Jared and I moseyed on over to Washington for another PAX this year. An initial tour of the floor made us feel that the event may be a little smaller this year, and a visit to the Final Fantasy XV booth had us questioning whether we even wanted to be here that much. We decided that we did and were rewarded with some time with some cool titles.
Horizon: Zero Dawn – Guerrilla Games
Our initial impressions on the AAA developers attending the show were not stellar. This year the big players did not bring their best work, or possibly, aren’t making anything that good. So it was a welcome discovery when a friendly convention-goer mentioned to us that Horizon – Zero Dawn was playable and directed us to the slightly obfuscated booth we walked by several times already.
I came into the initial demonstration with very little knowledge of the title, but it doesn’t take much to get up to speed. It’s the future and there are robots who hate you. We watched a demonstration of some of the core gameplay aspects, watching how to build traps and tame mechanical deer, as well as a pretty impressive boss fight against a spider-like robot who did an impressive job busting up the scenery in the battle. The small area we got to see looks quite nice, and the setting has potential for intrigue, but the open world setting has me reserving my interest.
When Jared and I got our own hands on the controller, I was quite impressed with how quickly I was able to pick up the controllers and get going. The game played quite intuitively despite giving you a lot of stuff that you can do. In a few moments I was lithely bounding through the scenery, spying on packs of robot wildlife and doing battle with hostile machines. I’m not sure I enjoyed the flow of combat as much as I’d like, as the game wants you to place traps and use your bow to fight enemies, whereas the melee attack felt a little blocky and unresponsive, but my experience was brief and I would say that I’m actually pretty pleased with the overall feel of the game.
Objects in Space – Flat Earth Games
Planted in the corner of the PAX AUS booth you’ll find Objects in Space, a space-trading sim whose slightly retro sci-fi aesthetic and submarine simulator-inspired gameplay offer an experience that I don’t think you’ll find anywhere at the show. Also, they built an awesome command console that actually functions to play the game.
I’m told that the goals in Objects in Space are open-ended; if you want to be a humble space trader or jet-setting corsair you’ll have the option to forge either path. This isn’t the first spacefaring sim I’ve played, but one of the things that got me excited for this game is it’s accessible level of complexity: Manning the ship requires running multiple facets, from piloting and weaponry, to doing maintenance work on damaged systems and balancing stealth, speed and power in the engineering room. The level of depth here feels like right blend of being challenging enough to be engaging, but not so dense as to be a chore.
The devs chose to model the gameplay experience after a submarine-simulator experience, where you won’t have a direct line of sight on the world outside your ship, and you will know what’s going on mostly by reading your monitoring tools. This engaged a certain degree of imagination where, even though I was watching the action on a pixelated monitor, I felt very caught in the moment while dodging missiles and trying to outmaneuver pirate vessels. I actually didn’t do either very well, and died pretty soon into my playthrough – I think the game will require some time and effort to learn how to play it effectively, but the challenge and the charm of Objects in Space leaves me intrigued.
Tonight We Riot – Pixel Pushers Union 512
Colorful pixel games aren’t anything new in the indie scene, and while they’re charming, a title needs to distinguish themselves to stand out it in the crowded scene. Tonight we Riot’s intrigue comes almost from how unorthodox it is, putting you in the role of a rioting proletariat fighting against an army of stormtroopers, using Molotov cocktails, bricks and your fists to make your way through this twist on the classic brawler. The interesting aspect of the title is that your character gathers followers who join you and multiply your firepower, taking a single Molotov and turning into an outstanding barrage as you gather more people in your quest. The demo we played was a brief taste of the action, and suggests that the game needs more to flesh it out, but my initial impression is that there’s potentially exciting action waiting in this title.
Lords of New York – Lunchtime Studios
I’ve never really understood the appeal of gambling as a stand alone video game experience, with no real money at stake and nothing more than the rules of cards to work with. Lunchtime Studios has solved the mystery by adding cheating to the mix in Lords of New York, their 1920s poker RPG, a title whose off-beat premise works way better than I would have expected, and actually ended up being one of my favorite games that we played today.
The game has you playing Texas Hold ’em, but with the unique twist that each of the games unique characters has different cheating abilities they can use to turn the game in their favor, such as the ability to view a card in a player’s hand, or to guarantee a draw card would be in the next sequence of one of your own. In between hands, you can upgrade abilities to make them more powerful. Effectively, you’re still playing poker, but the added nuances of cheating makes the game feel far more fun in the digital format. The artwork has a good handle on its style and the 1920s setting feels right at home for a game like this.
I’m not entirely sure what other aspects of the game qualify it as an RPG, as we played the local multiplayer, but I will say that it was quite a bit of fun to sit down to a crooked card game with four other people. The multiplayer feels like it could use some balancing, with limits on raises that didn’t feel proportionate and maybe some characters with cheats more powerful than others, but overall I walked away feeling pretty excited for the title. It’s an odd combo, but it’s well done.
Tomorrow we’ll be back on the floor, so be sure to check back for more coverage!