PAX Prime really has gotten big, and the lines aren't just long for a few marquee titles - they're long almost everywhere! So we covered what we could; sorry if your favorite game isn't represented!
Here's the remainder of our PAX Prime 2011 coverage, including days 2 and 3 (read Part 1 with Borderlands 2, Skyrim, Orcs Must Die, Retro/Grade, Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure and more; podcast interviews will be in Busy Gamer Podcast 66, coming as soon as we can cull the best parts for you):
BioShock Infinite. There's still no playable demo, but Irrational Games did make their presence known with a giant steampunk bird and a living, breathing Elizabeth who gamely reached out in distress (or to save) each booth visitor, whatever their preference. Lines were long for a chance to study about a dozen concept art portraits lining a very small booth.
After a brief, timed visit, each group was sent to a bank of computers where they could complete a series of questions ("What color was the banner?" "What year was the World's Fair?") based on the images. Answer correctly, win a prize.
A booth manager reviewed my answers before submitting them. One answer magically changed before he submitted my quiz, granting me a prize-winning perfect score. And I'm glad he did: my ladies - yes, they had babydolls! - BioShock Infinite shirt is my second-fave freebie of PAX. Sorry Irrational, nothing can top the soft-as-silk cotton tee I scored at the Borderlands 2 demo.
The booth was busy all weekend, but got an extra boost on Day 2 when Creator Ken Levine and lead voice talent Courtnee Draper (Elizabeth) and Troy Baker (Booker DeWitt) followed up a fantastic panel with a signing at the booth. I wonder how many people asked about a behind-the-scenes clip in which Baker verbally beat the crap out of Draper to help her get to a tear-stained emotional moment in the game (full panel audio). (GrrlGotGame)
Lollipop Chainsaw. We all knew Buffy the Vampire Slayer would influence pop culture for years to come, but I'm not sure this is quite the female empowerment game that Joss Whedon is looking for. You play as Juliet, a hot blonde cheerleader at San Romero High who happens to have wicked chainsaw skills. In this case, Juliet is battling zombies and "zombie rock lords" (the bosses) who have invaded her school and her life.
The halls of San Romero High have more than a passing resemblance to the Sunnydale High classrooms you may remember from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer games. So much so one of the people behind me in line asked if this was some kind of Buffy spin-off. (It's not.) That's where the resemblance ends, however. Juliet is all about the cheerleader kicks and chainsaws - no stakes required. The bosses have bizarre special attacks including one in which he screams extraordinarily offensive words that then surround you, in full, 2000-point written glory.
Play-wise, the game is a bit of a button masher. There are numerous combinations that I didn't have time to master, but I did just fine hitting the X and Y buttons in various combos. Some scored, some sent me flying off into space. Most landed at least moderate hits. Add in the occasional "PUSH Y NOW!" moments, and you pretty much have the game. The rep indicated the demo for PAX was easier than the final game will be, so you will have to master the combos to advance.
So to recap: hot cheerleader, chainsaws, zombies, guys calling you words I'm not even sure how to spell. I'd strongly suggest trying a demo before you buy. Lollipop Chainsaw will be heading to a console near you in early 2012.
On a side note: I must give props to the marketer who chose the booth premiums, which included a giant foam chainsaw and awesome temporary tats. The ladies working the booth did a fantastic job of wandering the line, giving out SWAG and keeping us posted on what was going on. "Juliet" also worked the line personally, demonstrating that you can have a booth babe who actually knows something about the game. The actor was also super-sweet to my son, who spotted her on the floor. She chatted with him about being a "cheerleader," gave him one of the last chainsaws and posed for pics. When he started to ask about the game, she smiled sweetly and with the best cheerleader voice you've ever heard said, "This is NOT a game for you - but Harry Potter is JUST AROUND THE CORNER!" While he knew there was no way he was getting near the game, I appreciated that she found an upbeat way to end the visit. Go team go! (GrrlGotGame)
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. After a punishing run through the last Zelda game on the Wii (Twilight Princess, which I begrudgingly enjoyed thanks to a good story and the ability to transform into a wolf), I thought: Never again. But I have to admit, Skyward Sword has a certain charm and seemingly more polished motion controls than its predecessor. I played part of a dungeon level which offered me the classic slingshot and sword, a bow and a little remote control gold bug I could fly around the level. Alas, bump your bug into a wall or object, and it resets - forcing you to start over. I couldn't begin to decipher the dungeon flow in the time allotted, but I did have fun and have to admit this game is (again, begrudgingly) on my radar. Might as well put the Wii to some use, and playing as Link - even if he sometimes flies on the back of a garish red bird - is just the ticket! (Gamewatcher)
Dead Island. This game comes out in little more than a week, but I really wanted to give it a try. The game is like a first-person version of Dead Rising set on an island resort. The controls took a little getting used to and I only had a 5-minute timed demo to advance as far as I could. But the gameplay, acting and quest-based storyline seemed compelling enough to warrant a preorder - so we'll be getting this game and reviewing it in greater depth. No reps were available, so I have no idea whether you can save anywhere but have to imagine the save system is better than the Dead Rising series has provided so far. Here's hoping this is the zone-out-and-beat-down-zombies game I've been dreaming of. (Gamewatcher)
Halo 4. I attended the panel on Halo 4 and even recorded audio from the session, but seriously - they announced almost nothing.
The Arbiter will be back. The game will... be a game. It will play like (surprise!) a Halo game. They want it to be good and full of Halo-y goodness. We will have to wait to hear much more than that.
If you want the full panel audio, I can post it - but you're really better off waiting until PAX East or E3 2012 where I suspect we'll get our first real taste of the game. I want my hour back - and so would you if you listened to this panel. (Gamewatcher)
Rise of Nightmares. The Kinect has been dominated by family-friendly titles and sports franchises since its release last November. Sega aims to break the mold with the very M-rated survival horror title Rise of Nightmares. The story focuses on a mad doctor somewhere in Europe ("possibly Romania," according to the PR rep) who has been a very naughty boy. He derails the train on which you and your wife are traveling, and then "wife-naps" her. This being survival horror, your job is to track down the doctor and save your wife without, you know, dying. The rep described the action as being similar to another Sega title, House of the Dead, but surprisingly NOT on rails. The title does rely on auto-save and chapter completions, but levels are designed to be completed in minutes, not hours.
Sega put some effort into their Rise presence at PAX, building out a mock dungeon that both provided ambiance and shielded underage eyes from what was going on in the seriously violent and disturbing demo. Outside the booth, players could pose for pictures in an antiquated electric chair while watching for zombie nurses and doctors. (The zombies were part of a tweet contest sponsored by Sega.) We didn't get hands on with the game, but will surely do so when Rise of Nightmares releases September 6. (GrrlGotGame)
Kinect Disneyland Adventures. The Disneyland theme park comes to life in stunning detail in this Kinect title, which allows you to cruise around the park and interact with select characters and virtual "rides." The show demo was limited, but what I saw was jaw dropping. I recognized shops, rides and even food carts as I made my way through the park. To navigate, you point the direction you want to go - just as a child would point excitedly in real life. A floating "E" ticket accompanies you through the park, signaling potential interaction points such as a character waiting for a hug or a ride that doubles as a mini-game.
Only a few "rides" were available to play at PAX: Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Matterhorn were highlights. The Peter Pan level involved flying around capturing coins in a manner that reminded me of Mario 64. An Alice game required players to dance at a tea party and match goofy poses struck by the Hatter and friends. My favorite experience was fighting pirates with a sword, despite having to use my non-dominant right hand. Being required to use my right hand made the Matterhorn game - a snowball fight with yetis - almost hellish. A booth rep says the game will have ambidextrous support at launch. We'll see if he's right - or if we southpaws will be left behind - when the game launches this holiday. (GrrlGotGame)
Q.U.B.E. This student project turned professionally developed game was clearly inspired by Portal. You see your hands with power gloves that can manipulate colored blocks to solve puzzles in stark white test chambers. Different colored blocks react differently, and some can be affected only indirectly by other blocks.
There doesn't seem to be much story, at least not in the early pre-release demo we saw, but it promises to deliver a similar thrill of discovery that battling GLaDOS delivered - so we'll probably pick it up when it launches eventually, probably in 2012 on platforms to be determined. (Gamewatcher)
The Splatters. This Xbox Live Arcade title isn't due until early next year, but it's looking very polished. You control little blobs positioned around a play arena that's populated with bombs. You can aim your blobs and cause them to splatter, covering and disabling the explosive orbs.
It's a bit of a physics puzzler with personality, which is odd - since you wouldn't expect amorphous blobs to have personality. But you almost want to give them a hug. We sense an untapped merchandizing opportunity. (Gamewatcher)
Retro City Rampage. Described as a Grand Theft Auto meets classic '80s games, I wasn't sure what the heck I was doing - but I sure had fun running over pedestrians in stolen vehicles, getting chased by cops, stealing their guns and then shooting everything in sight. Supposedly there are missions, but I couldn't find them in the demo I stumbled into - but I will need to try the trial when it releases on Xbox Live Arcade later this year. (Gamewatcher)
Pinball FX 2 Ms. Splosion Man table. I clocked some time on this pinball table, launching later this week, and have to say it's pretty cool. You have to alternatively aim between a Ms. Splosion Man boss at the top of the table and some gizmo that brings him back for another shot. Sometimes, Ms. Splosion Man does a little dance. It's solid fun, and playing competitive split-screen with our 8-year-old was great even if he did beat me to 10 million points - twice. That's OK, since I scored a respectable 28 million on solo play with 3 balls, which is pretty awesome for me. And all of the native Pinball FX 2 tables let you save your game midshot, so I know I'll have to get this one. (Gamewatcher)
Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7. Our 8-year-old, Pikachu Fan, is a huge fan of Lego games and Harry Potter, so this was a no-brainer. As an added bonus, there was no one in line for the game, which appeared to be an afterthought in the massive Warner Brothers booth. He played a Hermione level that focused on clearing a graveyard of ghosts and then chasing a giant Lego snake through a house. The demo didn't offer any kind of training, so he had to rely heavily on a WB rep to explain what to do and where to go. That doesn't bode well for any game, but given this was clearly a later level, I'll cut them some slack.
The combat consisted primarily of Hermione setting her purse on a purple Lego and then pressing the X button. A LOT. Pikachu Fan became bored quickly, but was thrilled to discover a spell for conjuring up a cat who attacks... or something. It wasn't clear what the cat does, but watching him run around was definitely a highlight of the demo. About 20 minutes after we left the booth, Pikachu Fan announced, "I'm not sure that's one we need to buy." That's a major change from earlier in the day, when just the mention of a Lego Harry Potter game sent him into fits of joy. We'll see how he feels about it when the game releases on November 1. (GrrlGotGame)
Shoot Many Robots. The developers behind indie studio Demiurge have major street cred, having worked on (among other things) our 2009 game of the year, Borderlands, as contractors. The side-scrolling shooter Shoot Many Robots is their debut solo effort. The conceit: For years, the slack-jawed yokels (you know the type) have fretted that he robots will one day take over the world. Turns out they weren't so stupid after all - the robot apocalypse has arrived! But enough backstory.
This highly-customizable games gives you hundreds of skill options that you can mix-and-match to improve your results. For example, a speed boost can help compensate for choosing a weight class that would normally result in a stroll when you really need to run. There are some clever weapons to help you bash and/or shoot your way through levels solo, with a local co-op buddy or online. Friends can revive you if you're down, but first they have to reach you - not always the easiest thing to do. The combat system is pretty easy to pick up, and there are some nice touches in the game. My favorite move: a special combo that allows you to jump high and then float down slowly, bringing death to robots from above. Cool and useful, especially when being bum-rushed by a horde.
An incredibly brutal survival mode sends several waves of robots into very tight quarters. The robots become progressively tougher with each wave, to the point that you're essentially being attacked by a bunch of bosses by the fourth or fifth round. I didn't make it through the first wave; I did last longer than the developer who was hanging out with me, however! Shoot Many Robots will appear on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and PC in 2012 with a little help from publisher Ubisoft. (GrrlGotGame)
Heroes of Neverwinter. Our Dungeons and Dragons loving son, Pikachu Fan, made a beeline for the official D&D booth, which featured both digital and live-action adventures. He immediately fell in love Heroes of Neverwinter, a soon-to-be-released Facebook game that allows players to control four characters in the classic configurations (elf, mage, fighter, etc.).
We ended up making four return trips to the booth, much to the delight of the booth manager. He gave Pikachu Fan a personal tour of the game, including a few quick tips to help him take down the first boss. Pikachu Fan was up and running in minutes; I think he would have been there all day if I hadn't eventually dragged him away. We didn't go far, however. Our next stop was to get in line for the real-world D&D mini-game happening on the other side of the partition. We joined four others as members of a party questing to take down a dragon. Our weapons of choice: a giant D&D die that weighed (no joke) 8 pounds. It was bigger than either of my cats.
Pikachu Fan rolled two twenties (one with a tiny bit of help, the other a natural twenty), earning a shot at two prizes. He pulled out a pair of coins from a bag and was instructed to go to the main D&D area in another building to claim his loot. We were expecting a card or single die. He took home a dice set and a gorgeous Orc statue. Not only did this make his day, it made his PAX. It kind of made mine, too. (GrrlGotGame)
Citizen Skywatch. I have no idea what this game is about, but I totally want to play it. 2K Games set up a mini-universe that felt pulled straight out of 1950s communist paranoia, complete with very talented improvisers and the requisite fallout shelter goodies. The line ropes kept potential "recruits" tightly confined, adding to the paranoia.
We were interrogated by communist-hunting G-Men who gave just enough clues to allow us to play along, no matter how clueless. At one point, I pulled out my iPhone to tweet, catching the attention of one of the actors. He asked me where I got that "strange device." I took a shot and announced that the aliens gave it to me. He countered that it looked like something the Russians would provide, and began interrogating me.
G Man: "Are you a communist, ma'am?"
Me: Why yes. Yes I am. I believe it's important to tell the truth.
G Man (whispers into his folder): I'll be watching you.
I spent an extra 10 minutes in line. The next person to be asked confirmed he was a red-blooded, commie-hatin' ‘Merican, and got pulled out of line and into the mysterious first room. I eventually got in, only to have a paranoid doctor start testing me for ESP while my neighbor set off a Geiger counter. Despite our disappointing results, we were sent on to join Citizen Skywatch in the next room. A guy who MUST play Jimmy Olsen in the next serious Superman film processed us, assigned us code names and gave us our official Skywatch welcome. I felt I should salute. He saluted back. Well played, 2K Games. Well played. (GrrlGotGame)