This year I was fortunate enough to accompany Jared to PAX, where we learned a lot of about games, laughter and friendship. This was my first time to the convention and it was great to see what all the hype is about. We spent Friday catching up on some of the most anticipated titles, as well as learning about some new and exciting titles.
Rise of the Tomb Raider – Crystal Dynamics
We began our day at the Microsoft booth to try out Rise of the Tomb Raider, playing a level which has Lara exploring a Syrian crypt for the remains of a unidentified prophet. While it’s been a few years since playing the original reboot, I feel pretty confident in saying that Rise feels very much the same. I feel like this a good thing, in the “aint broke, don’t fix” sense. There were a few control switch-ups, but overall it felt very much like playing the original.
Visually the game is ripe with gorgeous scenery, but it appeared surprisingly jagged, like they’re already pushing the boundaries of what the Xbox One can do. Still, the demo provided a pretty good amount of exploration, jumping, climbing and tomb exploration, which is still the strong suit of the franchise. There was practically no combat in the demo, pitting Lara against only two gunmen woefully out of their league, though honestly I think I’m looking forward to a Tomb Raider with less gunplay and more tomb raiding.
The Division – Ubisoft Massive
Jared and I had an opportunity to play some multiplayer co-op on The Division today, this being my first experience with the title. Candidly, while it’s a sleek looking game, the format of being dropped into a fifteen-minute guided co-op mission really didn’t do much to endear me to the title. It’s a relatively complex setup with a lot of nuances and I felt like I spent more time wondering if I was shooting the right people than I did enjoying myself. As I said, I literally had fifteen minutes to play, so my experience really isn’t a fair judgement. The game looks nice, and the premise is intriguing, so I feel hopeful there is more to the game than I experienced.
Pathfinder – Obsidian
While I am a longtime fan of tabletop RPGs, I must admit to not really being a fan of card games. So when I went to visit Obsidian’s Pathfinder, based of the very popular Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, I wasn’t going in with high expectations. I was pleased, however, to find that I did not come prepared to give this iteration of Pathfinder a fair shake. In development for iOS and Android, it is a single-player action card game placing you in charge of a group of heroes who are tasked to track down a villain, encountering monsters, traps, magic weapons and others in the form of cards. This title actually surprised me with how fun a genre that I don’t normally enjoy could be, having enough complexity to be engaging without being overwhelming, and actually ended up being one the most enjoyable titles I got to see today.
The game certainly has a learning curve, even if you’re already familiar with Pathfinder rules, but what starts out as feeling overwhelmingly complex rather quickly became challenging but intuitive. Certainly thanks to the knowledgeable guidance I received during the demonstration I was able to navigate the game’s options without confusion or consternation, and after half a game I started to feel like I could navigate the game on my own. The demo I played had two playable characters whom you control in tandem, both of whom felt like they played differently, challenging me to adapt new strategies for the same challenges. I can’t comment on how closely it mirrors the tabletop card game, but to my surprise, this is a title I am looking forward to hearing more on as they draw close to an expected fall release date.
The Gallery – Cloudhead Games
Perhaps it is too early to declare an outright winner of PAX, the game which stirs up more raw excitement in me than other, but after sampling Cloudhead Games’ VR experience for the HTC Vive titled The Gallery I really have a hard time imagining anything else I’m going to see this weekend which could be better. This is my first experience using a VR setup, so take my enthusiasm with a grain of salt, but I honestly cannot think of a gaming experience that compares to what I experienced here.
At the beginning of my demo I was given a headset and two wireless, handheld controllers which would serve as my hands, using one button press to grab things and another to change my position on the map. Standing in the middle of an open space, the virtual world is generated around me, presenting objects which I could physically walk up to, the headset tracking my movement, and interact with using my newfound virtual hands. I picked up bottles, moved them around, tossed them and caught them and even threw them off into the distance, shattering them on the ground at my feet. What I thought would be disorienting was actually amazing, and this was only the tutorial.
When you’re dropped into the actual game it feels like being a part of a living world: Look up and see the night sky, kneel down to get a better angle on an object – the game the vertical position of your head and adjusts just like you were there. I’m sure a lot of the magic is lost describing these things, but level of immersion you feel is nothing short of mesmerizing: While learning the hand controls I accidentally tossed a seashell at my face and my reaction was to throw myself out of the way of the virtual object, and when I found myself in tight, low-ceiling caves I instinctively ducked to avoid bumping my head. The fact that you physically move your body around this virtual world is really incredible, and Cloudhead Games really has an amazing piece of work to boast here. While they are the first to state that there is still work to be done, even at this stage The Gallery is a work that I think is truly incredible.
Hacknet – Team Fractal Alligator
I actually didn’t play Hacknet today. When I received the invite to demo the game a few weeks ago I went out to Steam and picked it up based on the premise alone; Hacknet teaches you how to hack. Now, how accurate or realistic is Hacknet? I really don’t know, I didn’t feel ready to go out and commit the next Ashley Madison hack after completing the game, but I can definitely say that I really like this title, which uses real Unix commands to simulate hacking systems, stealing data and causing digital havoc. It uses a simple, uninvasive story to get you learning commands, understanding some networking and security basics and, at least as best as I can tell, teaching you a bit about hacking.
This is the type of game which is admittedly a pretty niche piece, with its interface largely mirroring a command prompt, but it also features a pretty great soundtrack that keeps the mood, as well some surprisingly tense moments where getting a piece of data wiped from a hard drive means the difference between life and death. While it’s a concept that may not appeal to all, I would definitely recommend it to anyone intrigued by the idea.
Dungeon League – Achebit
Dungeon League is a four player arena game by developer achebit which sets you in dungeons to fight monster and player alike, with numerous challenges like capture the flag, king of the hill and deathmatch in a colorful, top-down action game where each hero enjoys different different set of skills that they level up with play. It is available now on Steam.
Be sure to check out Jared’s thoughts here, and stay tuned for even more coverage on Saturday.