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It’s shaping up to be a good week for indie games, with some intriguing new titles due to launch in the next few days. You want a crime mystery? Swell, you’ve got it with tomorrow's debut of Murder Mystery Machine. Or perhaps you’d like a farming game where you grow monsters? That sounds neat, check out Monster Harvest. How about a walking simulator with beautiful random encounters? Great, put Book of Travels on your wishlist.

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Oh and is a jumping and shooting game more your thing? Well, Phigames just dropped Recompile, and it’s a perfectly satisfying metroidvania set in the blinky guts of a computer.

Yeah yeah, the new Madden is out now too. But set aside that big-budget bloat — this week’s modest indie releases are far more worthy of your attention.


MURDER MYSTERY MACHINE


If there’s anything Star Trek captains can agree on, it’s a mystery. “To many humans, a mystery is irresistible. It must be solved,” says Picard on one episode of TNG; and of course before she was on Voyager, Kate Mulgrew was the star of Kate Loves a Mystery. If you would like to take a cue from these dauntless leaders, aim your magnifying glass at Murder Mystery Machine’s PC and console port. Already a hit on mobile, the game guides you through a scripted crime scenario, with clues placed around various environments to discover and link on a sort of virtual bulletin board. If you can successfully draw connections between the right clues — roughly equivalent to running red twine between news clippings — you’ll draw ever-closer to the solution. I’m a fan of goofy FMV mysteries like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, but those games skate by on the bizarre charm of their pointless video clips. Murder Mystery Machine has something far better: The writing is actually satisfying. Originally planned to have a procedurally generated mystery, the developers pivoted to instead focus on a story crafted by humans. That seems to have worked out for the best.

Release date: August 25.

Platforms: Steam, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.


MONSTER HARVEST


It’s being compared to Pokémon meets Stardew Valley, which suits me just fine. In Monster Harvest, you develop an adorable pixel-art farm, growing cute little critters that you then pit against each other in rock-paper-scissors fights. There’s also some crafting in there, social development, and a storyline about an evil corporation — whew, that’s a lot of games in one. To be honest, it’s often a red flag when developers try to cram in so much, since that means that instead of executing one good game they’re introducing multiple potential points of failure. But working in Monster Harvest’s favor is the fact that its multiple genres are particularly well-trod; we know what makes a farming sim work, we know what makes a dungeon work, we know what makes monster fights work. Now let’s see what happens when you slam ‘em all together.

Release Date: August 30

Platforms: PC, Switch, Xbox One, and PS4


BOOK OF TRAVELS


This game's beauty is doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Book of Travels is a visual feast with lovely muted color palettes and peaceful landscapes — and, counterintuitively, more wandering than structured play. The developers are calling the style “tiny multiplayer online roleplaying,” a riff on “massively multiplayer,” and you play as a chill nomad on a leisurely stroll through the countryside. You brew tea, you look at a plant, you fish, you turn into an animal. There is some fighting — if you want it — and you can join up with fellow wanderers, that is to say, other players, with whom you can only communicate using a limited palette of emotes. The hand-painted art style gives it a modest appearance, but there’s a deep and robust design hiding under the surface to keep you occupied. The whole thing is a bit of an experiment, and I’m looking forward to seeing if it becomes a curious footnote in the history of game design or a popular obsession. Alas, this game was going to release in early access on August 30, but they’ve just pushed back the date until sometime unknown — so for the time being, be sure to put it on your wishlist.

Release date: Was going to be August 30, but now it’s ?????

Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux.


ALSO: RECOMPILE


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In my previous upcoming-game roundup I suggested that you keep an eye on this 3D metroidvania-style title, and now that it’s been released I am happy to say: Yes, Recompile’s very nice. There is jumping, there is shooting, there is lots of beep-boop techno aesthetic, and its current price of $20 (on sale for the next two days for $18) is just right. The level design involves a bit of backtracking, and from time to time I found myself walking back the way I’d come because I hadn’t gone down hallways in the right order. What’s more, the tightrope-walking may be a point of frustration for those whose fingers are less than precise. Still, the glowy art’s quite appealing, and there is of course a real pleasure in deciphering the puzzles to proceed down the game’s critical path. I wouldn’t say that there’s much to distinguish this one from others of the genre, but it does what one expects as well as one might expect.

Release date: August 19.

Platforms: Steam, Epic, GoG, PS5, Xbox.

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Washington Ensemble Theatre presents amber, a sensory installation set in the disco era
In this 30-minute multimedia experience, lights & sounds guide groups as they explore a series of immersive spaces.