EA at PAX East 2018 Part 1

The Everything Action crew traveled to Boston once again to visit the east coast mecca of nerd culture that is PAX East.  This PAX was bigger than ever, expanding to a full four days of video games, board games, nerd swag, e-sports and more. We were there for all four days getting playtime with a ton of great games that were in various states of development. In part 1 of our 4 part series about Pax East 2018, we’ll cover what we saw the night before on Day 0 and the opening event of Day 1 of the convention.

Day 0 – Arrival and PreGamer

No Wait Times!

We arrived in Boston on Wednesday to get our passes early and check out some of the finishing touches on the booths and room set ups. PAX is one of those yearly events that brings in everyone you know, so we got to meet up with lots of friends this year. It was cool to walk around the building while it was being built up, give us a glimmer of what to expect for the next four days.

Later that evening we attended the Playcrafting Pregamer party at Laugh Boston. Just like last year, Playcrafting had taken over the comedy club inside the Westin hotel, turning it into a showcase for indie game developers. Although, unfortunately, there were no arcade games like last year, so we did not get our time to play Jubeat and DDR.  After ordering some well deserved post road trip drinks, we checked out a few games:

Bruisin Cruisers: Bruisin Cruisers is in development from Neon Deity Games and it’s extremely reminiscent of the classic arcade game Bump N’ Jump, where you were racing a car that could leap insanely high and you gained points for crushing other cars.  In Bruisin Cruisers, you don’t have the jump except for certain areas on the track but the bump is definitely here as you attempt to smash enemy cars coming from behind you into walls.  You have a boost you can use to smash harder and it definitely has that arcadey feel and the look is also fantastic as well, looking like a Super Game Boy game.

Halloween Forever: Developed by Peter Lazarski, Halloween Forever is an old school, retro platformer where you take control of various pumpkin/gourd headed heroes and travel through a spooky land fighting various creatures, taking down bosses and eventually facing off against the evil undead sorcerer.  The graphics are great and evoke things like Ghouls N Ghosts and it also shares that game’s old school difficulty, as you’re going to need to some precise jumping and platforming skills to navigate the spike pits and other dangers.  The game is out now for only $4.99 and it’s definitely worth checking out for any old school gaming fans.

King of the Hat: King of the Hat was making a ton of noise both at the Playcrafting party and on the PAX floor as gamers got super into battling each other for hat supremacy.  A Kickstarter success, King of the Hat is being developed by Hyroglyphik Games and is a Smash Bros style party brawler where the goal is to destroy the hat of your opponents while defending your own.  Each character has a special ability, which usually involves throwing your hat in some way that can take out your opponent but leave your hat extremely vulnerable.  There are a ton of great last minute saves and near misses and it pretty much gets people immediately cheering and trash talking, which is usually the sign of a great entry in this genre.

Spiritsphere DX: Combing Arkanoid, tennis, and a touch of Soccer, Eenhoorn and Fabraz is developing Spiritsphere DX as a fun competitive fantasy sports game. Players choose from a range of characters with different play abilities and try to knock a sphere past the opponent and into a goal on the opponent’s side. The game supports up to 4 players, creating some fast paced 2 on 2 sphere battles. Spiritsphere DX has great gameplay with an easy pick up and play style and can lead to some very tense moments. There power ups and obstacles that can change tactics and levels design varies, making it easier or harder to bounce that sphere.

We played with the Eenhoorn dev team and had a blast playing head to head on the Switch in vertical play mode. By using just one switch, two players can play with the Switch in Vertical position, reminding us of playing on the original Gameboy (Without the hassle of a link cable). Spiritsphere DX is looking to be released this spring.

Day 1 – Media Hour and showfloor exploration

On Day 1, the Everything Action crew was able to get in an hour early for Press access and we got to check out a few of the bigger games that were sure to be mobbed for the rest of the convention. Then we had a packed schedule to see tons of games throughout the day.

Detroit: Become Human: Detroit: Become Human was the big focus of Sony’s booth at PAX and we got to check out the demo they had on display.  It’s not clear when in the story it takes place but you are controlling the main character, Connor, who is an android, is called onto the scene of a hostage situation involving another android.  As Connor, you can walk around the crime scene and gather evidence, which gives you more information about what happened and give you a better chance of resolving the situation but the big theme of this game is choices, so you can just immediately go and confront the hostage taker but it probably won’t end well.

Compared to other Quantic Dream games, this one feels like a huge step up from stuff like Beyond Two Souls and feels more like an actual game and not a weird quick time event movie.  The graphics are unbelievable, especially the character faces and animations, and there seems to be a ton of replayability as you see a graphic of your choices at the end of every chapter and there are tons of variations and different ways each scene can play out.  After playing it, it’s definitely gone up on Zach’s list of games to check out when it comes it May.

Soul Calibur VI: The stage of history is ready for more fighting as Soul Calibur is back for it’s sixth version.  It’s been 6 years since Soul Calibur V and it seems like Bandai Namco have been paying attention to the other fighting games that have been released in that time, especially the Netherealm like Mortal Kombat and Injustice.  Playing a match, it felt like there was a lot more of the more cinematic stuff, like big flashy supermoves, than in the prior Soul Calibur games and there’s mechanics like some sort of “duel” mode that can be activated that locks the players into a smaller area temporarily and the camera zooms in. We only got to try out Mitsurugi and Sophitia as they were the only two playable characters at the demo, but they’ve been revealing a bunch of returning and new characters, including The Witcher’s Geralt as a guest character.  Soul Calibur VI will be release later this year.

Disco Elysium: Disco Elysium is being developed by ZA/UM and is a noir detective RPG where you are an alcoholic detective trying to deal with the voices in your head along with solving crimes.  The unique aspect of the game we found during our demo is the way you interact with your inner demons and voices, which become full on characters that you get into in-depth conversations with and you pick a class of character at the start of the game that gives you different options during dialogue and different options for interacting with the environment.

There’s classic turn based combat as well, which we didn’t get to see in our demo, and a sprawling city full of characters to interact with. Humble Bundle is publishing the game but it’s release date is still TBD.

 

Underworld Ascendant: Coming from legendary creators Warren Spector and Paul Neurath, who created Thief, System Shock and Deus Ex, and the team at Otherside Entertainment, Underworld Ascendant is a return to the world of Ultima Underworld and it’s “Stygian Abyss”.  You are transported into the Abyss and tasked with combating the evil there and you have tons of different options for how to do that.  The game’s main focus is to let you figure out your own play style to survive the traps and enemies of the world and you can be stealthy, go in sword swinging, lay traps and lots more and at times the demo felt more like a puzzle game like Portal than a hack n slash RPG.  You can interact with almost every object and you, say, set a box on fire to burn down a locked wooden door or use bottles of water to put out torches so the enemies can’t see you.  We were some of the first people ever to play, and finish, the demo and it seems really interesting even with just the few items and weapons we got to see and it will probably be even more interesting once you have a full arsenal of spells and weapons at your disposal.  It’s coming sometime this year.

Memories of Mars: Coming soon from Limbic Entertainment GmbH, Memories of Mars is a new entry into the multiplayer survival genre a la Rust or Ark where you play as a colonist on the abandoned Mars colony 100 years in the future.  You need to gather supplies and craft shelter and weapons and battle strange robotic creatures that are roaming the red rust deserts of the planet.

If you’ve played other survival games, you’ll probably be at home here as it’s the main loop of head out, gather raw materials and then craft items (although for our demo we got to cheat and just get a ton of items and weapons and unlimited building material).  You can see and team up or fight other players on the map but Memories of Mars is also incorporating events in game that will pull players into more traditional gameplay modes, like capture the flag or area control.

City of Brass:  Uppercut Games first person roguelike game City of Brass is set in the world based on the tales of 101 Arabian Nights. You play an adventurer/thief who uncovers the location of the legendary City of Brass, which was cursed when the citizens tried to control Djinns. There’s tons of treasure to find but you have to escape the cursed citizens, who are now skeleton warriors, and various traps that wait to attack. Your character is armed with a whip a la Indiana Jones and a sword, and you can collect treasure throughout your run that you can trade in for different weapons and skills.  The whip/sword combo is a lot of fun to use, and opens lots of opportunity to approach combat. Like whipping enemies to stun them and then killing them with the sword. There’s rings you can latch onto to launch over traps or whip items to you as well. Or you can silently attack an enemy for a quick kill. Each run is procedurally generated, so the City will never be the same on a second play through. You have to try and get further into the city on each run with all new layouts. The setting is great as only Prince of Persia has really exploited the Arabian Nights feel and the gameplay is fast and fun. City of Brass is coming out on May 4th on PS4, Steam and Xbox One.

Runner 3: Runner 3 is, if you couldn’t tell, the third entry in the Bit.Trip Runner series, which started with simplistic, almost Atariesque graphics but has evolved for the modern age. Commander Video is back along with a bunch of his playable friends and they are endlessly running through a gorgeous, insane and vivid world.  The main gameplay is still here with the Commander having to duck, kick and slide depending on the obstacle and usually timed to the great music the series is known for.  If you’ve played the previous Bit.Trip games, or endless runners in general, this doesn’t seem like it’s going to radically change the genre but it does look like the biggest and weirdest entry yet and it’s definitely a great entry for the Switch, where you can hammer out a few levels wherever you are.  Runner 3 is pushing off this May 22nd on PC and Switch.

Black Future 88: Black Future 88 is coming from SuperScarySnakes’ and publisher Good Shepherd Games and is an awesome looking and playing roguelike platformer.  Set in a neon drenched 80’s sci-fi world, you are a resistance fighter trying to climb the tower fortress of the man responsible for the nuclear hellscape the world is currently.  The only catch is that you only have minutes before your heart explodes and time is also your currency to buy new weapons and upgrades, so you need to work fast and climb hard.  There seems to be a ton of different weapons to use and skills to acquire and the game has a great pixel-art synthwave style look along with a fantastic soundtrack from the band Tremor Low.  Black Future 88 is also playable in co-op, so you and a friend can take on the constantly changing tower together.  The game will be release later this year for PC.

Phantom Doctrine: Phantom Doctrine is a Cold War themed entry into the tactical strategy genre inspired by the XCOM series. Developed by CreativeForge Games and published by Good Shepherd Game, Phantom Doctrine has players take control as the director of The Cabal, a secret group operating in 1983 that is trying to unravel a conspiracy beyond the US/Soviet Union tensions. The amount of options you will have in Phantom Doctrine is insane as, just on your base screen, there are tons of things you can do beyond just basic recruiting and upgrading soldiers. You can capture enemy agents and interrogate/brainwash them, which you could potentially activate on a mission and have them turn on their allies but the same thing could potentially happen to you if you recruit an agent who is secretly working for the enemy.  You can also piece together evidence together into an ever expanding conspiracy board and your main goal is discover who and the location of conspiracy operations.

You also have a lot of options for how you want missions to proceed and you can spend time scouting and infiltrating the mission area or just go in blind (which is probably never a good idea) but the risk/reward is that better preparation allows the enemy to progress in whatever nefarious things they are doing.  Once you are actually in a mission, the game plays like the most recent iteration of XCOM but you can have some added support like snipers or air strikes and you can also disguise agents and go in stealthily to avoid detection or put on full body armor and walk into the fray with machine guns.  Any new tactical game has our interest and this one seems ridiculously meaty and interesting, especially the Cold War setting and black ops options at your disposal.  Phantom Doctrine will be release later this year on PC.

The Messenger: Coming from Sabotage Studio, The Messenger, at first glance, seems like a solid riff on Ninja Gaiden, but as experienced in our demo, the game reveals crazy amounts of depth as you progress. You play as a lowly ninja whose clan is attacked by demons and you are tasked with delivering a sacred scroll of vital importance.  The gameplay is reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden and other similar NES classic action platformers, but you also gain new abilities, level up and upgrade your character. A few hours in, the scope of the game changes, gameplay and the graphics get an upgrade and the 8-bit graphics get a nice 16-bit graphic tuning. And that’s when the game really opens up, becoming way deeper than you first thought. Our short time in the game got us to explore multiple versions of levels that change drastically when we had new abilities and new graphics. The music is incredible as well and it plays great with tight controls that you’ll need for the increasingly crazy levels full of enemies and traps. The Messenger is coming sometime this year to Switch and PC.

RICO: Coming in the fall to consoles and PC, RICO is from Ground Shatter games and being published by Rising Star Games and is a co-op police shooter where you and a friend partner up and clear rooms of bad guys.  The action is fast and arcadey with some cool slow down when you kick down a door and the levels are randomly generated so you will never see the same thing twice.  The game also has a cool cel-shaded/comic book style art design and the weapons all look and feel great as well.  The co-op is available locally or online or you can try to take down entire buildings your self loose cannon style. The game has TDA release date.

Sky Noon: Sky Noon is coming from Lunar Rooster and Reverb Triple XP, and it’s an insanely fun, competitive, first person “brawler”. Set in a steampunky wild west, players battle as cowboys but the twist is that your weapons don’t actually cause any damage to your opponents. They push opponents back and the actual goal is to blast enemies off the map. Everyone has a grappling hook along with whatever air gun they have equipped and there’s lots of Smash Bros style last minute saves to get back on the map. You have a lasso as well that can pull enemies and items toward you, making for some clever gun play. Players can quickly dart across the map, lining up a clean shot or a perfect lasso pull to launch their enemies into the sky. It’s a blast to jump in a round, and you can get some insane movement around the map that feels really natural. Kind of like a cowboy Spiderman. Sky Noon will be released for PC and the early closed beta starts very soon.

 

We wrapped up the Day 1 feeling great about the upcoming games being made. There are still a ton of great games we saw and one article isn’t enough to scratch the surface of all the nerdy gaming goodness we saw. Stay tuned for more updates throughout the week.

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