Saturday, September 26, 2015

Final Thoughts On Until Dawn  


So, Until Dawn.

I’ve been hearing a lot about this one lately, and two of my fellow writers at @Gamecritics liked it a lot, so I was excited to check into it. Apart from the positive word-of-mouth, I'm generally into the "choose your own adventure" game genre, and adding a horror twist was intriguing.

It was suggested to me that Until Dawn was best played with other people in the room (agreed!) so I recruited the wife to sit with me and the two of us went through the entire game in about three sessions. Now that we’ve wrapped it up, I can say that I liked it, but not nearly as much as everyone else on Twitter. As credits rolled, I was left fairly unsatisfied.

If you don't know what Until Dawn is, it's basically a Telltale-style title where the player has a group of eight college kids (Or were they teens? Hard to tell.) in a cabin deep in the woods, things start to get crazy and people start dying, and… Well, I'm sure you can guess how it goes from there.

What I liked best about it is that it really nails the teen-slasher film genre and translates it into a more interactive experience. The material suits the style of play well, and all the usual tropes are here, from the character archetypes to certain camera angles, and the way the music kicks in at certain times. It is rich in B-movieness, and as a fan of B-movies, that was great.

As for the rest of Until Dawn, it only delivers middling results.

Several sources have stated that it originally began as a PS3 title meant to use Move motion controllers, and that makes absolute sense. The bulk of the game is watching characters walk down hallways (actual hallways, mine shafts, narrow paths in woods and so on) and the camera always has a fixed angle. The developers are clearly pushing the player in a certain direction, which makes sense as someone holding a Move controller might not have the same level of functionality that a standard controller has.

Beyond that, there are a million little instances of the player grabbing an object and rotating it, grabbing an object and pulling it, grabbing an object and lifting it, grabbing an object and opening it, and so on. It’s clear that those motions were meant for someone with a Move controller to be acting them out. It would've been really gimmicky in that context, and it's not any better here.

As for the story, it feels confused and there's a little too much going on with it, but not in a good way. It's not terrible by any means, but it doesn't feel as tightly focused as a horror film would be, and some of that is probably due to the developers trying to extend the length of playtime. I think our run clocked in at about six or seven hours, and that felt way too long for what it is. Considering that most of the game is walking down a hallway and having a QTE once in a while, it could've been half the length would've been better for it.

Until Dawn also leans incredibly heavily on cheap jump scares, to the point that you can predict exactly when they’ll pop up. Not only is it the lamest way to make a game "scary", they get repeated so much that they lose all effectiveness. Sometimes they didn't even make sense in the context of what was going on!

As for the choices, I can't say that they were great. Apparently there's a lot going on in the game depending on each character’s interaction with each other, and that very well may be true, but during this initial playthrough it felt like most of the life-or-death choices were pure luck… Sometimes I felt like I was doing the right thing, and had a bad ending. Other times, decisions didn't seem to matter. I never felt like poor consequences were because I made a bad choice, but more that I made a random choice that just happened to be wrong. This lack of buy-in had me throwing my hands up in the air about halfway through, and I gave up on trying to make my choices matter – I might as well have been flipping a coin at each juncture.

As for seeing different outcomes, I have no desire to replay any of the chapters to try different things. I might if the game was shorter, but there's a lot of filler that I don't want to sit through again, and to be frank, now that I know what the story’s about, the desire to find out what’s going on has evaporated. With no mystery left in the plot, my drive to continue is gone.

Oh, and by the way, for those who are wondering, I finished with three survivors -- Emily, Josh, and Sam. Two of the deaths I incurred felt like total bullshit, and the other three… well, who knows.

Overall it’s fair to say that I generally liked Until Dawn for what it was, but I don't think I ever want to play through it again, and it's definitely not one of the best games of the year for me. An interesting experiment, but one that I hope leads to stronger works in the future.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Goodbye to Dylan Collins, 1980 - 2015  


Welcome back to Coffeecola.

Instead of the usual update, I wanted to take a few minutes to recognize and remember 
Dylan Collins, former host of the Podcast. I’m very sad to say that Dylan passed away passed away five days ago due to illness. He was only 35.

Although the podcast began with Tim Spaeth as the original host, longtime listeners will remember that after a number of episodes, Tim went on indefinite hiatus until just this year. When he exited, the rest of us were thrown for a loop, and we just didn’t know how to continue.

We didn’t want the podcast to end, but we also didn’t have any people who could assume the host's role. So, we put out an open call for anyone interested in taking on the duties, and after a brief period of auditions, Dylan Collins was the one we chose.

If you’ve never heard it, here’s his very first episode at the reins.

To be perfectly honest, I was thought he was crazy-brave for raising his hand and I didn’t envy him at all. Not only was he a complete stranger to the entire crew at Gamecritics, he was stepping into shoes that seemed impossible to fill. It can’t have been easy but he went for it and I'm glad that he did because if Dylan hadn’t helped us keep it together, I don’t think the podcast would have survived. That the show is still alive and kicking is due in very large part to Dylan.

We at Gamecritics owe Dylan a great deal, and although we lived thousands of miles apart and I never got the chance to meet him in person, I liked him from the start. I always admired his humor and energy, and I was glad to have the chance to record with him.  

Thank you very much, Dylan Collins. I'm genuinely sad that you're not with us any longer.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Living It Up in Mad Max's Wasteland & Five-Star Characters Hit Marvel Puzzle Quest  


Welcome back to Coffeecola!

If you follow me on Twitter, then you’ve probably noticed that I've been putting a lot of time into Mad Max, from Avalanche Studios.

I took a look at this one while I was at PAX, and the brief time I had with it left me with a very positive impression. Since I figured everybody in the world would be playing Hideo Kojima’s swan song, I decided to go the other direction.

Although my review isn't quite complete, I’m in the final leg of the game and I don’t think I have much more to go before credits roll. Not to spoil my final evaluation, but I've been having a really great time with it. Loving it, really.

Sadly, for the game and for the developers, Mad Max is one of the unluckiest titles of the year. Not only did it find itself in the middle of a controversy about scoring systems (sigh, yes, again) it released on the same day as Metal Gear Solid V -- could there be worse competition? On top of that, many of the reviews I read seem overly, almost aggressively dismissive of it, and people have written it off with lightning speed.

For whatever reason, critics seem to blow past all of the game’s good points, and get way too hung up on the negatives. Of course, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but I've been honestly surprised by the number of downbeat reviews I've read. Maybe people are bouncing off of the game because it's not a continuation of Fury Road, or maybe some are in a rush to get it over with so they can go recruit Quiet and start Fulton-ing some dudes… Who knows! But, whatever the case, I think it's a fine title and one that I would easily recommend to anybody who’s a fan of the films and their settings.

Since I’ve been tweeting about it and posting screenshots from the in-game editor, I've been asked by several people whether I found the game repetitive, which seems to be one of the common review complaints. To be perfectly honest… no, I haven't found it repetitive at all. I mean, of course there are certain elements that repeat, but that’s true of any game, and doubly so with open-worlders. Mad Max doesn’t strike me as being particularly egregious in this regard, so I wanted to post some detailed information about how I've been playing in hopes that it would illuminate things for prospective wastelanders.

Before I get started, I want to give props to @PKollar for his post offering six tips to get the most out of Mad Max. I read his guide before I started playing, and all of the advice he gives is super-solid.  Definitely give his piece a read! Now, for my experience…

After the game begins, it's not too long before Max and his buddy Chumbucket come across a friendly stronghold run by a guy named Jeet. This place will serve as Max’s first home base, and it’s a wreck. There are a number of home-improvement projects that Max can complete to help the residents of the stronghold, and helping them gives Max a constant supply of fuel, food, water and ammo. In a wasteland game like this, I think the benefit here is pretty easy to see.

The best thing anyone can do to speed themselves along in this adventure is to finish all of the vital projects at Jeet's before digging in to the rest of the content. 

As Phil mentioned in his own tips, go up to the outline of a project and hold X. The locations that contain the needed pieces are highlighted on the map, so if you only go to those locations, you’ll finish the tasks in short order and avoid any wasted time. 

Once the projects are done, all you have to do is go inside the stronghold, and all of your resources will be automatically refilled. This means you don't need to scavenge for anything out in the wasteland, and it frees you up from doing busywork that you may not be into. Also, don't bother doing the projects that ask for donations of 500, 1000, and 1500 scraps. They don't add anything except a completion percentage, and it's just scrap (aka money) that you could be spending on upgrading Max or his car.

After getting the stronghold completed, I drove around the first area and did one or two of each of the activities -- I took down a “Top Dog” boss, I tried the races, I tore down a few scarecrows, I cleared a couple minefields, and so on. I wanted to get a flavor for what the side activities offered, and after doing those things, I was actually overleveled for what the story required to progress.  

I know some reviews mentioned being frustrated at having progression gated by arbitrary requirements, but I find that quite puzzling because I didn't spend a lot of time grinding and I definitely didn't 100% anything. I just played as I naturally would, and that was more than enough. 

At this point, I did all the campaign quests that were open, and when there weren’t any, I did the “Wasteland” quests offered by main characters, which were some of the most interesting content in the game. Wash, rinse, repeat, and hey hey, I'm at the end of the game with no fuss

To summarize: I built up the first stronghold, did a handful of activities in the first area, and then started doing story and Wasteland quests. I never had any progress blocked, and never felt like I was grinding through sidequests for money or EXP. There’s no need to build up the other three strongholds (just fast-travel back to Jeet’s for a fill-up) there’s no need to do all the races, no need to clear all the enemy camps, no need to scavenge all of the loot areas, no need to beat the Top Dogs, and no need to be bored doing anything more than you want to, really. 

Once you’ve got the groundwork laid, skip anything that’s not fun and just enjoy being in this amazingly-rendered Mad Max world. I can only imagine that George Miller would be pleased with the great work Avalanche has done here. 

If you play Marvel Puzzle Quest then you probably already know this, but just in case you don't…  Today marks the first time that a five-star character has been introduced into the game. It’s none other than Norrin Radd, everyone’s favorite Silver Surfer.

MPQ players have long been speculating whether the developers would ever go above the previous top tier of four stars, and now we've got our answer. This change isn’t just a simple bump up in power, though.

Below is the information sent to me by MPQ PR, and it's a good outline for what to expect. Basically, these five-star folks (yes, there are more coming!) are going to be a pretty big deal, so get your phone fingers ready and start matching some colors…

How do you earn Silver Surfer and future 5-star characters?

You can earn 5-star characters via the brand new Legendary Packs.  These packs will contain only 4-star characters and better.  The odds will consist of 90% 4-star characters and 10% 5-star characters (however, only 5% until we release the second 5-star character).

How many 5-star characters will be coming to Marvel Puzzle Quest?

We plan for three 5-star characters by November and even more after that.

How strong will 5-star characters be in Marvel Puzzle Quest?

5-star characters will be good to go out of the gate.  Meaning where 3 and 4 stars may need 8 – 10 covers before it’s ready to shine, the 5-star characters will be leading your rosters after just receiving one or two covers.  Now that will be something that every roster can use!

Will 5-star characters be available for purchase?

5-star characters can’t be purchased.  They are set-up to be epic and rare and developing these characters will be a long term goal.  Players will need to collect each of the covers, and they will need an actual cover to upgrade the abilities.

All the ways you can earn Legendary Packs are the following:

They are the progression reward at 1300 in Versus, starting on 9/10.

One is added to the progression rewards in Story events, starting on 9/10.

One of the 4-stars in the Deadpool Daily Quest Vault is replaced with a Legendary token, starting on 9/11.

They are the top 100 alliance reward each season, starting in Season 19.

An additional season progression reward awards one at 10,000 in Season 19.

In Heroic and event packs: 42-packs become 40-packs plus a Legendary token.

And! We’re adding a new mission type to Deadpool’s Daily Quest.  Every 5 days, there will be a very challenging face-off mission between one particular 4-star and one opponent. Beat that mission and you’ll get a Legendary Pack. The first mission of this type will appear on 9/15.

We’ll also be introducing new ways to earn Legendary packs in new features we’re working on now and aren’t quite ready to announce.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

PAX Prime 2015 - Day Three  

Welcome to the third (and final) installment of Gamecritics at PAX Prime 2015!  
While the show's still going on for a fourth day, we have to pack our bags a bit early and wrap up. That said, we managed to get time with nearly everything we wanted to see, and we're proud to present this last group of games that are worthy of your attention.
Also, special thanks go out to @CapitalistPig21, who was top-class freelancer support in covering the show.  They don't come any better!
Now, on to the coverage...


Dreadnought While a lot of other kids wanted to pilot an X-Wing, I wanted to command a Star Destroyer, and the devs at Yager finally gave me that chance with Dreadnought. This 5 vs. 5 combat game lets you take control of massive, lumbering capitol ships and duke it out against the opposing fleet. These leviathans are not the graceful fighters found in most space sim games -- the eponymous dreadnoughts are as slow as would be expected from ships of their size, so positioning is key. The absolute last thing you want is to be caught open amidships as a heavy battlecruiser burns you from stem to stern. Players can choose between one of several classes of ships, ranging from fully offensive, to defense and support. While the games I played ended up turning into chaotic free-for-alls, dealing with ships of this size requires coordination, lest you find yourself surrounded with no way out of the noose. If you've always wanted to know what it's like to command Home One or the Executor, thenDreadnought is for you. SB


Okhlos Reason through mob rule -- that's the general idea behind Okhlos. Filling the role of a philosopher in ancient Greece, I had to gather up a group of followers and strike down the gods and their worshipers. Much like in Pikmin or Overlord, my followers did most of the grunt work for me. They would fight my battles, protect me from harm, and eventually bring down the gods. Of course, I had to protect my flock from themselves, making sure they wouldn't eat poisoned food and telling them when to block. In turn, they would die for me, protecting me with their lives as I spread the truth of reason throughout Greece.  SB


Wayward Sky I visited the good people at Uber entertainment, and they had VR on display, both Valve/HTC's Vive and PS4's Morpheus. The Vive was just running a demo featuring some of the assets from Planetary, but the Morpheus was running Wayward Sky, a launch title for Sony's headset. The first thing that I noticed was that I wasn't getting sick in the headset, even a bit. My last experience with VR (an early Oculus) left me nauseous and with a splitting headache, but I was totally fine this time. According to the devs, they're developing a lot of tricks to stave off VR-induced illness, a lot of it being directorial choices. As for the game itself, it's a supercute "Point and Go" game that's mostly shown from a third-person perspective, except for a few sections where it dips into first-person in order to push a button or pull a switch. The Morpheus was definitely not as powerful or as convincing as the Vive, but considering that it was running on the PS4 and not a cutting-edge PC, it was an impressive display. BG


Hard West I cannot wait for the full release of this X-COM-meets-Deadlands turn-based strategy game later this year. For those not familiar with the term "Weird West", just picture watching a version of the film Tombstone set in the Cthulhu mythos and you'll have an idea of what it means. As a lover of that concept and of strategy games, Hard West struck all the right tones with me. Avoiding being in the open, proper scouting, and careful use of your skills are mandatory to survive. Make no mistake, Hard West is, well... hard. Those looking for a difficult turn based strategy game set in a world that's not often visited should take note.SB


Broforce You can't run from freedom. Broforce is a frantic 4-player co-op shooter. Levels are fast and chaotic, filled with bombs, bullets, and bros. The game lends itself well to quick plays as I never spent more than three minutes per level. Death can come swiftly as only one shot is enough to put down a bro, but there are always several more waiting to fight for the American way. Each bro controls differently and brings their own style to the game. The Brocketeer has a jump pack to traverse levels more easily, while the Bro in Black has a super-charged gun to blast the enemies of freedom. Rambro, The Brodock Sains, Mr. Broderson, Bro Norris, The Broxpendables... the list of those willing to liberate the world is never-ending. Also, everything in the game is fully destructible except for the American flag and the ground upon which it rests. Not that you would think about doing that... Commie. SB


Enter the Gungeon This gun-focused roguelike is one of my favorite games from this year's PAX, despite sounding semi-ludicrous in explanations. You pick one of a handful of characters to travel into the gungeon, fight off wave after wave of walking bullets, dancing guns, and sentient turrets, all to make your way to the bottom to find the gun that will kill... your past. Chock-full of reference humor lifted from several games and action movies, Enter the Gungeon had me smiling from the get go. The gameplay is tight and felt natural as I flipped tables for cover and dove out of the way of incoming bullets. While the first few floors could be considered "easy", the difficulty quickly spirals out of control, with enemies shooting out so fast that the game turns into a "bullet-hell" style shooter. I loved it. SB


This War of Mine: The Little Ones How can you make a game that was one of the most realistic depictions of war in the past few years even more depressing? You add kids to the equation. This War of Mine: The Little Ones is an expansion to the bleak resource management game that hit PC last year. The Little Ones add more items, more locations, and the aforementioned children. For anyone who was able to easily make the hard decisions from the base game (namely, who has to starve to death because there isn't enough food to go around) this shift might change that. A child dying will devastate morale, yet they are too young to contribute much to the household. This added burden definitely puts an extra wrinkle into the proceedings. Bring tissues. SB


Starr Mazer While still early in development, Starr Mazer has tons and tons of potential. Originally a Kickstarted project, Adult Swim Games swooped in and is helping bring the game to fruition. This anime-inspired, shoot ‘em up crossed with a 90's point-and-click adventure game oozes style and presses down hard on the nostalgia button. It's still rough around the edges (it's in early alpha at the moment) but Starr Mazer is one of the more memorable games I saw on the entire floor. SB


Adult Swim Speaking of Adult Swim, I know that they've been doing good stuff for a while, but it really struck me at this show that the curation of the content that they're publishing is actually outstanding. Whoever is picking and choosing the titles has a sharp eye, and their booth's lineup was impressive. Everything they had was slightly off-kilter her and weird, but in the best possible sense. I was definitely into Starr Mazer, but the strong visual presence ofRain World was intriguing, and Death's Gambit (seen above) is essentially a 2D Dark Soulsthat's coming to the PS4 - and it was great. Anyone interested in indies and alternative experiences should definitely be keeping an eye on Adult Swim. I don't think many people paid them much attention to them at the beginning, but they're quickly becoming a force.BG

Darkest Dungeon The PAX 10 had strong titles on display this year. One was Assault Android Cactus (written up on Day One) but it wasn't the only notable. Another one that had me drooling for more was Darkest Dungeon, which has been on Steam Early Access for some time. I know that it's been going through some development woes and push-back from the fans recently, but what was being shown today was quite strong and this 2D roguelike dungeon-crawler was incredibly appealing with gothically-morbid visuals and a strong sense of tactics. I wouldn't ordinarily have chosen this one to write about, but the developers say that it's coming to PS4 and Vita, which is beautiful music to my ears. I've been wanting to play for a while now, but I have a very hard time planting myself in front of a PC for gaming. Now, I don't have to. BG

Battle Chef Brigade The other game I want to spotlight from the PAX 10 was Battle Chef Brigade, which was a wonderfully absurd and captivating project. Basically, you play as a girl who's competing in an Iron Chef-style tournament, but the game is broken up into different sections. First, in order to collect ingredients, the player has to literally run outside and kill animals to collect their pieces. This part plays like an action platformer, complete with special moves and combos.  Once the animals are chopped up, they're brought back in the kitchen and each piece of meat has a specific "ingredient" profile which is represented by orbs of various colors.  The chef then takes these pieces, puts them in a pot, and then the game becomes a Puyo Puyo-like task of creating harmonious flavors by aligning colors into combos. It sounds totally absurd, but I found it incredibly appealing, and a mashup that really worked. It was good, good stuff. BG

...And with that, we bring our coverage of PAX Prime 2015 to a close. We hope you've enjoyed the selections we hand-picked out of the ocean of games being shown on the floor, and we thank you for checking back with us each day. Let's do it again next year, shall we?

PAX Prime 2015 - Day Two  

PAX Prime, day two!
While I usually handle most of the reporting for PAX Prime, this time I enlisted Steven Brown to help me cover the floor. If the name sounds familiar, you might know him from twitter as @CapitalistPig21. He's also a frequent contributor to @Gamecritics.
Now, on to the coverage!

The Banner Saga 2 The sequel to Stoic's excellent strategy RPG/Oregon Trail hybrid looks just as gorgeous as its predecessor.  Resuming a few weeks after the end of the first, The Banner Saga 2 will carry over all of the decisions made in the previous game if you still have your save file. Considering that the lead protagonist will differ depending on who survived, I'm interested in seeing how dramatically the plot will change to accommodate that.  Mechanically, it looks very similar to The Banner Saga, with some extra classes and more interactivity with the maps.  As a big fan of the first, I couldn't be happier with what I saw.SB

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows While the art style looks quite a bit like The Banner SagaMasquerada plays completely differently.  This fully-voiced isometric RPG put me in direct control of three characters at once.  Pausing during combat is mandatory, since the game is incredibly difficult without taking the time to set up the proper order of attacks.  In fact, since each character has a small set of skills with long cooldowns, not unlike a MOBA, it's essential to pause in order to survive. SB

Lego Dimensions Lego seems to be going all-out on this one, aiming directly at grown-ups with nostalgia. I mean, I'm sure the kids will enjoy playing it, but the properties I saw on display were Back to the FutureDoctor WhoThe Wizard of Oz, and Portal (among others) and as a parent, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that those aren't hot with little kids these days. The gameplay seem split in two flavors: story missions with traditional Lego-style puzzles, and the more open, do-your-own-thing levels that less structured. I'm a bit burned out on Lego at the moment so the gameplay wasn't anything that interested me greatly, although I will say that I admired all of the small touches that the devs put into each character. For example, when transforming into the first Doctor in the Doctor Who playset, the inside of the TARDIS changes appearance and turns black and white. Similarly, one of Scooby Doo's special powers is the ability to disguise himself as a southern belle, just like he did in some of the cartoons. The developers are clearly doing their deep-cut homework here. BG


Homefront: The Revolution I went into this one pretty jaded. What I saw from E3 didn't look promising, and the specter of mediocrity from the first installment hovers over the entire franchise.  Those concerns were lifted after getting my hands on the demo for the first time, though. The open-world gameplay can quickly devolve into enjoyable chaos as resistance forces will clash with KPA occupiers across the ruined outskirts of a city.  These dynamic encounters are completely optional to join in, and in fact, more than once I used the conflicts to draw attention away from my own objectives.  Sure, the resistance I use as diversions would get wiped out, but that's a small price to pay for freedom.  While my time with Homefront didn't push it into must-play status yet, its showing here at PAX definitely raised my opinion on it. SB

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided I fully admit to being a Deus Ex fanboy, and have loved the series since the first.  Human Revolution was easily in my top five games when it released, and I've been eagerly awaiting a sequel.  The hands-off demo I was shown only increased my desire for it. The developers are stressing verticality in the environments this time, and one of the newer tools given to help traverse them is an augment called the Icarus Strike.  If you can picture the blink ability from Dishonored, you wouldn't be too far off from how it works.  That's just one new tweak among others, but the key thing here is that everything that made HR so great looks to have been carried over. SB

Ladykiller in a Bind Christine Love's newest visual novel is a departure from her two previous works, Analog and Hate Plus.  Moving away from dark, sci-fi settings to a far more humorous and erotic tone, Ladykiller is about a woman who has to pretend she's her brother while fighting off the advances of two obsessed beauties. Fans of offbeat titles and those who enjoy Love's work should check it out -- her excellent writing and wit are still apparent. SB


Minecraft: Story Mode From the demo I saw, this is definitely A Telltale Game. If you've played any of their recent efforts, you can pretty much know what to expect, although the difference being that this is taking one of the biggest non-narrative IPs in the world and giving it both story and characters. It was quite cute and charming, and as someone who has dabbled in Minecraft, it was pretty interesting to see what they've done with it. There are now more action-oriented QTEs, and I was told that some of the main tonal influences are The Goonies and Ghostbusters; they're going after exciting, thrilling experiences, but definitely keeping it funny and approachable for kids. BG

Fortified This game looked pretty early, but I like the "active" tower defense genre and it actually reminded me a bit of Iron Brigade -- coming from me, that's quite a compliment. The 50s sci-fi feel was nice, and the ideas on display were solid. Looking forward to seeing this one in a more-completed state. BG

Super Dungeon Bros If you and three friends are ever bored on a couch, I would suggest taking a look at this four-player co-op rock-and-roll themed dungeon crawler that throws in a few roguelike elements to keep things fresh.  However, I would recommend only playing with friends as the potential for griefing is high.  Shared lives, the ability to throw your companions (either to solve puzzles or toss them to their deaths), and a difficulty that increases with time mandate cooperation.  Oh, and each character is a different class with different skills, so be sure to discuss who enjoys being the DPS and who likes to tank beforehand. SB

Battleborn It's easy to dismiss Battleborn as an arena shooter version of Borderlands at first glance, but that would be a mistake.  While the self-styled "hero shooter" is focused on adversarial play, 2K showed off what the five-player cooperative campaign would be like, and it was a blast taking down hordes of enemies while escorting a large spider-wolf tank.  Plus, I got to play as the most dapper robot butler I have ever seen, so that's a plus.  The full roster of 25 wasn't unlocked for the demo, but the characters that were available to play were radically varied, from long-range support to close-up melee.  It wouldn't be much of a stretch to consider this an FPS version of League of Legends, just without the towers and minions. SB

For Honor I didn't know much about this one going into it, but it ended up being one of my favorites at the show despite the uber-generic title. Essentially, it's a squad-based game where groups of samurai, vikings, or knights go out and wage war with each other. In the demo players had to control three points on a map. This in itself wasn't anything special, but it was the controls and level of lethality that absolutely made the game. I quickly discovered that the right stick controls the character's stance, positioning the sword in up, left, or right positions. If your block matches the direction your enemy's attack is coming, their attack is halted, and it gives you an opening to strike back. If you guard wrong, you take the hit. It's a lot more dynamic and heart-stopping than it sounds because the pace is quick, and it's not always the easiest thing to tell which stance your enemy's in. However, the other thing cranking this title up a notch is that it's heavily focused on team play, so while one-on-one odds make for tense matches, the moment it becomes two-on-one, it's time to run -- guarding against one person will inevitably leave you open against the other. I expected absolutely nothing from For Honor when I started, but I was totally impressed by how exciting and intense it felt. Also, heads up that there is a solo mode and a campaign, so it's not a multiplayer-only experience. BG

The Division This second game from Ubisoft has a lot in common with For Honor, in the sense that team play is integral. The difference is that it ditches all of the medieval trappings, and instead sets itself in a run-down city abandoned by authorities and taken over by small groups of soldiers. In the demo, players had to take control of an extraction point, and keep control of it for a certain amount of time before a helicopter arrived. It was a lot harder than it sounds, because once one player secured the site, they immediately became a target for the other teams in the area, all controlled by real people. Lone-wolfing it here is a quick way to get killed, and players definitely need to cover each other's backs. It was a little weird that there was no crouching or melee, but hopefully that will be addressed before the game launches. As someone who's recently become way more interested in team play, this one was looking promising.

Ubisoft SIDE NOTE: Both For Honor and The Division had female characters available from the start, and none of them were dressed in boob-centric robes or metal bikinis. In fact, it was nearly impossible to tell the gender of a character at first glance because both sexes were wearing protective, functional armor. Seems like Ubisoft's come a long way from their former claim that women were too much work to animate... I'm glad they dropped the bullshit. Good on them!

That's it for day two. Come back for day three tomorrow!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

PAX Prime 2015 - Day One  

So, day one of PAX 2015.

I have to say, this year is a weird one. After spending all day on the floor looking at upcoming games, it seemed that there were fewer than last year... I don't have any hard numbers or anything, but it usually takes me at least two full days (if not three) before I feel like I've had a really thorough look at everything on display, but by the time I was jonesing for an afternoon cup of coffee, I had seen nearly everything on my list.

Still, I was on the floor for hours and I definitely saw things worth talking about. Here we go...

The King's Bird This was one of the hidden gems on the floor. It will be shown at the Indie Minibooth later in the show, but I was able to sit down with the developers and a laptop on a quiet corner of the floor. Coming from new devs Serenity Forge, The King's Bird is a kinetic, inertial sort of platformer where the goal is to maintain a natural rhythm while traveling throughout the level. The main character is a tiny woman with a cape that functions as a pair of wings. She's quite agile, and with a few taps of the controller, she skates across nearly any surface in the environment. When she takes to the air, her ‘wings' let her soar. At the moment the game is in an alpha state, so look for this in 2016.

Assault Android Cactus I saw this one a couple of years ago and we even did a preview of it, but it's in the PAX 10 this time around, and for good reason. The developers have been tweaking and polishing, and it looks notably better than the last time I saw it -- and I thought it looked pretty good back then! In a nutshell, it's an arena-based shooter with a focus on managing enemies. The pace was frenetic and there were a billion bullets onscreen at any given time. Plus, super-cute chibi androids!

Dragon Fin Soup Although I think the nonspecific title doesn't give a good sense of with the game actually is, I was quite impressed by this procedural roguelike with a strong emphasis on aesthetics. Three years in the making, the devs are quite proud of what they've come up with, and after having a brief discussion, I'm convinced that their heads are in the right place. Hearing them name-check a number of my favorites in the genre suggested that we were on the same page about how a roguelike should be, and the art was just fantastic.

Hob This is the new jam from Runic, makers of Torchlight, and it seems like quite a departure. But in a good way! The main character is a small creature of some sort, with anenormous mechanical arm. It's set loose in the world that seems half natural and half ruined technology, and action was platform-centric with some clever puzzles on display. Everything had a wonderful verticality to it, too -- not only was the character climbing up multiple levels to traverse the areas they were in, but activating puzzles and switches raised or lowered other parts of the environment. The action looked great, and the stylized graphics were stunningly solid.

Through The woods This psychological suspense game is coming from a team of first-timers, but you'd never be able to tell from how polished and creepy it looks. The story of a woman looking for a child who's been taken by creatures was freaking me out in the demo, and the game is told in a flashback structure with the woman's voice narrating the details of what's happening onscreen to someone in the future.

Mirror's Edge: Catalyst This was one of the games that ended up being exactly like I thought it would be based on the trailers I've seen... It's Mirror's Edge. The graphics were quite clean and reminiscent of the original style. The controls didn't feel completely dialed in, but it's early build and I'm sure things will be tweaked accordingly. The demo consisted of three different activities (a time trial, a delivery/combat mission, and navigating an area to reprogram a billboard) and it all felt exactly like... Mirror's Edge. I have to say that I'm not convinced the open world was a good direction to take it, though. I grant that the demo was brief and much remains to be seen, but opening a map of the city, choosing a checkpoint, and then to traveling to the checkpoint didn't seem to add much to the game, and was even confusing at times. The game's engine automatically highlighted parts of areas that it thought I should follow and it worked pretty well most of the time, but despite the fact that this game is about parkour and being in motion, I just didn't get much value from going place to place to start discrete objectives.

Rise Of The Tomb Raider I wasn't a fan of the previous TR's heavy emphasis on combat and its sadistic level of graphic violence. Rise seems to answer those complaints, and I'm definitely more interested in it now. In the demo, Lara actually raids a tomb, and once she's inside, there are some puzzle elements and a little bit of trying to figure out how to get from one area to another, which was very reminiscent of the originals. I also noticed that when Lara was checking parts of the ruins, she "leveled up" her Greek translation abilities by looking at artifacts and objects, which seems to put some emphasis on the importance of doing something besides shooting a thousand goons in the face. There were some traps, there were cinematic moments, and of course, the graphics are great. I'm going to hold off for the PS4 version next year, but I'm sure Xbox One fans will be happy with this one.


Star Wars Battlefront @RichardNaik and I played this one co-op, and it's another one of those that's pretty much exactly what you think it is. The graphics are great, the controls feel good, and the Star Wars themes seem to be used properly, from what I can tell. It was also a huge bonus to hear that none of the prequel garbage is in this game whatsoever. There weren't a lot of specifics to be had regarding progression, unlocks or the heroes, but it wasmade very clear that there are solo and co-op modes. The developers were very keen to emphasize that it's not a multiplayer-only experience, so that was welcome news.

Dark Souls III If there was ever a game that I didn't really need to see in a demo sense, it's probably this one. I mean, as anyone who's played these games knows, the real worth of them comes from learning the systems, experimenting with builds, and taking the time to explore every nook and cranny of every environment... It's tough to get the measure of anything from a ten-minute demo. That said, I did notice that the color palette was alarmingly gray. As someone who was not a fan of Bloodborne's visual style, the demo's opening area was incredibly dreary, and not in an intentionally-atmospheric way. Nearlyeverything was one shade of gray or another, and I found it tough to visually parse. Speaking of Bloodborne, the developers have clearly taken a few cues from it. Right from the start, the enemy mobs were bigger and faster, and the pace of combat definitely felt kicked-up a notch. I was using a barbarian character and there's a new type of buff where different abilities are triggered depending on which class and what weapon are being used. My barbarian stomped his foot and gave a shout, powering up his axe attack. It seemed pretty straightforward, but like most things in this game, it's probably something that requires a lot of examination before grokking it.


Abzu This super-chill underwater exploration game was intriguing, and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the full version. The graphics are stylized and quite beautiful, and swimming around underwater was incredibly calming. It seems like there's more to it than just looking at pretty fish, though... For instance, there were little pools of matter to be collected by robot drones that accompany the scuba diver, and part of the world was made up of heavier, colder water that the diver couldn't enter. There's definitely something going on in this world, but it wasn't going to be unraveled in this demo.


Xenoblade Chronicles X I never got around to playing the first Xenoblade, but I saw quite a bit of X being played at the Nintendo area, and it looked pretty ballin'. The graphics are great, and I was really digging the Phantasy Star vibe. The giant robots on display were pretty cool, and it seem like there was a whole world to explore, from areas full of alien wildlife to more urban areas complete with streets, buildings and civilization. The combat looked interesting and I was actually quite eager to see more. I wasn't expecting much from this one, but it kinda blew me away.


Mad Max The most important thing to keep in mind when looking at Mad Max is that it's probably a very different beast from the film, and not intended to continue the scenes or characters from the movie. Anyone going into it with that expectation is bound to be disappointed, but with the proper framework in mind, I thought it looked surprisingly cool. Driving around the wasteland had a good feel, with plenty of room to maneuver while staying fairly strategic. There was quite a bit of car customization as well. When on foot, Max was performing missions inside enemy encampments, with plenty of combat that was fairly Batman-esque. I was definitely liking what I was seeing here, and if the rest of the game is as good as the demo, this one might be end up being a sleeper hit if people are able to get past the fact that Imperator Furiosa is probably not going to make an appearance.

That's it for day one! Tune in tomorrow for another batch of coverage from PAX 2015!