31 August, 2011

PAX 2011: The Games

written by Blain Newport on Wednesday, 31 August, 2011

I took a notebook to PAX. I wrote quick impressions of sixteen games from the show floor. Because I don't hate you, I'll just discuss the interesting bits.

First off, the best experiences I had were not on the show floor.

Bushido Blade

I had spent all day in lines. And playing Red Faction: Armageddon in console freeplay had only confirmed what I'd heard about it being less interesting than Guerilla. Then I wandered over to classic freeplay and saw three guys playing Bushido Blade on PS1.

The only other time I've played Bushido Blade was at the first PAX back in 2004. It's a technical and challenging dueling game where one hit can kill. But if everybody playing sucks at it, it is a hilarious collection of lucky and unlucky accidents. At one point my legs had been crippled and I was flopping towards my opponent like a fish, trying to stab him in the shin. It turned my entire day around.

Left 4 Dead 2

During one of the gauntlet sections (where zombies spawn infinitely until you run a maze and flip a switch), I crouched in front of the group with a fire axe and began singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" as I cut down the constant flow of zombies in front of us. One of my companions started singing as well and it was magical. It could only have been better if I'd been using an oar and we'd sung a proper round.

And now, for the less awesome show floor. Feel free to skim or stop reading if it gets dull.

Alice: Madness Returns in 3D

The game isn't new, and the tech isn't new, but this was the first time that I spent more than a minute actually sitting down and playing anything in 3D. Honestly, I didn't think the 3D added too much. I didn't find myself being more certain of my jumps or combat positioning. What I did find myself doing was moving the camera to angles that were worse for gameplay just to put more stuff in the foreground so that I (and the people watching) could see the 3D.

Since I started recording game video, it jumped out at me how much a player can enhance an experience by paying more attention to camera movement and positioning. Heck, in some games, you fight the camera more than the enemies. 3D made playing camera man a little more rewarding, but not so much that I'd pay extra for it.


Firefall will be a free to play futuristic action MMO. The teams on the demo I played were so mismatched that I don't really want to play it now. Such are the dangers of running largely unattended demos at a convention. At least in the Brink demo last year the devs tried to give advice to the losing side. When one of the Firefall stations went down, the employee I told didn't even seem to care.

Battlefield 3

A lot of people are really hopeful about BF3. My feelings are less positive. They demoed no vehicle combat at PAX. They are not selling on Steam. They will only have servers available until EA wants players to buy something else. Mod support is highly unlikely. And the co-op is only two player. I can't imagine what it would take for me to care about BF3. That game is going to be dead and buried, and I'll still be playing BF2 (with the Nations at War mod).

Twisted Metal

I was never big on the Twisted Metal combat driving games, but (once I figured out where the accelerator was) the new version seemed both a little easier to get in to, and presented more variety. There was a semi with turrets on it's trailer. Friendly cars could drive into the truck and man a turret. I drove an ambulance that shot homing gurneys with crazy people covered in dynamite on them. If I had a PS3, I'd definitely keep an eye on it.

Everything Else

Dead Island

Beating up zombies is fun, but the five minute demo leads me to suspect that the devs are just as worried as I am about its longevity.

Black Knight Sword

It's a side scroller with a nice paper art style and lots going on in the background, but the jumping bits kill the momentum.

Bloodrayne Betrayal

It looks like a decent side scroller. I just wish Dust: An Elysian Tale had come out. With stuff like Black Knight Sword and Bloodrayne Betrayal out, it may get buried.

Dragon's Dogma

It's Lord of the Rings meets Monster Hunter. It felt a bit sluggish, but it has potential.

Asura's Wrath

Oh, Japan. The realistic art style and attempts at gravitas belie a very cartoony action sensibility. It felt like Dragonball for people who think they're too cool for Dragonball.

Charlie Murder

Another Final Fight game for Xbox Live Arcade. Meh.

Retro City Rampage

I don't know if it's just because I'm old enough to have played the 2D GTA games, but it does nothing for me.

Lord of the Rings: War in the North

I enjoyed the action game version of Return of the King. It had a lot of issues, but the connection with the films and passable combat were enough for me to have fun. The demo of War in the North might be as good, but this many years later, that's pretty disappointing. Maybe it's just the segment they chose to show, but the combat looked very bland. The only reaction to attacks I saw were damage numbers or death. That's fine for tower defense, but action games need more feedback and give and take, in my opinion.

Resistance 3

I played a little deathmatch. It was alright. But I've heard that the best part of Resistance is the crazy weapons (which makes sense coming from the developers of Ratchet and Clank), and I didn't have time to experiment with them much in the hurly-burly.

Counter-Strike: Global Operations

It's still Counter-Strike. I would have thought Valve would want to show off more of the new stuff to bring in new players, but they seem focused on people who still want to play de_dust for the billionth time. I suppose there are a lot of them, but they already have the game they want, don't they?

Path of Exile

PoE played like a slightly less refined Titan Quest. Still, I liked Titan Quest a lot. They also gave me some beta or demo disk, so I'll likely try it out.


It pretty much looks like expected. It's pretty, but the need to show off enemy behavior has turned them into bullet sponges that make the guns feel wimpy. We'll see.


It's an indie platformer where you use fluid dynamics and creatures made of fluid to solve puzzles. I was pretty impressed with the puzzle design and the way the game valued the player's time by not forcing the player to run all the way to the edge of the screen before loading the next puzzle. It was fine until the lava area. I sprayed water on it until the surface looked safe, but then it would crack and I'd die instantly. After almost completely solidifying it and still dieing, I moved on.

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