M’s PAX 2010 Diary, Day 3

The dramatic disappearance of Geek’s Dream Girl blogger M came to a surprising conclusion today when authorities at last discovered the missing geek… passed out and sleeping in her geek den, controller still in her hand, game systems blaring. Next to her was a scribbled note apparently written on her return from Seattle.

Sunday, September 5, 9:45 AM

… I slept in. Last day of the con, and I sleep in. Goshdarnit.

10:00 AM

Despite leaving the hotel at almost the last minute and arriving at the rear of the huge lineup, it only takes a few moments before the doors open and I am ushered inside with the other latecomers. The exhibit hall lies open before me, and I dig in with great gusto.

I promised myself that the last day of PAX would be spent checking out various games, and that’s exactly what I did. Some games on my list were passed over due to long lineups; as much as I wanted to try Dragon Age II and Portal 2, lining up for yet another hour and a half did not appeal as much as it did at the beginning of the convention. However, I was still able to try a few good demos, and watch people play a few more, and although I left with a feeling of only scratching the surface, that scratching was still pretty effective.

Games of note included:

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – this game was top of my list of Must Try Games, and I’m glad to say that the (short) wait was well worth it. While Assassin’s Creed II was more focused on le parkour and feats of mountain climbing, this sequel encourages cautious cat and mouse tactics and blending with the crowd. In multiplayer mode, each player is given a target amongs the other players, and in turn is the target of another assassin; the timed match is then spent quietly stalking your prey while trying not to alert your own pursuer. The controls and graphics are largely unchanged from ACII, and that’s fine considering how good they were. It’s impressive, however, just how much multiplayer reinvigorates and changes the entire game. I hope to buy this on release day.

Epic Mickey – now here’s a game that no one saw coming at first, and that still manages to boggle and excite gamers and media alike. For those not in the know, Epic Mickey is the latest game from Warren Spector, the creator of Deus Ex and an industry luminary, and goes even further than Kingdom Hearts in making the Disneyverse dark and epic. The story kicks off with Mickey stepping through an enchanted mirror and into a sorcerer’s workshop… and then making an utter mess of things. No, not in the hilarious hijinks sense; the running theme of the game is how his actions have devastated entire worlds and how he must now step up and take responsibility. The graphics look crisp and clean on the relatively underpowered Wii, and the art style is a stylish mix of old-school Disney and threatening horror. The game includes the interesting mechanic of painting in details (e.g. bridges) and using paint thinner to erase things. I’m looking forward to seeing the final version.

Lost in Shadow – this Hudson game for the Wii boasts the same artistic aesthetic and moody atmosphere of a high quality indie title like Blow, Braid or Limbo. You play a shadow, or at least someone who’s been turned into a shadow, as you make your way to the top of a mysterious tower. The platforming itself is reasonably basic, but what makes it unique is that you are running and jumping along the shadows of the landscape rather than the landscape itself, thus changing the level design significantly and challenging players to look beyond the foreground. Obviously, the lighting in this game is spectacular as it’s part of the gameplay, and the whole package is very attractive.

Nexuis – looking for a few smaller titles to check out, I stumbled across this arena style FPS. I usually can’t stand FPS games except for Goldeneye, but this one drew me in with its unusually colorful aesthetic. While most games of this genre seem to take place either in drab brown warehouses, jungles or grey and white spaceships, this took place in what I can only describe as a Blood Elf city… of the FUTURE! Nexuis is very early and will need a lot of polishing before it hits the market, but the artwork and presentation is nice enough to get even a stalwart FPS-hater to pick up the controller.

Goldeneye – Speaking of which, I got approximately two minutes of time with this title, of which one minute and fifty nine seconds were spent being killed over and over again. Apparently I am extremely rusty at the game, which is my rationale for why I spent most of the game twiddling wildly with the right analog stick and staring uselessly at the sky while Oddjob shot off my kneecaps. The graphics aren’t anything to write home about, but if this can capture the same frenetic fun of the old Goldeneye, I’ll be more than content.

Cataclysm… in 3D!!! – While Blizzard did not have a booth at PAX this year (due to Blizzcon being just around the corner), they did have a single booth at the Nvidia exhibit in order to showcase the new 3D monitor-glasses combination and how Cataclysm runs in three dimensions. The answer? Pretty darn impressively, at least until you get to the nearest pool (the water effects looked very bizzare with 3D). The mobs popped out of the screen and the caves I explored seemed to have actual depth.  Eager to finally sink my teeth into the next expansion, I quickly rolled a goblin hunter and tried out the first two or three quests. The new focus system for hunters was a bit hard to get a hold on, mostly because things died too fast to do much in the way of a rotation, but things are looking good. Giving a pet to starter hunters is especially welcome, although not giving a pet bar right away sort of made for a bit of a confusing experience. I only spent a short period of time with the game but talked off the ear of the very kind Blizzard rep (who was gracious enough to listen to my ruminations on protection paladins , the new changes in lore, and the notion of branching quest chains). There was never any doubt that I would NOT get Cataclysm, but having a chance to try it (in 3D no less) was just the icing on the cake.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep – I have a love-hate relationship with the Kingdom Hearts series. I love the plotline for the most part (it hits my love for Disney and for Final Fantasy VII in one fell swoop) and I really enjoy the first and second games on PS2, but I’ve been… less than impressed with their handheld offerings. Chains of Memories was repetitive and uninteresting, and 358/2 Days has so far left me with nothing more than a cramped hand after only the first level or so. But Birth by Sleep stands to potentially win me over, albeit to the PSP rather than the DS or GBA. Since the PSP is pretty much just a pocket PS2, the graphics are on par with the original duology, and the controls are robust and simple. The game is a prequel which promises to answer a lot of questions from the series so far, while of course raising entirely new ones. Also, Leonard Nimoy and Mark Hamill will apparently be lending their voice talents to it. Why are you not purchasing this right now?

Everything at the Nintendo booth – yes, cheap cop out, especially since I didn’t get to play any of it due to lack of time, but almost everything there was worth paying large amounts of attention to. Two of the games (Dragon Quest IX and Metroid: Other M) have already been released, but Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Donkey Kong Country have not, and a cluster of gamers gathered eagerly around the monitors to enjoy these new installments. Both of them boast extremely crisp and smooth animation with unique gameplay elements (e.g. Kirby’s ability to turn into, well, yarn in order to slither through small passages). Another game that, despite lack of fame, deserves more attention is Fluidity, the Wii’s answer to LocoRoco on the PSP. Gameplay centers around a huge fluid pool of water; by rotating the Wii remote, you rotate the stage itself in order to channel the water to where you want to go. Some stages involved waterwheels, burning houses that needed to be put out, and one way canals. Fluidity is apparently due for WiiWare sometime soon, so take a look.

Wakfu and Islands of Wakfu – I only got the briefest of looks at this game as I was running out the door to catch my bus, but anyone who likes high quality anime style art – and if they read my columns, I imagine they do! – would do well to check both of these titles out. The first title, Wakfu, looks to be an isometric tactics RPG in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics, and as Final Fantasy Tactics was made of love and win, this is a good thing. The character animation was particularly impressive, with loads of detail and motion as opposed to a few stock frames. Islands of Wakfu is an Xbox Live brawler set in the same universe and centering on a girl and her dragon brother in a lush world of magic, monsters, and the usual suspects. Again, the art quality is what makes this stand out, with great animation, eye-catching colors and an appealing anime style.

Speaking of anime style, I never got the time to check out whatever game iteration of Naruto they’re up to now. I suppose this makes me a bad anime fan and blogger. I shall have to turn in my badge.

Final Thoughts…

PAX is, quite simply, the most fun any geek gamer can cram into a single weekend… more than that, really, as it is impossible to cram it all in. The sheer volume of quality panels, freeplay gaming (I never even made it to the tabletop, card game and console freeplay zones), gaming exhibits, concerts, geek celebs, tournaments and so on ensured that no matter how much you saw, you only got a small taste of what PAX has to offer. Let’s hope Gabe and Tycho make it a week-long convention some day… but until then, let us enjoy the fruits of their labor and take part in a con for our people.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get home and start clearing my video game slate in time for all this new stuff.

Did you go to PAX? What was your favorite part? What did you like least?

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