Our 12th PAX featured some small improvements and many impediments.
It's the first year in many that we weren't granted media access (most niche media and smaller outlets were cut this year to make room for more exhibitor badges). This meant that we had a harder time than usual securing access to talk, on the record, with AAA title developers or even PR reps. Booths are staffed with exhibitors who are there to talk you through their games, but the second you ask to record they clam up.
What was more frustrating: the consistent runaround. First we'd be told we could talk to someone, and then hop three or more times to the next person in the booth who was supposedly authorized for media handling only to be ultimately told: No you can't record anyone here.
On top of that, Bethesda Softworks - while having probably the largest booth at the show - did not have playable Fallout 4, Doom, or Dishonored 2. Highlights of past shows were playable demos of their predecessor games, but clearly Bethesda thinks they'll sell just fine without the word of mouth. There's also the risk that 50,000+ people descending at once on one corner of the expo hall would have triggered a collapse, so maybe they did us a favor. We did empty our wallets at their store, more than once. And scored nifty masks like the one pictured above.
All that didn't stop us from playing many games of all stripes and sizes, and sharing out thoughts on them. But our podcast coverage is primarily indie this year with a few notable exceptions.
Sorry folks, we tried. (You know we tried.)
But we still found some amazing and fascinating stories. We'll be adding lots of podcast links over the next few weeks as we edit and post them, as vigorously as we can, so we can get to expanding the I Love Bees Definitive Edition (more on that below).
There were many highlights of PAX Prime 2015. Here's our full report:
Rock Band 4. We've nearly always had a lot of fun at the Harmonix booth, particularly when there's a new Rock Band to kick around.
They're also one of the more media friendly AAA gaming companies, and they spoke with us about some of the new features, new songs, how DLC carryover from last gen works, and the issue with Xbox One digital preorders.
Apparently your Xbox 360 instruments, at least the wireless ones, will need some sort of adapter to work on the Xbox One. You heard it here first!
Gamewatcher tried the guitar but didn't get the hang of freestyle (despite the handy instructional chart). Apparently it can take a few rounds to learn but then it'll be easy.
Either way, it's more Rock Band and we're eager to get our hands on it!
- Launches Oct 6 on PS4 and Xbox One.
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (5:17)
Mad Max. Before you get excited, this is NOT based on Fury Road, or any of the other Mad Max films. It's a sandbox game with an original story that evokes key elements of the Mad Max series. The lead character doesn't look like Mel Gibson, but we're not really seeing Tom Hardy in there, either.
We both played Mad Max and enjoyed it for different reasons. Gamewatcher dug the car combat and GrrlGotGame loves punching bad dudes. So yeah, we're getting the game. Best PAX moment: GrrlGotGame blew up a Mad Max boss in a way no one else had done while misogynists who'd been dissing girl gamers flailed at their own demo stations.
The cars have lots of customization options, and the brawling mechanics seem easy if you've played any Batman - but there is fun to be had on either path. We just wish they featured Furiosa. Maybe next game?
Minecraft: Story Mode. We all love Telltale's quirky story-driven games (dating back to Sam & Max) but this visit to their incredible booth was (primarily) for our 12-year-old, The Pikachu Fan. He totally geeked out over the game's Minecraft lore but we all enjoyed the tale of a boy and his pig trying to get to back to Endercon (in the final game you can play as a girl if you prefer - take that, Ubisoft!).
We won't spoil the story but there are zombies and other baddies from the sandbox game for you to fight and choices to make that will yield "<fill in the blank> will remember that." Our son got into a debate with Telltale staff on whether their games had karma elements, but it was off mike so you'll just have to imagine how that went. Fortunately, we still recorded many great details to hold you over until the game's release.
- Episode 1 is due before Thanksgiving for almost any platform you can think of
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (4:57)
Assassin's Creed: Syndicate. We are seriously on the fence here. On the one hand, the gameplay looks like something out of an action movie with exciting cross-town chases where you jack a carriage, GTA-style, and then battle enemies on the top of a moving train. And there's the matter of the long overdue female protagonist, who - alas! - you can't play the entire game, just selected chapters (something a bit less than half the time from what we've heard). Still, baby steps, right?
On the other, the demo left us wanting more - as in something different. The last few chapters of the Assassin's Creed saga haven't grabbed us like the first 2 or 3 did, and we're not sure we're ready to dive into Syndicate.
Pre-order denied. We'll be waiting on the reviews for this one, and probably a sale.
- Launches Oct 23 on PS4 and Xbox One, and Nov 19 on PC
- Sorry, no podcast interview
Rise of the Tomb Raider. The short review here is that, based on the demo we played, this is simply more Tomb Raider. If you enjoyed the last one, this is more of the same. Climbing, shooting, running, jumping, and some mild puzzle solving. And it looks fantastic.
The demo featured mostly climbing at the start, so when it was time to shoot something to unlock an area we forgot we were even armed. Fortunately there's a new hint system: If you push in the right thumbstick, the game will highlight where to go next. You may still need to figure out what to do there, but at least you'll know where to go. The demo also cut most of the combat sections to speed us to the big finish, so we're looking forward to shooting more baddies when this comes out in November. You will need an Xbox One to play it, at least for the timed exclusivity window (the length of which has not been revealed).
- Releases Nov 10 on Xbox One
- Sorry, no podcast interview
Plants Vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2. We are big Plants vs Zombies fans but never got into Garden Warfare, the FPS multiplayer battle game. On a lark, we tried the demo for the sequel, where you get to play as the zombies (instead of the usual plants) and overcome wave after wave of flora.
We actually had fun using our individual specialized abilities and armed turrets to decimate the barrage of vegetation controlled by AI. A round lasts about 10 minutes, so it's easy to enjoy in short bursts.
Not sure if there's any single-player worth playing - but if team games are your thing, this felt solid.
- Releases on PC, PS4, and Xbox One in 2016
- Sorry, no podcast interview
I Am Bread. This is one of those quirky games we couldn't pass by, especially when there was little to no line. Alas, the wonky controls ensured that we struggled to keep our bread edible on its long journey to toast itself. That's right, you play as a piece of bread that's hellbent on preparing itself to be eaten. Now this game isn't new; it's been on Steam for months, and I toyed with the idea of picking it up there. But we usually play our games in the living room, so a console release seemed a better match.
Having played it - barely managing to succeed in overcooking hisself to a disgusting mishmash of toast coated in dirt, eggshells and ants - Gamewatcher suspects this might play better with touch controls on iOS, where it just launched as well. This is a game where tapping and swiping should lead to fewer falls in the muck, but by all accounts all of the various versions are wrought with tension. Because you might fail to become toast.
What a weird game. Not to say that's a bad thing.
Lego Dimensions. We played this game twice, both times opting for the Portal-themed adventure because... well, I don't think anyone tried anything else at PAX. Every time we passed the booth it was Portal on every screen, all of the time.
The game is... interesting. You place various characters and vehicles made of Legos onto special base platforms that, like Skylanders and Disney Infinity before it, get scanned into the world of the game. There are spots where you're supposed to modify an item - like upgrading the Batmobile with blocks - but it's all subterfuge. All you really need to do is acknowledge the brick adjustments on screen and then place the item on the platform. The game doesn't know if you actually made any changes to it.
Anyway, GrrlGotGame and Gamewatcher took a first pass, and barely got to enjoy it since the short demo period meant our station host had to walk us through every step to keep within the time limit. We figured very little out for ourselves, and had little fun as a result. There are lots of little puzzles that involve placing the right item on the right section of the base at the right time and using certain characters' powers to advance the story. As usual, you collect bolts (which seem a bit out of place here - can we please end having all Lego games score you on bolt collection?!).
Pikachu Fan took a pass at the game too, and after making it through the same levels in record time declared that we don't need to buy this one, even on sale. After playing with Legos for years and collecting many Skylanders and Disney Infinity figures, this is a ringing un-endorsement.
- Releases Sept 27 for PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One
- Sorry, no podcast interview
Kitty Disastrous. This charming tale of interspecies love is still in the very early stages but promises to a fun whimsical romp that both adults and kids can enjoy. You play a purple kitty that has fallen head over paws for a ferret. Tragically, the ferret falls through the roof into a shop just moments after they meet... and it's up to kitty to save the day.
Anyone who has lived with a cat can predict what happens next: Everyday objects are destroyed. Dangling items are attacked. Fake mustaches are acquired. (Yes, really.) Mice â scratch that. We'll let you discover what the mice do for yourself. The developers hope to have a finished game ready to show by next year's PAX. We can't wait to see what disasters kitty causes next.
- Release is still to be announced; likely for PC and at least one console in 2016
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (2:13)
MekaZoo. This puzzle platformer is vividly hued with a neon glow, which is one way to stand out at a busy show like PAX.
The demo we tried had you play as a high-jumping frog and a fast-rolling armadillo (think Sonic). Several other animals will be in the final game including a panda, wallaby, and pelican.
The action was fast and fun, using your creatures' skills to access hard-to-reach places. You swap characters as needed, and landing in cannon-like structures shoots you into new sections to explore.
We didn't try multiplayer but there's a co-op mode in there too. Might be a fun one to enjoy together in the living room.
- Releases in 2015 for PC (approved on Steam Greenlight), PS4, Xbox One and Wii U
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (2:19)
The Magic Circle. This is a truly odd experience. You're playing an unfinished game and, rather than wait for the developers to finish it, you take on that task yourself. It's very meta, majorly geeky, and created by developers of AAA titles you've actually heard of.
We won't steal the thunder from our podcast interview, but this may be one of the more interesting games you check out this year.
- Out now for PC on Steam. Release to be announced for PS4 and Xbox One
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (3:11)
How To Survive 2. GrrlGotGame is a major zombie game fanatic, and she's on the fence about this one largely because it's... well, it's in the third-person. She generally prefers her zombie bashing to be up close, personal, and in the first person thank you very much (with the exception of the Dead Rising series). The level she played, set in New Orleans, was also pretty light on zombies, perhaps by design or because it was an early prototype. That said, she doesn't know that she would have survived if there were many more of them.
This game seems to be more about the atmosphere and puzzles than how many undead can you kill. GrrlGotGame spent a great deal of time just wandering around, killing a zombie about every 20-30 seconds while trying to figure out where to go next. When she entered a building, the walls would go translucent, allowing her to see in without following her character too closely. It was kind of a neat effect.
One thing that impressed us is the developer's devotion to pleasing its fan base, which has been enjoying the first How to Survive game for some time now. The Steam forum for that game is being used to collect suggestions for the sequel.
While the game isn't a perfect fit for our personal zombie bashing tastes, we're planning to give the original How to Survive a shot on our Xbox One (free at the moment for Gold members) before the sequel arrives on Steam Early Access ... just in time for Halloween 2015.
- Releases Oct on PC via Steam Early Access; other platforms to be announced
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (5:18)
Gigantic. This enticing third-person action game is actually a distinctive entry in the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genre.
There is no single player - instead you team up or get matched up with four other players, each with their own special attacks or skills that evolve throughout a match against another team of five. Likewise, your mission objectives shift as you explore the large brilliantly colored worlds of the game.
If you have an Xbox One and/or Windows 10 PC, you can sign up for the closed beta now.
- Free to play. Out now in Xbox One and Windows 10 closed beta; due to release wide this year
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (3:58)
Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes. What started as a VR game is now coming out on Steam for gamers with or without a virtual reality headset.
The concept is ripped from most action movies. There's a bomb set to blow up and someone has to walk you through the steps to defuse it by whispering the steps in your ear.
Only the people helping you are wading through complex instruction manuals to help you dismantle the random puzzle traps. You describe what you see, they find the right details - you hope.
Will KTANE (as it's abbreviated) take off as the next big geek party game? Time will tell. But if you ever dreamed of cutting the red wire with 0:07 seconds left on the clock, this might be the game for you.
- Out now for Samsung Gear VR. Releases in Oct for PC via Steam and due for various other VR headsets including Oculus Rift on PC and Morpheus for PS4
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (2:38)
Hob. From the makers of Torchlight comes a game that diverges from their core action RPG comfort zone. Essentially a puzzle platformer (and a striking one at that), the game drops you into a strange steampunk realm that you must explore to uncover its mysteries.
There's no text or dialogue, just a story that unfolds via the action of the game itself. There is combat, naturally, but the game is more about discovery.
- Release is to be announced for PC and unnamed consoles
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (2:27)
Knight Squad. It's been a while since we've found a party game that really appealed. Knight Squad definitely fits the bill. It takes basic concepts that we've all played (capture the flag, soccer, etc.) and adds a hack-and-slash flare. Up to four "knights" (points for including pink and purple options!) can battle it out using standard issue swords or souped-up weapons found on the field. A personal favorite: the long-sword, a blade truly worthy of the Highlander.
The base mechanics were pretty much the same on every game â capture an item and take it to the destination (your home base, the goal post, etc.). But each map had nice variation and there was some skill involved. GrrlGotGame had a wonderful time playing, even when she was getting stomped by someone's trash-talking kid.
- Out now for PC and Mac on Steam Early Access; releases on Xbox One in the next year
- Sorry, no podcast interview
Castle Story. At first glance this looked like a Minecraft knockoff but during the interview that ensued, Minecraft didn't come up at all. It goes to show that looks can be deceiving. You do collect cube-style elements and can build whatever you can imagine but Castle Story is at its heart a strategy game.
All that said, the Steam Early Access reviews are concerning so this is, at best, a watch-and-wait game. Still, if Minecraft and strategy ring your bell, at some point this may come together.
Chasm. We don't stop for every shiny new platformer we spot at PAX, but this one really caught our eye. The result of a 2013 Kickstarter, the game is more than a year late.
But it looks like it will have been worth the wait. Procedurally generated, you'll never play the same dungeon twice - unless you want to. There will be seeds, so you can sock away favorite worlds to revisit or speed run against your friends.
The game is nearly complete and will do doubt help you scratch that "Metroidvania" platformer itch.
- Releases for PC, Mac, and Linux on Steam and PS4 in 2015
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (4:20)
Corpse Of Discovery. This looks a little like Destiny (minus the combat) with a splash of Portal (minus the snark), but deeper than both.
You explore six planets, dealing with harsh conditions and aided by an AssistBot named AVA.
The goals are a bit more existential, with self-discovery sharing narrative weight with your discovery of new lifeforms, alien history, and otherworldly stuff like lava oceans and floating islands.
If you shy away from so-called "walking simulators" and games that make you think, this isn't for you. But if you want to examine fantastical new worlds and enjoy pondering the nature of the universe, you'll want to dive right in.
FutureGrind. Our first thought when passing by the booth for this game was Ratchet and Clank. You know those addictive rail jumping sections?
This is sort of like that, only in two dimensions and with more of a Tony Hawk feel. You grind and flip on magnetic rails, matching the color of your wheel to the track to avoid repeatedly crashing to your death.
Which you will. A lot.
- Releases on PC on Steam and PS4 in 2016
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (2:06)
Distance. This is the successor to Nitronic Rush, a well-regarded student racer made at Digipen (available for free).
The team decided to go pro, increase the "Tron" factor, and add all of the bells and whistles including co-op, leaderboards, level editor, and even cross-platform multiplayer.
Rather than just drive, you'll jump, spin, and even fly through a futuristic cityscape that tries to destroy you at every turn. You'll boost up the sides of buildings and seek out shortcuts to not just get the best time, but survive to the end.
There's even a single-player story mode for those of us (like Gamewatcher) who are into that.
Ladykiller In A Bind. When you walk by a booth with a garish sign title "My Twin Brother Made Me Crossdress as Him and Now I Have to Deal With a Geeky Stalker and a Domme Beauty Who Wants Me in a Bind," you stop and take a look.
This is not your typical PAX game and it's not for everyone (especially not kids). But for those who enjoy visual novels with a lesbian theme, it sounds quite compelling. There are elements of dating sims with an erotic story set on a cruise ship.
- Releases for PC and Mac in 2016
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (2:31)
Fortified! The aliens are coming, and itâs up to you to stop them in this multiplayer game for PC. The level GrrlGotGame tried at PAX involved three rounds of alien invaders trying to destroy an Earth-bound rocket. (No explanation was given for the rocket â we assume it was Team Earth.)
Players may choose from one of four characters â three men, one woman. Points for making the woman a literal rocket scientist! Itâs a basic tower defense ploy that requires some strategy when selecting a load-out.
HINT: Donât start a level without at least one ground-to-air missile launcher. You. Will. Die. GrrlGotGame tried the same level six times with three different partners over the weekend, but only managed to beat the level once. Naturally, it was with our 12-year-old son. Which is to say, it was tough... but fun.
Mimic Arena. We don't play a lot of couch multiplayer party games but this is one of the few we might enjoy. You don't just jump and shoot, you create mimics that match your every move and can be deployed to distract and destroy while you take avoid obstacles and take out the other players.
If this sounds like your sort of game, check it out on Steam's Project Greenlight, and if you like it, give it a vote.
- Release for PC and Mac to be announced; Steam release pending approval on Project Greenlight (Update: it's approved)
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (2:51)
The Rust Belt. Set in a world that looks to be somewhere between Mad Max and Borderlands, we immediately found much to love about this game. There's plenty to explore, lots of enemies to destroy along the way, and cool pickups that make demolishing said enemies even more satisfying.
Gameplay starts out deceptively easy. You drag a tow chain that grapples enemies and scrap, turning them into weapons to use against other foes and to open up new areas of the map.
Over time, you upgrade your truck, build a town that supplies you with resources, and - well - explore more of the dust bowl you call home and bash more enemies.
- Releases for PC, Mac, and Linux in 2016
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (1:34)
Sometimes Always Monsters. This is the follow up to the indie story-driven and consequence-laden adventure Always Sometimes Monsters (no, that's not going to prove confusing). This is more of the same, only different.
Now you're a successful author on a book tour. The choices you make determine the outcome of your adventure. Rest assured this will go to many dark places, as the original did.
Or you could play it safe and just stay at home. What could possibly go wrong? Our guess is that something always will, but it should be entertaining and even thought-provoking no matter which path you take.
- Releases for PC in 2016, with other platforms likely to follow
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (3:51)
Through The Woods. At first glance, this is very reminiscent of Slender: The Arrival. Armed with a flashlight, you investigate a dark wooded area with folktale horror overtones. The game's creators admit comparisons are inevitable, but claim their story is deeper and more compelling. The developers, who are from Norway, modeled after Norse mythology and folk tales.
All we know is that the flashlight at night thing doesn't seem to get old, and it's usually a good play for survival horror. If you feel the same, check it out on Steam Greenlight (it's already been approved).
- Releases on PC, Mac, and Linux in early 2016
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (2:51)
To Leave. This is a tricky little platformer/puzzle game. You grab onto a magical door that lets you fly but to clear a room you need to avoid many obstacles.
There are checkpoints that save some of your progress, which is good because you will fail often. Even with nerves of steel, you will - much like with that wacky doctor's game, Operation - touch the edge of something toxic and BAM. Back to checkpoint.
That said, this was fun and we're curious to see where it goes.
- Releases for PC, PS4, and PS Vita in 2016
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (1:53)
We Are Chicago. At first glance, this looks like something you'd see from Telltale Games but with a real world sheen. You play a black teen in the projects of Chicago trying to deal with real issues that the developers collected from true stories.
Alas, the gameplay we tried is a bit slow and plodding - mired by little tasks such as setting the dinner table - but it could prove worthwhile if it shares some of the real experiences of living in gang territory on Chicago's South Side.
- Releases on PC in early 2016
- Listen to the Busy Gamer Nation interview (2:08)
Dragon Fin Soup. We spoke with the developers of this game two years ago, and they've come a long way since then. Back in 2013, it was all prototypes and concepts.
Now, the game is essentially finished and about to be released.
Dragon Fin Soup revolves around Red Robin (basically a morally challenged Red Riding Hood) as an alcoholic bounty hunter battling through rogue-like adventures and her own frailties. There are additional modes including survival mode and endless labyrinth.
- Releases for PC, PS4, PS3, PS Vita in 2015, with Mac, Linux, iOS and Android versions to follow
- Listen to the new Busy Gamer Nation interview (3:05)
- Listen to the original Busy Gamer Nation PAX 2013 interview (9:25)
I Love Bees & Exploding Kittens. You may be tired of hearing about I Love Bees (if so, we suspect you haven't actually heard it). Well, one of the creators of I Love Bees is Elan Lee, known more recently for collaborating on the Exploding Kittens card game with The Oatmeal (which we bought but haven't played yet; GrrlGotGame and ThePikachuFan are both wary of the whole dead cats premise).
We found him nestled in the bowels of the ACT Theater adjacent to the Convention Center and he seemed thrilled to hear about the Definitive Edition. Weâre going to work with him on expanding the extras.
We're already cataloguing some amazing early versions of scenes and other audio that's never before heard before unless you worked on the project.
Stay tuned, and if you haven't tried I Love Bees:
- Start with our Busy Gamer Nation podcast review, and then
- Download the series to your podcast player (RSS, iTunes)
- Keep an eye out for updates including new several bonus segments we have planned
That's our PAX Prime 2015 coverage in a nutshell. Check back as we post and link up the remaining podcast interviews, and then watch for more I Love Bees!