The Penny Arcade Expo takes place in Seattle towards the end of August each year. It is known for being a convention for the fans and has grown in popularity so much that it even spawned an east coast brother in PAX East that takes place in Boston. Every year since it started PAX has grown and this year was no different. There was a lot going on and some of the biggest titles around had space on the show floor. I traveled that floor and played, watched, and heard about the games. I now present my findings.
Lets start with what I didn’t play myself, but saw being played. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim had a massive line all throughout the convention and I was unable to find the time to wait in it, but I did watch as others played and the game looks great. The combat looks smooth and the detail in the world is very impressive. I can’t speak much to how it controls, but people seemed to pick it up and play with ease. I don’t want to say too much about it since I didn’t play it myself, but I’m very confident that Skyrim will be a fantastic game when it releases on November 11.
SSX had a playable demo at their booth and despite being Pre-Alpha it played very well. The game plays like SSX Tricky in that insane/impossible tricks can be done. While there is a course it doesn’t have to be followed. The player is free to go where they want on the mountain. I played the demo multiple times and found that sometimes the track has the best jumps and sometimes it doesn’t, so exploration is a must to find the best spots. the controls are pretty straight forward as the left stick controls direction on the ground and flips in the air while the right stick handles grabs. The system allows for some pretty interesting combinations. Building up a TRICKY meter will allow those crazy über tricks like SSX Tricky had. The game will have 5 returning characters and 3 new ones. The returning characters are Elise, Mac, Psymon, Kaori, Moby, and Griff. The new characters are Tane, Alex and Ty. The game is set for a January release and looks on track to be a solid release for the EA Canada team.
Sticking to EA games Need For Speed: The Run was playable on the show floor and it was one of my favorite games I played at PAX. In fact I enjoyed it so much I played it 6 times. The demo level has you in the desert with the goal of passing 10 other racers before crossing the finish line. While I was able to do this in all my play-throughs it was a different race each time. Some times the other drivers were aggressive in trying to push me off the road while other times they seemed content to stay the course. The cars handle very well and weaving in and out of traffic is a must in order to pass other racers. You are given more points for clean pass than a dirty pass, making contact with another racer, which translates into more nitrous boost. Wrecking your car results in time rewinding to a point before the crash and getting to play that section over again. This is a cool feature as I was able to try a tight pass between cars and other obstacles and if it failed try again with some adjustments. The crashes are pretty epic too as most of the race is done at the cars top speed.
The only thing I found odd was that if your car is off the defined track by more than a few feet your car gets reset. I’m sure there is a reason for it, but I would rather they had some type of a barrier there instead of resetting the car onto the track. The game uses DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine and it shows as the backdrops and sweeping vistas in the distance look great. There was nothing of the on foot areas in the demo, but since that is in less than 10% of the game I wouldn’t expect it to be. I was a huge fan of last year’s Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit and this looks to be an extension of the racer side to that game. I’m really excited about this game and EA Black Box has put together a heck of a racer. Obviously racing sim lovers won’t like this too much, but if you don’t mind some arcade style racing then on November 15th you may want to head to the store and pick this up.
Now for some free to play action. Ghost Recon Online is a 3rd person shooter and was very impressive. This was another one of the games I went back to and played multiple times. It has all the elements of a Ghost Recon game such as different weapon loadouts, a cover system, and some nifty abilities. The three classes to choose from are Assault, Recon and Specialist. The Assault class has the “Blitz” ability where he takes out a shield and can charge forward knocking down enemies. The Recon has a heartbeat sensor ability that will show the location of enemies as shadows even through walls. The Specialist has the AEGIS Shield which is basically the bubble shield from Halo. The point of the matches is to capture all the points on the map, so each class has their use in achieving victory. Before and in-between games players can customize their loadouts entirely. Everything from the type of stock on the gun to the color and type of hat on your character can be changed. As players progress in level they will unlock new items, but there will also be a micro-transaction market where players can rent items for a certain time period. Ubisoft said players shouldn’t be able to buy themselves victories, so it can be expected that the items will be cosmetic or only minor stat boosts. The game is due out some time in the fall to holiday season and is worth checking out since its free to play.
Dead Island has received quite a bit of hype since its debut trailer. Well after playing it I can’t give a definitive answer, but this game has some serious potential. The first aspect that jumps out is how beautiful the game looks. The realistic lighting and vegetation make the world come alive. The graphics remind me of Far Cry 2, but better in all areas. As for the game play you can either beat zombies or throw things at them in the demo. It borrows its mission structures and weapon crafting from Dead Rising, so any fans of those games will be right at home. The demo starts off with your character at the resort getting totally wasted at a party. After make a fool of yourself the last thing you see before passing out is a zombie come rampaging onto the dance floor and jumping on someone’s back. When you come to you see a man standing over you with a baseball bat prepared to smash your head in if you don’t show some sign of being human. After mumbling something you get introduced to the group of people in the small shed and quickly get thrust into going outside to rescue some one who had gone out looking for help. You then go on a trip down the beach smashing zombies heads in and impaling them with anything you can find. While this may sound like it would get old fast there is the crafting system and skills to make you keep pushing through the zombie hordes. Also uncovering what happened should also come into play at some point. In the short demo I played it also became apparent that the interaction of the characters will surely be a factor in how the story pans out since some are content to try and wait it out while others want to just escape. Dead Island comes out on September 6th for PS3, Xbox 360, PC, and OnLive. If zombies is your thing this is a sure buy, but others will want to check this game out too.
Next up is a trio of Activision games. First Goldeneye 007 Reloaded an HD version of the Goldeneye we all know and love from N64 and the recent re-release on the Wii. The visuals have been totally overhauled to the point where its hard to even recognize the game. It also has updated controls to be more in line with modern shooters. To say its an HD version doesn’t really do it justice as its an entirely new game that just follows the story from the movie of the same name. I was impressed with how it played and this will hopefully make us all forget Goldeneye Rogue Agent.
Also playable was Spiderman Edge of Time which has an interesting story and game mechanic to it. It plays like other past Spiderman games with one big difference. There are two Spiderman in the game. The present day PEter Parker and Spiderman 2099 Miguel O’Hara. The actions of one Spiderman will have an effect on the other as they fight the same villain but in different time periods. The concept is very interesting and seems to have a cool story backing it up.
The last of Activision trio is X-Men Destiny. In this X-Men game you play as a new mutant who must choose to fight with the X-Men or the Brotherhood of Mutants. Choice is supposed to play into the game alot as each choice the player makes will have repercussions at some point in the future. There are three characters to choose from in the game. First is Aimi Yoshida a Japanese teenager. Second is Grant Alexander a college student who want to play pro football. Finally there is Adrian Luca who was part of an anit-mutant group until he discovered his powers. X-Men Destiny will let players choose their own path on September 27th.
I’m a big Nintendo fan so that is what will make this section a little rough. I will get this out of the way right now. I played Skyward Sword, Starfox 3D, Super Mario 3D Land, and Mario Kart 7. All of these games, with the exception of Super Mario 3D Land, seem to be nothing more than the same game with a little something added. Skyward Sword has the more detailed motion controls, but we’re not breaking new ground there. Starfox is the same game with 3D added and Mario Kart goes the same route. Now that I got that out of the way I’d like to say that this isn’t a bad thing. Mario Kart has been successful for years because its good. What could they actually do to improve the game and actually change it significantly? Nothing. Nintendo seems to have the if its not broken then don’t fix it approach. The 3DS lineup that is coming is very impressive and should help kick start sales of the system. Super Mario 3D Land really takes advantage of the 3D capabilities and its obvious it was made from the start with the 3D in mind. While I didn’t play Kid Icarus Uprising it also has the appearance of being designed for the 3DS from the start and it benefits from it greatly. All the Nintendo games at the show were solid entries. The only one in the group I worry about is Skyward Sword as the Wii has really nosedived over the last year and there is no help coming. Skyward Sword seems to be the candle burning really bright before it goes out and I just hope a lot of people get to see it. This will be the second straight Zelda title that gets released towards the end of a console cycle and the start of a new one. I think Nintendo needs to plan these things better as Zelda is a huge seller but it has to be effected by the recent news about the Wii U. Zelda games don’t come around too often so to have basically pigeonholed the last two with weird or bad release circumstances is not a good idea.
This was the conundrum of the show for me. Counter Strike Global Offensive is Counter Strike with updated graphics. The odd thing about this was Counter Strike is one of the most played games of all time on the PC, yet it was demoed on the Xbox 360. I still can’t figure out why this was done. I don’t have anything bad to say about the game, but I wonder how CS will be received by the console audience. Its a completely different beast than CoD or Battlefield and I think the console shooter fans who have never played CS are in for a shock. It will be well received on the PC and I think that is all Valve ia aiming for as CS:GO is not even getting a retail release on the consoles. It will be available through Steam, Xbox Live, and PSN in 2012. Until then we can only wait to hear more.
Some quick hits here. Supremacy MMA is a cage fighter that has no UFC affiliation. Thanks to having no affiliation Supremacy MMA can be more brutal with their combat. It sports a real time damage system that show physical damage on fighters such as bruising and cuts. There are many knockout opportunities and even career ending knockout such as arm and leg breaking moves. The controls are solid and the reversal system is makes it feel more like a mixed martial arts match than other attempts. Supremacy MMA releases on September 23. Ugly Americans: Apocalypsegeddon is a side scrolling shooter based on the Ugly Americans TV show. The left stick controls character movement while the right controls shooting and direction of shooting. There are vary crazy powerups that changes what projectiles your gun shoots. Each character has their own special move that is activated with the right trigger. It was a good fun and perfect for the Xbox Live Arcade and PSN. Ugly Americans: Apocalypsegeddon releases on August 31. Shoot Many Robots is a side scrolling co-op shooter where players team up to destroy waves and waves of robots. Characters can be customized with different guns and equipment to fight against the robot hordes. There is a Survival mode where you try to last as long as you can and then a regular Story mode. This is a great game to play with friends in person or online. I had fun playing this game and look forward to its release. Shoot Many Robots is due out in 2012 for Xbox Live, PSN, and PC.
Overall PAX 2011 was a blast all the way around. The show floor was filled with both high profile games and interesting lesser known games. The panels were interesting and the lines were well maintained. The after parties were really fun in particular the SEGA party at Gamesworks on Saturday night was awesome. Seattle is a great host for PAX and I look forward to going again next year and to PAX East in April.
This Firefall statue had moving parts and supposedly costs 1 million dollars.
A - Top notch and stellar. This game accomplished everything that it set out to do and then some.
B - Great! A game worthy of a B means it is a requirement for any gamer to get. Only slight set backs seem to hit a game like this.
C - Games that get a C rating are good. They may not be great. They may not be fantastic. They are fun, interesting, and worthy of a play-through.
D - Average. Sometimes games play it too safe, sometimes they don't step out of their bubble, and sometimes they have too many problems. But they are playable and you may still find fun. Those games deserve a D.
F - Don't play this. The game failed in what it was trying to do. It's not fun and it's not compelling. The game may or may not be playable, regardless, if it has an F, it's probably safe to say you shouldn't play it.