I spent more time than I had anticipated down on the show floor at PAX, although the only thing I visited that had much of a line was X-COM, which was a theater demo and ended up in the "Panels" post. I might have gone for Assassin's Creed, but they had a woman shouting nonsense through a megaphone and the prospect of listening to her for 30-plus minutes was more than I could bear. Also, the simple truth is that if you spend your time at PAX waiting around in line for a demo you'll play on Xbox Live in a few months anyway, you are a chump. There are so many awesome games from smaller publishers and indies on the floor that you might not get exposed to anywhere else. So, if you were being a linefool, here's some of what you missed.
Worst Line: The Green Line. At least there wasn't a baseball game.
Mark of the Ninja, the next effort from Klei Entertainment, keeps the engine and visual style of Shank, but don't be fooled: this is a stealth game through and through. Stealth is the only way to progress effectively, and the only way that you can kill. I saw a lot of people try to melee their way out of trouble, but that simply doesn't work. I got my hands on it for a while, and I really enjoyed myself. The controls feel tight and responsive, though I had a little trouble dealing with floor vents when my conventional platforming A-jumps B-drops instincts took over. I thought the game was stellar overall, though, and this is a release I'm really looking forward to when it comes out this summer for Xbox 360 and PC.
Speaking of stealth, Monaco looks like it's going to be exactly what I hoped for. In the stealth panel, Andy Schatz explained that he wanted to make a playable heist movie, and it seems well on its way to being that. I played a level of the single-player, a relatively simple prison break, and I thought everything played out exceptionally well. The sensation of walking into a room with a guard and trying to run back out again before he spotted me was perfect. Multiplayer seemed a bit chaotic, but no less entertaining for that. It seems like fall is the target for the PC release.
Weirdest booth: Lollipop Chainsaw's demo schoolbus
I also scoped out the improved version of Skulls of the Shogun, a game I've been excited about since the last PAX East. It still played every bit as well as I remembered, and unit selection seemed a bit snappier, which addressed the only qualm I had. I was told the game is meant to launch for PC, Xbox 360, and I think Windows Phone (or maybe that was just a dream I had) alongside Windows 8, so getting cracking, Microsoft!
This wasn't the only medieval-style warfare I saw: Paradox had War of the Roses playable on the floor, with the customary "pre-alpha" disclaimer. I hope that was accurate, because there were problems. The controls felt sluggish and unresponsive, the combat involved a lot of wandering around other players wondering why your weapon wasn't striking, and there didn't seem to be much of a way to counteract the tactical advantage of numbers. I didn't mind getting slaughtered, in fact I more or less encouraged it because I wanted to try multiple loadouts, but if I were playing for real I would have been pretty frustrated by the affair. I generally think 3rd person is superior for melee combat, but this was not an encouraging go at it.
I had a better experience with Chivalry: Medieval Warfare by Torn Banner studios. The combat seemed further along, at least, and the weapons were relatively responsive. The first person perspective is very like Skyrim, with both the good and bad that implies. I found that the overly stable viewpoint made the weapons seem somewhat weightless in my arena battle. There also wasn't a lot of visual feedback when hitting or getting hit. That will hopefully be tightened up a bit as they iterate. The representative I spoke to implied some pretty ambitious plans for the multiplayer, including an interesting siege mode with shifting objectives and defensive tactics. If they pull it off that could really be something.
Line-est line: Spec Ops: The Line: the line
Since it was PAX, I decided to try Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode 3, developed by Zeboyd games. As you'd expect, it looks like a classic role-playing game, although combat seems to play out a little more dynamically than in Breath of Death. I enjoyed the combat, though the particular area was rehashing some of the first game's less-funny ideas. The menu system also seemed a bit unrefined, though I expect it will be touched up before release. At least in this particular area I don't think anything was lost in the change of aesthetic, so fans of the series should feel comfortable giving this a whirl.
Another strange hybrid was A Valley Without Wind, a side-scrolling post-apocalyptic platformer. The game looks absolutely gorgeous, and the basic controls were quite good. The combat seems like it might be a real problem, however, as it is all too easy to find yourself stuck inside a mob of robots or whatever that kill you while you can't escape. There are a number of really interesting ideas in here, though, so I may give it a second look when it comes out in a few weeks.
That's not everything I saw, but it's everything I had distinct impressions about. That's all I have to say about PAX this year. If I missed you, then hopefully I'll run into you next year.
Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.
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