Another year, another PAX… West, to be specific!
The show is now officially over and yours truly is in recovery mode after four long days on the floor.
If you weren’t fortunate enough to attend — and that’s probably a lot of you, because those tickets went fast! — have no fear. I had on some good walking shoes and covered the exhibition, up close and personal. Of course, even with all that time I wasn’t able to see and play everything because some of those lines are crazy, and not every PR rep will let an exhausted writer jump a three-hour line. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Nintendo.
Anyway, with that in mind, here for your perusal are the top 15 notable games from the floor. Plus one!
Monster Hunter World – Capcom, early 2018 – GAME OF THE SHOW
The hype is real. I’ve been waiting years for this series to make its way out of handheld exclusivity and get back onto a proper home console, and it’s finally happened in a big, big way. While it’s the same Monster Hunter at its core, the hunting and tracking elements have been buffed up, there have been several quality-of-life improvements made, and my god, those graphics… It looks absolutely stunning, in a way that Monster Hunter has always deserved to. Longtime fans will be treated to the hunting game of their dreams, and it’s the perfect place for newcomers to jump in thanks to clear-eyed modernizations and revamps that make it far more approachable without a wiki.
Tooth and Tail – PocketWatch Games, Sept 12
I’m not a huge fan of RTS titles — the micromanagement and time pressure are too much for me, although I’m always interested to see different permutations of the formula. This trims the structure down to its essence and streamlines things for PS4, no mouse necessary. Rather than directing individual units or handling a million things at once, the player is more like a leader guiding forces, reminding me of Pikmin in a very loose sense. The pixel art is beautiful, and a great match for the ‘animal revolution’ theme as well.
Children of Morta – Dead Mage, 2018
This roguelite stars several members of a family of warriors, each with their own specialty — one goes sword-and board, one does martial arts, and so on. They all live in one house which hosts randomized story events and things which change the world depending on the actions players take in the dungeons. The combat looks solid, I enjoyed the variety of characters, and the idea of having a family element and a persistent household to add narrative and emotional elements to what is usually a minimal-story genre is quite welcome.
Trailmakers – Flashbulb Games, Early Access late 2017
This one was quite early, but I was in love with the premise — players craft any kind of vehicle they can imagine from various resources and must cross an entire planet from one side to the other, however they can. The game employs true physics, and all sorts of things are possible including with simple cars, transforming cars, robotic spider walkers, and even fully-functioning aircraft provided that the player puts all the pieces together correctly. Just tooling around with the different kinds of machines that are possible looks like an incredible amount of fun, and I imagine it’s going to be a real winner when it comes to family game time. My eight-year-old was salivating just thinking about it. Literal salivation. I had to get him a light snack.
Way of the Passive Fist – Household Games, Fall 2017
It’s been a long time since I’ve played an interesting beat-’em-up, but I’m definitely going to give this one a shot. Not only is it interesting because the main character specializes in defensive moves like blocking and parrying (he only knocks someone out with the flick of a finger once they’ve completely exhausted themselves) but the game also features a slew of accessibility options — quite possibly the most I’ve ever seen in a single game. Absolutely stunning efforts at inclusion here.
Coffence – Sweet Bandits Studios, Early Access now, consoles soon
Imagine two coffee snobs facing each other with noses upturned, each one beating the holy hell out of the other with cups and mugs full of steaming java. It sounds ridiculous, but this was one of my favorite games of the show, easily. Positioning of the cup is important (it’s controlled with the right stick) and the ultimate goal is to empty the opposite player’s cup. It’s as fast and intense as a fighter, but packed full of all sorts of pleasant idiosyncrasies and a slightly different focus of the kind that’s usually found behind a barista’s espresso maker.
Symmetry – Sleepless Clinic, Coming Soon
The presence of Polish developers was strong and impressive at PAX this year, and this was only one of many games which caught my attention — although since it includes an option for cannibalism, Symmetry won by default. A group of scientists crash-land on an alien planet, and must survive with the limited resources available to them from the wreck and the surrounding areas. They can piece together equipment as they go and will recruit lost members as they are found, but this randomized stay-alive-and-get-home game takes into account every contingency, including filling an empty freezer with the remains of any crewman who can serve the rest of crew better as a hot meal than as a pair of hands.
Ruiner – Reikon Games, September 2017
This hard-edged cyberpunk title was both hyper-violent and hyper-stylish. The player’s character has been mentally hacked by outside forces and must go through fast-paced scenarios while under another’s control. The action is tight, it’s brutally intense, and the developers are focused on delivering a story that’s more than just an excuse to frame the action. It seemed a bit like Hotline Miami on steroids, if such a thing is even possible.
Phantom Doctrine – Creative Forge Games, 2018
This turn-based strategy focuses on espionage and features a cold-war theme, keeping things “real” with spies, special operatives, and secret agents. Perhaps the most fascinating thing is that the AI plays against the player with the same tools at its disposal, while also also having no knowledge of what the player is doing. Essentially, each side is trying to beat the other with similar resources and tactics! There are multiple layers of intrigue and double-crossing possible, including launching your own Manchurian Candidates. Fans of XCOM will definitely want to check into this one.
Aer – Forgotten Key, October 2017
I first saw this a year or two ago, and have never forgotten it. I absolutely love the aesthetics and concept — the player is a shapeshifter able to become a large, soaring bird. The player is free to fly anywhere within the world with no limits, so the experience becomes about enjoying the freedom of having wings, exploring the land, and solving lore-rich puzzles scattered throughout the land. It’s a laid-back, somewhat meditative experience.
Donut County – Ben Esposito, 2018
In a twist somewhat reminiscent of Katamari Damacy, The player takes control of a hole (yes, a hole) that starts small and must eat small objects in order to grow in size, with the end goal of emptying each level of absolutely everything. Also, there are raccoons.
Lightfield – Lost in the Garden, Late 2017
This indie futuristic racing game combines going fast, exploration, and a bit of mechanical parkour. These ships are free to leave the ground and take flight at any time, but the catch is that they travel slower when further away from a surface. So, a good run has the player skimming structures, leaping through the air, and then diving down to cling to another surface before zooming ahead. The beauty of this concept is that the levels are take full advantage of all dimensions, so the player will commonly leap from wall to ceiling to floor and back again, taking whatever path they choose with almost no restrictions. it’ marvelously dizzying in the best possible way.
Biomutant – Experiment 101, 2018
This was a tricky one. At first glance, it seemed like little more than a character action game starring a small, fuzzy animal dual-wielding pistols and swinging a sword — a micro-sized Dante with fur, basically. Fine enough, but it probably wouldn’t have made my list without revealing a bit of the bigger picture. In store was a huge, open world full of different quests and characters that can be traversed at the player’s leisure via a variety of vehicles like a wing suit, a mech suit, an airship, and more. The demo wasn’t able to convey the full scope of what’s planned, but if the sizzle reel is accurate, there seems to be a great deal of promise beyond the hack-and slash.
SteamWorld Dig 2 – Image & Form, September 21, 2017
Few developers are able to deliver on all levels, all the time, but Image & Form don’t disappoint. Their past SteamWorld titles have been ace, and I expect Dig 2 to be no different. Players will be treated to a mining area much, much larger than the original and filled with new characters, new moves, expanded perks and basically more of everything that makes their games great. And seriously, these robots are so cute!
Dandara – Long Hat House, 2017
Coming out of nowhere, Dandara was an extremely pleasant surprise. The game features a black female protagonist who can cling to walls and leap great distances — but she can’t walk. The structure seems fairly Metroidvania in flavor, and it was a blast zipping to (and from!) any direction while navigating through corridors and tunnels. I really like the vibe of what this game is putting out, and someone able to give Samus a run for her money is always welcome.
Dead Static Drive – Mike Blackney, 2019
I wouldn’t ordinarily highlight a game that was so far out from a release date, but when a developer describes their work as a survival road trip + Cthulhu, I simply must pay attention. The demo had a cool 50’s sort of vibe to it, and the idea of taking a trip across a ruined country while stopping at gas stations and truck stops along the way in search of food and ammo is right up my alley. Plus, the bobby soxer-styled lady I was controlling peed in the bathroom standing up. Mike told me it was just a placeholder animation, but I thought it was a pretty rad bit of inclusion, even if unintended. I hope it remains an option!
…And there you have it, the fifteen best games of PAX West 2017, plus one!
See you there next year!
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway