You also couldn't get to everything in the now overflowing Exhibition Hall, not without your mind imploding! So many games, genres, categories - you pretty much had to pick and choose. Here are my show picks, in brief:
- The Beatles: Rock Band. We stood in line twice to play this and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's basically Rock Band with Beatles songs, but the subtle tweaks to gameplay are impressive. You have the option to sing harmonies even while wrangling another instrument. I can see that the whole family will enjoy this feature - I found strumming and singing both challenging and immensely enjoyable, and I know our 6-year-old (who always sings mom's Rock Band fills) will love having his own part to belt out. We also noticed that when the game is paused (say, when a controller disconnects), there's now a 3-second countdown when you resume. Long overdue.
While on the subject of Rock Band, we also tried the Lego game. The early demo didn't blow us away but we're sure our 6-year-old will adore it. (He's already declared it "OSSM" and his #1 holiday gift request for the big man up north, sight unseen.) We also went to the Harmonix panel on the Rock Band Network and watched how indy bands and smaller labels can create their own Rock Band song note charts, custom animations, etc. and build them into sellable tracks. To ensure quality, makers need to join the XNA Creator's Club and submit to peer review. The result will be more and varied music to buy in Rock Band 2 for $1-3 a song. Jonathan Coulton demoed his track The Future Soon, which we certainly hope will appear for purchase soon! He plans to be very active porting his lesser known back catalog fan favorites (though in the meantime you can buy one of our personal faves, "Re: Your Brains," next week on Xbox 360 and PS3).
- Doom II. I doubt anyone who reads this site remembers our mid-'90s e-zine MacDoom Review. Suffice it to say, GrrlGotGame and I loved Doom and we were thrilled to see Nerve Software and Bethesda Softworks have breathed new life into it with an upcoming Xbox Live Arcade port. The game looks pretty much like we remembered it, but the Xbox controls are silky smooth, there's co-op and even a new map. We had forgotten how much we enjoyed taking down Mancubi slowly with a shotgun - dodging their attacks and hearing their mournful wails with every impact. So fun. We can't wait!
- Resident Evil Darkside Chronicles. We signed up for a private booth to try this lightgun-style rails shooter and had to admit it was fun (despite many previous games in this style being the suck). You play as Leon or Claire and then wail on zombies as they dart out of hidden nooks or swarm you. If you love lightgun games, this one is definitely worth a look.
- Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time. This one grudgingly made the list. There were two demos at PAX. The Clank demo is all time puzzles and platforming, which seemed overly complex and not terribly thrilling. The Ratchet demo was a bit more exciting but also overly complicated - you have to coordinate a new hovershoe move to speed over ramps and take down enemies riding on what look like giant space buffalo. Then there are Hydratanks that involve a lot of dodging and then a special wrench move to destroy. The game is still fun enough that I probably won't cancel my preorder, but a PAX Weapons 101 panel with one of the Insomniac designers reminded me just how much fun and brilliant the early games were without all of these bells and whistles. I really think the series needs a back-to-basics reboot.
All in all, a great show with truly EPIC swag - much of which we will give away in the next week! Now I really need to get some rest.