Favorite Games from Pax East 2018

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Pax East 2018 came to an end this Sunday, marking another convention full of hundreds of interesting indie games. While I was only able to see a small percentage of them (around 20), I still was able to come away with a few favorites that I’ll be watching closely from now on. Here’s my top three.

Due Process

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Sharing DNA with the early Rainbow Six games, as well as SWAT, Due Process is a tactics focused multiplayer FPS from developer Giant Enemy Crab. Each round begins with both the police who are storming a building and the criminals defending, having a minute to draw up a game plan on the map.

Attack diagrams can be drawn out, allowing the players to specifically cite which entry points to use and who is doing what. Once the round begins the police have about two minutes to defuse a bomb. Additionally, the police’s weapons stash which is located in their van, is maintained across all 2-3 rounds, meaning ammo and guns must be rationed out across encounters. Each game the police have access to one wall charge, which can be detonated on walls highlighted in yellow, and two door charges, adding a layer of unpredictability to attack plans. There’s also flash bangs, grenades, power weapons, and riot shields. Defenders vote on the use of a specific power weapon (auto shotgun, machine gun attached to a shopping cart), ranged weapons vs close range weapons, and use of a utility item.

Much like the recent mega-hit PUBG, Due Process’ tension comes from the calm in between the manic firefights. The minute of offensive and defensive planning sets up each encounter to be as much of a measure of strategic acumen, as as FPS skill, leading to elating victories and crushing defeats. The maps are also all procedurally generated, based on vague room templates, meaning each game requires a new plan.

The shooting feels tight, with an option to full scope, half scope, or hip fire. The aiming reticule reacts to the environment, getting caught on scenery to reflect that a shot is blocked. There’s little in the way of movement right now, with no sprint and little momentum from jumps, but this just seems to further stress the focus on planning over twitch gameplay.

Aesthetically, it also stands out from modern shooters, having been described by one of the devs as) “how you remember games from the PS1 era looking” (paraphrasing). Models are highly stylized, bearing resemblance to Crackdown, Minecraft, Judge Dredd, and RoboCop. Although early polygonal games are an unexplored visual style in a modern context for a reason, Due Process looks to be doing this concept right.

Recently released trailer:

The Messenger

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The early 2-D Ninja Gaidens are renowned for their punishing gameplay and tight level design. The Messenger, by Sabotage looks to carry on the lineage of this classic franchise, while introducing several twists that that reflect the lessons of contemporary game design.

You play as a young Shinobi whose clan comes under attack from a horde of demons. When all seems lost, the prophesized “western hero” returns, tasking the player with delivering a message to a far off base to warn of the coming invasion.

The defining characteristic of The Messenger is its responsive platforming. Jumps can be restored by landing an attack in midair, and there are a plethora of other upgrades such as a gliding suit and grappling hook which pulls your character towards enemies or walls. The grappling hookup was a standout mechanic, granting an easy method of closing the gap between enemies, while also dealing damage at the end of the grapple. Other additions, like the ability to destroy projectiles with the slash of your sword, make it feel as though the player is in control as opposed to the level design. This erases problems that surface from old 2-D games, in which areas are designed without easy or intuitive ways to avoid damage.

Another distinguishing characteristic of the Messenger is that there are rifts placed throughout the world which teleport the player between 8 and 16-bit versions of the game. As far as the demo showed, mechanics are retained throughout both, but the world changes in response, requiring the use of these rifts to progress. Regardless of which version of the game, the color pallets and pixel art offer a cohesive homage to an increasingly referenced era of gaming.

Other modern details, like a shop that enables progress in a tech tree, grants the RPG-lite depth that current players expect even from retro throwbacks. But despite this welcome additions, The Messenger’s firm backbone as a game is its smooth controls. Wall jumping and the general trajectory of movement feel snappy. The movement and offensive capabilities combine to grant a great degree of control over outcomes.

Whether the rest of The Messenger holds up to what was teased in the demo remains to be seen, but based on this alone its undoubtably something to look forward to for fans of 2-D action platformers.

Trailer:

The Moon Fields

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The Moon Fields is another game that uses a frequently cited retro blueprint. In this case the inspiration comes from top down Zelda games of the NES and SNES era. However, instead of offering an exploratory adventure, LUNARSIGNAL‘s freshman effort comes in the form of a 2-8 player brawler. The roster spans dozens of characters, each with unique properties and equipment. Characters can also adopt custom load outs by selecting from the full expanse of weapons and tools available.

Some classes rely on speed and ranged weapons, while others are lumbering tanks with slow single shot kill weapons. Default scoring is first to two sets of two matches, with the last man standing winning a match. After a set amount of time a capture point appears, forcing out campers, and creating an incentive to risking life and limb.

Weapon and class differences make large difference in strategy with some characters relying on weird kill moves like “gooping” opponents with a constricting adhesive and then lighting them on fire, while others use straight forward swords and spears. Certain weapons allow for lunges or the use of other mobility options, teasing the possibility of a fair amount of depth. Shields are mapped in 3D, meaning a shield on a warriors back will defend their rear when not in use, but will break after a certain number of hits.

There was a slew of competitive brawlers at Pax, but Moon Fields stuck out due to its simple but engaging combat. The last person standing format lead to each kill feeling meaningful, and this combined with the intuitive weapons made for a madcap frenzy with enough finesse to imply some degree of complexity. The moment to moment thrill of landing a crossbow hit to finish off an unexpecting combatant, or narrowly avoiding death with a well timed jump made for an intense and rewarding experience.

The class diversity is notable, with different strategies required of the different character archetypes. Whether there are any balancing issues was difficult to tell, although I found a great deal of success with moderate speed brawlers.

Full disclosure, part of my enjoyment came from dominating my friends, and then winning a future free key for the game in a 4v4 match. There’s a fair amount of bias stemming from those two facts, but I still feel like it should be a good time when it’s released.

Trailer:

 

Honorable Mentions and Sequels

Shovel Knight: King of Cards, Guacamelee 2, Spiritsphere DX, Just Shapes and Beats, Slime-san

2 thoughts on “Favorite Games from Pax East 2018

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