With the cancellation of the 2020 SXSW Gaming Expo by the City of Austin, we were unfortunately unable to proceed with the Gamer’s Voice Awards. While we were able to announce the winners of the SXSW Gaming Awards, the Gamer’s Voice Award is voted on by attendees of the Gaming Expo, who play each of the nominated titles and vote for their favorite. The 2020 Gamer’s Voice nominees are all fantastic and unique titles that deserve recognition and attention, and we know how much you look forward to discovering and experiencing each title. To share some of the enjoyment we felt when first playing these games, and give you a feel for the experiences they provide, we’ve written our own review for each of our nominees.
If you root for the underdog and enjoy rifling through people’s desk drawers for staples and loose change, this is the game for you. Like most roguelikes, first-person scavenger-shooter Void Bastards often rewards a prudent and stealthy approach, but the pressure exerted by procedurally-generated environments and their bizarre denizens will have you tearing through the lurid corridors of derelict starships in a combination of panic and breathless delight. The gameplay loop — board a ship, steal all the food and socks, then use these precious materials to craft your means of escape from a nightmarishly British bureaucracy — is greatly enriched by unpredictable elements and the high-risk, high-reward gambles they vigorously encourage. Topped with a unique and appealing art style and liberally spiced with dry humor, Void Bastards is an absolute joy.
Developed by Blue Manchu and available now, find out more at voidbastards.com.
Of the recent crop of retro first-person shooters, none are as mesmerizing or satisfying as AMID EVIL. The developers have created something magical (pun intended) in this spiritual successor to Heretic and Hexen. Each of your arcane weapons feels powerful, every enemy is challenging and all of the levels are beautifully-designed labyrinths of puzzles, secrets and battles, with the soundtrack by Andrew Hulshult setting the tone for an epic romp through seven massive worlds. If you’ve been craving a fun single-player shooter — and especially if you’ve felt nostalgic for some of the OGs — buy this game, put it on hard and have a blast.
Developed by Indefatigable and available now, find out more at AmidEvil.com.
Stone Story RPG
From its very beginning, Stone Story RPG promises a journey of discovery into a deeply mystical, sometimes unsettling and always fulfilling narrative world. The attention to detail in the text-based graphics and wonderfully-written prose drives you to explore a strange, stark realm, initially accomplished in a simple gameplay loop of resource gathering and upgrade crafting. As you progress, every part of the game — from crafting and combat to storytelling — multiplies in complexity at each turn, revealing hidden depths and challenging the player to adapt in new ways. Few titles are as capable of inspiring curiosity, dread, satisfaction and elation as Stone Story RPG.
Developed by Martian Rex and available now, find out more at stonestoryrpg.com.
Combine couch co-op action with detailed voxel environments and a large dollop of design whimsy, and what you’ll get is Riverbond. The simplicity of game mechanics and controls encourage experimentation with the vast variety of weapons, ranging from the terrifying to the absurd — enemies likewise run the gamut from relatively mundane (and upset) wildlife to attack flowers and flying pig-wasps. Gorgeous free-roam levels are liberally populated with objects, friendly characters and flair, all of which are satisfying to break, chat with and bounce off, and each is capped with an appropriately gigantic boss fight. Riverbond promises uncomplicated, unpretentious fun with friends, so make sure to bring them along.
Developed by Cococucumber and available now, find out more at cococucumber.co.
Creature in the Well
The magic of Creature In The Well isn’t just in its unique pinball-esque hack-and-slash mechanics, but in the joy of exploration it so consistently inspires. The sensation of slowly awakening a faded power never disappoints as you work through the lovingly-rendered dungeons, whether you’re simply gathering energy to open a door or taking on the titular Creature’s challenges. Interactions with the locals and the search for new tools provide a touch of whimsy, adding fun little flourishes to Creature in the Well‘s surprisingly cerebral and highly fulfilling experience.
Developed by Flight School Studio and available now, find out more at creatureinthewell.com.
The Under Presents
The Under Presents is a new immersive game from the masters behind Virtual Virtual Reality. This epic journey into a mysterious theatre is a surrealist’s fever dream — you find what seems to be an endless number of performances hidden in performances, all trapped inside a bottle in a sand dune that you found from watching yourself watch the performance. The circles inside circles of this time-bending puzzle hunt, guided by a Dali-esque character MC, boasts the chance to join live performers from afar as you port your way from bar to desert to ship and back again. So hop in your headset and let the madness wash over you in this mind-altering, time-bending journey through theatre — and watch out for the dancing fish.
A VR title developed by Tender Claws and available now, find out more at tenderclaws.com/theunderpresents.
Bright, cheery and playful, Biped’s simple and elegant central mechanic — directly controlling each leg of a delightfully stubby robot — combines with gentle puzzling and platforming for a truly charming experience. Waddling, sliding and scooting through vivid environments to find collectables, push buttons and open gates is a fantastic single player experience, but much deepened by the addition of a co-op partner. Most importantly, the controls are tight and responsive, making bumps and blunders an occasional comic interlude rather than a routine frustration. Look no further for a relaxing, refreshing and altogether wholesome experience.
Developed by NExT Studios and available beginning March 27, 2020, find out more on their Steam page.
One of the most detailed and beautifully-rendered sidescrollers yet, the sheer visual spectacle of Unruly Heroes almost threatens to overshadow the solid, satisfying single-player and co-op gameplay — the levels, puzzles and action are all superbly designed and executed, but the art and animation go beyond expectations. Its unique allure is in the sense of awe and wonder inspired by how these technical elements combine with its vast, vivid world of mythical beasts and supernatural kung fu — supported and inspired by its source material, the Chinese classic Journey To The West, but never leaning on it, Unruly Heroes takes the player on a journey of its very own.
Developed by Magic Design Studios and available now, find out more at unrulyheroes.com.
A tense, atmospheric top-down stealther, Signal Decay has a demanding and unforgiving style to match its bleak, futuristic visuals. The high-pressure, high-stakes action segments are broken up by an XCOM-esque mission selection and research trees, providing your operative with gadgets and upgrades to even the odds against their substantially more powerful opposition. Like many roguelikes, levels are procedurally generated and failure is permanent — although you can team up with another player to rescue your captured operative, preserving your progress and letting them live to lurk another day. The learning curve may be steep, but a dedicated player can look forward to a great view from the summit of mastery.
Developed by Zack Zhang and available in early access, find out more at signaldecaygame.com.
The Ambassador: Fractured Timelines
Retro-style pixel art and twin-stick shooters are both in vogue, but The Ambassador: Fractured Timelines puts its own medieval stamp on them. Replete with hordes of ferocious, well-designed enemies, environmental hazards, set-pieces and boss encounters, the addition of a broad range of weapons pairs wonderfully with the game’s central time manipulation mechanic. Combat feels weighty, decisive and satisfying, encouraging gleeful abandon or inspiring focused determination depending on your preference in difficulty settings. All of this combines with charming design flourishes to make The Ambassador: Fractured Timelines a thoroughly rewarding experience.
Developed by tinyDino Games and coming soon, find out more at tinydinogames.com.
Sayri: The Beginning
Full of discovery, imagination and innocent charm, Sayri: The Beginning is a journey through a luscious and truly alien land. Dramatic landscapes delight the senses with bright vegetation, cryptic fauna and a tranquil soundtrack, while environmental puzzles provide the gameplay element. Weapons, powers and upgrades are nowhere to be seen — instead, you acquire the means to progress by making friends and finding ways to combine abilities and work together. Sayri: The Beginning tells a gentle, empathetic story without needing a written or spoken word, and promises to make exploration of its vibrant world rewarding and fun.
Developed by Vidaloonya Reborn and coming soon, find out more at sayriadventure.com.
Photo credit: Shannon Johnston