August’s Video Games: Madden, Sure, But Also Psychonauts!
As the world painstakingly claws its way back to a state of normalcy amid the pandemic, there are a few constants involved with the month of August that’ll make things feel a little more normal: the beginning of school, the approach of football season, and of course the release of the latest Madden video game. For many years now regardless of the reputation of the previous year’s installment, it’s been one of the beacons for all gamers that transcends whatever other interests they may have, gaming or otherwise.
With funds being reserved for that title, sometimes the rest of the month of August can be underwhelming in terms of new games, yet there are some pretty exciting new ones this time around. From the joyous return to two of the biggest cult classics from several console generations back to the hotly anticipated console port of a popular, challenging action platformer, it’s a month to get fired up over with or without the big game. Let’s take a closer look at the titles.
Hades (PS4/5; Xbox O/S/X) — August 13
Plenty of heated discussions continue to go on about the differences between playing on PC and consoles, but there’s one position that tends to be more objective than the others when discussing the superiority of PCs: they usually get better dungeon crawlers, either permanently or as timed exclusives. For a while, the early access period of being able to play Hades offered such an experience, and for the better part of 2020 it became a wildly popular, addictive experience title that could only be taken on by the PC Master Race™.
With its reputation established, Hades eventually moved out of early release onto the Switch and now carries over to the PlayStation and Xbox consoles with rejuvenation anticipation behind it. It embraces the depth of Grecian mythology as it tells the story of Zagreus, the prince of the underworld who hopes to escape its clutches and reach Mount Olympus. Naturally, escaping hell isn’t an easy task, realized in this isometric hack-‘n-slash action puzzle game by adopting the roguelike mantra of randomizing the maze structure of Hades and the relentless enemies within.
Madden NFL 22 (PS4,5; Xbox O/S/X; PC; Stadia) — August 20
Look, it would takes some pretty aggressive and continuous negative energy for EA’s tentpole annual football game to suffer much in terms of sales and yearly anticipation. That said, this latest installment of Madden is following one of the more aggressively bashed entries in its three-generation history, even spurring a high-profile Twitter hashtag — “#FixMaddenFranchise”— when it looked like little had been done to the previous year’s game aside from updating the players. Despite ratings bombs and calls for the NFL to ditch EA, sales turned out just fine – up, even — a testament to Madden’s enduring presence.
Madden NFL 22 could benefit from a year of satisfying players, though, especially with this arriving on the newest generation of consoles, and it looks as if EA has actively listened to feedback and will be improving on key areas for this year’s iteration. Notably, franchise mode has been overhauled to allow for more freedom through “detailed staff management and skill tree progression systems”, while they’ve also added new live adjustment to stats and capabilities through the “Dynamic Gameday” integration of real-world data and new tech. If those things are coupled with the gameplay tightness that critics celebrated from last year’s title, Madden NFL 22 could end up being a needed return to form.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite (PS4,5; Xbox O/S/X; PC) — August 24
For the most part, you can split fans of the Alien franchise down the middle, with one half preferring Ridley Scott’s original horror-centric Alien film and the other feeling as if James Cameron’s action-oriented Aliens sequel improves upon the idea. It’s a lot easier to approach a video game adaptation of those concepts, but the horror side of Alien – and arguably the franchise itself – was properly done justice with the survival horror game Alien: Isolation. This, in essence, has become the proper “horror Alien game”, and it’s probably only a matter of time before it gets an Aliens-like action companion.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite hopes to at least get close to the bullseye there by delivering a multiplayer, third-person survivor shooter experience that both takes place some 20 years after the original Alien trilogy and borrows plot aspects from those films. Players gain control of a Colonial Marine that can belong to five different classes – from shooters and beaters to techies and healers – that can utilize a slew of weapons, mods and perks that take on aliens alongside a squad of either AI-assisted or online teammates. Positive comparisons to the zombie co-op shooter Left 4 Dead have already been drawn, and the promise of no loot boxes or non-cosmetic microtransaction certainly helps to get hyped.
Psychonauts 2 (PS4; Xbox O/S/X; PC; Mac; Lin) — August 25
Over the years, Double Fine Productions has built a reputation of joy and reliability with their efforts in the Costume Quest family-friendly RPGs, several novel action-puzzle games such as Brutal Legend and Stacking, and in remastering the games that founder Tim Schafer created over at LucasArts. However, even with a decade and a half of work under their belt, many if not most gamers will forever know them as the studio responsible for the quirky, energetic, meaningful and addictive action platformer Psychonauts. Because of its cult popularity, a sequel has remained high in demand yet seemingly out of reach.
Unlike other similar titles that get swept up in development hell – looking at you, Beyond Good and Evil 2 – it’s certainly looking like Double Fine will finally be delivering Psychonauts 2 to its fanbase at the end of August. Based on preview footage, the powers of Raz the Psychonaut seems to share things in common with other psionic object-movement action games currently available, only with Tim Schafer’s delightful sense of humor and an outlandish, surreal atmosphere in the vein of Tim Burton’s animated films. With an undercurrent of symbolism about mental health, supported by an expert in the field hired by Double Fine, it’s looking like Psychonauts might be showing up at the right time for everyone.
No More Heroes III (Switch) — August 27
While many players likely have their strongest original Nintendo Wii memories stemming from Twilight Princess, Smash Bros. Brawl, Mario Kart or, heck, even Wii Bowling, others will fondly recall when they were introduced to the bizarre world of No More Heroes. Against cel-shade landscapes with 8-bit details, the game envelops its players in a streak of geekery that merely begins with the “otaku” lead character wielding a practical laser sword that occasionally needs a little jerking to power it back up. Generous portions of Grand Theft Auto gameplay philosophies are seasoned with anime and sci-fi culture in creating the exploits of Travis Touchdown and his climb up the ranks of an assassin guild.
Travis returns once again on the Switch in No More Heroes III, and this time he’s climbing the ranks of superheroism so that he may prove himself worthy enough to defeat an invading alien overlord. Players can traverse a series of five open-world zones with help of the hero’s new motorcycle, while the combat once again employs a mixture of hack-‘n-slashing with his beam katana and a hybrid of martial arts and professional wrestling maneuvers. Original series designer and writer Goichi Suda returns for this third entry in the No More Heroes saga, which should result in a raucous experience not unlike that first one on the OG Nintendo Wii.
The rest of the releases for August are generally pretty lowkey, with Ghost of Tsushima: Director Cut (August 20) and The Falconeer: Warrior Edition (August 5) offering some higher-profile PS5 ports throughout the month. The arthouse gaming wing of Annapurna Interactive will also be releasing a duo of indie titles this month, a survival mystery game called I Am Dead coming on August 9 and a time-constraint mystery experience entitled 12 Minutes coming on August 19. There’s also a pretty sweet looking Metroidvania platform action game entitled Recompile coming on August 19, and a potentially interesting action-adventure experience called Foreclosed – which seems like a hybrid of Blade Runner and Cyberpunk – worth keeping an eye on when it comes out of the shadows on August 12.