January’s Video Game New Releases a Slow, Steady Start to 2021
It’s the beginning of what will hopefully be a better year for everybody – by the way: Happy New Year, everybody! – and with that comes the cold month of January, where it’s best to hunker down and play through a stockpiled video game stack set aside for “hibernation”. Along with still navigating the issues of a global pandemic, it’s simply a better time to stay indoors with interactive entertainment, and the holiday season is likely to have added at least a few titles to people’s to-be-played list.
Despite the release of brand new consoles at the tail end of last year, studios and companies understand what’s going on in these early months. That’s why the docket of new video game releases ends up being sparse in Januarys like this one. Tactical stealth gamers will have a new title to check out on both the current-gen systems and the shiny new ones, but otherwise it’s a month that’s ideal for catching up on backlogged stuff. Let’s take a closer look, though.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse Heart of the Forest — January 7
The Vampire: The Masquerade role-playing universe has enjoyed a revival of interest as of late, which had led to a forthcoming sequel to the cult hit cRPG, Bloodlines. It’s unsurprising, then, that game studios are showing attention to other corners of its World of Darkness setting. The popularity of Telltale’s Wolf Among Us interactive storytelling proves that a lower-key, narrative-driven experience with werewolves can appeal to a broader audience. Beat-‘em-up style games like Altered Beast or Blood of the Werewolf aren’t required. One of those will be coming next month, though.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest has been developed by Different Tales, a new-ish studio created by ex-members of the development team responsible for the original Witcher game. It aims to capture what it’s like to go through a tabletop role-playing excursion through the universe, producing a visual novel-like platform with a choice-and-consequence system and even a “character sheet” that keeps track of the player’s traits. Released last year, it’s now showing up on the Switch.
Five Nights at Freddy’s: Core Collection — January 12
The Blair Witch Project remains an incredibly polarizing movie, but for the people who enjoy it, it works in large part because it establishes and maintains the illusion that it believes in its realism. Obviously, this becomes even more difficult to achieve in the arena of big, brassy video games, but interactive mysteries and survival horror games can get quite close to this illusion by having the tone of the game designed around doing mundane activities – with real-world restrictions – that spiral out of control into something thrilling and engaging.
Five Nights at Freddy’s gets closer than one might expect to sustaining this illusion. A widely popular property nowadays, it drops the player in the perspective of a night guard, technician, or somebody else using security cameras to track the whereabouts of creepy animatronic animals from a children’s pizza party business, in the vein of Chuck E. Cheese or the now defunct Showbiz Pizza. As the player shifts between cameras during a nighttime setting, the machine animals get closer and closer to their location, and the player must use different tools to prevent them from getting even closer. The concept is simple but effective, and has resulted in 5 different “core” games in the series, collected here.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: Complete Edition — January 14
This comic-book series created by Bryan Lee O’Malley developed a strong niche popularity leading into 2010, but it was the film adaptation by Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright that brought that popularity to a broader audience. Filled with playful references to media and culture of its era, the story easily strikes a chord with geek genre enthusiasts. Yet, the heartfelt underdog story of a guy’s effort to “defeat the evil exes” of a girl he wants to date has its own heartfelt appeal that goes beyond the expected crowd. It’s vibrant, thought-out, and brimming with personality.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game aims to fit in somewhere between the comic-book series and the live-action movie. It’s in color, unlike the books, but the game’s art style devotedly copies the character stylings of the source material. Fittingly and exquisitely captured in a retro beat-‘em-up sidescroller, it loosely revisits O’Malley’s narrative structure by sending Scott Pilgrim – and up to 3 other characters – through colorful, chaotic levels to get to the exes. This Complete Edition has remastered the game for its 10th anniversary, available digitally and in physical variants for PS4 and Switch from Limited Run.
Hitman 3 — January 20
Video game reboots are a tricky business, fueled by the complicated synergy between keeping past fans happy and executing new ideas for a modern environment. One of the most successful examples of a reboot can be seen in the Hitman franchise, which revives the dormant franchise after its 2012 installment met a lukewarm response. While the episodic format was a source of frustration, and lack of sales, the advancements the core game made in elevating the open-world stealth concept remains a success.
After temporarily finding a new publishing home and swearing off the episode model for the first sequel, IO Interactive will be developing and pushing out their own installment with Hitman 3, the 8th official entry in the series. Continuing players will be able to import their progress from the previous 2 games into the third, and will be sent to a half-dozen new locations for a new arrangement of assassination scenarios for Agent 47 that’ll encourage inventive thought and experimentation to accomplish them, repeatedly.
The Medium — January 28
Layers of Fear hits the sweet spot between survival horror and walking simulator, borrowing concepts from classic literature – “The Picture of Dorian Gray” – and applying it to a mesmerizingly haunted tale. The sequel doesn’t hit as hard in the terror aspects, but it delivers an equal if not greater amount of lingering eeriness and a clear eye for abstract experimentation. Being a fan of both isn’t a guarantee, but it’s hard to come away from these two games without thinking that the folks at Bloober Games know how to draw someone into a thick, ominous atmosphere.
The Medium takes them into a new game space, shifting into a third-person perspective in their telling of the story of a woman who can communicate with spirits and traverse to the realm of the dead. Paying homage to the dark surrealist work of Zdzisław Beksiński, the game offers consistent dual perspectives between the tangible and spirit realms, helping the medium solve puzzles and rejuvenate her psychic abilities. With those aspects in mind, The Medium is bound to also have the studio’s signature grasp on effective atmosphere.
A few other items here and there are popping up throughout the month, notably a few intriguing side-scrolling games: Bladed Fury on January 22, Cyber Shadow on January 26, and Olija on January 28, while both Super Meat Boy Forever and The Pedestrian expected by the end of January. The remastered Yakuza Collection will finally make its way onto Xbox One and PC on January 28, and old-school fans of the Disgaea series will be able to enjoy the latest entry in the series with Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny on January 28 as well.