Call of Cthulhu, A Plague Tale: Innocence and The Surge 2 presentations showed that Focus Home Interactive still cares for the single-player game.
Though it was more prevalent a conversation last year, there’s still discussion amongst enthusiasts and members of the press over the shift from single-player games to multiplayer-oriented titles that produce games as a service. The big guns might be chasing the trends, but publishers like Focus Home Interactive are here to say third-party, single-player games are here to stay.
I got to check out presentations of three of their games, showing live gameplay led by several members of development teams of the following titles; Call of Cthulhu, A Plague Tale: Innocence and The Surge 2. Though each approaches exploration, problem-solving and world design in different ways, they singularly show why single-player games are important.
Call of Cthulhu
Though we have previewed this game before, things have changed since the last look. The main gameplay hook revolves around the Hawkins family and a mysterious fire that scorched their estate, with signs of the occult littered across the island. As Officer Bradley walks you through, protagonist Edward Pierce begins gathering clues that suggest foul play may be involved.
Based on the pen and paper RPG of the same name, Call of Cthulhu is inherently focused on using your wits and abilities to answer riddles and solve problems. In our demo presentation, Edward chased after somebody who had tried to attack him, presenting a daring chase that ended in a room where the attacker seemed to vanish.
Using the skill of perception, our player noticed part of a panel that could open, showing a hidden mechanism that allowed the ne’er-do-well to escape. Had perception been low, you might have missed it. Not having a high Occult stat means you might not understand a specific ritual’s meaning.
These systems and how you allocate stats makes Call of Cthulhu an interesting adventure through the decrepit and mind-bending. Boasting 10-12 hours for an average playthrough, spending the time to look behind every corner for clues or going slowly to avoid demonic aberrations can knock that limit even higher. Plus, you can slowly lose your mind over the narrative or keep your wits to produce different endings.
It’s great when adventure games take every interaction, every choice and every encounter into consideration for the story, and that’s what Call of Cthulhu looks to do. Combining the narrative with a heavy RPG focus also promotes multiple playstyles and offers more replayability, extending Focus Home’s offerings in long-lasting single-player adventures.
The Surge 2
Though our review of the original title wasn’t as positive as one would hope, The Surge 2 looks to correct its mistakes and double down on what works. Unless they’re hidden later in the game, our gameplay demonstration took place in a lush, forest-like area of Jericho City, one of many vistas that isn’t held in a dark manufacturing building in the desert.
The UI is much cleaner this time around, as all the information you need is presented quietly in the bottom-center part of the screen. It allows for more of a focus on your surroundings, as enemies this time around can employ tactical measures like stealth mechanics, trying to take you out when you least expect it.
The developers of The Surge 2 spoke highly of their improved AI systems, making enemy encounters feel more tactical against the player. Taking on multiple of the same enemy? One might push in to attack you with melee skills while others hang back and shoot you with projectiles. It adds another wrinkle to the aggressive combat systems, ones that often see you need to focus on body part hits to obtain new pieces of armor.
Visual fidelity has seen a huge improvement, and the level designers have utilized lush greens and rushing rivers and tied them into gameplay. You can knock enemies into bodies of water to instantly kill them, all while playing a character you can customize yourself. That’s right; Warren has taken a step back this time around.
Ending with a boss battle that required smart decision-making tactics to get around their tough defenses, it also showed that the emphasis on trash mobs over bosses has changed. For a game that originally billed itself as a mechanized Souls-like title, The Surge 2 isn’t afraid to own those similarities and work on improving them for a better all-around combat experience.
A Plague Tale: Innocence
After talking about an adventure with RPG elements and an RPG with adventure elements, we now come to as close to a pure adventure game with A Plague Tale: Innocence. In here, rats have taken over 14th century Europe, creating an all-consuming force that swarms over everything they see. You play as Amicia, a teenager looking after her younger brother as they search for safe passage out.
Like any supernatural title, humanity and the omnipresent force are equal opponents. During our gameplay presentation, the swarms of rats quickly piled in, thwarted only by the warmth of a fire. Though you have slings and can transfer fire from pyre to torch, to even hold a burning stick, the game is decidedly about puzzle navigation over fighting enemies in combat.
To push through the rat hordes, you will need to keep your party close to the fire. Transferring the flame from beacon to beacon becomes the main gameplay loop, and there are a ton of interesting ways to do so. The most creative include flinging a slingshot through the flame to send it further through ranged maneuvers.
Rats and humans are natural enemies in A Plague Tale, yet they represent equal opponents during our demo. You don’t want to be grabbed by an armored guard, so you need to survive by any means necessary, even if it means knocking the torch’s protective glass, breaking it and causing the rats to mow their way through a once protected body.
There are a ton of humanity-testing moments in A Plague Tale, based on the short time I saw with one level. How these tests change the character of these young kids will prove to be a compelling narrative hook, and I can’t wait to see how the finished product turns out.