It seemed like PAX Prime 2013 had Kickstarter Fever, while this year it appears that fever has broken. We did see some of the same games - including Neverending Nightmares and Chromancer - approaching completion. We didn't interview anyone actively fundraising this year, so we can't recommend anything new to back: So if you're into that, you're on your own.
But we did check out some awesome big to indie-sized projects coming to your consoles, PCs, and/or mobile devices this year or next. (And a few that are out now!)
This year wasn't a great one for indie press like us. We had a harder time than usual penetrating the PR veil that covers most triple-A titles. You ask to talk to someone in a booth about their game, and they refer you to their PR or community manager. That person may or may not be possible to find over the course of 4 days, particularly when you're exhausted and being pulled 10 different ways. We tried 4 times to speak to someone about Dragon Age: Inquisition, but never could find the elusive approved talker. In addition, it seems that the no cameras policy for canned demos was widely expanded to audio this year (normally audio gets a pass, which is how we brought you Portal 2 (MP3) and Infamous: Second Son (MP3) previews in years past), so we skipped Assassin's Creed Unity (among others) in favor of more accessible titles.
It's also worth noting that the sheer mass of people at PAX makes visiting all of the games at PAX impossible. In early days, we could do circuits around the show, visiting the booths we liked several times. Now you really have to pick your targets. Last year, while we had a blast, we got locked into appointments for games that sometimes proved disappointing or at least not worth the time investment (some publishers require you to lock in an hour per title for both play time and interviews). We prefer to sometimes just watch the games we don't have time to play and record short, quick interviews. So this tends to be overkill - so we kept our schedule as open as we could. On top of that, some publishers (like Bethesda) had no real PR presence, meaning we couldn't talk to anyone about The Evil Within - which is a shame, since the demo was a disappointment but we have a sense that there may be a really good game in there.
That said, the interviews we wrangled were good and reasonably short, so we should have all of the podcasts out to you much faster this year!
Here are the PAX Prime 2014 games we found noteworthy:
Costume Quest 2. This gentle turn-based adventure game is one of our top picks for Best of Show - and a long-overdue sequel to a fantastic game. Everyone's favorite trick-or-treaters must travel back in time to stop an evil dentist overlord (is there any other kind?) from taking away all of the world's candy and cancelling Halloween.
Your adventure will take you to the Louisiana Bayou and New Orleans French Quarter (among other places), collecting new quests and costumes along the way. Choose your active costumes carefully since your combat style is based on your costume. Our new favorite costume: a Thomas Jefferson-esque figure, who has the best powered-up attack of all time. (We won't spoil it - just use it as soon as you can.)
The game has solved two issues with previous Costume Quests. First, speed. The original Costume Quest offered up one costume on wheels, allowing the kids to fly around town. I ended up keeping that costume in constant use purely to get through game in a reasonable period of time. This time, EVERYONE gets skates, so speed is no longer a consideration when choosing costumes.
To help keep things challenging for more advanced players, the game also introduced a Candy Corn costume that makes the character takes damage but doesn't attack. Use this costume for one of your crew to increase the combat difficulty and see the incredibly funny Zen zingers that explain what's going through the Candy Corn's mind.
The Candy Corn abides in October 2014, just in time for Halloween.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! Our former Game of the Year IP returns with even more Wub-Wub - and a playable Claptrap character that is likely to cause some serious divisions among co-op players. Claptrap is the adorable/annoying single-wheeled robot that has guided vault hunters through past adventures. He comes equipped with his own action skill, an unstable program called "VaultHunter.EXE." You might rain down a pirate ship's worth of cannonballs at your enemies, or... send everyone in your party into an uncontrollable fit of bouncing on the moon. Who knows? Like I said, this may break up some friendships. Or marriages. (Sorry, honey - but you know I loves me some Claptrap. Wub. Wub.)
As for the rest of the game, it's Borderlands. The story explains the rise of Handsome Jack, the star of Borderlands 2. But really, it's all about the shooting and looting. Go it alone or bring a friend; just remember to save your buddies (real or NPC) when they inevitably start to die.
The cel-shaded insanity continues on October 14, 2014.
Chariot. Our favorite games this year were off-the-beaten track and - for the most part - surprisingly non-violent. (I know, right?) The Chariot team describes their game as a "humoristic physics-based couch co-op platformer," but really, all you need to know is that it's delightful and fun for two players. The game follows a princess and her fiancé as they drag her father's funeral chariot through ancient caves filled with looters and bats.
At first glance, it looks like your basic puzzle/platformer hybrid. Each player has the ability to tether him/herself to the chariot to push, pull, and lift the wagon wherever it needs to go. Every level requires significant cooperation; all it takes is one missed button press to send everyone tumbling back down the hill.
And the King really hates it when you drop him.
That's right, Dad is dead, but his spirit didn't get the memo... and he really, really hates his daughter's taste in men. This becomes clear very quickly, as the ghost of his royal highness takes humorous potshots at his daughter's intended. Perhaps a successful run to the graveyard will change Dad's mind. We'll find out when it rolls onto your favorite platform later this year.
Dead Island 2. GrrlGotGame is a huge Dead Island fan, and this was by far her most anticipated game of the show. Gamewatcher, not so much - though he ultimately enjoyed the demo more after taking a fruitful detour and killing the most zombies in a 10-minute period!
Dead Island 2 continues the tradition of outstanding trailers that have almost zero to do with the game (at least what we played). At E3, it was revealed that the zombies were coming to Venice Beach. The game itself is set in the Los Angeles area (and apparently other parts of the state - one of the logos has an outline of the Golden Gate Bridge), but the areas we saw were definitely more city than beach.
The gameplay hasn't changed significantly: There are zombies and tasks, but now you can choose if you want to actually do any of the offered missions. More disturbing (to us), it appears there is strong co-op focus at play here. We found it extremely jarring and annoying to have random people just appear in our past Dead Island games, and we always turn that functionality off. The developers said that we'd still be able to turn off unannounced visitors or restrict it to friends only, but it's not clear how important this is to enjoyment of the game.
It's worth noting that the game engine appears significantly improved, and the weapon upgrade system has been streamlined. You still need blueprints and items, but now, you don't have to find a workbench to combine weapons. Time won't stop while you're upgrading your weapons, so the devs recommend having a friend watch your back while you do it. (There's that forced co-op again!) That said, it's not impossible to find a nice, quiet place to do it. Say, the top of a school bus. Join in the fun (or please don't, if it's our game!) when Dead Island 2 washes ashore in 2015.
Escape Dead Island. Deep Silver jumps on the cel-shaded bandwagon with this somewhat bizarre entry in the Dead Island universe. The demo didn't really say much, but it appears that you play someone left behind on an island during the zombie apocalypse. GrrlGotGame took an excruciatingly linear path through the beach/trees to yell at someone who may or may not really exist, while listening to the spirit(?!) of someone yelling in her character's head.
Oh, and she totes killed a couple zombies, too.
This one didn't do much for GrrlGotGame (it's looking more like a Telltale game, where story trumps action, and thus may be more in Gamewatcher's wheelhouse). We'll see what the voices in our head say when Escape Dead Island releases November 18. Preorders get access to the Dead Island 2 beta - which is odd since the only overlapping platform is PC.
Evolve. Also known as the "You can be the monster" game from E3. GrrlGotGame played first as a Goliath and latera medic on the human team, and she didn't really get into either class. Gamewatcher, on the other hand, played a medic and was very successful at it (much less so as a Tracker - he let down his team by not finding the monster quickly, before it had leveled up a couple of times.) That said, flying around and unleashing Hell from above has its moments.
This was where our lack of co-op experience and practice with the game really hurt. With single-player campaigns, you have a chance to get your skills up before going into an online melee. In this case, we were playing against people who knew what they were doing... and they took us down hard. GrrlGotGame did last longer as a monster than a medic, however. A bit more prep and clarity on how to use the controls before diving in would have been very helpful.
Prepare to release the Kraken (and the Goliath, and 1-2 more TBA monsters) when Evolve comes out in February 2015.
GrrlGotGame prepares to play as the monster
The Order: 1886. This highly anticipated PS4 exclusive attracted a lot of attention at E3 earlier this year, and with good reason. The Order takes players back to Victorian-Era London and hands them super-powered weapons (fictionally) created by Nikola Tesla. You play Galahad, a member of an elite order of knights charged with fighting a centuries-old war against a powerful threat.
The game has some lovely anachronisms, from the Tesla-powered energy guns to a female cohort. One of the cooler weapons disperses powdered thermite into the air around your enemies, which then ignites into a fireball when you shoot a flare at it. Realistic for the time? Not likely. But it sure is fun!
The environment remains much more firmly rooted in reality. The designers clearly did their research, exploring the Whitechapel area of London today as well as delving into the history books for reference. But let's not kid ourselves, folks. The heart of the game remains a third-person action/adventure/shooter. It just happens to be one with some extremely cool style.
The demo level we played was slightly confusing due to a lack of instruction. We presume the developers picked a later level to ensure players saw some real action. We could have used a few hints about combining attacks to get the desired effects. That said, we both had some fun stumbling around semi-blind.
Assuming the demo represents the final product (and they add some in-game training), expect to have a jolly good time when this releases on February 20, 2015.
Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell. Saints Row fans know that Johnny Gat was a very, very naughty boy. It appears his actions caught up with him after his storyline ended, because Johnny now resides <echo voice>IN HELL</echo voice>. In other words, Deep Silver thought of an excuse to take their way-over-the-top franchise straight to Hell.
Everything you expect from a Saints Row game is here, and more. There are new weapons based on the Seven Deadly Sins (no, you really can't begin to imagine) and guest appearances galore from some of history's most reviled humans. Plus Johnny has earned his devilish wings, allowing players to make some gorgeous sweeps through Hell. The new location, imaginative weaponry and addition of winged flight make this a welcome addition to the Saints Row franchise.
Prepare to heat things up on your favorite platform when Gat Out of Hell releases as a standalone digital game on January 27, 2015 and as part of the retail bundle Saints Row IV: Reelected for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Tales from the Borderlands. The Borderlands franchise gets the Telltale Games treatment, which means lots of conversation and cut scenes with a little combat mixed in. This one breaks with the traditional Telltale approach of generally following one person, and neatly tweaks the story based on player actions.
The tales take place on Pandora after the events of Borderlands 2. While it helps to be familiar with the story and characters, it's not required to play. (You will be spoiled on some Borderlands 2 details, to be sure.) The story unfolds through multiple playable characters, including scheming Hyperion employee Rhys and con artist Fiona.
The demo was a bit too heavy on the cut-scenes for GrrlGotGame's taste (she's a run and gun gal), while Gamewatcher was quite at home. She almost missed a few dialog trees because frankly, she was a little zoned out (it was our first stop of the first day of PAX). Not bored, just waiting for something to happen. (She's still waiting for Telltale to adapt "My Dinner with Andre" into a game.) Once the combat started, it was the standard "Push LEFT!" "Now quickly Push UP!" combat you see in any Telltale game. Not terrible, just not her style.
The demo ended right about the time it started getting interesting, which is a good way to build a demo. We're both intrigued by the multiple character approach, and very curious to see what they do with Fiona.
Plus we all love The Wolf Among Us, so even GrrlGotGame is willing to give this game a chance when it comes out in late 2014.
- Releasing on: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC - plus likely (though unannounced) for iOS.
- Sorry, no interviews were available.
Boo Bunny Plague. A fantastic original soundtrack and an Adult Swim sensibility drives this "animated musical adventure through dimensions of time and space-time space." You play a robot Bunny who becomes annoyed with his father/creator and does what any bratty kid does: He takes off, leaving a path of destruction in his path. Expect a ton of 1980s touchstone references (RoboCop, Say Anything) and some extremely adult language.
The gameplay is essentially third-person destruction. Your weapon of choice is a thrashing guitar with which to pummel your foes, apropos of the original metal track that accompanies your mission. The soundtrack reportedly bounces around time and styles, which should keep things interesting. Bonus points for the coolest booth freebie of the show, an original Boo Bunny comic by Hack/Slash creator Tim Seeley.
Rock out with your bunny tail out now on Steam (released on September 4, 2014, just after the show).
Sunset Overdrive. We don't get into multiplayer much, but really wanted to try out this game's grind system - it reminds us a bit of one of our all-time favorite games, Jet Set Radio Future, but with guns. The only option was an hourlong line to play a 10-minute melee battle for a fabulous prize (well, a pin) if you were the top player in a group of 7.
The game rewards you for grinding and doing tricks, so runners and gunners may stay alive but they won't get the top scores. Gamewatcher mostly alternated between grinding and shooting (occasionally pulling off both at the same time) and managed to snag the winning position (and the prize) after three quick waves of enemies.
While we're more likely to enjoy the story mode, we might be tempted to jump online occasionally to shoot some mutant enemies with friends when this releases in October.
- Releasing on: Xbox One
- Sorry, no interviews were available.
The Evil Within. So Resident Evil mastermind Shinji Mikami has developed a very bizarre Silent Hill-ish survival horror game that should have our names written all over it. This was one of the few games that we voluntarily waited almost two hours to see, and we were deeply disappointed. A brief video that displayed Xbox controls was provided to teach us how to play the demo... on a PlayStation 4. Then, we were dumped into Level 9 with no direction or even idea what to do. 30 mostly painful minutes later, we left wondering where this could have gone so very, very wrong.
To be fair, we both felt the same way about publisher Bethesda Software's Dishonored demo at a previous PAX - and that ended up being one of our favorite games that year. So we may still give The Evil Within a chance.
But it will have to work hard to get into our heads when it releases in mid-October.
- Releasing on: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PC
- Sorry, no interviews were available.
Panda Pandamonium and Cascade. Big Fish Games has developed a Mahjong game as dated as the awful '70s and '80s music blasting from their booth. Panda Pandamonium for iOS is basically a Mahjong game with a goal: Match the two Panda tiles, thus freeing them from... being tiles on the Mahjong board. Don't get us wrong; we love matching games (including Mahjong), and we totes love Pandas, too. May they live long and happy bamboo-filled lives. But these South Park rejects didn't add anything to the game whatsoever. Maybe if the designers had spent more time designing the rest of the tiles into something comprehensible, we would care. Instead, we had a hard time figuring out what matched what on the board. The Boston/Cyndi Lauper train wreck of a soundtrack didn't help any.
Also showing on the floor: Cascade, a match-3 game that was a whole lot better when it was called Bejeweled.
- Available now: iOS only
- We skipped the interviews on these.
Pig Eat Ball. At every PAX, there is a game so bizarre, so out there, that we honestly don't know what to say about it.
This is that game.
Pig Eat Ball is a local co-op party game that challenges players with a series of fast-paced levels, each with its own unique goal. It starts pretty simple: Chase after tennis balls on the screen and eat them. Your avatar gets a little chunkier with each bite, making it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to navigate through the maze. Just to keep things interesting, your opponents can ram you from behind, causing your character to vomit up skanky green balls. And yes, you gobble them back up to keep your score up. (Barfing is also a valid strategy to make it through tight corridors. Yes, it tacitly encourages bulimia.) Later levels include challenges like "make a sandwich" (seriously!) and eat the stars, which is complicated by some prickly stars that pop your fat piggy.
Days later, we're still not sure exactly what to think of the game. Eating vomit balls isn't our cup of tea, but our 11-year-old sure loved it. The game was also a huge hit with three young adults who played before us. Maybe we're just old. There's also the complication that it's a PC only game, and gathering around a work laptop isn't exactly a party-friendly space. Perhaps if it gets ported to consoles, we'd be more inclined to commend it.
There is the (optional) accessory that gave the game an added dimension: DIY vibrating chair pads that rocked our world whenever someone attacked us, which was actually pretty often. Every bump to our character's behind gave a nice, therapeutic butt massage while lighting the chair up like a Christmas tree. We don't know if we would buy this game, but I would definitely buy that peripheral (the devs promise to share the instructions on how to build your own, if you're handy with Make-style projects).
Check it out and consider giving it a Steam Greenlight vote today. Launch window is early 2015.
That Dragon, Cancer. We skipped this booth last year but decided to dive in for a closer look this year after spying the eye-popping visuals.
This is an unusual game with a heart-wrenching twist: The young boy, Joel, who inspired it died earlier this year. The game, however, lives on and provides unexpected solace and release for those in similar situations. It's less a game and more a series of emotionally charged play spaces that encourage you to explore and experience what it's like to be a parent of a child undergoing cancer care. Gamewatcher spoke to Ryan Green, Joel's father and the game's lead developer, and then played a lake scene which included a duck's eye view of being fed by the boy. Another station nearby put you into the role of the father trying to comfort his inconsolable son in a hospital room.
Having recently lost a family friend to a related dragon, the feels came crashing down. And that can be a good thing. The game's creator hopes that others will find catharsis and peace by sharing in his son's brief but meaningful life when the game is completed.
Never Alone. There's almost always a title - usually a puzzle game - that pushes the visual boundaries of what we expect from our hobby. Never Alone was instantly striking; we were drawn to it from across a crowded room and spent a lot of time just watching someone else play. You explore an icy Alaskan landscape as a young Iñupiat girl and her artic fox companion, solving puzzles while exploring tales inspired by native folklore. Naturally, the fox can access areas that the girl cannot - and vice versa - and success will unlock stories told by the tribe that inspired the game.
We'll be living the legends together when Never Alone launches on Nov. 4 (delayed to Nov. 18).
Slender: The Arrival. Already available for PC, Slender - a licensed game featuring the Internet mythical and supernatural villain Slender Man - is making its way to Xbox 360 and PS3 later this month. If Gone Home caught your fancy and you want some more spooky wandering in your life, this might scratch that itch.
We played a small section of the game that took us, with little explanation or exposition, into a dark spooky mine where we had to flip on some generators to open up a new area. Like we really wanted to go deeper into the mine with Slender Man wandering around?! But we did it anyway and were rewarded with a few skin crawl-inducing flash cuts that definitely made us jump. They served it up in a dark booth, so we skedaddled at that point... so that other people in the lengthy booth line could have their turn! Yeah, that's why.
This strikes us as a great couch game, so yeah, count us in when it releases in late September.
Rebuild: Gangs of Deadsville. This one is for our 11-year-old son, who recognized it was a sequel to a resource-management zombie game he'd found and played on his Web browser last year. He proclaimed it to be great and we plunked out for a pair of Steam codes right there at the show. It's a bit like State of Decay but with a similar look and feel to Farmville and turn-based fighting.
The game is out on Steam Early Access now and the deluxe edition contains desktop versions of the two earlier games - or you can play them online here: Rebuild and Rebuild 2. iOS and Android versions are in the works but will likely lag behind the PC version.