PAX East has come and gone, and this time, there were more games and fun to be had at the event than ever, at least in the East Coast Version. If that weren't enough, some major AAA titles got some major gameplay previews to let average Joes check out the hotly anticipated titles for themselves, even though they had to wait in massive lines.
Strategy Informer will let you know which ones impressed us the most, in our Top Ten Games of PAX East 2011, in reverse order from number 10 to our Game of Show.
And without further ado, here is the list.
10. Hunted: The Demon's Forge: Hunted is a two player co-op fantasy action-RPG for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. In it, you play E'lara and Caddoc, a huntress and a warrior who each represent both female and male archetypes, but also the ranged and melee tropes respectively. E'lara can gain abilities that improve her archery, but her melee attack is rather weak. Caddoc, on the other hand, gains abilities that improves his combat, but his crossbow is almost ineffective. Both can use magic, however. The game will put you through your paces as a team, especially during the major set pieces when a horde of undead will beset the pair, both attacking from the ground and firing missiles from above. The game has definite possibilities, and it'll be interesting to see how good the final product is.
9. Child of Eden: UbiSoft bragged that they would make the most out of the Kinect motion controller, making "hardcore" games for the device, and Child of Eden is their first effort, and it is a success. Basically, the game is Rez with New Age imagery replacing the cyberspace theme of the original, which shouldn't be surprising since Child of Eden was developed by Rez's creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi. Using Kinect to fire and mark targets is surprisingly accurate and rewarding. While the initial stages shown at PAX East 2011 were relatively easy, we're told the game ramps up the difficulty, so expect your arm to get tired. Not to fear, PlayStation 3 owners - a Move version is also being released.
8. Orcs Must Die!: A few weeks ago we were treated by Robot Entertainment to Orcs Must Die! - read the preview - and enjoyed our experience so much we were eager to see how the game would be received at PAX East 2010 in its public debut. Not surprisingly, fans flocked to the game and were instantly hooked, as a crowd jammed Robot's small booth. The game looks like a surefire winner, and will be hitting this Summer; the platforms it is planned for are PC digital download, Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, though that could change before release.
7. Lord of the Rings: War in the North: Speaking of the motto "Orcs must die!", The Lord of the Rings: War in the North basically revolves around killing orcs by the truckloads, too, with other Tolkienian beasts as well, such as trolls and wargs. Like Hunted: The Demon's Forge, War in the North is also a co-op fantasy action-RPG, but with three players instead of two, and of the two, is far more polished and featured. The game has more Diablo-esque loot grabbing, as well as unique powers for each of the three characters: the human ranger, the elven mage and the dwarven warrior, and rewards exploration much more than Forge. Combat is brutal and smooth, and the game shows off the fact it's the first Lord of the Rings game to earn an M-rating with some truly graphic kills. The game will be released for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
6. The Darkness II: Jackie Estacado is back, and he finds himself crucified by a mysterious, gap-toothed hobo who wants you to give him The Darkness, the evil power you wield that is only active when there’s no light. During the demo at PAX East 2011, you find yourself the target of a mob rubout, as dozens of assassins firing on you in the middle of a restaurant; the innocent bystanders in the restaurant don’t fare so well. Eventually, you’re using your demon arms to cut, slice, and eat enemies’ hearts out, and you’re joined by an imp who wears a Union Jack shirt and makes snarky comments – you have to wonder if it’s an homage to Yahtzee Croshaw, whose first Zero Punctuation was the demo for The Darkness, and the imp became the video series' mascot. The game features pretty graphics - even in its alpha build - which has a graphic novel art texture. And yes, Faith No More's Mike Patton is back as the voice of The Darkness. The sequel, coming to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, already seems far better than its predecessor, look out for this one.
5. Mortal Kombat: It's Mortal Kombat. What else is there to say? Well, aside from the boundary-pushing gore and violence, it's the first M-rated Mortal Kombat to have proper game balance; the original Mortal Kombat's were lacking in tactics, and lived off the controversial Fatalities. The game also introduces X-Ray combos in which you can see the internal damage of your blows - ribs shatter, skulls crack, spleens burst, and so on. The best one can hope for is that it's Mortal Kombat with stellar next-gen graphics and intelligent gameplay mixed with stomach-turning gore. This game delivers on that. Expect it in a few weeks for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
4. Battlefield 3: They're real. Those graphics and animation you saw in the gameplay trailer? They're completely real and in-game, and not only that, they're pre-alpha. This was proven during a gameplay demo in which we saw everything that the video showed, and then some, such as taking an RPG and blowing the entire side of a building to take out a sniper. After that, when the game shifted to combat on a large avenue with a bridge over it, the pre-alpha build crashed, and we were forced to watch the rest of it on video, which was actually worse than the game build. There were still some impressive visuals, such as when a major earthquake hits, some buildings collapse, realistically, and one falls in your direction and... cut to black. Demo over. The Frostbite 2 engine is utterly amazing, and there wasn't a single person who left the demo not supremely impressed - and just wait til they polish the graphics. While the game will be coming to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it should be absolutely gorgeous on PC, even outstripping Crysis 2.
3. Brink: The persistent, class-based multiplayer shooter Brink continues to impress. This time, we were able to engage in a full fledged battle between humans, with four players taking on four players, with 8 bots spread evenly on each team, to maintain an eight on eight game. Amazingly, it was hard to tell which players were human and which were bots, on either side. The gameplay is incredibly smooth, and completing mission goals are also quick and easy, even for someone who'd never touched the game before. The game always kept the team focused on completing the mission by offering tasks with XP incentives. XP can be used to purchase perks. Everything can be customized, and you'll find yourself growing attached to your unique character. Brink looks like one of the best multiplayer shooters to come out in a long, long while. It's coming in May for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
2. Star Wars: The Old Republic: One of the major worries about Star Wars: The Old Republic has been resolved. There has been a lot of information released by Bioware, such as the classes, advanced classes, personalized ships, Starfox-like battle sequences, but very little of actual gameplay. One of the major concerns was how the Star Wars classes would fit in combat. Having run a raid with level 32 characters, those fears are allayed. Before the raid began, the party of four got to engage in an interactive cutscene with Mass Effect-style dialog choices. As with Mass Effect, the three options went from Light Side or heroically positive on the top, to neutral in the middle, and Dark Side or harsh and negative on the bottom. After each person in the party selects their response, a roll is made and the player’s whose number, which is determined from a few factors, is highest makes the response. In some cases, these responses can actually change the course of a mission. Combat is typical of an MMO - tank, healer, scapper, ranged - but the science fiction setting, the brutality of combat and the Star Wars license just makes it feel fresh and new. Combat in a raid has to be carefully co-ordinate, too; you may cut a swath through the elite mobs with your characters, but when you face off against even minibosses, they will kick your ass if you don't coordinate carefully. The gameplay demo only made everyone who played hungry for more, and this could finally be a real challenger to World of Warcraft.
PAX East 2011 Game of Show - L.A. Noire: Finally, our Game of Show, L.A. Noire, which is a mature game, in all senses of the word. Not only does it feature Mature-rated content, but the intelligence and respectfulness of the game is truly mature, as opposed to childish. The demo at PAX East 2011 completely avoided the action sequences such as gun combat, and instead took us on instead a police investigation, complete with forensics, evidence gathering an interrogation, 1947 Los Angeles style. The case we were taken on involved a completely nude woman, including exposed breasts and pubic hair, but it was not titillating in the slightest. It was properly disquieting and clinical, as you had to check her wounds, and limbs, then search the area for clues (some of which were already marked by markers left by previous police investigators, but others which you have to find on your own.) Playing as Cole Phelps (voiced by Mad Men's own Aaron Staton), you also have to question suspects and persons of interest and study their facial reactions and press them for info while detecting whether they're lying or not - if you don't already have evidence refuting their claims - by studying their facial reactions and nervous tics. The more evidence you collect, the "easier" the case is. The game really feels like a CSI game in that respect, except you don't have to worry about warrants or suspect's rights as a member of the LA police in that era, also known as The Hat Squad.
Phelps, however, is unusual for a Rockstar hero. He's a former World War II hero who is always looking to stay on the straight and narrow, unequivocally. There's no mortality meter or "good cop, bad cop" pendulum. He's refreshingly heroic, though - he is a good guy, through and through, even those the LA police is filled with corruption. That's not to say that he's a boring hero, though - Phelps is dealing with a painful past that he needs to atone for; what it is, Rockstar refuses to spoil. That said, if you were bored by the morally questionable main characters of Rockstar games, this game will be a breath of fresh air.
The graphics, incidentally, are outstanding for an open world game. There are 400 character models, and stopping a random pedestrian on the street will get the same detailed reactions as any main character. The streets and cars look detailed and appropriately period, and according to Rockstar, the layout of Los Angeles is their biggest mapped area ever. Driving from one end of LA to the other will take 32 minutes.
L.A. Noire looks like an instant contender for Game of the Year, and will be released for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 this year.
The Other Games: There were quite a few notable games that I played but didn't quite make the list, while others I didn't get a chance to play. Portal 2 is one of those I didn't get to play, but in hindsight, I'm grateful since it had plot spoilers and introductions of new characters. We know it's awesome, and its release is close enough that that sort of spoiler is best avoided. The Duke Nukem Forever demo is the same as the one from PAX Prime, and it feels dated and sluggish, though Gearbox has probably cleaned it up since then. F.E.A.R 3 showed off its "F**king RUN" co-op mode in which a team of four players must run from a giant wall of death that is bearing down on them, while mooks are trying to kill them from in front. One player gets caught, the entire team dies. A free-to-play persistent online shooter Firefall was a huge hit there, but there was no time to engage in it; the booth was very popular, though. A closed door beta of Guild Wars 2 was run, and it looks just as hot as ever but no new stuff was revealed. Same with Gears of War 3, which looks great. Two XBLA/PSN action-RPGs, Bastion and Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale were very promising. The former had an in-game dungeon master narrating your actions, while the latter resembled a souped-up Dark Alliance II. The PC version of Fable III PC was also there, and looked fantastic in 3D. One sleeper game, Warp, was a cartoonish puzzle-platformer in which the main character could teleport past walls - or into enemies to make them pop from inside. Rage was also one of the most popular titles at PAX East, with two hour lines to see the amazing id Tech 5 engine, but I didn't get to see it personally. It's nice to be invited to E3, where I'll get some time with it.
It was an eventful PAX East 2011 this year, and with all the video games to play, there was still a ton of fun board games and pen-and-paper roleplaying games to play as well. The show had it all, especially being housed in the huge Boston Convention Center.
Let us know which games you are most looking forward to.