Sunday, August 31, 2014

PAX Prime 2014 - Day 1 & 2  


Yes, it is indeed that time again… The Penny Arcade Expo (Prime Edition 2014) is in full swing right here in my home town of Seattle, and I’m bringing you all of the tidbits fit to print in chronological order…. This post will cover my first two days at the show.


On the day before PAX, I took a quick trip to @Undeadlabs for a press event. Their big push was for a new mobile game called…

>Moonrise Mobile. Not gonna beat around the bush here – it looks like a stylized, more realistic version of Pokemon, complete with catching weakened critters and fighting gym leaders.  That said, it streamlined a lot of the stuff that irritates me about Nintendo’s long-running franchise, and the artwork is pretty sweet. Also included will be a campaign, realtime PVP, and a possible async PVP mode in addition to other goodies. Besides Moonrise, Undead had great news...

>State of Decay PC/XBO. A new all-in-one package is coming to the XBO and it’s looking pretty sweet. The original core game gets a remaster and general cleanup, and it also ships with both Breakdown and Lifeline DLCs. Even better, some of the things from those DLCs will be added to the main game, and some fan-favorite characters will be available in other modes. No details yet on a price break or other possible deal for fans who already own the 360 versions, but it’s under consideration. Otherwise, if you’ve never played State of Decay, this is definitely the thing to jump into. Don’t have an XBO? No prob, it’s coming to Steam as well.
The next day, @Richardnaik and I took advantage of the one-hour press start head start and we made a beeline for the Sony booth to see…

>Bloodborne PS4. While it may seem like just another Souls game to anyone taking a casual glance, it struck me as being similar in spirit, but quite different in terms of how it felt. The immediate thing to notice is that there are no shields, so the player must constantly roll and dodge to deal with enemies. That in itself is quite a difference, but according to the representative standing nearby, every weapon loadout will have a projectile component, or an alt mode which turns it into a projectile. For example, I started with an axe and a gun, but I could combine the two to make a huge axe. The other set available to try (seen in early videos) was a gun in one hand and a blade in the other, and the blade unfolded into a much larger scythe-type weapon. The graphics step-up was immediately noticeable, as well. Everything looked detailed and sharp, and the street filled with a mob of angry undead (?) citizens was horrifying. 

>The Order: 1886 PS4. The demo for this one was brief, but impressive. Although I don't know much more about it other than it's a sort of Victorian-ish game featuring secret agents with steampunk weapons fighting maybe-werewolves, it's got a solid third-person cover shooter base and the level of graphical detail was incredible. I even had one of those moments when I didn't realize that a cutscene was over and I was back in the game because the visuals were so refined. The gun my character had was a neat thing that shot clouds of flammable spoke with a flare launcher as the alt, but the thing that really stuck with me was when my character picked up a note on the table and actually picked up the note and examined it before turning it over to look at the back. It sounds like a small thing, but seeing that represented in-game instead of getting the usual clean text popup/overlay was kind of mindblowing.

Moving on, the indie presence was quite strong in Sony's booth, and that was great to see. There were a number of smaller games on display, and I'm looking forward to nearly all of them…

>Axiom Verge PS4/Vita. This one is an obvious love letter to NES era, showing clear inspiration from/homages to Metroid, Castlevania, Contra, and other classics. It's a passion project from developer Thomas Happ, and it shows.

>Escape Goat 2 PC/PS4. from developer Ian Stocker was looking fantastic on PS4, and apparently the release date is imminent. This one is a true favorite of mine, combining precision platforming with often-deadly puzzles. Also, a goat. 

>Murasaki Baby Vita. a bizarre Burton-esque game where the player guides a creepy little girl across a hellscape. I suspect it’ll end up being too shallow, but my eye is on it.

>Nuclear Throne PC/Vita. action-heavy Roguelike weirdness from Vlambeer. I played a frog (maybe a fish?) in a desert with a shotgun. Not sure what else to say about that.

>Freedom Wars Vita. is a co-op Boss Rush/Hunting game where each player has a grappling hook for speedy (and vertical) movement, and players are tasked with rescuing captives from large creatures, and then protecting one of the team as they carry the rescue person back. Strong anime vibe.

>Helldivers PS4/Vita. is a pretty intense top-down shooter that seems to be along lines of a Space Marines type of thing, but not only is the action sharp-looking and frenetic, friendly fire is always on, which means that players have to really pay attention and use their heads in order to get through the skirmishes. I guarantee this one is going to be known as the "shit, sorry dude" game.

There were a bunch more games on display; too many to go into any great detail… It's pretty clear that Sony has gotten themselves back into a good headspace and are revisiting the era when they offered an incredibly wide variety of software for folks (like me!) who crave such.

Moving on, I tried to hit Microsoft before the crowd started rolling in, but the booth wasn't ready to go and things seemed quite disorganized. By the time they had their ducks in a row, people started flooding the place and queues immediately materialized. As such, I didn't spend a lot of time in the booth, but I did check out…

>Ori and the Blind Forest XBO. which had a great art style and organic tone. From what I can gather, it's more of a Metroidvania than I first expected, and it looks quite solid.

>Sunset Overdrive XBO. was quite popular at the show, with lines ever-present… Although to be fair, it did seem like MS was trying to artificially heat it up by requiring that players be at least 17 and erecting a little barrier that created a line where there really didn’t need to be one. ANYWAY, I did watch it for quite a while and it seems like a modern reincarnation of Jet Set Radio, only with guns and zombies. Characters effortlessly grind over any vertical rail or wire, rapidly zipping around the city while raining gunfire down upon the creeps below.

>Below XBO. Now, this is something that strongly motivated me to consider buying a One. Capy Games is one of the most solid, consistent developers out there, and I am a sucker for their stuff. This one grabbed me right away with an intensely lonely vibe and a clean, concise art style on display. It's almost as if Journey was turned into a subterranean roguelike… It looks fantastic and I can't wait to play more of it.

Dragon Age: Inquisition was the only other thing of note at the Microsoft booth, but like most of the other titles there, the queues were too long and I was content to check it out from a distance. I didn't see anything other than what you can already find on any of the videos or trailers available on YouTube, so I moved on.

From that point, I went to check out the indie megabooth, which was mercifully easier to navigate then it was last year. I'm not sure whether the booth was set up differently (didn't appear to be) or there were less people, but I was actually able to get through there without too much trouble, and that was a good thing since there was plenty of good stuff in there.

>Magic Circle PC. was an absolutely bizarre, psychedelic project which seems to be partly a fantasy exploration game, and partly a meta-approach with software development tools… It's hard to describe, but players were able to toggle different states on items in the environment, as if they were on a fantasy adventure and then could pop into a debug menu. Mindbending.

>Assault Android Cactus PC/PS4. A top-down arena shooter I've heard a lot about. It seems solid enough, but the action was so incredibly overwhelming that it was overkill… Blowing up 100 robots in a ring might be a good time for a little while, but killing 10,000 was a bit much. Hard to follow visually, too.

>Dead State PC. is a turn-based zombie apocalypse game, but the developer was quite clear in explaining that play hinges on the survivors, not the combat. In fact, he said there was no experience awarded for combat at all -- apparently the only bonus is that you survive and you might scavenge a few items off of them. Players will have to manage a group of the living while fortifying a base, and there is an actual script and story-based campaign to get through. (Yay!) As someone who likes the idea of zombie games but is happy to explore other avenues of play besides combat, this one looks quite good.

>Titan Souls PC/PS4/Vita. Expect to see this one on the Vita soon. (Speaking of which, I was surprised at how many any developers in the megabooth told me they were getting into bed with Sony. It's great news!) In any event, this is a boss rush game where the player has only one hit point and one arrow that can be recalled and re-fired. It looks elegant and challenging.

>The Road To Beta PC. This one was extremely early, but it's a top-down combat game where each character represents a different type of game developer -- programmer, artist, QA, and so on. As a player goes through the game, each area represents a different stage in game development, so an early part will have a lot of whiteboards and sketches, and boss levels will be something like getting approval from your supervisor (via combat) for example. I love the concept and it seems on the right track. Going to check back in with this one and another six months or so.

>Sentris PC. A tough one to describe, it's a music/quasi-puzzle game (not really) where the player moves sections of a spinning circle in order to create beats and change the sound of the game… It's difficult to understand at first, but there's definitely a strong Zen vibe.

>Hand of Fate PC/PS4. This one is also quite hard to explain, but it was one of my favorites at the booth. The game gives the player a customizable deck of cards full of challenges and equipment. A fortuneteller deals these cards out onto a virtual table, and that’s the playfield. The player then navigates through these cards one by one, and when an enemy is encountered, the game goes into third-person action to settle the outcome. I'm doing a terrible job of describing what a fascinating game this is, but it’s on my must-play list.

Other notable games: Edge of Space, Darkest Dungeon, Shattered Planet, Star Crawlers, Salt and Sacrifice, Air Escape: Fall of Gravity, and Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime.

After leaving the megabooth, I had a couple more appointments to wrap up the day… First up was…

>The Evil Within Multi. This is a very ‘classic’ Resident Evil-ish experience (think along the lines of RE1) coming from Shinji Mikami , so for anyone who's ever wanted that, this is it. The graphics were (as is becoming the norm these days) pretty amazing as I walked through a creepy mansion picking up ammo, money, text logs and (i'm pretty sure) weird-object keys. The approach to enemies is a little different here… apparently most of the enemies don't stay down unless they're burned, and matches are pretty scarce, or so I'm told.  There also seems to be a very Lovecraft kind of vibe with the player experiencing some insanity effects and twists in the game.

>Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris Multi. If you played Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (it was bloody excellent) you know exactly what to expect here -- isometric arcade-style action with a great deal of environmental puzzle solving and co-op gameplay. Good stuff.

>Evolve Multi. I've heard people raving endlessly about this one, but after playing it for about an hour, it didn't click with me. It's an asymmetric online team-based game where one side takes control of a huge monster, and on the other side are four players of various classes who work together to take the beast down. It's a pretty cool idea, but I’m concerned that it might get boring too quickly… The game is apparently shipping with 3 monsters and 12 characters, which seems like not a lot to me. I don't go in for these kinds of games for more than a weekend in general though, so perhaps others will get more out of it than I might. As far as how it plays, the monster I had (Kraken) was tough to control and didn't feel very powerful, and the characters felt like standard first-person action dudes plus jetpacks. I played two of the four classes and thought they were fine, but a lot of time was spent running around the level with everybody asking “Where’s the monster?” over and over. I’m still interested, but it didn't clear the wow-factor bar for me.


That's it for days 1& 2. My coverage of days 3&4 will be up as soon as the show wraps! Any questions on any of the titles I covered (or any that I didn't...) hit me up and let me know. I'll follow up if I can!


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