PAX East 2019: Day Three

Sunday has been, by far, my most packed day at the con. I’ve narrowed down the list of games I want to play, and have been hitting them one by one before the con ends. So get comfortable, this is going to be a dense article.

As Andrew mentioned to me, this con feels different without a lot of AAA games out on display this year. I can recall in years past when Overwatch, Evolve, Wolfenstein: The New Order, and Bioshock Infinite all had a massive presence on the floor (complete with an eye-catching 20 foot monster statue at the Evolve booth).

This year it feels like most of the big players are either repping what they’ve already got (Nintendo) or are absent entirely (Bethesda). Although I’ve avoided the two hour lines of the AAA games for about five years now, it definitely gives the entire con a different vibe.

Andrew, Jay, and I arrive before the con floor opens and make a beeline to Splitgate: Arena for some local multiplayer action while we’re still together.

Splitgate: Arena is literally what you’d get if Halo and Portal had a baby. It’s a multiplayer shooter with the addition of two-way portals, which you can freely open around the stage to dart around the arena and get the drop on opponents. It evens plays just like Halo, right down to the level design and guns. I enjoyed Halo, so I enjoyed Splitgate.

Caddy-corner from Splitgate is Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure, a tabletop game from the Penny Arcade folks themselves. We sit down for a tutorial. The basic gist of it is to build a deck to get to the bottom of a dungeon, grab fat loot, and then get back out before a dragon kills you.

Throughout the game you’ll acquire cards that add your character’s “clank” cubes to a bag (which symbolize your clumsy noise-making while adventuring). Every so often you will randomly encounter the dragon, and a handful of cubes are pulled out of the bag. If your cube is pulled, it’s one damage.

Andrew schooled us, managing to grab the fattest loot from the lowest level of the dungeon and escaping before any us. On the other hand, a random con-goer playing with us and I never saw daylight again as we died way down in the dungeons.

We finally split up, so I get in line for Tunic, a game described to me as “Zelda like a fox.” At its core its an isometric Link to the Past with a bit of heft and challenge to the combat. Unlike Zelda, where you can kind of just spam your sword, you need to time your hits and rolls well or risk being easily killed.

Tunic shows a lot of promise – the art is beautiful and the game already feels very polished. I ask the dev for a release date, and he believes it will be out early next year. Crossing my fingers.

Jay happens to be in line behind me for Tunic, so I wait for him to finish up and we stroll over to Moving Out, as it’s apparently based played with friends. I’d heard good things about it from fellow con-goers, so I my expectations were high.

This game feels like Overcooked‘s fraternal twin, down to the low-poly graphics and UI. Instead of assembling food orders, four players need to gather highlighted objects from a home/office/wherever and load them into a moving van. Overall it was fun, but as Jay noted, the gameplay did not feel nearly as hectic as Overcooked to justify the hype it was getting on the con floor.

I split with Jay and venture over to the Mistover booth, a supposed Darkest Dungeon clone with an anime aesthetic that has been getting good rep at the con so far. Unfortunately, it seems like everyone else must have caught the hype as well, because the line has to be about two hours long.

I loved Darkest Dungeon (I just beat it last year). I even visited the Darkest Dungeon booth back when it was on the con floor several years ago. It was high on my watch list back then, though the game proved so difficult I wound up restarting it three times before I eventually trumped the final dungeon two years after my initial purchase (clocking in at 100 hours no less). Unfortunately time is short this Sunday, so its a pass on Mistover this year.

Fade to Silence catches my eye as I depart the Mistover booth. Andrew and Jay both played it on Friday and described it as Dark Souls mixed with resource-gathering and survival. There is a monitor free so I decide to give it a try and… yep. It’s Dark Souls mixed with resource gathering alright. The second I picked up the controller it asks me to “gather wood to build a fire”. Sigh.

By Andrew’s own admission, the demo does not do a great job of on-boarding you to its mechanics. That tends to be a problem with these sorts of games – anything with complex gameplay systems is going to be tough to teach during a ten-minute first impression. Giving it the benefit of the doubt, the Dark Souls combat combined with base-building is a unique angle, one that I’m sure many will find addicting. I have a feeling Andrew will definitely be giving this a try.

On my way back to the indie section, I spot none other than the ever-cheerful Kyle Seeley, developer of the soul-crushing Emily is Away games. Looks like he’s back on the floor again, this time with Emily is Away <3. He even gives me a Steam code for Emily is Away Too, which I still need to play. Thanks man! Will be trying it out one I get home.

Along the main aisle is a game called Astrologaster, a story-driven comedy game set in Shakespearean England where you play a shrewd physician who must divine his patrons’ futures with astrology readings. Which reading will you use – the one that will please your patron the most, or the one that seems closest to the truth? As you can guess, the dialogue gets very farcical, with choices affecting later story options. Beyond all belief, the game is based on an unusual true story.

While wandering the indie aisles, a nice 16-bit looking game catches my attention. It’s called Not Tonight. One of the devs approaches me:

“Have you ever played Papers Please?”

Of course I did. It was magical.

“This is basically Papers Please set in a post-Brexit England. Your citizenship has been revoked, and you need to hold down a job as a bouncer and make enough money to stay in the country.”

Man, you could not have hit me with a better pitch. Papers Please subverted so many of my expectations of what a game could be (The Return of the Obra Dinn by the same developer also blew me away last year). I love the hook too – something politically charged that adds a real sense of consequence to failing.

Not Tonight delivers exactly what was promised – you start out checking IDs as a bouncer at the local pub. On the first night, all you have to do is make sure they’re of drinking age by comparing the current date to their birthday (keep in mind, the drinking age is 18 in the UK).

But then it ups the ante – the next night you’re also checking for expired licenses. And the next night, it’s keeping out folks banned from the bar. It matches the tempo of Papers Please, where eventually you need to be cross-checking three different documents to catch discrepancies. Not Tonight is already out on Steam, and I will probably be playing it soon.

While searching for some Magic: The Gathering Swag for Chris, I bump into two other Connors from Detroit: Become Human. Time for a photo op.

I also spot another guy who won the over-sized Magic card at the Magic: The Gathering tournament earlier today.

I head over to the Devolver Digital area, which I can always count on for some good games. While there I sample My Friend Pedro, whose awesome E3 trailer last year showcased some utterly manic shooting mechanics.

The demo is unusually long, so I spend the better part of an hour waiting in line. Though I found the controls somewhat hard to master, there was something undoubtedly satisfying about pulling off those slo-mo combos.

I’m down to my last hour. I hurry over to Anew: The Distant Light. Pitched to me as a Metroidvania style game, I finish the full demo with about 15 minutes to spare. I squeeze in one last game – Bloodroots, which is essentially a Viking version of Hotline: Miami. I liked it. It was fun.

It’s time to go – there’s a few hundred miles between us and home, so we skip dinner at South Station and hit the road by 6:30.

Top 5 Con Picks of 2019:

  1. Afterparty: I felt a bit dirty putting this at the top of my list, since I was already jazzed about it before I hit the con. But I know I’ll be grabbing this one at launch, and it feels unfair not to give it the top spot on my list.
  2. Tunic: Of all the games I played at the con, this one showed the most promise. Beautiful graphics, hefty combat, and a proven formula. Looking forward to its release.
  3. Phantom Brigade: The “time slider” mechanic is not only feels fresh, it also gives Phantom Brigade a distinct “action movie” feel as you queue up choreographed attacks.
  4. Not Tonight: Hooked on this game’s Papers Please approach to Brexit and the consequences of a broken immigration system.
  5. My Friend Pedro: Spawn some mayhem in style using all of the slo-mo combos at your disposal.

See you all next PAX East!

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