Was it just us, or were there a load of sci-fi horror trailers at the Summer Games Fest this year? There were so many that it became a little difficult at the start of the show to tell the difference between them all. First we had Aliens Dark Descent, not to be confused with Amnesia Dark Descent, then The Callisto Protocol, and then Routine.
So what is going on?
Imogen Mellor, Features Producer: For those that missed these trailers, we've got a Summer Game Fest round-up and posts highlighting each and every one. Aliens Dark Descent was yet another take on humans versus Xenomorphs. The trailer looked as if it could have been an expansion to Aliens Fireteam but in fact it was a top down shooter. I'd lightly guess it was turn-based, but really from the gameplay we saw that's only speculation right now.
Then we had The Callisto Protocol which was horrifying in the right way. The Dead Space-inspired horror survival got its first gameplay reveal at the Summer Games Fest and it had head stomping and body horror in ample supply. Again this was spacey and dark and oh-so-gory.
Natalie Clayton, Features Producer: And then, out of nowhere, Routine showed up. Routine! A game that's been absent for almost a decade, whose troubled development has been charted by Waypoint, is coming back under new publisher Raw Fury. This one's less gory, more Alien than Aliens, with sterile corridors and crackling CRT monitors—but while I'm happy to see it make its return, it still comes as another space horror in a show that's overloaded with space horror.
So what's up with that? Why are we so desperate to get merced in the depths of space?
On one level, it's been long enough since we really had a big player in this space. Alien Isolation was 2014, Dead Space 3 the year before (and longer still since Dead Space was, err, good).
Imogen: Well perhaps Dead Space left a hole in people's libraries? Even growing up without playing those games I remember the artwork on boxes as I searched the pre-owned shelves of GAME. Nothing was quite as scary or as visually iconic as those severed hands floating in space. But why was the absence of Dead Space just so inspiring that everyone has to have a take on sci-fi horror now?
Gaming has had sci-fi horror games since Dead Space and Alien Isolation of course. Prey from Arkane Studios was released in 2017 and, though critics loved it, it's not a staple in game libraries the same way Dead Space was. And then 2019's co-op GTFO didn't make much of a splash despite being a great interpretation of the genre, giving you a gun and terrible consequences if you used it.
Nat: I have to ask—did you love any of the games shown here? I'm so here for Routine, but I can't say that's not half nostalgia for a 2013 trailer and half excitement to play an Alien: Isolation I didn't work on.
Imogen: Oh that's such a good humble brag. And the answer is I'm too scared to play these myself but I often love the mystery of these games. The crux of any issue is often an evil scientist or an alien species that you can kind of feel sorry for in a weird murdery way. But honestly, I'm more interested in why there are so many of these games than I am in the genre itself. Is there a thirst among fans for more Dead Space? Or is it that developers feel sci-fi horror can be developed further into scarier places? Or is it actually, kind of a hole in one genre to get into. After all, with all the content made based on fear on YouTube and Twitch these days, a truly scary game is sure to get the eyes of millions if horrifying enough. As a developer Nat, any ideas?
Nat: I think horror games are just big now. Itch is overflowing with spooky PS1-style throwbacks. Capcom is making bank off Resident Evils new and remastered. And while we're noticing it real hard at this moment, there's always been a glut of space games at these showcases—it's just now we're seeing a bunch of thematically similar space horror games hitting all at once.
I'm sure The Callisto Protocol has a great shot at filling a Dead Space-sized hole in games (and if it doesn't, we always have that Dead Space reboot). I'm really, truly excited to see Routine come into full form, and while Aliens: Dark Descent could be naff, it might at least be naff fun with pals. Them being shown so close to each other did each of them a disservice, furthered only by the fact the entire show was full of dark, intense, bloody action games, horror without the sci-fi and vice versa.
Imogen: Agreed! Everything during the rest of the show was lighter, strangely. Perhaps splitting these trailers up in between everything else would have helped us mentally distance the projects from one another. Let us process a man getting mangled by machinery before giving us a killer robot or two! We'll enjoy them all the more then.
As writers paying attention to every trailer as news, it was incredibly noticeable that the beginning of this show was dedicated to sci-fi horror in different fonts, but if it makes a whole lot of people happy there's no reason to be upset, right? Horror is popular and so is space. Summer Games Fest may have just slightly messed up by frontloading them.
Wes Fenlon, Senior Editor: Spending the last two years making games about fighting the personal demons you have to face in pandemic isolation, while in pandemic isolation? Too real.
Spending the last two years making games about fighting literal demons on an isolated space station, while in pandemic isolation? Ahh, that's the stuff.