Summer Game Fest: Where did all the AAA games go?
And who needs them anyway?
It’s a weird year for video games. We’re 19 months into a fresh console cycle and support for the PS4 and Xbox One is finally tapering off as developers shift focus to the PS5, Xbox Series X and PC cloud gaming platforms. The pandemic slowed or paused development on a generation of games, and studios of all sizes are being absorbed by the biggest names in the room. The industry is in flux and the rest of the year reflects this instability. Put simply, there aren’t a lot of huge games coming out in the second half of 2022.
Right now, the video game space is made up of delays, big promises and more delays. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to look forward to — between indie and AA developers, cloud libraries and mobile games from Netflix of all companies, this period of transition will still be packed with plenty of things to play.
The 2022 holiday release calendar definitely looks thinner than it did a few months ago, but the first half of the year was fairly busy with games like Horizon Forbidden West, Elden Ring, Pokemon Legends: Arceus, Gran Turismo 7, Kirby and the Forgotten Land and Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. And those are just the well-funded releases with big, shiny ads — the year has also been good for indie and AA titles like Neon White, The Quarry, The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe, Sifu, Tunic, OlliOlli World and Salt and Sacrifice already available. The summer’s peppered with even more small but fantastic-looking games, like the cyberpunk cat simulator Stray, Sam Barlow’s Immortality and the wildly anticipated Cuphead DLC, all due out by the end of July.
Weirdly enough, Netflix is also helping to fill in the gaps with a new push into mobile gaming, and its latest titles are a treat. Poinpy, the new game from the creator of Downwell, is particularly addictive. Netflix is also publishing the next titles from the studios behind Monument Valley and Alto’s Odyssey, and all of them are free, without ads or microtransactions, as long as you have an active Netflix subscription.
On top of all that, mid-tier publishers like Devolver and Annapurna have a steady stream of strange, high-quality games coming out at all times. And, of course, there’s Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation Plus Premium, NVIDIA’s GeForce Now and even Google Stadia — cloud-gaming services that bring hundreds of classic and new titles to essentially any device with a screen.
So, yeah, there are plenty of fresh games heading our way this year; it’s just that there won’t be many AAA blockbusters out of Microsoft or Sony. Whether we like it or not, these studios set the pace of the industry, and gaps in their release schedules can make it feel like development has stagnated across the board. And right now, there are a lot of AAA gaps. What makes it worse is the fact that Microsoft and Sony have announced and then abandoned multiple huge projects over the past few years, giving all of us something concrete to miss in every showcase.
In late 2019 and 2020, Microsoft announced massive games including Fable, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2, Everwild, Avowed and Outer Worlds 2, and it hasn’t said much more about these projects since. On top of that, there’s everything going on at Bethesda, the largest brand under the Xbox Game Studios banner. Bethesda’s shiny new sci-fi RPG, Starfield, was delayed out of 2022 earlier this year alongside Arkane’s online vampire shooter, Redfall. Meanwhile, it looks like Elder Scrolls 6 has at least five more years left in development, and Fallout 5 may not come out until the next console generation. The biggest Xbox exclusives still landing this year are High on Life, As Dusk Falls and Pentiment, three mid-sized games, two of which were literally announced this month.
Sony is in a similar situation. It has more AAA exclusives hitting the market in the second half of this year than Microsoft, with Forspoken, God of War Ragnarok and The Last of Us remake on the calendar, but there are still plenty of unknowns in the PlayStation lineup. Final Fantasy XVI was a highlight of the PS5 announcement stream in 2020, but we just got a release window of summer 2023 for that one. There’s been zero to little information about other games Sony’s had in the works for years, including Wolverine, the Knights of the Old Republic remake and Spider-Man 2. A standalone multiplayer mode for The Last of Us is still MIA, and we’ve yet to get details on the “multiple game projects” that Naughty Dog is also working on.
There are a couple of big cross-platform games due to come out this holiday season, including Hogwarts Legacy and The Callisto Protocol, but fanfare for these titles has been fairly muted so far.
As for Nintendo, it’s playing by its own rules, as always, and it has Splatoon 3 and Pokemon Scarlet and Violet on the roster this year, plus whatever it announces during its next Direct showcase. It has its own troubles of course — Breath of the Wild 2 was pushed back to 2023, and then there’s Metroid Prime 4, which was announced in 2017 and… yeah.
The sense of insufficiency in the industry this year is the result of the console makers announcing things too early, with too much fanfare and too many impossible release windows. Of course the pandemic didn’t help, but as it stands, these studios promised the world and then went quiet on multiple massive franchises, and the silence is particularly deafening as we enter an anemic six months of AAA releases. Thankfully, there are so many amazing indie games available right now and coming later in 2022, and between cloud, mobile and PC services, there are more ways to play these titles than ever.
As Jonathan Blow would say, time is a construct anyway, and thinking of life in terms of weeks, months and years is a futile effort to logically contain chaos. Long story short, there’s a lot to look forward to in the video game universe. It may not all be coming this year — or the next, or the next — but with more games to play on more platforms than ever, we should all be plenty entertained.