REPLACED hands-on preview: The years of waiting may actually be worth it

Screenshot of REPLACED.
Words can't describe my excitement to experience the full story of REPLACED. (Image credit: Coatsink)

There are so many video games that are either coming out or have already released, and I haven't had time to play that it's nearly impossible to keep track of them. In fact, I keep an Excel spreadsheet just for that purpose. One game has been on my list of the most anticipated Xbox releases for over three years now, and has been hit with multiple delays and bouts of silence that have prevented me from getting my hands on it.

During Summer Game Fest 2024, my luck finally changed. REPLACED is an upcoming retro-futuristic 2.5D platformer coming exclusively to Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows PC, and Xbox and PC Game Pass, and I finally got to go hands-on with the gorgeous pixelated adventure with Xbox at SGF Play Days. It turns out that three years of waiting and two years of delays might very well be worth it, given that REPLACED ended up being one of my favorite games that I played at Summer Game Fest.


REPLACED | Announce Trailer - YouTube REPLACED | Announce Trailer - YouTube
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REPLACED envisions an alternate version of the 1980s in the United States of America, with a dystopian society separating the immensely wealthy from the unfortunate masses just trying to survive. You play as R.E.A.C.H., an advanced artificial intelligence that is now trapped inside a human's body. R.E.A.C.H. must learn how to be human while it explores the desolate streets of Phoenix-City and learns the secrets of this fractured civilization.

Gameplay-wise, REPLACED is a 2.5D action-platformer with heavy combat and exploration elements alongside light social features. It was originally unveiled by developer Sad Cat Studios and publisher Coatsink during the Xbox and Bethesda E3 2021 event. Originally slated for a 2022 release window, REPLACED has since been delayed multiple times and been relatively silent, with Sad Cat pointing to its need to meet the same high level of quality across the entire game as the reason.

Now, REPLACED looks to be on track for a 2024 release, with its gorgeous retro-futuristic pixelated visuals featuring a plethora of handmade animations and detailed assets. When REPLACED launches, it'll be an Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One console exclusive, but will also land on Windows PC through the Microsoft Store, Steam, Epic Games Store, and GOG. REPLACED will also be a day one addition to Xbox and PC Game Pass.

An impossibly epic and stylish alternative 1980s

Whether at a standstill or in motion, REPLACED looks stunning. (Image credit: Coatsink)

E3 2021 was swimming in epic announcements and reveals, but REPLACED immediately stood out to me when it was initially unveiled. That trailer made me feel as if Sad Cat Studios had somehow captured the purest essence of all the best 1980s action and sci-fi movies within its absolutely jaw-dropping pixel art style. REPLACED may be pixelated and heavily stylized, but the level of detail is absolutely astounding.

The world lives and breathes, with a clearly dynamic lighting engine that casts surfaces in brilliant hues of orange, red, blue, and white. Character animations are ridiculously fluid and brutal, too, perfectly encapsulating the epic, heavy atmosphere of Phoenix-City and its surroundings. Sad Cat claims to have hand-drawn over 500 animations solely for platforming, and I truly do believe it.

This is by far the best-looking pixelated art style I've seen since Octopath Traveler. Scratch that, this game looks better, with every element feeling lovingly designed and recreated in digital form. A burning lab, a nighttime forest underlined by gunfire and sirens, a dilapidated train station filled with unfortunate souls bound together by circumstance — REPLACED's atmosphere with the controller in hand is exactly what I expected from its reveal trailer, and it's amazing.

I was genuinely surprised by how in-depth and responsive this combat is. (Image credit: Coatsink)

Anyone with eyes can see how good this game looks, though. So, how does it play? My demo with REPLACED ran for around 30 minutes, and unfortunately didn't feature much in the way of platforming. My session was split into three segments — a combat arena, a prologue, and a short adventure through a hub area filled with side quests and smaller interactions.

To cover the latter two first, REPLACED's brief demo did an excellent job establishing the tone of this sci-fi world. Corruption runs rampant throughout government, law enforcement, and the ultra-wealthy, while the majority of society persists in a way only humans can do — through desperation, heartbreak, and oppression. I had limited time to explore how you, as an AI trapped within a human body, navigates this world through the eyes of a machine, but what I did see of the story and world building was enough to sell me.

I was genuinely shocked by the combat in REPLACED, though. The combat arena served both as a tutorial and challenge stage, and it introduced me to the unique combination of heavy and light melee attacks, parrying and dodging, and the powerful one-shot gun that you'll need to earn with success in battle. The vast variety of enemy types means you'll have to rapidly adapt on the fly, using every tool at your disposal to emerge victorious. Combat animations are smooth and savage, making every enemy you defeat feel important.

Quality that makes years of delays worth it

I'm going to spend a lot of time exploring this world. (Image credit: Coatsink)

I was very sad when I was told my time with REPLACED had run out. I wanted more time to explore the train station, talk to more people, and learn more about this beautiful and morbid world. I saw enough to know that I hope the final run of REPLACED's development improves visibility for side quests and current objectives, as I felt like it was all too easy to potentially miss interesting interactions.

Genuinely, though, that was the only criticism I could find after playing REPLACED's Summer Game Fest Play Days demo. The intricate, mesmerizing pixelated art style, the visceral combat pulled straight out of an epic action flick, and the entrancing development of a bleak and hopeless world all serve to set up REPLACED as one of the most exciting upcoming Xbox games of 2024.

The obvious level of quality Sad Cat Studios is aspiring too makes it easy to forgive the long wait for REPLACED. It only takes a few moments admiring the visuals and animations to appreciate how much work has gone into this game, and combined with the devastating COVID-19 pandemic explains the long wait we've been forced to endure since REPLACED was revealed. I'll say this much, though: take your time, Sad Cat, I'll wait however long I need to. Just don't expect me not to complain anyways.

I had the privilege of playing a lot of upcoming games during my time in Los Angeles, but REPLACED genuinely stands out as one of the most exciting for me. I have high hopes for what this game could deliver, and can easily see it becoming one of the best Xbox games of the year. That's assuming, of course, that REPLACED actually does launch on Xbox, Windows PC, and Game Pass in 2024. I was able to play it, so it's okay to hope, right?

Zachary Boddy
Staff Writer

Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.