Another year, another PAX Prime.

Oh, right… When we weren’t looking, Prime died a quiet death and PAX West subbed in when nobody was looking – kind of like that time your hamster died and your folks went to the pet store to replace it with another one that they thought was identical, BUT YOU KNEW IT WASN’T THE SAME ONE BECAUSE THAT PATCH OF BROWN FUR WAS IN THE WRONG PLACE AND THAT TWINKLE IN HIS BEADY EYES WAS DIFFERENT.

…But getting back to the point, PAX “West” is now officially over.

If you weren’t fortunate enough to attend — and that’s probably a lot of you, because those tickets went fast! — have no fear. Gamecritics editor Brad Gallaway and staffer Steven Brown put on their good walking shoes and covered the show, up close and personal-like.  Here, for your perusal, are the top 25 most notable games from the floor.



Horizon: Zero Dawn PS4 – Developer: Guerrilla Games – Publisher: Sony

I was already interested Horizon after seeing the E3 trailer, and now that I’ve had a hands-on and a demonstration from the developers, I’m only wanting release day to come even sooner. The appeal here is being able to roam an open world populated with electronic animals, approaching each situation like a hunter. In the demo, stealth was very important — sneaking up on small or medium-sized animals made life a lot easier than antagonizing them did. It was also possible to hack them and turn them into allies, adding a neat twist to things. Confronting a large boss-sized monster later on was a fascinating encounter. Although this particular part was demoed and not playable, it demonstrated that the beast was free to come and go as it pleased, not being confined to an arena or one specific area. Once combat was engaged, the main character had to think on her feet and work hard to bring it down.  Using a combination of fire arrows, rope arrows to secure the beast in place, explosive traps planted at its feet and finally doing some sharpshooting to some overheating weak points, it was a thrilling, tense battle worthy of applause… And yes, the crowd actually clapped. BG




Let It Die PS4 – Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture – Publisher: GungHo

Despite the absolutely grim and bloody screenshot above, my time playing the demo of Let It Die was full of laughter — the game is a goofy great time. It’s so over-the-top and absurd that it’s hard not to laugh, and when receiving tips from the game’s director Hideyuki Shin, it was clear that he found it humorous too. The player starts almost naked at the bottom of a mysterious tower, and the only thing they know is that they need to get to the top. Along the way they’ll find random bits of clothing and weaponry, and the tower will be populated with a mix of AI and real opponents. It’s up to the player to scavenge as much gear as they can, learning the different attack styles of various weapons and objects they pick up along the way. It reminded me quite a bit of the PVP from Dark Souls, only with a sicker, darker sense of humor, and I mean that in the best possible way. Scheduled as a free-to-play Playstation 4 exclusive coming later this year, my guess is that Let It Die is going to find a very devoted cult following. BG




Battletech PC – Developer/Publisher: Harebrained Schemes

This was by far my game of the show.  Battletech hasn’t had a turn-based videogame release in years, so to see the series returning to its table-top roots is supremely satisfying. The self-styled “pre-alpha” ran remarkably well for a game this early in development, which bodes well for the final product.  As a longtime fan of the franchise, taking command of a four-man mercenary squad and marching them up to an enemy supply depot was immensely enjoyable since the strategy involved with positioning and heat management was extremely important.  I’ve got high hopes here given how well the developers have treated Shadowrun, another of my beloved franchises. SB




Gigantic XBO, PC – Developer: Motiga – Publisher: Perfect World

I’ve been curious about MOBAs for a while and I’ve tried every one that’s available on console, but none have fit the bill… However, I think Gigantic just might do the trick. Although it’s still a MOBA at its most basic level, the developers have smartly tuned everything to be streamlined, accessible, and quick. Matches usually take about 10 or 15 minutes at most, and there’s no messing around with items or shops — players level up based on performance, and the branching skill trees are simple and straightforward, although that’s not to say they’re meager. Depending on choices made, it’s possible to have widely varying builds for each character depending on preference.  Toss in a great art style and a neat twist on the MOBA premise — instead of capturing points are destroying towers, players shepherd a massive monster — and Gigantic looks like a winner. BG




Echo PC, Consoles TBD – Developer/Publisher: Ultra Ultra

In Echo, the enemy is… You? Taking control of a character in a snazzy sci-fi suit making her way through a fancy European mansion interior, every opponent is an exact copy of the player. When the lights are on, they “learn” the player’s behavior and will mimic it — run and gun, and they will too. Play stealthy, and they’ll copy that as well. The visual style is incredibly strong in this game, and there is something quite creepy about seeing every enemy as a mirror image of yourself. I could hardly pull my eyes away. BG




Rise & Shine XBO, PC – Developer: Super Mega Team – Publisher: Adult Swim Games

Rise & Shine from Super Mega Team takes the side-scrolling shooter mechanics of Metal Slug while throwing a healthy dose of puzzle solving into the mix.  The premise is a parody of gaming, with the peaceful world of Gamearth (think Mario, Sonic, Zelda) being invaded by the Nexgen (any recent bro-shooter you can think of). The violence is shockingly over-the-top for such a beautifully hand-painted game, and the play seems tough as nails. I’m looking forward to slamming repeatedly against the difficulty curve when the full game comes out later this year. SB




CHASM PS4, PC – Developer/Publisher: Bit Kid Games

CHASM is a 2D Metroidvania-style platformer with some procedurally-generated elements thrown in.  While that might sound sketchy at first, the entire game isn’t random.  Items and bosses still appear in the correct order and the general path taken is the same from game to game. What’s randomized is the meat between the start of each zone and the boss.  It clearly takes inspiration from the venerable progenitors of the genre, but manages to stand on its own. SB




Hob PS4, PC – Developer/Publisher: Runic Games

Exploration is the name of the game in Hob. This new effort from Runic has players taking the titular character out into a world which seems to be made up entirely of giant chunks of interlocking machinery that’s being reclaimed by nature. Each area is littered with switches that make parts of the landscape rise or fall, revealing secrets and opening new paths. The art style is beautiful, the combat feels good, and there’s a huge emphasis on environmental storytelling — there’s no dialogue in the game at all. BG




We Are Chicago PC – Developer/Publisher: Culture Shock games

I have mixed feelings about We Are Chicago. On the one hand, it’s billed as a documentary-style adventure game based on true-life events, with the aim of depicting life in the inner city of Chicago. That sounds amazing! On the other hand, when talking with the developers at the booth, it was apparent that most of them were not black. Of course, that’s not to say that someone who isn’t black can’t tell a story about black people, but at the same time, it did give me a bit of pause. This is exactly the sort of game I’d like to see explored as the medium grows and matures, but I’m curious to see how the developers have integrated the subjects of their work into the production of the game, and what role if any, they played. BG




Dawn of War III PC – Developer: Relic Entertainment –  Publisher: SEGA

I’m a huge fan of Warhammer 40K, and as such, was extremely pleased that Dawn of War III fixed my largest gripe with the previous game (the lack of base building) and returned it to this entry while keeping previous improvements intact.  Dawn of War III does appear to be a far more bright and colorful than the first two, which will turn off some of the grimdark-loving fans of the source material, but I personally loved the look.  My largest concern was that the Imperial Titan, a late-game Space Marine special character, felt extremely overpowered for being a single unit.  However, I wasn’t able to stack it up against its opposing number in the demo, so I’m hoping my balance worries are due to the limited nature of playing at an expo and something gamebreaking. That aside, what I saw of Dawn of War was impressive and should make those who enjoyed the previous entries happy. SB




Owlboy PC – Developer/Publisher: D-Pad Studio

I covered Owlboy in a recent blog, but it’s worth mentioning again. This little title is an obvious labor of love that has managed to stay the course over the last nine years, and now that it’s finally nearing release, it deserves as many eyeballs as it can get. This free-flying MetroidVania just oozes charm and polish! BG




Pyre PS4, PC – Developer/Publisher: Supergiant Games

You can never guess what the people over at SuperGiant will do next. Pyre is their latest, and it’s something of a departure for them… Part of the game is managing a party of outcasts as they drive across the landscape in a rickety wagon, and the other part is performing some kind of spiritual ritual which ends up seeming a bit like an arena support. The object is to juke and dodge the enemy team (priests? druids?) and reach the flame on their side of the field. Win often enough , and it leads to the ultimate goal of the outcasts leaving the prison realm they’re trapped in. BG




Typoman: Revised PC, Consoles TBD – Developer/Publisher: Brainseed Factory

This unique platformer uses the rearrangement of words to solve puzzles.  I know that sounds opaque, so let me give an example: I reached an impassable pit filled with water while a dark cloud with the word “rain” poured even more liquid into the hole. To get around it, I had to drag a wayward “D” that was nearby and attach it to the cloud, creating a new word, “Drain”.  This caused the rain to drain away, letting me cross. With several indie developers trying to imitate the success that was Limbo, it’s refreshing to see a new take on this style of game rather than creating another boring clone of a previous hit. SB




Torment: Tides of Numenera PS4, XBO, PC – Developer: inXile Entertainment – Publisher: Techland

After getting a walk-through from the developers for Numenera, I came away incredibly impressed with the scope and depth of this upcoming RPG. As a spiritual sequel to Planescape: Torment, the developers have crafted another rich world full of character, and they kept hammering the point home that player choice actually matters. I believe it. After seeing two scenarios, I saw multiple ways and each one could be solved, and the developers revealed some of the consequences that may follow depending on which solution the player chose. It was being run on an Xbox One and the console UI was clear and easy to understand, and the subtitle were legible — a real issue with some ported games lately! For RPG fans who want to dig into something that will absolutely consume them, it looks like Numenera will get it done. BG




Astroneer PC – Developer/Publisher: System Era Softworks

After watching Astroneer, the firs thing that occurred to me was that it seemed like a third-person No Man’s Sky, minus the crushing disappointment and impossible hype. The player is let loose on a planet to explore, to search for resources, build structures and so on, but there is multiplayer, and the bits I saw appeared to be more interesting and purposeful. Definitely one to check into for fans of this style of play. BG




Dragon Front PC (Oculus Rift Exclusive) – Developer: High Voltage – Publisher: Oculus Studios

I never considered what VR could do for collectible card games like Hearthstone or Magic:The Gathering until I got hold of Dragon Front. It’s an Oculus Rift exclusive CCG with a fantasy-meets-World War II setting. Mechanically, the game takes place on a 4×4 grid where two players fight for area control as their units make their way across the board.  Reaching the opposing end allows that unit to make attacks against the enemy stronghold, and the first one to bring down their opponent’s structure wins. What grabbed my attention were little details found in the game.  Foot soldiers wave up as you look down upon them from your battlements.  A cigar-chomping Patton-esque paladin marshals troops forward against skeletal stormtroopers.  Of course, my short time with it was not enough to get a full idea of how balanced the gameplay is, but so far this is the closest experience I’ve had to playing the space chess game from Star Wars: A New Hope. SB




100ft. Robot Golf PS4 – Developer: No Goblin – Publisher: Sony

You play golf with robots that are 100 feet tall, and one of them is piloted by a Voltron-like group of five corgis. Crush buildings blocking your shots, use rocket boosters to fly to the hole… What else do you need to know? BG



Darkest Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon PS4,Vita, PC – Developer/Publisher: Red Hook Studios

Darkest Dungeon has been around on PC for a while, but this celebrated title is finally making its way to consoles and it looks absolutely fantastic. The artwork is super sharp, the UI looks like it’s made some smart adjustments, and the grim, party-based combat is just the sort of thing I’m looking to sink my teeth into. Everyone I’ve talked to has raved about the PC version, and I don’t see why that won’t hold true again. BG




Pit People XBO, PC – Developer/Publisher: The Behemoth

The Behemoth has always produced quality games with a signature style, and Pit People is no exception. This time, the developer is trying their hand at turn-based strategy, and the results are pretty solid. Combat across the hex-grid maps doesn’t happen unit by unit, as found in most other turn-based strategies. Instead, a player plans out all of their moves before acting, then executes the plan and watches as their pieces move into place and coordinate attacks. Pit People is also crammed with the comedy and surrealism The Behemoth is known for, and it’s working in their favor. SB




Cryptark PS4, PC – Developer/Publisher: Alientrap Games

Cryptark is about popping into an armored combat suit and infiltrating huge enemy spaceships to blow them to smithereens. Players select their loadouts and are free to target any of the ship’s internal systems once they breach the hull. Taking down an alarm system or a drone factory will make the assault more successful. Playing is like free-roaming inside the guts of a huge beast — I like the fast action and it’s a great concept. The only thing that gives me pause is that the demo was incredibly hard and the framerate was constantly chugging. If the developers can get these two issues nailed down, they’ll have a good thing on their hands. BG




The Fall, Part 2: Unbound PC – Developer/Publisher: Over The Moon Games

I did not look at the The Fall, Part 2. I did not play The Fall, Part 2. I don’t know anything about The Fall, Part 2 except that it exists, but that’s just fine. The first installment is one of the best story-driven scifi games in years, and I’m going to buy this on day one and jump in without being spoiled on anything. The first was that good, and I have faith that the second will follow suit. BG




Orwell PC – Developer: Osmotic Studios – Publisher: Surprise Attack

I would describe Orwell as an NSA Simulator, but that sells it short, from what I saw. The game puts you in the role of a government analyst invading the privacy of ordinary citizens after a terrorist attack occurs. By tapping into phone records, prying into private messages, and combing through individuals’ personal records, you have to pick out what information is important and feed it into Orwell, the fictitious country’s massive predictive database, in hopes to find out who might be planning these attacks. Of course, Orwell only knows what you tell it, so feeding it a conversation where someone says “Ugh, I would kill for a Coke,” might end up labeling that person as a criminal, so context is key.  Of course, to get that important context, you have to dig deeper and deeper into their private life — Orwell is everything Edward Snowden warned us about, wrapped up into a game. SB




Diluvion PC – Developer: Arachnid Games – Publisher: Gambitious

Diluvion is an underwater exploration title with survival elements.  While Steam is littered with a multitude of these types of games, this one actually involves a plot that drives a player forward, rather than just giving someone an open sandbox and leaving them to their own devices. The dieselpunk-tinged setting takes place long after a great flood forced humanity under the waves. No one knows what caused the cataclysm, nor the following ice age that has trapped the survivors for generations. The goal of Diluvian is to change that. My time with the game focused on collecting bits of scrap to improve my engines enough to go deeper into the waters, while also making sure I recruited new crew and acquired enough air and food to ensure they survived. SB




Elsinore PC – Developer/Publisher: Golden Glitch

The developers of Elsinore describe it as Shakespeare-meets-Groundhog Day, and they’re not wrong — if nothing else, they get points for mashing up two things I never imagined would meet. Following the storyline of Hamlet, the player can walk the grounds to find information and overhear conversations which will help them change the course of the play’s canon events,  although it was suggested that just because things may change doesn’t mean they’ll turn out for the better… BG




Flinthook PC – Developer/Publisher: Tribute Games

Flinthook was an absolute gem, and an equal surprise. Players take control of a small alien with a grappling hook who can whip around the environment while on the hunt to steal loot. Each room is like a self-contained puzzle that will require wits and refelxes in equal measure to successfully navigate. Using the hook felt great and the developer seems to have the action really dialed in. I’m not sure how far along in development it is, but what I played was already dynamite. BG


…And there you have it, the top 25 most notable games from PAX West 2016. Infinite thanks to Steven Brown for his assistance in putting this piece together, and thanks to all of the exhibitors, developers, PR people, and fellow gamers (in costume and out!) we met at the show for making it such an amazing time. See you next year!

Brad Gallaway
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6 years ago

Thanks for bringing us that coverage bread and Steve. Looks like a lot of worK.

Daniel Weissenberger
6 years ago

I’m confused, if it’s about MacBeth, why is it called Elsinore?