At the beginning of the month I continued my yearly tradition of attending PAX Aus, wandering in late at around 1pm on the Sunday. Due to the closure of Another-Castle I did not have a press pass this year, thus I did not have the opportunity like last year to interview developers and gain early access to the show floor on the Friday. However, it was still an event worth attending, being able to demo a number of games I have been looking forward to, discover some I have never heard of, and reconnect with many former members of the Another-Castle community.
For every PAX I’ve attended I tend to create a list of games that I’m willing to line up for to play. At the top of that list this year was For Honor, a game which captivated me when it was first announced at E3 last year. Medieval combat games always catch my interest, though I was quite disappointed by both Chivalry and War of the Roses, not enjoying their respective combat systems as much as I expected to.
The demo provided an excellent representation of the game, being split into two parts. The first half was a tutorial, covering the basic mechanics of the combat, which heavily relies on blocking and reacting to the actions of your foes. The second half was a ten minute 4v4 multiplayer match which involved fighting for three control points across the map. The gameplay exceeded my expectations due to the extremely enjoyable combat mechanics. Entering one-on-one duels with others players is extremely satisfying as combat is fast paced yet tactical due to the blocking and countering mechanics. Walking away from this demo has convinced me that I will be picking up For Honor day one.
After For Honor, I wandered over to the Microsoft booth. In typical Microsoft fashion, nothing really caught my eye. As I was about to move on to the Sony booth, I saw a PAX anomaly, a game that had not released yet had four demo units on show that were all devoid of players. This was Halo Wars 2. I felt compelled to pick up a controller and play the game, no game deserves to be as lonely as Halo Wars 2 seemed, whilst my love of the RTS genre filled me with questions of how such a genre is converted to a console.
The answer is not well. Perhaps it was due to the game mode that was available, which was a survival mode against endless waves of enemies, but I found the gameplay quite monotonous. This was confounded by use of the Xbox controller. RTS games for me really only excel with keyboard controls, even more squad focused games in the genre like Halo Wars. Perhaps there is hope for the Windows 10 version, but I believe Dawn of War III will provide a superior experience.
After Halo Wars 2, I drifted over to the Indie section of the show floor. Unlike last year, there were few games that captured my attention. The sole stand out personally was Chroma Shift, a cooperative puzzle game that utilises a polarity shifting mechanic to solve puzzles. Teamwork and communication with your partner is vital, something that I believe is missing in many modern games as local cooperative play is pretty much non-existent. Each of the characters have different attributes that need to be utilised to solve puzzles that manage to be both intuitive and challenging. This is definitely a game to watch, as it has the potential to offer one of the most compelling cooperative experiences in years.
I generally avoid panels at PAX, preferring to use my time to play games instead. However this year one panel caught my eye, likely due to my love of history. It was titled Australian History: Bad Boys & Brawlers – The NES Downunder. This panel provided a fascinating exposition of the history of the NES in Australia, focusing primarily upon the development history of the system. Andrew Davie, a former employee of Beam Software, detailed the development of Bad Street Brawler, a notoriously terrible game for the NES. He explained the technical limitations that faced developers, revealing why the NES port was so inferior to the Amiga original. It was never intended to be released, however it was inadvertently sold to Mattel who used it as one of the key games to launch the legendary Power Glove with.
PAX was about to close, and I had yet to play the number two game on my aforementioned list; Zero Horizon Dawn. This is a game that has increasingly caught my attention since the additional footage that was released at E3 this year and is one of the games that is tempting me to purchase a PS4. Luckily I was able to jump into the line just before they closed it. Whilst waiting in the line, Sony reps walked past handing out handfuls of Last Guardian pins. That they had so many left at the end of the third day probably reveals how popular their Last Guardian photo booth was. I must admit the fact that it wasn’t playable makes me doubtful that it will meet its current December release date or live up to its hype if it does release as scheduled.
The playable demo of Zero Horizon Dawn was a disappointment due to its limited scope. After waiting in line for around 40 minutes it lasted about 10 minutes, with limited enemies to fight and with the area accessible for exploration being extremely limited. I managed to turn one of the robot deer into a mount, but as soon as I began riding in an direction I’d soon reach an invisible wall with a message that I had to turn back or the demo would restart. The demo played by the PR guy showing some of the mechanics of the game before you played the demo available to the public had much more depth and was a better indicator of what the final game will be like. I’m still excited to play the full game, but I regret lining up to play such a short demo.