Thumbnail courtesy of Grace Snoke, taken from the PAX East 2012 gallery
It's something I may never get used to, a celebration of gaming so gigantic that it overwhelms the senses. Through all the crowds, the booths, the games, and the noise, it can be difficult to keep your bearings straight on the PAX East expo hall. Gamer mobs flow through the artificially constructed pathways like water through a canal. Cosplayers snatch up any plot of empty space their eyes land on so they can be photographed by their adoring crowds. Rock Band and Dance Central blast memorable tunes so often that you're starting to regret ever liking them in the first place. Most importantly, gamers get an opportunity to do what they do best, play games.
Unsurprisingly, there was a wealth of games to try out in the expo hall. Borderlands 2, Assassin's Creed III, Far Cry 3, and other high profile sequels shared space with new franchises such as Firefall, Lollipop Chainsaw, and Quantum Conundrum. Indie games made their presence felt from iOS titles like Girls Like Robots to more elaborate creations like Antichamber. With a little help from the Digital Marketing Team's H2O Shoagie and PMS Victory, we'll run down what we saw and liked most in the expo hall of PAX East 2012.
I'll admit that my picks are a little bit biased as a member of the now defunct Rhythm 360 division, but my favorite game at PAX East had to be Harmonix's new XBLA title, Rock Band Blitz. Blitz offers a beat-matching experience similar to Harmonix's pre-Guitar Hero titles, Frequency and Amplitude. Gems are destroyed in rhythm by actions on a controller instead of a peripheral and each instrument in a song is simultaneously represented by its own note highway. Blitz differs from Harmonix’s early work, though, by condensing the number of notes per track from 3 to 2 and layering a ton of strategy on top of the core gameplay.
Unlike Rock Band, Blitz is all about awareness and planning. A typical run-through of a song in RBB consists of building up enough points on each instrument to max a multiplier, jumping between tracks to pick up overdrive and purple gems, and managing whatever powerups you have selected for that run. One of the powerups I chose launched a pinball out of any purple gem I destroyed, adding another layer of complexity to play as I move from track to track trying to keep the pinball in play. It all feels a bit overwhelming at first -- I constantly found myself forgetting to use some of my powerups because I was concentrating on other aspects of the game -- but it’s a rewarding experience once you get into it. While Rock Band is all about mastering a single instrument and a connection to that instrument, Rock Band Blitz is all about mastering on-the-fly strategies and a connection to the whole song itself.
What may be the best part about Blitz, though, is it's compatibility with the entire Rock Band Music Store Library. Every piece of official HMX DLC and Rock Band Network release is playable in Blitz. If that's not enough to get a rhythm fan excited for summer, nothing is.
Continuing the theme of rhythm gaming, Square-Enix was showing their rhythm music game Theatrhythm for the 3DS. While I believe the title leaves a lot to be desired, the game itself plays very well. The demo I tried out offered a handful of classic Final Fantasy tunes and new favorites to choose from. Naturally, I decided to go with Terra's theme from Final Fantasy VI.
As the song plays, the top screen scrolls a series of commands -- primarily tapping, swiping, and dragging -- that you're meant to mimic on the bottom screen. At first, this felt a bit odd because my impulse was to tap on the notes themselves as I would in a game like Elite Beat Agents, but it did not take long to adjust to what Theatrhythm demanded. Eventually, the song swept me away and the rhythm motions felt natural and well timed to the theme itself. I regret not trying it on a higher setting, but even on the equivalent of Theatrhythm's medium difficulty I was never left bored. The top screen also contained a visual flair of an adventurer traveling across a landscape, but it's hard for their extra presentation to make an impact on you while you concentrate on the commands and music.
Theatrhythm is currently dated to release in America on July 3rd for 3DS. Rhythm gaming fans who love Final Fantasy music and also own a 3DS, rejoice. Surely that market isn’t too niche.
One game I was looking forward to was Aliens: Colonial Marines developed by Sega. We were given a 10-minute demo of the game and then got to test out an alpha version of team deathmatch. After watching the demo of how deathmatch worked in this game, they wished us luck and set us up in a match against the team themselves. Before we began, they cockily added that very few groups were able to beat them. Using what we learned from the demo and communicating well, we were able to pull a smooth victory against the development team and it felt pretty awesome. As for the game itself, it would be hard to judge based entirely on the alpha version we played. I had some issues with the game but, with any luck, those issues will be fixed before the release of the game this Fall.
At the Square Enix Press conference I attended, I got a sneak peak at a game that wasn't on the floor. Of the 7 games on display, I couldn’t help but zone in on Kingdom Hearts 3D. Trust me, it took a lot of willpower not to go fangirl. Many people, including myself, are cautious when seeing their favorite game stories continued on the handheld platform. That said, I don’t believe any Kingdom Hearts fan will be disappointed by this game. It’s important to note that Kingdom Hearts 3D is not is a port of Kingdom Hearts or Kingdom Hearts II; it's a continuation of the events left off in KHII. Taking the best of the previous two games and building on it, KH3D provides a unique gaming experience but also gives a nostalgic feel while playing. This is definitely be a day 1 purchase for me!
Overall, what makes PAX East worth it for me is being able to catch up with friends. I’m amazed that while we may only see each other a couple times a year, we still greet each other as if we just hung out yesterday. It's wonderful being apart of such a great community and I'm thankful PAX East gives us the chance to strengthen those bonds. I cannot wait to see PAX Prime holds in August!
On Friday I was itching for my appointment to meet with En Masse and play Tera. For the demo, we were set up as a group of five including one of the developers providing healing support. The rest of the group was filled up with the typical roles of a five person instance. I played as a warrior using quick dodge techniques and long, slow attacks that needed to be chained together to do the most damage and debuff the enemy.
We were taken into a currently unreleased instance meant for level 58 to 60 players. As we cleaned up the trash mobs on the way to the boss, we learned how to use our specific skill sets and, for me, that meant chaining together combos and dodging with proper timing. When we reached the boss fight, a second dev jumped in behind us with a microphone to commentate and it made the whole experience much more exciting.
We blazed through the first half of the battle and didn’t expect the second half to be much of a problem. This was about the time our healer decided to have some fun with us. He took a dive with the boss at 15% health to see if we could take it on alone, without any potions or healers. One by one, we were taken out.
As I exited the booth I called to the healer, “You set us up for failure.” He replied, “No, I set you up for excitement.” I suppose he was right.
On Saturday, The Borderlands 2 booth was calling to me. The giant colorful statue beckoning me to try it out finally drew me in for my appointment on the second day of PAX East.
There were two character class options, the Gunzerker and Siren. I chose the Gunzerker and PMS Vertigo played a Siren as my co-op partner. We started off in a small walled-in area where we could choose our guns. Guns, in Borderlands, who would have thought? I love collecting loot and I spent way too much of my demo time picking up and trying out new weapons instead of pushing through and exploring new areas. There is just something about picking up a shiny object off the ground or out of a chest that keeps me excited and wanting more.
After the first few minutes I acquired a small arsenal of guns, ready to take on the world. It was pure bliss running around, using my special ability, and dual wielding any weapons I came across. Even though I felt that my character may not be optimally set up, it did not keep me from exploding bugs all over the landscape. It made me feel like I was a soldier in Starship Troopers, which is a very beautiful thing.
On Sunday I had a chance to sit down with Hi-Rez and play the alpha build of Smite. Smite is a third person take on the MOBA(Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) style games like DotA or League of Legends. The two biggest differences between Smite and other MOBAs were that all skills are skill shots and abilities must be purchased from the shop the same way items are. The biggest surprise of my demo was upon reaching their base. There was not an immobile building or nexus to kill, but rather a Minotaur that chased us around and turned the final sequence in to a hectic mix of a normal team fight and a boss section from an MMO raid.
The devs were very quick to talk to us about any bugs we ran into and asked our opinions on how to fix them. This gave me high hopes for the beta process. While I only got to try out one god (Champion), it felt like some balance changes would make this a very enjoyable game. After all, that is the way that MOBA style games work. They are constantly patched with balance fixes and new additions. Even with my high hopes for Smite, It will be tough to decide which MOBA game I stick with, but I have no problem playing them all to find out.
Overall I would say that my game of show was Borderlands 2. While I was a late adopter to the first Borderlands, there is no way I could be kept from its better looking sequel.
All images taken from Giantbomb.com
Written by Erich "H2O mystakin" Sherman. Erich is the PMS|H2O Editorial Director. Keep track of him and his shenanigans on Twitter!
Co-Written by H2O Shoagie and PMS Victory. They are members of the PMS|H2O Digital Marketing Team.