Sunday, September 29, 2013

Links, XCOM Declassified, Lone Survivor and... Defiance?  


Links: For tonight’s update, I wanted to start off with a few tidbits you might be interested in…

The first is my long-overdue Lost Planet 3 review.  If you ask me, this is one of the most overlooked games of the year, and of those who did review it, most didn’t get what the game was going for.  If you’re the kind of person who cares about quality characters and story in games, or if you’re someone who likes unusual experiences, this one is ace.

Although it’s been out for a little while, you may have missed my review of Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl.  It’s a remake of the original title that barely anyone played, and it’s been nicely redone for the 3DS.

Next up, Christopher Floyd (@CFloydTweets) takes a quick look at Nathan Meunier’s (@NMeunier) book on how to become a games journalist.

Darren Forman (@KayinAmoh) checks out the recent horror game Outlast, and it’s worth a read if for no other reason than to see someone talk about nutsacks stapled to foreheads.

For Monster Hunter fans, Roy Blakely (@Kotowari) has released another of his beginner’s guides, this time on the intricacies of using the ranged weapons.  I haven’t had any time to look into it yet, but he did a fantastic job with the last guide, and I have no doubt he did the same again here.  Expect to hear more about this once I get a chance to read through it, but if you want to take a look for yourself, it can be found right here.

Finally, my friend Tayo Stalnaker (@TayoDK) and I just launched a brand new website called

Our goal is to try and keep track of all the noteworthy indie games being released these days, in addition to the ones that are still coming.  Awareness is a huge hurdle for small studios to get over, and from the reviewer side, there’s just so much to try and sift through.  This is our attempt to create one central place for both sides to see and be seen, so if you’re a fan of indie games or a writer, we hope you’ll stop by and learn about some titles you might not have known existed.  If you’re an indie studio, we will be happy to post your information for absolutely no cost.  

Either way, come on by!


Games: What have I been playing?  I just completed The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, and much like Lost Planet 3, it’s another great game which started off with a few strikes against it, and as far as I can tell, apparently everyone on earth has now forgotten that it exists.

Basically, it’s a third-person squad shooter that feels a lot like the combat in Mass Effect 3, except that your two teammates are designed to be micromanaged in terms of where they should take cover, who they should target, and what special abilities they should use.  It feels strange at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s got a good flow.

The art side is fantastic, and the developers have totally nailed the Mad Men-ish vibe of the early 60s.  There are tons of little details that sell the experience, and everything about the game looks exactly like the period that it’s going for.  The story is also worth mentioning…  It starts out with the good guys trying to rout the aliens from America, but there are some huge twists and turns later on that I did not see coming, and the endgame was just nuts, in a good way.

There are definitely some rough patches to it and the difficulty can be quite brutal, but I had a fantastic time overall and was happy to discover that it wasn’t the train wreck that XCOM fans have been expecting.  To be fair, it’s nothing at all like XCOM proper and I think it makes more sense if you consider it as its own thing rather than the “origin” story that it’s apparently trying to be, but either way, it’s one of my favorite games this year.

Otherwise, I spent a few minutes with Dark to see if it was as bad as I had heard, and…  Well, I only spent a few minutes with it.  

When the main character wakes up from being converted into a vampire and finds out in one of the very first cutscenes that he's not only a vampire, but that he must seek out the blood of an ancient vampire (to which he basically says “okay!”) I knew that there wasn’t going to be much reason to stick around.  It’s a shame because it seems like there’s a lot of potential for someone to do a really good vampire game with today’s technology, but despite my hopes, Dark isn’t it.

Continuing the string of disappointments, I got about halfway through Lone Survivor on the Vita before calling it quits.  I’d been looking forward to this one for quite a while and had heard nothing but good things from people who had played it, but it just didn’t click with me at all.  I mean, it’s pretty amazing that the game was put together by one guy and I want to give respect to that, but actually playing it just wasn’t fun. 

It felt a lot like a Silent Hill demake, and since I’ve played too many SH games already, I’m not really in the market for another one.  Besides feeling too similar, I have an allergic reaction to games which are all about getting past locked doors, and that’s what this one seems to be based on.  I find very little value in searching for keys and then backtracking to progress, and the story bits weren’t grabbing me enough to make me want to push onwards.  The way the game is presented is also visually confusing, and I found myself looking at my map every 5 seconds.  It’s great for immersion, as you can imagine.

It was also completely irritating to have the character tell me that he was tired or hungry every few minutes.  In a game where taking care of your basic needs is apparently important, I don’t have the patience for the kind nonsense that it pulls.  For example, I had a bunch of powdered coffee, a stove, a pot and water.  In the real world, I’d be in business. In Lone Survivor, you can’t make coffee without a kettle. A KETTLE.  And don’t get me started on the ham…  My character is literally starving to death and I have a massive ham in my inventory, but I can’t cook it because I don’t have “a pot”.  Who the hell needs a pot to cook a ham? I mean, let’s get real here…  If the character is dying for a lack of food, I think it should be OK to carve off a slice and brown it in a saucepan. Beggars can't be choosers! 

Lone Survivor was just way too irritating for me to get through, and in a horror game, annoyance shouldn’t be the primary response. Pass.

Finally, I found myself in one of those rare moments when I wasn’t obliged to review anything, so I found myself coming back to Defiance on the 360.  

I spent a good chunk of time playing it a while ago, but had to put it aside.  I held onto it, and after jumping back in, I’m still impressed with how smooth it feels to play and how fun it is to randomly come across other people in the world. 

On the other hand, it really does have some of the worst UI and menus I’ve ever seen, and would benefit from an aggressive amount of streamlining in that regard.  Even still, it’s pretty easy to ignore that stuff once you know what to do in the game, and I’m so close to the end that I’d feel bad for not finishing it considering how much fun I had with it.  

I have no doubt that the players currently populating its world will jump ship the moment Destiny or one of the other ambient multiplayer games comes out, so I’m hoping to get it done before the servers are deserted…

Friday, September 20, 2013

Book News, Sexy Pod, Puppeteer, Lost Planet 3 and Etrian Untold  

Book: I tweeted about this last week, but this is the first time I’m posting this news here at the blog, and it seems a little more real as I’m doing so…
After many ups and downs and a ridiculously extended delay (which was totally my own fault) I’m happy to announce that my upcoming Urban Fantasy book, Speaking In Forked Tongues¸ will be available for purchase on March 25, 2014.

I know many of you have been asking about how or when you can buy it, and I’m sure that at least a couple of you were starting to think that it was never going to happen, but the final draft has been sent in to the publisher. Although the cover art still needs to happen, everything else is locked into place and it feels good to know that a hard date is in sight.

More info to come!


Podcast: The latest @Gamecritics Podcast is now up!  In this episode, the topic is… sex!  Guest panelist Samantha Allen (@CousinDangereux) joins us to talk about the games that got it right, the games that got it wrong, and how we want to see games handle it in the future.  The answer: with both hands.


Games: Just wrapped up my review for Sony’s Puppeteer a couple of days ago…  It hadn’t received much coverage before release and I honestly didn’t know what it was even about.  I thought it was some sort of Move game (and I guess it is, although you can actually just use controllers) but it’s basically a platformer starring a puppet-boy who lost his head. 

The whole thing is set up as though it’s being performed on stage in the presentation is quite charming at first.  I have to say that I got tired of it pretty quickly, though…  Once past the first hour or two, it started to feel like a big missed opportunity.

Look for the complete coverage soon, but as of right now I wouldn’t really recommend it.

On the other side of the spectrum, something that I would recommend is Lost Planet 3.  My review for that is also in the can, although it hasn’t gone live yet.

I have to say, LP3 has been one of the biggest surprises for me this year.  Not only is the true nature of the game radically different than anything that has been in the previous two, the story-heavy, character-heavy qualities that I think this are so great are essentially impossible to communicate through a demo or with quick impressions. 

I’ve seen a lot of reviews out there that really don’t get what’s happening in it, and that’s a true shame.  With all of the titles out there offering fast, twitchy action, it’s really disappointing to see so many writers knock it for not being another shooter when it’s obviously going for something really different. 

It’s easily one of my favorites this year, and I would definitely recommend it to those looking for something very grounded and human, and also to those who don’t mind game structures which don’t follow the “I need an explosion every 12 seconds” school of design.

Otherwise, I’ve been putting time into Etrian Odyssey Untold: Millennium Girl on 3DS, and I’m hoping to have that review ready to go when the embargo drops on the 23rd.

People who read this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of the Etrian series, and although they do skew pretty hardcore, the developers have made many concessions in the last couple of entries to make sure that there are easy points of entry for those interested in the structure but not the difficulty.

Although at this point I still feel like Etrian Odyssey 4 is the absolute high point overall, Millennium Girl has been a great experience.  Essentially, it’s a remake of the first EO, although it’s far from a standard touch-up.  In addition to redesigned dungeons, redrawn graphics, a new class, a new element to the combat system and a few other tweaks, it’s the first Etrian to offer a full-blown story mode.

In this mode, the game has hand-drawn animated cutscenes, more dialogue than has ever been previously included, and five distinct characters for the player to use.  Each one has their own preset name, skill set and personality, and the party is loaded with skills that make surviving the dungeons a lot easier than it might be for someone unfamiliar with EO.  While it definitely feels weird to have a pre-made party, Millennium Girl is still delivering the goods that I love so much.   

It’s going to be available on the eShop and there's a demo up right now (the save data even carries over into the full game!) but collectors will want to make sure and pick up a physical copy since it comes loaded with a design book and a seven-song soundtrack. Y'know... Atlus.


Capcom is very pleased to be able to confirm that Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies will be available in North America and Europe as a digital download for the Nintendo 3DS system in the Nintendo eShop on October 24th priced at $29.99 / €24.99.

Courtroom hero Phoenix Wright returns. The much loved gameplay and features from previous titles in the series are for the first time in stunning 3D, bringing the trials to life and putting players directly in the heart of the action. Players will need to investigate crime scenes to uncover clues before heading to court and presenting evidence, challenge witnesses and unravel the truth behind each of the cases.  Joining Phoenix is young Attorney Apollo Justice and new Associate Attorney Athena Cykes, whose unique ability to psychoanalyse witnesses’ emotions introduces a brand new element to proceedings.

The Western release of the title will also receive the costume pack and additional episode, Turnabout Return, currently available for the Japanese release. We’ll have more details to share on this DLC soon.


Get your spook on early!  The suspense horror title DEADLY PREMONITION and stylish action title KILLER IS DEAD are now both available for digital download! At a suggested retail price of $19.99 and $49.99 respectively, you'll find them on the Games on Demand service of Microsoft's Xbox 360 games and entertainment system!

Previously released in 2010, DEADLY PREMONITION quickly became a cult hit, striking a chord with fans of open-world, non-linear play and quirky narratives. KILLER IS DEAD, the latest title from KADOKAWA GAMES and game creator Goichi Suda (aka SUDA51) and his GRASSHOPPER MANUFACTURE studio, brings the surreal and ultra-violent tale of Mondo Zappa to life with stylish cel-shaded visuals.


Portland, Ore. - Families and video game fans from around the Northwest can look forward to the eighth-annual Portland Retro Gaming Expo (PRGE) on October 5-6, 2013. It will be the event's second year in the 60,000 square foot 'Hall C' of the Oregon Convention Center. PRGE will feature a massive arcade section which has been coined the 'Supercade.' Nearly 20,000 square feet of floor space will be set aside for attendees to play hundreds of classic arcade, console, and pinball games. The arcade is being presented in partnership with Portland's landmark arcade, Ground Kontrol.

PRGE is a family friendly, all-ages event made up of three areas: the Supercade video game arcade, speakers and programming, and the exhibitor marketplace. The pop culture convention draws a wide cross section of fans eager to hear PRGE's panel programming, meet other gaming fans and, of course, play video games.

The exhibitor marketplace is the largest and most popular part of the convention with more than 60 vendors selling classic games, consoles, memorabilia and art from over 30 years of video game history.

One of the highlights of the show will be a customized Donkey Kong arcade machine in which Mario is kidnapped by Donkey Kong and it's his girlfriend Pauline who does the rescuing. Other highlights include  ppearances by video gaming celebrities, a live video game collectibles auction and several video game tournaments - including the Tetris World Championships - that are open to the public. More information about guest activities at the convention will be announced in the future.

Passes can be purchased online or at the door. Pre-sale tickets allow attendees to get into the event one hour early on Saturday, October 5. Vendor space is still available and PRGE continues to solicit arcade and pinball game owners to volunteer their games for the event. Visit for more
information. For tickets or information on the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, visit


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Frankenstein's Army - DVD review  


Movies: Welcome back to Coffeecola!

The blog's been on a bit of a hiatus while I wrapped up some meatspace stuff, but we're now rolling again. To kick things off, I've got a little change of pace - my good friend and fellow @Gamecritics staffer Mike Bracken was kind enough to review a Horror film DVD that turned up in my mailbox:

Frankenstein's Army, from director Richard Raaphorst. 


MB: Like Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster has become one of horror’s most iconic monsters. Mary Shelley’s creature has starred in a massive number of films over the years (although for the past few decades, he’s taken a back seat to zombies and more modern slashers) but it’s hard to imagine Shelley ever conceiving how Richard Raaphorst would take her greatest literary creation and re-envision it in Frankenstein’s Army.

Raaphorst (the filmmaker behind the much-ballyhooed Worst Case Scenario trailer a few years back – a project that eventually mutated into Frankenstein’s Army) takes the idea of stitching together dead corpses and bringing them back to life in an entirely new direction. It’s not always 100% successful in what it sets out to do, but the highs significantly outnumber the lows if you love crazy, over-the-top low budget horror cinema.

Frankenstein’s Army is a bit of a hybrid; a found-footage alternate history period piece that joins films like Outpost in the burgeoning World War II horror subgenre. Making horror films during the greatest war the world has ever known makes a lot of sense – war is Hell, after all, and the Nazis were into enough crazy shit in reality that almost anything a screenwriter comes up with seems plausible on its face. So, when Raaphorst opens with a small contingent of Russian soldiers encountering mechanically-altered re-animated corpses while traveling across the German countryside in search of a battalion in distress, I find myself thinking “yeah, well, that’s not as crazy as the whole Nazi Bell thing…”

Anyway, soon our ragtag assortment of war film cliches (the gruff commanding officer, the scared greenhorns, the psycho who wants to commit every war atrocity in the history of humankind against the enemies – and maybe his allies if they’re not down with it) find themselves locked in a life or death struggle against an army of reanimated soldiers who’ve been modified with all sorts of crazy mechanized attachments in order to make them even more efficient killing machines. This is the entire reason why Frankenstein’s Army exists.

Raaphorst’s film uses the found-footage angle (the group of soldiers has a filmmaker amongst their number) to help conceal its tiny budget. The indie nature of the feature is both a positive and a negative – positive in that it called for a lot of ingenuity on the crew’s part, and necessitated making the monsters with real practical FX work instead of relying on the crutch of CG. Of course, the downside is that the small budget also means the film skimps a bit on the kind of spectacle viewers anticipate when hearing a title like Frankenstein’s Army. It’s not really an army – it’s more like a small unit.

The found-footage angle actually works to the film’s benefit most of the time. The quick cuts and grainy visuals (which are in color – unlikely historically, but a necessary concession for modern viewers) help create a documentary feel. The way many sequences are composed allows the audience to spot the dangerous things lurking in the background before the potential victims do, increasing the tension of the experience significantly.

The downside is that the handheld camera work is very frenetic during the action scenes, making it easy for the audience to get lost in the space of a sequence. This allows for some great jump scares as our intrepid cameraman will whirl his device right into the slavering mechanical jaws of some undead monstrosity pretty regularly, but the price is that the logistics of the action often become hard to decipher.

If this new Frankenstein’s creations are the true stars of the film, then the blood and guts in the special effects are probably a close second. Most viewers won’t care about any of these characters, but there is a certain amount glee to be found in watching these monsters shred through the crew. Heads are crushed, brains removed, skulls pried open, and intestines removed from still-living bodies with frightening regularity. Again, budget constraints required good old fashioned practical FX work here – which is always welcome with this gorehound.

Ultimately, Frankenstein’s Army appears destined for cult status – not a bonafide cult classic, but a film that will certainly find fans and admirers. Raaphorst and his team milk maximum effect out of a miniscule budget, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Frankenstein’s Army is really just a high concept pitch that got turned into a feature because the idea was so awesome that they couldn’t pass it up even if they weren’t sure how to make it work. And the idea is awesome – Frankenstein’s creatures are fantastic in their execution, a sort of WWII riff on Giger’s bio-mechanics that will definitely please monster freaks. The problem is that nothing else in the film is nearly as cool as the beasts – which is unfortunate. 

In some ways, Frankenstein’s Army feels perfectly suited for a videogame adaptation – a realm where the relatively threadbare story and cardboard characters wouldn’t be such a detriment. There’s fun to be had here, for sure – but it’s hard to look at Frankenstein’s Army on the screen and not marvel at what might have been. 


Mega thanks to the @Horrorgeek for the review, and look for Coffeecola to return to its usual game-oriented programming next time!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

PAX 2013 - The Wrapup  


PAX: So, PAX Prime 2013 is now over – and man, what a terrible, shit-tastic way to end it.

Although it wasn’t my favorite PAX, there were definitely some high points like seeing people whom I would otherwise never run into, and getting the chance to play games that I had been looking forward to.  Some good times there, for sure.

However, things really ended on a sour note once I got home. 

I wasn’t aware of it while I was at the show, but as soon as I walked in the door and got on my computer, I found out that Mike Krahulik (the artist for the PA strip) had made some intensely distasteful comments in regard to the ‘dickwolves’ situation which occurred a few years ago.  A lot of people are understandably pissed off about it, and many have been calling for a boycott of PAX and Penny Arcade altogether.

I’ve been asked what my opinion on the whole situation is, and it wasn’t something that I could easily get across on Twitter. So, here it is...

To start with, I’m not a fan of rape jokes in general and I don’t think rape is something to be made light of.  In no way do I condone anything having to do with rape, jokes or otherwise.  

Aside from that, I think most would agree the dickwolves incident (and how PA handled it) was probably one of the lowest points in Penny Arcade history. 

It was supremely disappointing to hear that Krahulik had not only brought the issue up again, but was actually regretful about having the related merchandise removed from the store.  I have a hard time understanding how he doesn’t ‘get’ what a big deal this whole thing is (and maybe he does now? He just issued an explanation on his comments earlier today) but it’s not the issue I wanted to address in this post. Bottom line, he came off like a world-class, thoughtless asshole. That’s pretty simple.

What’s not simple is the issue of whether or not people should boycott the PAX event itself.  At first blush, it seems like the obvious answer should be “of course we should boycott it!” but I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as it seems.

The way I see it, PAX is far more than something that’s directly connected to Mike and Jerry.  I mean, when you walk in the door, it’s not as though the two of them are right there, exchanging a secret handshake with you and welcoming you to their personal club.  In fact, I would imagine that quite a few people who attend the show have absolutely no idea who they are.  I’m sure many haven’t ever read the strip, and may not even know it exists.

Rather than something that’s a celebration of Mike, Jerry, or of the Penny Arcade strip itself, I think many people see PAX as an amazing gathering where gamers don’t need a press badge to get in, and they can spend a weekend meeting people just like them.  

For at least three whole days (four, this year!) gamers of all stripes can walk, talk, eat, breathe, sleep and play games in a place where they’ve got more in common with the person right next to them than they probably do for the vast majority of their daily existence.  This social opportunity for game-oriented people is incredibly valuable to many of those who attend, and has nothing at all to do with condoning dickwolves. My guess is that the a large number of attendees don’t even know what one is, or what happened. Hell, if not for Twitter, I wouldn't have known it had happened.

PAX is also a place where education occurs, thanks to some amazing panels and presenters who come to share their viewpoints.  Just this year, people could have sat in on: achieving gender diversity in gaming, the top women game characters of all time, community organizing, gays in love (with their RPGs), military servicewomen in video games, and more.  I don’t know of any other place where so many important panels are accessible to so many average gamers.  Again, this content has nothing to do with Mike’s pre-clarification comments – in fact, much of it flies in the face of them.

Also of value is that PAX is a great place for struggling indie developers to show off their work and be seen by a huge number of people, both press and public.  Although it’s nice to have the big companies show up, getting up close and personal with the indie devs is by far my favorite part of the show.  I get to meet so many incredible creators in one place, and so many connections are made!  It’s fantastic, and again, these fabulous people aren’t there in support of Mike’s personal views, whatever they may be.

I’m definitely not defending Mike or how any part of the dickwolf situation was handled, and I can totally understand how some people would not want to support the show in any way, shape, or form. I can respect that, and for those that choose to avoid the show in the future, I support you. On the other hand, I see PAX itself as something that is now far more than what it started out as, and giving all that up over one guy who has no discernible effect on the positivity the show brings feels a bit like using dynamite to kill a roach. 

You might get him, but what else are you losing in the process?


Monday, September 2, 2013

PAX Prime 2013 - Day Three  


PAX: Today was day three of PAX 2013, and although I did see some good things, my sense of the show overall is that the industry is holding its breath a bit. 

With the impending release of both the Xbone and the PS4, it seems pretty clear that a big chunk of people are still trying to figure things out – while the indie scene was fantastic and the PC side was strong as well, there wasn’t a lot on consoles that impressed me this year.  It makes perfect sense, but I left the show floor with a vague “is this it?” feeling.

That’s not to take away from the good things that I did see, however.  Here’s what I saw today…

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies

After an extended absence and a couple of games with different characters in the lead role, the Ace Attorney franchise finally gets its true star back.  I couldn’t be happier to see Phoenix return, and I’m hopeful that the writing will be as entertaining as it has been in the past.  This time around, he’s accompanied by a new rookie attorney named Athena Cykes. Apollo Justice also makes an appearance, along with a few other faces that will certainly be familiar to fans.  It’s hard to get a good grasp of such a story-heavy game when doing a quick demo on the floor, but all the pieces seem to be in place and the new rendered-in-3D graphics look sharp, while retaining the same charm they had in 2D.


I first saw this game back in 2011, and I thought it looked good even then.  However, the team had some issues, and it fell off the radar for a while. Now they’re back up to speed and I was quite glad to see this cute little armadillo reappear.  Gameplay can be described as a mix between Super Mario Galaxy and a Sonic the Hedgehog that doesn’t suck, and its colorful graphics and immediate appeal will be a perfect fit for the WiiU eShop sometime in the first quarter of 2014.


Out of all the games I saw at PAX, this was one of the few that was genuinely dripping with awesome.  Although the game is quite early and it was running in a very, very rough state, the overall concept captured my attention immediately.  

Essentially, the game’s world is sort of an airborne place that’s populated with flying house-ships and skywhales.  Players can pilot the houses around and when encountering another one, combat can happen between them as if they were pirate vessels side by side on the open sea.  The people inside can move around the house and jump from one structure to the next, so there was a great interplay between the larger houses and the smaller people.  The houses can also land on islands, and the inhabitants can get out and start exploring, fighting, or mining whatever’s there. Oh, and those skywhales?  They can be killed and their oil can be used as a resource.

Although Windforge has a long way to go before it’s ready for prime time, the aerial 2D Contra-like combat mixed with exploration and a steampunk aesthetic was pure money.  I absolutely cannot wait to see this after it’s been polished up and massaged for a while.


I’ve seen this game at PAX at least a couple of times, and it still hasn’t hit release yet.  Hopefully, that will change soon.  The art is absolutely adorable, and the action featuring an owl-like character who can fly around and explore various environments is the sort of thing that makes you want to sit right down and start digging into it.  If the devs had a 3DS cartridge for sale at their booth, I would have bought it on the spot.  Owlboy is yet another indie title that lost its way for a while, but the developers say that they will have a big announcement coming soon.  My fingers are crossed, and I’m really hoping for the best on this one.

Phantasy Star Online 2

I grilled the PR rep at the Sega booth, and the only answer I could get out of her was that it was “officially delayed”.  I ask if that meant it was definitely coming, or if they had any idea as to how long the delay would be, and all she would say was that it was “officially delayed”.  Nothing else to report on this one.  Sorry!

Escape Goat 2

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you probably know that I’m a huge Escape Goat fan.  It was one of my top 10 games in 2011, I have a poster, and I wear the shirt.  If someone would create a plushie, it would be on my desk.  I am a hardcore Escape Goat fan, so I was quite pleased to see that the sequel was one of the games featured in the PAX 10 this year, and it’s looking quite sharp with redone artwork and a richer color palette.  The world map has also been revamped, and I’ve been told that people (like me) who were fascinated with the enigmatic storyline can look forward to certain themes being revealed, and a surprise visual callback.

Midnight City

This one’s not really a game, but a new publishing house focusing on indies.  I think it’s great that more and more avenues for exposure like this one are opening up, and Midnight City’s initial lineup of ten games looks quite strong.  If they can continue to cherry pick things as good as what we were shown in this trailer, then they are certainly going to be an organization to keep an eye on.

Bionic Dues

This is another early/rough one to watch, this time from Arcen games.  Players have a squad of mechs which can be outfitted with various pieces of equipment and then let loose in a turn-based environment.  I can’t remember any other titles that feature quasi-roguelike play starring a squad of assault bots, so the fact that this one seemed interesting is kind of a no-brainer.  It’s got a long way to go, but there’s potential there.

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 2 & T.I.A.O.V.H. Deathtrap

Somewhat related to my comment earlier about the industry holding its breath, I find it fascinating that the first Van Helsing ame has yet to make it to XBLA, but the sequel is just about to hit PC. It’s essentially a Diablo-esque top-down thing, but I’ve heard the writing is really what sells it.  

However, what caught my attention here is that when @Gamecritics staffer Brandon Bales reviewed the original game for us, he said that his favorite parts were the Tower Defense side missions.  The PR rep said that she had received that same feedback several times, so the developers took those side missions and made them their own game, now called Deathtrap.

Although Van Helsing 2 looks like a good, solid game, Deathtrap looks like a hell of a lot of fun.  Best described as ‘active Tower Defense’ of the sort where you set your towers up and then control a combat-ready character to mop up enemies that slip through your lines, players will be able to set up the usual sorts of towers, in addition to other things like summoning monsters or building cages full of werewolves.

Secret Ponchos

Although there were a number of trends that could be spotted at PAX this year, one that I’m not really a fan of is the trend of developing a game that does not have a true single player campaign, and which also classifies itself as a constantly-evolving piece of work.  I don’t play games in the MOBA genre, but there’s no question that it’s had a big effect on the industry. One example is Warframe (covered on Day One) and also this one, Secret Ponchos.  These (and many more) have obviously been influenced by MOBA success.

In Ponchos, players choose from one of several Western-themed characters and duke it out in an arena made to look like a homestead that might be found out on the range, somewhere.  Each character has a selection of different abilities (one has a shotgun, one has a whip, etc.) and when an enemy is taken out, they quickly respawn and come back for more.  

 The art direction is quite strong and I found myself drawn to the clean, exaggerated style.  The animation was just as detailed, and I admire the work that’s been done here.  I’m still interested in it to be sure, but I think a lot will depend on how much content is available for people who spend most of their time in a 1P mode.  I’m not opposed to jumping online and throwing down with some other people once in awhile, but just knowing my preferences, that sort of game play doesn’t sustain me for long.  Still, my eye’s on it.


Although there’s still one more full day of PAX, this will be my final report and @Gamecritics will officially wrap the show with a podcast recorded from the floor tomorrow afternoon.  

I know for a fact there were several games I didn’t get to that were worth investigating and I apologize to any developers whose work was not featured over the last three days, but between the crush of people in the Indie Megabooth and the overcrowded floors everywhere else, it was quite difficult to see everything that I wanted to see. 

I’m not sure what can be done about it, but I hope that the Penny Arcade staff will consider the conditions this year and do things a little differently next time.  I still love the show and I especially love that it’s right in my backyard, but I have to be honest -- this was one of the expos I’ve enjoyed the least in the history of attending PAX due to the large number of people and the general logistics.

I’m hopeful that next year will be better.