Scares, Subs & Remakes: Takeaways From Gaming’s Summer Showcases

Scares, Subs & Remakes: Takeaways From
Cheyne Gateley/VIP+

Even without the presence of the annual E3 event this year, June was the month for gaming industry showcases; several virtual presentations peppered the calendar last week with promises of what’s to come.

While some big titles still lack release dates, such as Bethesda’s “Starfield,” an open-world space adventure that will be exclusive to Xbox consoles and was originally set for November, showcases from Sony Interactive Entertainment, Xbox and Summer Game Fest have highlighted key trends taking shape across the new generation of AAA games.

These three are the most fascinating:

1. The horror genre is as attractive to publishers as it’s ever been.

The history of popular games has always been lined with titles residing exclusively in the horror genre, with franchises like “Resident Evil” and “Silent Hill” among the earliest to generate classics.

While horror titles are expected for any big showcase, Thursday’s Summer Game Fest was overloaded with several horror titles, four of which (“The Callisto Protocol,” “Aliens: Dark Descent,” “Fort Solis” and “Routine”) happen to be set in space, while “The Last of Us Part I” and “Layers of Fears” rounded things out as games set in post-apocalyptic and haunted-house settings, respectively.

Publishers turning to horror so strongly isn’t confusing. “The Last of Us” in particular is one of the most critically acclaimed franchises beyond just horror and sells well despite its PlayStation exclusivity.

Meanwhile, “Resident Evil” is as strong as ever and continues to play a major role in Capcom’s impressive growth as a company.

After a lull brought on by mediocre reception to 2012’s “Resident Evil 6,” Capcom rebooted the franchise with “Resident Evil 7” in early 2017. A deviation from prior games’ third-person perspective, the seventh main entry switched to first-person and took place largely in one house, leading to positive reception for its fresh spin on the franchise’s formula.

More importantly, “Resident Evil 7” kicked off an ongoing era of high unit sales for the franchise that have helped maintain year-over-year profit growth for Capcom that remains uninterrupted, with the past five fiscal years all setting internal records for the Japanese publisher. To date, “Resident Evil” has sold 125 million units across its games, the most of any Capcom franchise and 45 million more than “Monster Hunter,” Capcom’s second-most popular IP.

“Resident Evil” was also what led Sony’s “State of Play” presentation a week before the Summer Games Fest showcase — and has been taking part in another increasingly prominent trend.

2. Remakes are more common and help maintain franchises’ presence.

A big reason “Resident Evil” has made such a comeback is because Capcom is remaking its earlier installments in tandem with new releases.

Revealed at the start of the PlayStation showcase kicking off June, “Resident Evil 4” follows successful remakes of the second and third games that bridged the gap between the 2017 and 2021 releases of the seventh and eighth “Resident Evil” games, respectively. Considered a hallmark of the medium, the fourth game’s remake is a sure bet for Capcom.

What was missing from Sony’s presentation was its own planned remake of a PlayStation gem.

A significant chunk of time in the Summer Game Fest presentation was devoted to Sony developer Naughty Dog, which revealed a full remake of 2013’s “The Last of Us” set for PlayStation 5 in September and PC later.

Sony knows the allure of a successful remake firsthand. Square Enix’s “Final Fantasy VII Remake” released in April 2020 amid COVID lockdowns as a PlayStation exclusive and quickly became the publisher’s highest-selling digital release ever for PlayStation consoles.

But aside from individual sales hopes, “The Last of Us Part I” also serves the purpose of adding to the overall relevance of the franchise, whose last release, “The Last of Us Part II,” debuted in June 2020. By adding a remake to the mix, Sony gets to keep the brand alive ahead of a live-action series adaptation from HBO that will air in 2023.

Beyond “The Last of Us,” two other horror franchises, EA’s “Dead Space” and ’90s classic “System Shock,” are also due for remakes soon.

3. PlayStation’s subscription efforts aren’t as aggressive as Xbox’s.

After Summer Game Fest, Xbox held a showcase Sunday for upcoming console exclusives in development at its internal studios and acquired publisher Bethesda’s teams, along with third-party, multiplatform releases like “A Plague Tale: Requiem.”

Of more than 30 games detailed, “Plague Tale” and about a dozen others were confirmed as day-and-date releases for Xbox Game Pass, the console’s highly successful subscription and cloud offering that counts 25 million subscribers.

By contrast, Sony’s relaunched PlayStation Plus subscription only came up once during the company’s State of Play presentation, which revealed that Annapurna game “Stray” will be available free at launch for subscribers of the PS Plus extra and premium tiers when it releases in July.

Sony’s recent “State of Play” was mostly devoted to third-party games, so it’s entirely possible that a first and second-party showcase is due within the next few months and could show greater PS Plus opportunities for new games.

Still, this difference in new-game offerings comes amid another dramatic subscription move from Xbox. Its Xbox TV app is set to launch on Samsung’s 2022 smart TVS and monitors later in June, granting streaming availability of Xbox games to yet another swath of non-console owners in addition to subscribers of its preexisting PC Game Pass iteration.

It’s clear Xbox isn’t taking the PS Plus subscription expansion lightly, putting all the pressure on its rival to make sure its next showcase of exclusives doesn’t ignore the subscription battle.