responsibility of diversity onto the players, rather than developers taking the initiative themselves. Now, let’s take a look at the coolest-looking games starring protagonists of color.
Developer: Scavengers Studio Release Date: TBA
Season is a gorgeous-looking adventure game about a woman who leaves her remote village to explore the world on her bike. Along the way, she documents her discoveries through the lens of her camera, capturing the final moments of various fictional cultures before an impending cataclysm befalls the world. The game showcases a diverse cast of characters who occupy a strange version of Earth; in it, modern human progress has remained stagnant despite thousands of years passing. Season comes from Scavengers Studios and is fascinating departure from its previous game, the survival battle royale The Darwin Project.
Developer: Arkane Studios Release Date: May 21
With quality games like Dishonored and Prey in Arkane Studios’ history, excitement for Death Loop is sky-high. The games pits two legendary assassins, Colt and Julianna, against each other on the island of Blackreef. Players control Colt, who not only must survive being hunted by Julianna and the island’s inhabitants, but also find a way to break a mysterious time loop engulfing the island. The goal is to assassinate eight targets in the span of a single night, otherwise the cycle begins anew. I pray Deathloop sticks to its May release date because I can’t wait to get my hands on one of 2021’s most inventive-looking titles.
ValiDate: Struggling Singles in Your Area
Developer: Veritable Joy Studios Release Date: Spring
This quirky visual novel stars 12 struggling singles living in Jercy City (yes, Jercy). They are looking for love while also trying to, according to the game’s website, “overcome the harsh realities of capitalism" while also dealing with the everyday grind. ValiDate boasts over 30 story routes for these flawed 20-somethings who range from a professional cosplayer, a wedding counselor, a food scientist, and a manager at “Bopeyes”. Dating is the name of the game, of course, as you make a series of choices to (hopefully) romance the single of your choice. Veritable Joy Studios says ValiDate’s writing is handled with “empathy and self-indulgence” and comes from an all-POC writing team. Look for ValiDate when it launches this spring, or you can try a free demo on itch.io now.
Developer: Awaceb Release Date: TBA
Tchia recently premiered during the pre-show of The Game Awards, and draws inspiration for its world and cast from New Caledonia, a Pacific Island east of Australia. Players control the titular Tchia, a girl with special abilities who sets sail on her makeshift raft in a physics-driven sandbox. Tchia has the power to take control of any animal or object, which includes a bird and even a coconut, as seen in the debut trailer. Exploration combines climbing, gliding, and sailing, drawing on elements of Zelda games like Breath of the Wild and Wind Waker. With a vibrant color palette and heartwarming vibe, Tchia is a gem to keep an eye on.
Far Cry 6
Developer: Ubisoft Release Date: 2021
The Far Cry series isn’t always stellar about handling its cultural themes beyond simple stereotypes, but here’s hoping that changes with Far Cry 6. Set in the Cuba-inspired island of Yara, players control Dani Rojos (who can be male or female), a local that gets swept up in a revolution against the country’s brutal dictator, Antón Castillo (played by Giancarlo Esposito of The Mandalorian and Breaking Bad fame). We don’t know much about the plot, but the debut trailer revealed a fascinating relationship between Castillo and his young son, Diego, who he wants to mold in his image. How Dani fits into this father/son story isn’t clear, but it’s safe to expect the high-octane gameplay Far Cry is known for.
Aerial_Knight's Never Yield
Developer: Aerial_Knight Release Date: Early 2021
Coming to you from a single developer, Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield is a stylish auto-runner set in a Tokyo-flavored, futuristic Detroit. Wally is a cool kid with a robotic leg seeking to uncover the truth about his past. However, he discovers darker evidence that could affect the future of his entire city. Players must run, jump, and slide past enemies and obstacles in an experience that caters speedrunners and casual players alike. This game bleeds Detroit, including a soundtrack composed by local artist Danime-Sama, as well as contributions from black artists across the globe. Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield is slated to be released in early 2021, so, like Wally himself, it looks like the game is coming in hot.
She Dreams Elsewhere
Developer: Studio Zevere Release Date: 2021
She Dreams Elsewhere is a surreal RPG about a comatose woman struggling with anxiety who must discover the cause of her condition by literally confronting the demons within her. The game’s old-school aesthetic and turn-based combat evokes RPGs of old, but is layered with an ethereal, lo-fi vibe from the soundtrack to the trippy effects. A connection system lets players bond with their party members who have their own narrative threads, or customize their playstyles using the charm system. She Dreams Elsewhere is coming to PC sometime this year, and you can download a demo on Steam right now.
As Dusk Falls
Developer: Interior/Night Release Date: 2021
As Dusk Falls is an interactive drama with a fascinating hook. In 1999, two families were caught up in a hostage situation gone wrong. Over the course of the next 30 years, players see how it's affected the lives of all who were involved. We don’t know much about the game other than it stars a mixed-race protagonist, but it wouldn’t surprise me if you controlled other characters, such as the boy turned young adult shown in the debut trailer. As Dusk Falls is the first game from newly formed studio Interior/Night, led by Quantic Dream alum Caroline Marcha. The game currently has no release window, but since it’s being published by Xbox Game Studios, you can expect it to hit Game Pass on console and PC on launch day.
Unknown 9: Awakening
Developer: Reflector Release Date: TBA
This mysterious sci-fi title centers on Haroona, a young girl from Kolkata, India who discovers she’s imbued with a mysterious power that allows her to access a secret dimension known as The Fold. Haroona eventually encounters a mentor who teaches her how to hone this power to uncover the secrets behind this dimension as well as her abilities. We still know little about the game other than it’s a third-person action/adventure title set in the Unknown 9 universe, which is a multimedia sci-fi franchise spanning multiple books, comics, and podcasts. Though I’m not familiar with the broader series, I am intrigued to see what lies ahead for Haroona in the game.
Developer: Red Thread Games Release Date: TBA
Dustborn is a story-focused action/adventure game about a band of misfits on a dangerous road trip. Steering the narrative is Pax, a con artist and ex-convict who recruits a motley crew of allies to help her transport a mysterious package across the America Republic, a fractured version of the former USA. Your crew (or “Fam”) sport their own unique abilities as well as colorful personalities and backstories, which you learn more about through a deep dialogue system. The comic-inspired art direction gives the game a loud personality, especially the use of onomatopoeias. With both the government and fanatical puritans in hot pursuit of our not-heroes, Dustborn looks to be a wild and exciting road trip.
Developer: Thunderful/Image & Form Games Release Date: 2021
The team behind the beloved SteamWorld franchise tackles something totally new in The Gunk. This Xbox exclusive stars two astronauts who happen upon a planet teeming with life and valuable resources. Only one problem: The world is being overtaken by a corruptive, parasitic goo. Exploration requires using the protagonist’s power glove to suck up the gunk to clear paths and uncover valuable artifacts. You also need it to combat slime-corrupted monsters. Ridding zones of the malevolent substance opens larger areas containing more clues of the planet’s past. What is the gunk? Where did it come from? We’ll have to wait until sometime later this year to find out.
Developer: Leap Game Studios Release Date: 2021
I’m a sucker for a good beat ‘em up, and Tunche taps into the innate fun of punching bad guys in the face while its roguelite structure keeps players on their toes. The map and enemies change with each playthrough, meaning you and up to four friends never know what to expect with each go-around. A tight, fast-paced combat system allows players to decimate monster hordes with juggling air combos while evading with an air-dash, among other abilities. Tunche is also easy on the eyes thanks to its hand-drawn cartoon art that breathes life into the game’s Amazon rainforest setting. Don’t take my word for it, though. Download the game’s free demo on Steam and see for yourself.
We Are The Caretakers
Developer: Heart Shaped Games Release Date: Q1 2021
Described as an “afrofuturist squad management RPG,” We Are the Caretakers is all about defending endangered alien animals from extinction. Using systems inspired by games such as Ogre Battle, Darkest Dungeon, and XCOM, players assemble an arcane team of anti-poaching protectors to engage in tactical battles in procedurally generated campaigns. The game sports a full job system as well as a reputation mechanic where your actions affect how the world views your team. That includes managing international relationships by meeting with world leaders and balancing their demands. We Are the Caretakers sounds like a fun and robust game with a good conversationalist message in the middle of it all.