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!