Tuesday, September 2, 2014

PAX Prime 2014 - Day 3 & 4  



Following up on the last post which featured the games that caught my eye on days 1 & 2, here are the titles I found worth mentioning from days 3 & 4. 

Toy Soldiers: War Chest (PS4/XBO/PC) The madmen over at Signal Studios have cooked up another installment of their active Tower Defense franchise Toy Soldiers (the first two were fantastic) and this time they’re shaking things up by including other toys besides the traditional little green army men -- unicorns, cupcakes and teddy bears join the fray, all in rainbow colors. There are also other armies that have not been announced yet, and word on the street is that there are some very famous properties being added to the mix at a later date… You didn't hear that from me, though.

H1Z1 (PC/PS4) I spent quite a bit of time with SOE’s zombie apocalypse survival title, and it has strong potential despite being early in development. There will be a huge world to explore, lots of random loot to pick up and craft, and it's even possible to create your own home/base/survival shelter, although other players are free to ransack it if they’re not the friendly sort. It seems like the core structure is in place, although my biggest question is why players would want to stay in a game like this since (apparently) nothing is retained on a permanent basis except knowledge of discovered crafting recipes. It seems to me like there needs to be a little permanence or more tangible goals added to the vision, but like I said, it's very early… With a little polish, this one could be quite attractive to zombie fans.

MK X (PS4/XBO) The new Mortal Kombat is looking quite sharp. The next-gen graphics are outstanding, the animations are great, and the team seems very in tune with what fans liked from MK 9 and Injustice. Notable new features include three variations of each character for changing up movesets and abilities, and an increased level of environmental interaction -- my favorite was when my opponent grabbed a senior citizen bystander and threw him into me like a projectile. Brutal… yet pretty hilarious. The new characters (the ones revealed so far, anyway) look great, and the insectile D’Vorah is sure to be a fan favorite…

Lords of the Fallen (PS4/XBO/PC) Now, this is a tough one to talk about. At first glance, it seems to be nothing more than a title trying to piggyback on the success of the Souls series. It's got the same sort of tone, tough bosses, and some of the design philosophy seems to be along the same lines. However, it's only got one set character to choose and it has a more traditional narrative focus. I don’t have a problem with those things at all, but playing it just felt… Wrong. For instance, the weight and heft of things didn't feel correct despite the directors telling me that they had a top stuntman doing mocap for the weapons. At one point I tried using a polearm and I actually thought the animation was broken because it took so long for the attack to happen. The director checked the stats to make sure my character was strong enough to wield it (he was) so there was nothing wrong… that's just the way the weapon worked. Others I tried felt similar. I don't mean to come off so negative on something that isn't done yet, but if I had to be totally honest, the demo gave me the impression that the developers took a quick look at Souls, thought they knew what made it work, and then made their own hybrid without having enough understanding of why From’s games are the successes that they are.

Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor (PS4/XBO/PC) Out of all the games I saw, this was probably the biggest surprise, and it was a jaw-dropping one. WB has put out several LOTR games, and if you ask me, they've all been middling or worse. As such, I wasn't paying much attention to this one at all before the show until I started hearing positive buzz. After checking it out, I was absolutely stunned at how amazing it looks. It's tough to sum up, but the main character is a human Ranger possessed by a wraith or spirit of some sort. He's able to traverse the environment quite nimbly, and the robust combat engine is similar to that in the recent Batman games. Interestingly, the main point of the game is to use the wraith powers to subvert the orcs serving Sauron. There’s a pause menu screen which shows the orc generals the player can eliminate or brainwash into serving the forces of good. If brainwashed, they can be sent on missions to eliminate other orcs or other various tasks. There's more to it than that, but I have to say that the game does a fine job of taking several different elements and combining them into something that looks absolutely amazing. I had no intentions of playing this before PAX, and now it's one of my most-wanted this year. Do not miss this one.

Chariot (PS4/XBO/WiiU/PC) is a super-cute physics-based puzzler that features couch co-op. A princess and her companion must take the dead king’s ashes to his burial site, so they strapped the urn onto a couple of wheels and must work together to push, pull, tug and balance… It looks quite lighthearted and amusing. Pretty charming stuff.

Wander (PS4/PC) This one is a bit of an enigma. It's apparently a combat-free MMO where the point of the game is to unravel the lore of the land. Players wander from place to place collecting bits of information and can transform into different shapes by reaching checkpoints. The player I saw started out as a tree being, and later changed into a gryphon. There will be at least 2-3 more forms as well. I like the style and I like the idea of trying something new, but to be honest it seemed like the player was doing nothing but walking from place to place. I have doubts about how long that sort of experience can sustain someone, but I’m still quite curious about it.

Dead Island 2 (PS4/XBO/PC) If you played first Dead Island, then you know what to expect from this one -- four classes, tons of melee weapons, and tons of mods. The biggest difference is that it has ambient co-op so players can drop in and drop out (similar to Defiance or Destiny) although the usual friends options will still be present. It's also got a much lighter tone, and the developers from Yager assured me that they have gotten rid of things that don't make sense, such as needing money or workbenches to upgrade (you now do that on-the-fly.) The game as a whole should also be more unified in terms of content and narrative tone.

Saints Row 4: Gat Out Of Hell (PS3/360/PS4/XBO/PC) is a stand-alone addition to SR4, featuring playable Johnny Gat and Kinzie in hell, battling for the soul of the boss. In essence, the developers have re-skinned and re-purposed the SR4 superpowers in order to give them angelic and demonic themes, and rather than a traditional narrative, the player is free to do open world challenges until they rack up enough experience to face off against Satan. Yes, please.

Escape Dead Island (PS3/360) is set in the same DI world as the other games, but seems to be its own thing entirely. A character comes to the island to investigate the goings-on six months after the conclusion of the first game (apparently the devs are pretending that Riptide doesn't exist, just like any sane person would) but it goes off in its own direction by being narrative-heavy, single-player only, and featuring a cel-shaded art style and a heavy emphasis on psychological and insanity effects. It looked to me like something that could be strong enough to stand on its own as a smaller-scale experimental project, and I'm quite curious to see more of this one.

Pig Eat Ball (PC) The good people of Mommy’s Best Games never fail to disappoint, and their latest is just as weird as all of their other output. Featuring both single player and multiplayer aspects, this game puts players in the role of a pig who must eat to grow larger, but when bitten on the tail, it vomits up its internal cargo and shrinks to a smaller size. There's quite a bit more to it than that, but you can check it out yourself, it's currently on Steam Greenlight. Also, it should be noted that this game was presented to players with a butt-vibrating pad to sit on, so whenever their pig was tweaked, your real-life booty got a buzz. I do not think the final game will ship with this device, but I'm sure creative players could probably rig up their own…

Never Alone (PS4/XBO/PC) is an unusual little project. Apparently the Cook Inlet tribes in Alaska somehow got the idea to create this game as a way of communicating their cultural heritage to a younger generation who’s losing touch. This title is based on actual legends from the Inupiat people there (with minor modifications) and the title "Never Alone" actually refers to some of their cultural beliefs – from what I was told, these people don't go in for the ‘lone hero saves the day’ concept, since it means that person usually dies and when they do, they’re not around to help out back at home. There are also brief snippets of actual tribal elders telling stories which relate to the content… All in all, a fascinating project combining education and gaming in a way that I haven't quite seen before.

Habitat: A Thousand Generations In Orbit (PS4/PC) In this game, the earth becomes so toxic that humanity has to launch all of its material goods into outer space, and it's your job to grab all of that junk floating around and bolt it onto your spaceship for different functions. Rockets can be attached for propulsion, Ferris wheels can be attached to become rotating laser arrays, and a stuffed T-Rex head can be turned into a makeshift flamethrower. With real physics, a sandbox mode and a campaign which has you trying to ensure humanity’s survival, this one looks like a tinkerer’s dream come true.

Mushroom 11 (PC) is an interesting take on action-platforming, but instead of having a character, the player has a blob of green stuff which grows at an alarming rate. Players can disintegrate parts of it, and the blob will grow in the direction opposite of where it lost mass, so in this way, it can be "encouraged" to grow in specific directions.

This War Of Mine (PC) I heard a lot about this one prior to the show thanks to its premise of controlling of a group of survivors trying to survive during wartime. It’s a fab idea, but the actual game left me pretty cold -- the presentation and structure just didn't seem to be a good fit. The game began with very little introduction and no tutorial, and I suddenly found myself in control of four survivors inside a house full of icons. It didn't take long to figure out that the bulk of play was collecting and crafting. Later on, one of my characters went out to scavenge other houses for more materials… It all felt so distant and abstract, bogged down from the get go with minutiae and not as immediate as it seems a game of this sort should be. I'll take another look, but first impressions weren’t great.

Adventures of Pip (WiiU/PC) was another surprise. Screenshots really don't do it justice, but the gist of this game is that the main character has three different forms -- a single pixel, an 8-bit form, and a 16-bit form. Each mode has different abilities, so the player must up- and down-res in order to get through specific challenges. It was very cute and approachable, and the concept was rock-solid. Really looking forward to getting into this one with the kids.

Four-Sided Fantasy (PC) was incredibly early, but the idea is genius. The player takes a small, nimble character and has the ability to "lock" the screen in order to navigate through otherwise impossible situations. For example, if there is a ledge the player can’t reach, they can move the screen over so that part of the ledge is not shown on the monitor, they "lock" the screen, and then jump to take advantage of a Pac-Man-like ‘wraparound’ effect. Definitely a mindbending sort of challenge, but clever.

Dreadnought (PC) Another one from Yager… These guys are really on a roll. This one puts the player in the role of a warship captain, and aerial combat in spaceships is the order of the day. However, these aren’t nimble fighters… They’re huge, lumbering monsters. Imagine trying to pilot a battleship hovering in the air, and you'll come pretty close to what it feels like. The game features five different classes of chips (each with various sub-classes) and something that really sold me was the ability to have not only a captain character, but a crew of four people who can be customized and leveled up to provide various functions and perks. The word ‘Firefly’ was mentioned several times. I was utterly hopeless with the mouse and keyboard controls, but controller support is coming soon, and although I'm not usually one for PVP-focused games, the feeling of piloting a massive ship like this was great. Further, it seems custom-made for consoles… I really hope they manage to bring it to the PS4, it would be a perfect fit.

Tales From The Borderlands (PS3/360/PS4/XBO/PC/iOS) I’m not the biggest Borderlands fan, but I do think the setting is rich with narrative potential, and Telltale clearly agrees. The demo followed the usual template that we’ve seen with Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us, but there was a slightly higher emphasis on action QTEs. However, the real hook is that the tale is split between the two main characters, Rhys and Fiona. After hearing what ‘he said’ as the first section of play, Fiona popped up for a session of ‘she said’ which put a different spin on things. It’s a great idea, and something we haven’t seen with Telltale before. Also of note: I found that I had a strong compulsion to play Rhys as a complete a*hole, quite unlike every other Telltale game… This is going to be an interesting ride.


 … And there you have it, another year of combing the floor for new and interesting games. I hope you found something in my writeup that you hadn’t heard of before!

Also, although I had a great time at PAX, I've got to be honest -- the games are great, but the absolute best thing about the show is catching up with everybody who I know primarily via email or Twitter. In today’s world, everyone is so spread out and far apart that we often wish the friends we make electronically were a lot closer than they really are, and for a few days at PAX, that wish comes true. Of course, it’s impossible to meet up with everyone you wish you could (and apologies to everyone I missed, @Whamtan especially!) but it’s pretty amazing to just stop for a few minutes and chat with folks you’d otherwise never, ever see. 

It’s the best.

Oh, and just for the hell of it, enjoy some pics that I took at random.


This thing was massive.

SIGH... You guys again?!? Seriously??

An insider's peek at Undead Labs.

These dudes took a seriously wrong turn. 

Pikachu's about to choose you!

One of Evolve's beasts. It was unbelievably massive and towered over the floor. Just heart-stopping. 

The men's room sign at Undead Labs.

The infamous 'Escalator Of Incredible Delay'.

Had NO idea who this was until my son told me. Because... I'm old?  >_>

Although I couldn't care less about AC, these costumes were quite impressive. SO detailed.

No clue how someone came up with the idea for this. Too much money at 2K?

It's a mechanical bull underneath the fearsome appearance.

Major props to this cosplay crew. Perfect outfits and accessories. 

No idea. This time, my son didn't know either. I'm not so old after all!  ^_^ 

This statue for The Order: 1886 was so lifelike it was creepy.

You never need a reason to have a robot statue at PAX.

New Vegas love!!

The Evil Within has an unhealthy obsession with brains and barbed wire. 

My only regret of the show was not playing Alien: Isolation. The lines were just too long.

My son, checking out the staff part of the Insect Glaive weapon in MH4U.

Forget the glaive. This is WAY more his speed.


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2 comments: to “ PAX Prime 2014 - Day 3 & 4

  • Anonymous


    Did you get to play Monster Hunter 4 while you were there? If so, what were your impressions? I've only seen footage so far, but the increased emphasis on verticality has me worried. Any game that requires me to constantly be looking up or down tends to really hurt my depth perception, which is obviously crucial in a series like MH.


    I didn't play it (didn't want to steal anybody's place in line) but I watched a lot of it. In the levels I saw, it didn't seem to be a major factor... The elevation def plays a role, but it didn't seem as disconcerting as the water in MH3U. We'll see, tho.