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  • Writer's pictureNate Hermanson

Backlog Busting: Into 2024 or Once is Enough?

We're just over the precipice of 2024, continuing to relish in the countless great games relegated to the abyss of unplayed games in our libraries.


As we continue on our journey to catch up on some under-the-radar 2023 releases, we face the existential question that all gamers face with their limited time and money. Are these games worth bringing with us into the new year or should they be left on the backburner in favor of the latest and greatest in 2024?


Join us as we explore a fascinating set of games that are pulpy, propagandizing, primo, and prophetic. We're breaking four games out of our backlog and dissecting the experience.


 

THE FABULOUS FEAR MACHINE


The key art for The Fabulous Fear Machine. A traditional mechanical mind-reading character is in the middle. Three of the game's narrative characters stand behind the machine in various emotions. A man stands with his hands clasped, nervously sweating. A woman slyly pushes her glasses against her nose. And a man screams into the sky with rage. Two cards representing the game's legends sit on either side. One reads: The Ultimate Virus, Rebooting the world in 3, 2, 1. And the other reads: Rain of Frgos, Croakin' in the rain.

Developer: Fictiorama Studios

Release Date: October 4, 2023

Genre: Pulpy narrative-driven strategy game

Price: $17.99


Fictiorama is one of those studios that has been lurking on the border of my mind, and it wasn't until last year that I finally played their biggest game, Do Not Feed the Monkeys, a point and click-ish routine-based game that had you monitoring people on cameras and interfering in their lives. I quickly fell in love with the way it asked you to balance your resources, how it put its narrative at the forefront, and the way it satirized the world around us.


Their newest game, The Fabulous Fear Machine, can at first glance feel like a wild departure from what got the team this far, but by maintaining the studio's greatest strengths and applying them to the strategy genre, it's actually right up their alley.


An in-game screenshot of The Fabulous Fear Machine. It showcases the main screen of the game, with a world map and the influence of the character's fear growing throughout the various cities. Resources line the edges of the screen and the aesthetic is all bold colors and thick lines.

I've only successfully completed one of The Fabulous Fear Machine's story missions, just under two hours of playtime, and I'm fascinated with their approach to the strategy genre. In this game, which is deeply inspired by pulpy dime store novels, you'll be using secret agents to implant fearful imagery and concepts into a populace to spread fear throughout a region. Once that happens, your character will have the freedom to push their agendas on a nation afraid.


You'll have to extract specific concepts, like disease or crime, from regions to power legend cards that you place to really rile up the people. It's like Plague Inc. for propaganda. You'll fend off rivals, complete dynamic events, and slowly spread your reach over a country. It's not too complicated and a little slow-going, but the theming does a lot for it.


Considering where the world is headed, I think I might be bringing this one with me in to the new year.


VERDICT: BRING INTO 2024, PREPARE FOR FUTURE PROPAGANDA

 

NOT FOR BROADCAST: BITS OF YOUR LIFE


The key art of Not for Broadcast: Bits of Your Life. It shows a puppeteer's hand attempting to control the arms of a news producer's arms. The news producer is flipping off said hand and cutting the strings attaching him to the puppeteer. In front of him a series of screens show off various pieces of the Bits of Your Life broadcast he's running and a panel of buttons showcase the tools he can use to do it.

Developer: NotGames

Release Date: November 14, 2023

Genre: FMV newscast simulator

Price: $8.99 for DLC, $24.99 for base game


As a former journalism major and a fan of shows like The Newsroom and The Morning Show, the idea of being a segment producer for a news program was more than a dream. It was a genuine career aspiration at one point. But life takes you places and it never happened.


At least not until NotGames' Not For Broadcast came into my life and offered me the opportunity to live out that potential life path, as the game has you live editing a news broadcast and controlling the way the media is able to influence people.


In November 2023, NotGames released the Bits of Your Life DLC, an offshoot that blends the best bits of the main game with a fascinating character study about a man named Peter Clement. Peter is a prominent figure in the main game, an actor turned progressive politician, and he's brought onto a retrospective television show to reckon with the "bits of his life" before his career takes a drastic turn.


An animated GIF of Not For Broadcast: Bits of Your Life. It showcases the game's main gameplay screen which is a series of screens and a panel of buttons. What's playing on the screens are a musical performance. The left set of screens shows all available feeds. The middle screen shows the live feed of what the player is switching to and the right shows what's going out to broadcast.

In the DLC, you play as Dave, a rowdy drunk of a self-aware segment producer. He immediately acknowledges the game's existence and celebrates the fact that he finally got his own DLC... only to be let down by a fairly straightforward experience of a show that runs perfectly fine on its own and barely requires his input. He's just as shocked as you are when credits first run, so much so that he takes control and loops you back to the start.


Then the wheels fall off as he gains the ability to send out the guests that accompany specific moments in Peter's life... in whatever order he and the player like. Needless to say, this sends things off the rails and makes for a fascinating game loop that has you figuring out the exact order to send folks out to get to one of the game's 10 unique endings.


The Groundhog Day-like experience of reliving this one broadcast again and again made for a fascinating narrative experiment within the constraints of the multitasking mechanics of the main game. I'd gladly spend more time in NFB if the series maintains these kinds of ideas.


VERDICT: BRING INTO 2024... PETE MADE ME CRY

 

30XX


Key art of 30XX. A robotic character is seen leaping to the left, aiming her large laser arm off into the distance. Her design is fairly similar to Mega Man's. The game's logo, complete with a blaster shot, sits to her right against a backdrop of a futuristic city.

Release Date: August 9, 2023

Genre: Roguelike action platformer, Mega Man-like

Price: $19.99


30XX is Batterystaple Games' second attempt at the "Mega Man but roguelike" concept, and, well, you know what they say. Second time's the charm.


Not unlike my time with Dead Cells last year, I was extremely late to the 0XX series. I had only played 20XX a couple years back. I didn't spend too much time with it because I came away a little unimpressed. It felt... fine. Its flash game aesthetics stood out like a sore thumb for me. And the rough edges of its roguelike randomization were way too apparent.


30XX on the other hand? It's their Dead Cells moment, and everyone needs to play it.


I've only been able to play a handful of runs in this sequel, all in singleplayer. But I am already so in love with Batterystaple's take on the Mega Man X/Zero era of Capcom's greatest mascot. Even with the randomized levels, the randomized order of bosses, and the completely random tool sets unlocked for every mission, every run feels like exactly what I'd want out of a new entry in either series.


An animated GIF of 30XX depicting two characters entering a boss room, sliding frozen animations and all. They enter a destroyed industrial outdoor scene, with rain coming down, and a robotic owl waiting on the other side. Once they slide into frame, the owl is shocked and flies away. They give chase and the GIF loops.

As with any roguelike, it takes a few runs for 30XX to really click, but once it does? The wall-jumping, dashing, and power-driven shenanigans of a Mega Man game feel like they were built for a roguelike. If games like Dead Cells and Hades are any sign, 30XX will only get better the longer I play, so I'm dying to hop back in and see what awaits in future runs.


On top of all that, Batterystaple Games has even built a full level editing tool that encourages players to build their own levels and chunks to be tossed into the randomization engine. I haven't messed around too much with the editor, but I did play someone's take on Super Mario Bros' 1-1 and that was a fantastic time.


My only worry with 30XX is how long I'll end up playing it and how often it'll take priority over the other games that need playing...


VERDICT: I'LL BRING IT INTO 2024, AS LONG AS IT DOESN'T TAKE OVER MY LIFE...

 

NOVA LANDS


Nova Lands key art. A blue-haired futuristic armor wearing character kneels with a round robot sitting on their shoulder and a yellow round robot sitting just in front of them. They hold onto a metal rod and sit in a lush field with a plant with large blue bubbles growing from it.

Developer: BEHEMUTT

Release Date: June 22, 2023

Genre: Automation survival-crafting

Price: $19.99


Nova Lands caught our eyes during last year's Not-E3 the minute we saw a mining laser cutting into rocks and trees and the resource-driven progression that saw players unlocking new islands with the likes of iron and copper bars. We were doubly excited when the game revealed it'd be releasing just a few weeks after the show... but life got in the way and we never got to play it.


Spending time in BEHEMUTT's self-described "Factorio meets Forager meets Satisfactory" base-builder was a delight. You start by crash-landing in a pod in a brave new world, asked to start a new outpost in this new land. You'll be assisted by other pioneers and a series of drones you're meant to build to help you with all your tasks.


You'll watch as the untamed wilds become a series of machines, all optimizing the natural resources of the island you land on and those around it. You'll slowly lose jobs to machines and drones, leaving you extra time to chart a path through the game's extensive research tree or eventually spend time building up a space economy.


An animated GIF of Nova Lands. A character approaches a radar dish machine (that looks eerily like a Nintendo 64) and once they make it, the camera zoom out to show a series of potential islands to unlock all around them. The island they're on is a hexagon and is littered with dead trees, rocks, and rocks with blue ores embedded within them.

If any of its self-described inspirations speak to you, you'll find something to love here, but the game's long-term appeal faded by the end for me. As you get further along, you find yourself working with more and more advanced materials and building more complex machines. Each new material requires so many more steps, more pieces to its ultimate puzzle, and you find yourself just waiting around a lot of the time.


After my time in Nova Lands, just around seven hours of play, I found myself already in the final third of the game's initial research tree and beginning to explore the dark expanse of space. And... I think I'm good. I've never been an automation guy, and I'm sure someone else will fall in love with Nova Lands, but beyond watching my drones flit around the islands at the speed of light, I don't expect there to be much more for me in the full game.


VERDICT: WAITING AROUND ISN'T MY STYLE, ONE AND DONE

 

And that's another look back into 2023! What games, on or off this list, are you looking to hop back into before diving into what 2024 has in store? Leave a comment below or join our Discord to let us know!

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