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PAX Prime 2013 Report: Day One

Brad Gallaway's picture

Beyond: Two Souls Screenshot

Today was the first day of PAX Prime 2013, and both @RichardNaik and I were there bright and early to start the day off right.

If you haven't been to the show or haven't heard of it (although honestly, if you're reading this blog, chances are you've probably already attended) Prime is North America's largest consumer video game event, and they're not kidding. The whole thing takes place in the Washington State Convention Center, and it's enormous.

Between the exhibitors, the play areas, the panels and everything else that happens, it takes up the entire building, and another one across the street. PAX 2012 had approximately 70,000 attendees, and although I haven't heard any first-day attendance figures yet, today's floor felt incredibly crowded and tight—even more so than last time. In fact, it was jam-packed to the point that it was often physically impossible to get through the halls and see the things I wanted to see.

I'm not trying to sound bitter, though. It's still great to be there, and seriously, it's the only time of the year when I've got a realistic chance of getting a few hundred 3DS streetpasses in a day.

For Day One, my focus was seeing games in the exhibition hall, so here's a quick rundown of what I spent time with and what I thought...

Sony

As someone who's already pre-ordered a PlayStation 4, I was most curious to see what Sony would have in their lineup this year, and I couldn't have been happier. On display was a good mix between big-budget and smaller, indie titles and it was great to see such diversity. It was especially heartening to find so much indie support coming to the Vita. For example, I spent time with Hohokum, Tearaway, Resogun, Lone Survivor, Fez, Proteus, Metrico, Kickbeat and Doki Doki Universe, and these were just a portion of the titles Vita owners with a taste for indies can expect. Although some of these have already seen release on other systems, these additions really beef up the Vita's profile in a fantastic way.

Looking towards the slightly bigger games...

Knack Screenshot

Knack (PlayStation 4)

It's hard to get a good feel for this one, but I felt generally positive about what I saw. The player takes control of some sort of creature which is made up of bits of rock, wood, another materials. The more it absorbs, the bigger it gets. If it gets hit, then it starts to shrink. Although it was clean and attractive in terms of presentation, it felt a little simple and didn't quite have as much personality as it might have liked. It seems like the core of something really good is here, but I need to see more.

Warframe Screenshot

Warframe (PlayStation 4, PC)

It looks good, but it was disappointing to hear that there won't be a true campaign available. On the other hand, I'm a sucker for (allegedly) keep character customization and this game's visuals remind me a lot of Rengoku, which was one of my favorites in the early PSP days.

Octodad: The Dadliest Catch Screenshot

Octodad: The Dadliest Catch (PlayStation 4, PC)

It was every bit as absurd and goofy as it looks, and I can't wait to get my hands on it.

Rain Screenshot

Rain (PlayStation 3)

This downloadable title about a boy who is invisible when dry under cover and visible in the rain is exactly the sort of thing that doesn't demo well. It came off as very moody and atmospheric, and seems like a project that only reveals itself when sitting down with it on a quiet afternoon.

Beyond: Two Souls Screenshot

Beyond: Two Souls (PlayStation 3)

I'm definitely a David Cage fan, but it was hard to make up my mind about this one. I only caught bits and pieces from the demo, but the story is apparently about a girl who has undergone some sort of experiments and then runs away, and her escape is aided by a ghost who is spiritually tethered to her. It's an interesting premise, but actually playing it gave me some pause.

To start with, the graphics. It looks pretty sharp overall, but there were some incredibly "uncanny valley" moments, and striving for hyper-realism made it all seem sort of weird and more artificial than I would expect.

Speaking of the gameplay, it was basically QTE: The Game. When the girl initiates a motion, the action on screen goes into slow-mo and the player is supposed to "complete" the move. For example, when she punches someone, her arm will go halfway and then the player should push in the direction her fist is traveling. It sounds simple, but I found it surprisingly difficult to determine what the proper directions were, and when failing the inputs, the game just carries on.

At other points the player takes over the role of the ghost, who then can interact with various "hot spots" in the environment – knocking over someone's bag, opening a hatch for the girl, etc. It was interesting to see from the perspective of a spirit who's hovering around and able to pass through objects, but again, my participation in the game felt very pre-scripted and limited.

Although I don't think anyone would ever argue that Cage's work has been perfect, I have admired the emphasis on storytelling and drama that he's taken, and I am very curious to see where he goes with Beyond. However, the demo made me feel as though I was simply watching a movie and nudging the controller every now and again, and that my involvement wasn't crucial. Hopefully that won't be quite as true in the full version.

Diablo III Screenshot

Diablo III (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PC)

It's Diablo. I never played the PC version, and with all of the crazy marketplace stuff removed, I'm ready to get on board.

At this point I left the Sony booth and started working my way through the rest of the floor.

Bayonetta 2 Screenshot

Bayonetta 2 (Wii U)

It looks exactly like the first Bayonetta, which is either a good or bad thing depending on your opinion of the original. Same general monster design, same over-the-top action.

Wolfenstein: The New Order Screenshot

Wolfenstein: The New Order (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC)

I sat down with this for about half an hour, and was shaking my head at how rote and boring and predictable it all was. The graphics look sharp enough, but the opening level in a Nazi castle featured some poor level design which was quite confusing; so much so, that the developers felt the need to put bright yellow "go this way" arrows all over the walls. The action? Basic "pick up all the guns and shoot all the guys" with little to spice it up.

After that first section, I laughed out loud as the main character was thrown into a vegetative state and then rested (immobile!) in a sanitarium for what seemed to be a number of months, only to snap out of it after his favorite nurse was kidnapped. He then immediately knifed a Nazi in the throat and started dual-wielding heavy machine guns as if nothing had even happened. Ridiculous and absurd. Toss in the same "break open crates for body armor" and "can't open any doors, even with explosives" design that would've been appropriate for the mid-90s, and I've got to wonder why anyone thinks this is worth putting resources into.

The Wolf Among Us Screenshot

The Wolf Among Us (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)

Telltale's new game is based on Bill Willingham's Fables comic book, and it looks fantastic. They've definitely learned a few things since wrapping up The Walking Dead—the graphics and animation are both noticeably improved, and there are now obvious choices in the physical actions that the character can perform. For example, when fighting an attacker, it's possible to throw them into a sink, or throw them into a couch, and how the battle plays out after each choice is different. The real-time action mechanics have been polished, and the emphasis on story that made The Walking Dead so popular seems to be in full effect here. Expect five episodes for this series which is actually a prequel to the comic book.

Sonic: Lost World Screenshot

Sonic: Lost World (Wii U, 3DS)

It still feels like janky Sonic, only this time it shamelessly rips off Super Mario Galaxy's world design with spheres the character can walk around, and long flights through space to other areas.

Contrast Screenshot

Contrast (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PC)

This heavily-stylized, puzzle-oriented title puts players in the role of a woman who can be in the real world or flatten herself into a shadow. It's a great effect, and uses light sources dynamically to create various paths. In one example, the character needs to get to the upper balcony of a theater, but there are no stairs. Instead, she positions a spotlight in a certain way, and then transforms into a shadow. After doing so, she's able to hop onto the shadow cast from a musician in the room, and uses that to leap up to a higher position. The developers promised a combat-free, story-rich experience, and that sounds like a great thing to me.

XCOM: Enemy Within Screenshot

XCOM: Enemy Within (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)

I sat in on a demo for this new XCOM content. PC players will be able to buy it on its own, but console players can look forward to a new edition which combines the original game and this new expansion. Highlights include three new classes of trooper: one with genetically-enhanced muscles who can leap to sniper positions without special equipment, one who can resist alien mind control and reflect it back for damage, and one who controls a hulking mech suit with rocket-powered fists and a chain gun that can destroy cover. The presenter promised that this was only the tip of the iceberg, and if the rest of the stuff is as interesting as what I saw, then this turn-based strategy title will definitely find itself on my playlist again in the very near future.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Screenshot

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

I've got to be honest here, I had absolutely no interest in this game at all until I saw the demo and now it's on my to-play list. I don't know anything about the story except that the voice acting was atrocious, but the gameplay reminded me very much of FFX-2. Main character Lightning has the ability to switch between three outfits at-will, and each one has its own set of attacks mapped to the face buttons. Players can then move, block and attack in real-time. Switching between the outfits and attacking was very fast and energetic, and the graphics were quite sharp. I couldn't have been more surprised at how enjoyable it was, but I've got my eye on it now.

Dying Light Screenshot

Dying Light (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC)

Out of all the games I saw today, this one was tops. Created by the same team that crafted the original Dead Island (but not the crappy semi-sequel-not-really-a-sequel Riptide) I think it's safe to call this one the true spiritual successor.

The player takes the role of a parkour-enabled rooftop runner who's in a city swarming with the undead. Small areas of safety are protected by locked gates and barbed wire fences, and it seems as though humanity is holding on by a thread.

Within just a few minutes of the demo, I was already impressed with the true open-world design, verticality of the architecture, and the frightening aggression of the zombies wandering the city.

The biggest difference between Dying Light and Dead Island is that in this game, the undead are much more of a threat. Not only can they run and climb as well as the controllable character can, they are found in such great numbers that running away at top speed is usually the best (and only) answer when finding yourself in a trouble spot. For instance, when I turned one particular corner, I found myself facing what must've been at least 30 or 40 zombies, and they all took an interest in me. Just seeing that on screen was a little stunning, and not for one second did I think about staying there and duking it out.

Of course, I turned the other way and ran as fast as I could, and the sense of danger and adrenaline that kicked in was pretty intense while scrambling around trying to find some path back up to the rooftops. Thankfully, the game gives players some pheromone decoys to throw the zombies up the trail for a moment or two, some are light-sensitive and can be quickly blinded by a flashlight, and there are also traps set up throughout the city to help runners escape.

Marked on the mini-map as a green dot, the player can dash towards one of these devices when in distress and activate them with a remote control while running past. Some electrify the ground and fry zombies, and some are audio or visual distractions.

Other elements in the game include randomly-generated survivors which can be rescued and which affect both the character's development and the story in various ways, shipments of supplies dropped by passing airplanes (they must be retrieved before bandits steal them), and skill trees which lead the player customize their character as they wish. Examples given were increased parkour abilities, or builds more suitable for combat.

The feeling of running for your life and being in real danger of losing it isn't a common mechanic in games these days, and Dying Light seemed to nail it pretty well. I got sucked into it right away, and if what I saw was only a small slice, I can't wait to see what the whole experience turns out to be.

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