5. The Double Fine/CAPY Booth
There is no greater marriage of two companies at PAX than Double Fine and Capybara. The house that Tim Schaefer built gladly shares its space with the developers of Superbrothers: Swords & Sorcery, sending a definitive message that the gaming industry doesn’t always have to be about competition. Sometimes, it’s enough to simply admire another developer’s spirit and innovation. What makes this joint booth so appealing is the incredibly variety of amazing games at the player’s disposal; complete with comfy couches and an open, welcoming mood.
CAPY became the talk of the show, demoing their gorgeous new adventure game: Below. A procedurally generated rogue-like with a uniquely distant top-down perspective, Below has earned comparisons to Dark Souls and the Legend of Zelda. The game’s brutally difficult combat has become the highlight for many critics, but I’m particularly drawn to the permadeath feature that will lead to real consequences for in-game failure. Below has topped many “Best of PAX” lists and its aesthetic graces are undeniable; but unfortunately I was unable to play the game myself. But from afar, it was nothing short of astounding.
CAPY also delivered the long-awaited Super Time Force: a lightning-fast, time-bending action game in which reversing time leads to the spawning of a new on-screen character, who fights along older versions of themselves. It’s complicated to wrap your mind around, but absolutely perfect mechanically. Below drew a lot of eyeballs, but Super Time Force was the real fun at the core of CAPY’s booth.
Double Fine was also onboard with some juicy gaming goodness, revealing their second crowd-funded project Hack’n’Slash for the first time. Hack’n’Slash takes the tired dungeon crawling formula and adds a fresh and satirical point-of-view. The player can literally hack the game, revealing deep secrets and digital treasures. The booth’s final game was another “Double Fine Presents…” title called Last Life, a cyberpunk noir about a murdered detective who is brought back to life by 3D printing.
This isn’t the first time that Double Fine and CAPY have come together and I certainly hope it isn’t the last. There’s not a friendlier group of people on the show floor.
4. D&D Next: Acquisitions, Inc.
Most people wouldn’t considered Dungeons & Dragons a spectator sport, but the adventures of Jim Darkmagic, Benwin Bronzebottom, Omin Dran and their cycling group of interns have become the stuff of legend. This is the first time that Penny Arcade has brought Acquisitions, Inc to PAX East and it was joyous to see such a vibrant crowd laugh and cheer for a game of imagination and improvisation. Over the course of two-and-a-half hours, “GM to the Stars” Chris Perkins weaved a tale of politics and intrigued…that was cut off rather abruptly by the need to prepare for the Omegathon finals. Regardless, the PA crew proved to be as hilariously creative as ever, riding atop a massive stone robot across the plains of the Forgotten Realms in search of some lost dragon eggs. You can see the broadcast here.
But being the nerd that I am, as great as the panel was, it was more important for me to see D&D Next in action. Not the playtest version, not a preview, but the rules as they will probably stand upon release. I’m sure there’s still some tweaking to do, but for the most part, this episode of Acquistions, Inc felt like a fully realized experience of D&D’s fifth incarnation.
Ultimately, Next doesn’t feel like a huge leap forward for the brand. But that’s a good thing. Wizards’ has been making a bold attempt to create the definitive version of this classic roleplaying game. The nuts and bolts of the mechanics are blatantly similar to the beloved third edition, with some clever add-ons like “Advantage” that really spice up the gameplay. Gone is the crunchiness of 4e. Combat in particular is streamlined and depends far more on storytelling than strategy. But overall, D&D Next is a fresh breath of nostalgia and originality taken in at the same time. There were no major release announcements at the show, but I am more excited than ever to get my hands on the new Dungeon Master’s Guide. Bring it on Wizards.
3. Hyper Light Drifter
I could hang any collection of pixels from Hyper Light Drifter on my wall and call it an exquisite work of art. “Beauty” is the first word that struck my mind when I saw the game in action amidst the buzz and tambour of the Expo Hall. I should have known what to expect: Hyper Light Drifter was the first project we ever covered on “Can I Kick It?” But there’s a marked difference between watching a trailer and holding a controller in your hand; letting yourself be washed away by an experience.
But despite its undeniable visual appeal, Hyper Light Drifter refuses to be style over substance. The game feels classically designed, with a story told exclusively through brief “motion comics”. Mostly, the player defines his own tale by exploring the technicolor ruins of an ancient civilization that is caught somewhere between high fantasy and hard science fiction. Any details of the plot are there to be uncovered and analyzed, but the game won’t hold your hand and tell you exactly what’s going on. As such, the setting feels uniquely inventive and new. It’s blissful to stand in wonder and awe of mountainous robots, day glow temples, and bent, ruined landscapes.
Hyper Light Drifter plays like Diablo, peppered with The Legend of Zelda’s excellent puzzle solving. Combat is difficult, but forgiving and there always seem to be an appropriate piece of equipment to solve any problem. But simply strolling through the world and listening to the gorgeous soundtrack is a joy unto itself. Violence is merely a break from the beauty of your surroundings.
I can’t wait to see if the full experience lives up to the brief time I had with the game. Hyper Light Drifter is proof that my faith in Kickstarter is sometimes rewarded greatly.
2. Civilization: Beyond Earth Announced
If you were to ask me what the single greatest game ever made was, I’d probably tell you it was an impossible question to answer. If you kept prodding, I’d respond that Civilization is probably the single greatest series of games ever created; not necessarily my favorite, but the best. They give the player the ultimate power: to control the history of humankind, to build a society from the ground-up, and to learn about cultures that have shaped our own world. I adore Civilization and any time news breaches that an addition to the storied series is being introduced; I pay attention.
Civilization: Beyond Earth is taking this turn-based strategy giant into a new direction. After the collapse of Earth’s ecosystem, human beings are forced to evacuate the world that we know and head to the stars. Various cultures colonize the new home world; each replete with their own virtues and beliefs. Unlike previous editions, Beyond Earth allows players to decide which qualities will be important to their civilization and do all that they can to build around those morals. Technology will be another obvious focus of the game and the team has done research into a wide range of emerging tech that will stimulate interesting gameplay while maintaining a basis in actual science.
Firaxis has repeatedly mentioned that Sid Meier’s first foray into hard science-fiction – Alpha Centauri – is a major influence and this may be the closest we ever get to a sequel. There are still many details that are being held back for the future, but it can’t be denied that Civilization: Beyond Earth was the biggest announcement of PAX East 2014.
1. Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
You have got to play Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime. I’m not giving you any options. In the vast sea of indie games at PAX East, this game captured my imagination and my heart in a way that’s difficult to describe without forcing a controller into your hands. There’s something irresistibly charming about the visuals and the gameplay that manages to create true, effortless verisimilitude. All of the moving parts work in perfect tandem. It was the first game I played on the show floor and the one that stayed on my mind the longest. Anyone I talked to was bound to hear about Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime eventually. I couldn’t escape its colorful charisma.
The game is a cooperative multiplayer space adventure with a twist. Two players board a spherical vessel and operate a multitude of different interstellar systems: shields, directional guns, and the helm. The problem is, it’s impossible to manage them all at the same time. And as waves of alien enemies begin to swarm on the horizon, you have to work together to survive. Don’t be deluded by the bright pastels, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is serious business. It’s far too easy to become quickly overwhelmed by incoming starships and life-or-death decisions have to be made in an instant. Occasional power-ups offer a bit of a respite; with massive space flails and giant laser beams clearing the screen, but the challenge increases as time passes.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime succeeds based on its gameplay alone. The art design is catchy and fun, but innovative mechanics are the real source of the game’s greatness. It’s addictive and brilliantly chaotic, adding a new language of play to a genre that’s existed since the first arcade machines arrived in pizza shops. This is the natural progression of something like Asteroids or Space Invaders. Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime will put an enormous smile on your face and allow you to create amazing memories with the friends who will act as your astronautic partners. It will also frustrate you and challenge you to push your teamwork skills to the limit. But every ounce of aggravation is worth it and Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime rewards success with a genuine feeling of satisfaction.
Without any hesitation, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime was the best game of PAX East 2014.
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If you’d like to read the previous entries, click below:
Part One (25-16)
Part Two (15-6)