There’s no great way to talk about the chaos and beauty that is a large Con like PAX. You could try to review everything you saw and you’d still fall short or forget something. That being said, I want to talk about the games I did get to play at PAX West 2016. There are some awesome games coming in the near future and you, my lovely fans, need to hear about them.
By day three of my PAX Extravaganza, things were getting pretty dire. Restaurants in and around the convention center were low on food, booths were out of swag, and Twitch was handing out deodorant because we are all disgusting. The first morning, hopes ran high with the promise of games but by day three, gamers were filled with desperation to finish seeing everything PAX had to offer. (Spoiler alert: most people, myself included, failed.)
Antihero (Versus Evil: PC, Mobile)
Once I realized that Antihero was made by the same people behind Guild of Dungeoneering, I knew I was in for a treat. With the same art style and devious sense of humor, Antihero follows you as the leader of a thieves guild in a turn of the century London setting. Essentially, you act as the gang leader Jacob Frye WISHED to be in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. Like Guild of Dungeoneering, Antihero is turn-based, giving your guild leader a few moves each turn to spy on buildings around town, dispatching urchins and thugs to gain gold and influence. However, there’s a rival guild leader who wants you to move off his turf and you have to use your child labor and Daniel Day-Lewis-looking characters to gain intel and blackmail against this leader and claim victory. Antihero is an incredibly fun game you could sit and play for twenty minutes or two hours, and I eagerly await its release in the future.
The American Dream (Samurai Punk: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Playstation VR – 2017)
Last year at PAX I had my first experience with Virtual Reality technology. It was simple enough: put on this headset, walk two feet, pick up items, look around, walk in circles, end game. In the span of a year, the technology has improved by leaps and bounds, so much so that it only took Samurai Punk around three months to put together The American Dream. The American Dream is a VR game that imagines what life would be like if humans used guns instead of their hands, set in what felt like a pre-bombs Fallout universe. Need to get mom’s attention from the other room? Don’t call her name! Pop off a few pistol rounds into the wall. Someone asks you to choose between whole or skim milk? Shoot the one you want. For as limited as the game is in its current state, the one overriding thought in my very liberal brain was, “Mother of God, it feels so satisfying to shoot these guns in VR.”
Of course, the satisfaction was short-lived once the game required me to drive a car with guns and then the motion sickness set in. I’ve always worried about motion sickness with VR and The American Dream proved that’s a real fear. Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish the demo due to the sickness, but I imagine it was similar to what I had already played, which, in terms of gameplay, wasn’t too much. Just lots of shooting. It was cool to look around the room and see all the details, to load magazines in my pistols like Lara Freaking Croft, but ultimately it does feel like a spectacle that lasts a few minutes and fades. It’s a fun concept and I’m eager to see the technology grow, but for now, it does ring a bit hollow.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (Mimimi Productions: PC, XBox One, PS4 – Late 2016)
Stealth games are not my forte. As much as I wish I was good at games like Dishonored, Styx: Master of Shadows, or Mark of the Ninja, I’m really, really not. So when I was approached to try Shadow Tactics, I was initially hesitant. Not because it looked like a bad game–in fact, it looked like a stealth Baldur’s Gate–but because I didn’t want to prove how bad I was at stealth games in front of an audience. I did, however, concede to playing and I’ll be honest, I’m glad I did. Shadow Tactics is an isometic stealth game that utilizes one of six multiple characters each equipped with unique skillsets to complete missions. The mission I played allowed me to use two of these characters in tandem to complete an assassination. Each mission can completed in several different ways and it’s not just a matter of finishing the mission, but then also escaping the area after (which is the most challenging portion). Shadow Tactics requires you to make use of your surroundings, pay attention to NPCs who can give away your position, and save constantly because you’re bound to muck up a kill attempt. It took me a lot longer to complete the demo mission than I care to admit, but for those who are good at and enjoy stealth games, I can see Shadow Tactics being a solid entry into the genre.
Holy Potatoes! We’re in Space!? (Daylight Studios: PC – Late 2016)
Holy Potatoes! We’re in Space?! is much more my style of game. Like Antihero, it’s riddled with good humor, potato humor, and I didn’t know that was a thing I needed so badly in my life. Holy Potatoes follows Cassie and Fay in a sequel to Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop!? as they journey through space to save the life of Grandfather Jiji. As the protagonists, you’re required to manage your space crew and your ship, upgrading weapons, shields, and the ship’s jacuzzi. It’s a roguelike adventure game where you travel from planet to planet, looting goodies, fighting other ships, and capturing “Potamon.” Battles are also turn-based where you try to destroy the enemy’s ship before they turn you into fossil fuel. The humor is what stands out in Holy Potatoes (I had no idea someone could make so many potato-related puns) but the gameplay is simple enough for pretty much anyone to pick up and enjoy.
State of Mind (Daedalic Entertainment: PC, Xbox One, PS4 – 2017)
I didn’t play a lot of narrative games at PAX, mostly because I like going into story-heavy games blind, but also because there just weren’t a lot of them there. State of Mind was one of a few available. In the game you play as Richard Nolan, a man who has just been the victim of the technology he loathes. His mind and memories were uploaded to a cloud-based system and now he, the human part in this equation, is forced to try to remember what went wrong in his life. On top of this, there’s another man, Adam, who figures into the dilemma. Where Richard’s life is in shambles, Adam’s life is perfect. Together, the two must figure out what’s become of their lost memories. Having not played much of the game and still not understanding much of the narrative, I’d guess that State of Mind is meant to challenge our dependence on technology as well as question what we think is our reality versus what actually is. It’s an interesting concept that makes good use of a low-poly art style (the shards of memories seen the shards of the character design, and so on), but I’d have to play more of the game to give a better description of the game. That being said, unlike the trend we’ve seen in narrative-focused games, State of Mind WILL NOT be released in episodes. Instead, it will all release all at once and I, for one, am grateful for that act by the developers.
SMASH+GRAB (United Front Games: PC – 2016)
From the people behind Sleeping Dogs comes SMASH+GRAB, an intense underground team battle focused on looting, killing, and causing mayhem set in a dystopian world. It’s a PvP game that pits three players against one another to see which team can rack up $50k in goods first. As the player, you choose your character based on class–ranged, fighter, or support–and then also your lieutenant, as well as a smaller group of three thugs to round out your party. Essentially, it works out like three groups of five-man parties and those parties fight to the death over money and objectives. As the match progresses, more looting options unlock, including department stores and box drops that are loaded with cash and weapon upgrades.
When I played my first match in SMASH+GRAB, I chose a ranged character armed with a nail gun, and I’ll admit, I was kind of disheartened by the gameplay. Usually I choose a ranged class because I’m a coward who doesn’t want to be in the thick of the action. However, the thick of the action is where the fun is in SMASH+GRAB and once I played as a melee character, it was a completely different game, much more fun and exciting. I never realized how much it was to beat an enemies face in with an ice claw hammer until I played SMASH+GRAB. Even if you lose the match, you still get experience points toward the character you played and account as a whole; these are used to upgrade appearance, weapon choices, and other aspects of the gameplay. And in case you aren’t good at the game like me, you can practice against AI bots to get the hang of the objective-based combat. SMASH+GRAB has a closed beta coming up soon and after that releases into early access on Steam.
Since most of these games I’ve covered the past three days have yet to fully release into the wild, stay tuned for more reviews and gameplay discussion.