PAX Australia is a great time of year. It’s where a slew of both up-and-coming and established local and international indie developers get to show off their upcoming games. It’s where the usual handful of AAA heavyweights try and dazzle us with their latest and impending blockbusters, where tech companies can flaunt their latest products and where an array of interesting panels and cosplay grace the auditoriums and showroom floor. However above all, PAX is about the games – it’s why we attend, and it’s why we love it.
This year marked the second year that yours truly and the Do You Even Game Bro? team were attending the convention, and unlike last year we did a little bit of research and planning prior to the event.
As soon as the email for American Dream hit my inbox I knew it was a lock that we would be checking it out the weekend. Immediately, the game’s artwork – which depicted a typical American nuclear family all packing heat – enticed me to want to know more about the project. Despite being based on the topical issue of guns in the good ol’ US of A, The American Dream is being made right here in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia, by development team Samurai Punk. The American Dream is a first-person satirical VR experience where you learn to do everything with guns. Whether it is learning basic mathematics or punching the holes in donuts, your trusty firearm is always there when you need it. Speaking with Nicholas McDonnell – the game’s artist and creative director – it is apparent that while The American Dream may contain some form of subliminal political undertone, it is being tailored as more of fun jaunt rather than a serious objection against America’s gun laws. Scheduled to release in 2017 for PSVR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, The American Dream is definitely a title to keep an eye out for.
I must confess that Dimensions Vs has sentimental value here at DYEGB, as our very own Ash Wayling is voicing some of the characters in Salty Monster Studios’ game. This made me all the more interested in checking out the upcoming Smash Brothers inspired arena-platformer fighter. As someone who has never played Smash Bros., I was certainly intrigued by what all the fuss was about, and surprisingly I can confirm that Dimensions Vs was as fun as I hoped it to be, despite my lack of arena fighter skills. The controller scheme was very simple and by the end of my first round I felt like I had a good grasp of the controls and how best to attack (and lose… every time). Each character has a unique special move, which the player can trigger after it charges up. Salty Monster Studios intend to include various modes for the player to experience, which aims to dispel the monotony that often hinders games of this ilk. The only downside is that it is currently only in development for PC, which is a shame as it would make a great couch co-op experience.
One of game’s we overlooked last year due to time constraints was Inflatality, however when I found it was coming back for 2016 rendition of PAX Aus I knew we had to check it out. In Creative Director Rick Salter’s words, “Inflatality is a derpy physics fighter” – a concept he stole fair and square from his four-year-old son. It’s safe to say Inflatality is not like your stock-standard fighter. First of all, the ‘fighters’ have no specific skill set, instead players are tasked with guiding their character into their opponent with the analogue sticks to cause damage. Players will be able to customise the look of their character, with Sydney-based developers Hojo Studios wanting to give the players as many options as possible. Inflatility is set to release on PC and Mac in Q1 2017 with the potential for a console release later down the track.
Last year we spoke to Joe from Eyemobi Ltd about their VR-based horror game Phantasmal, this year Joe and his new look team made the journey from New Zealand to grace PAX with their new project, The Outpost: Don’t Look Back. The Outpost is a co-op survival horror game where players must work together to collect fuel cells and avoid being detected by the pursuing creatures. It’s a rather simple premise of cat-and-mouse that works well with its trepidation-fuelled spaceship atmosphere that’s inspired by the like of Alien: Isolation. Available at PAX Aus was a concept map that despite its simplicity highlighted the importance of working together as a team. Joe and Eyemobi are hoping to ship The Outpost at some stage next year for PC and if you’re into horror games this is one to keep an eye on.
Sony’s biggest attraction at PAX Aus was a ten-minute hands-on demo of its highly anticipated Horizon Zero Dawn title. Many people were happy to queue up for over ninety minutes to get a taste of what’s to come from arguably Sony’s biggest release next year. Alas, we were not as patient, preferring to sit in on Sony’s short demonstration of the visual boons of the PS4 Pro over the original PS4. While I admit the skylines and lighting did look sexier, I didn’t come away floored and I wasn’t convinced to rush out and drop fat stacks on a 4K HDR-enabled TV and a new console, at least not yet anyway. I have no doubt that in time the power of the Pro will be harnessed and my inner flame to have the latest and greatest console will be lit up more than freshly graduated teenagers at schoolies, however at this point in time the PS4 Pro is a luxury I can live without. Sony also had several stations where players could try out new and upcoming smaller titles.
Much like Sony, Xbox had several games available to try out. Its biggest draw was their upcoming comical zombie game Dead Rising 4. The line wasn’t as long as the wait for Horizon Zero Dawn, however we chose to bypass the main attraction for the smaller titles on offer. I did however get a brief look at those playing DR4 and it looks every bit as fun and chaotic as the previous entries. I did get to finally try out one of my most anticipated titles, the Wipeout-inspired Redout. It’s been far too long since a Wipeout game has been released, thankfully a couple of developers have a panacea for people like myself. The main difference between Redout and Wipeout is that Redout doesn’t contain combat, at least not in the mode available to play at PAX Aus. The controls also felt very touchy for Redout, with a slight movement of the analogue sticks enough to send you straight into the barriers. Visually it also lacks a little polish, however given that the title is still in development for consoles (it is available on PC), there is still time to address these minor complaints. Redout did leave me wanting more, but it didn’t grab like I hoped it would, though the post-Wipeout boots were never going to be easy to fill.
We also got to take a second look at Death Squared, a game that we checked out last year and loved. For those who need a reminder, Death Squared is a multiplayer puzzle game from Sydney-based developers SMG Studio. In Death Squared players must work together to manoeuvre their blocks past obstacles in order to progress. It’s a challenging yet fun game that usually results in a rotational wave of emotional hand gestures such as pointed fingers, fist bumps and high fives. The excellent news is that Death Squared will be coming to consoles as well as PC early next week, and I’ll definitely be picking up a copy when it drops.
Out of all the AAA heavy hitters, Ubisoft probably had the biggest presence with four of its upcoming titles such as For Honor, South Park: Fractured But Whole, Steep and Watch_Dogs 2 all present at the convention. Unfortunately Watch_Dogs2 wasn’t a hands-on demo; instead it was a 15-minute non-scripted gameplay demonstration, which depicted some of the madness new protagonist Marcus Holloway can create in newly-released open-world hacker game. Chris went hands-on with South Park and the Nosulus Rift, and despite it being one of the more disturbing experience, Chris came away more excited for the game’s 2017 release.
For Honor was another title that I had a fleeting interest in prior to PAX Aus, however after our hands-on demo I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the game. We played a 4 v 4 hardpoint type mode where three points of the map were up for grabs. In the middle of the map an there were legions of AI minion battling it out and made for cheap, easy kills. Killing a user-controlled warrior was much harder, and often came down who had the most gas in the tank at end of the donnybrook. Normally these types of games don’t whet my appetite that much but after my hands-on I went from ‘yeah nah, probably not gonna pick it up hey’ to ‘nah yeah, reckon I’ll pick it up hey’.
The highlight for me though was Steep, Ubisoft’s open-world extreme sports game. It’s been a long time since I have hit the digital slopes, and none with any fervour since Cool Boarders (who can forget the iconic ‘UEP Systems’ line?!) on the PS1. However, Steep appears to be the game that might finally scratch that itch, thanks to its four varying modes. Players can tackle the alpine topography in four different ways: snowboarding, skiing, paragliding and wingsuit flying. I’d be lying if I said I was convincing in any one of these styles, instead I would say I became quite apt at crashing in style. Some of you may have participated in the recent closed and open betas, hopefully like us you enjoyed and we’ll be seeing you on the slopes upon the game’s release on December 2, 2016.
Overall PAX Aus 2016 was enjoyable and chock-a-block full of quality games and development teams. There’s a wealth of talented devs in our own backyard, and every year PAX Aus reminds me that I need to devote more time to checking out the local scene than just what comes off the AAA conveyor belt.