It has been happening for a few years now, but PAX East 2015 was the year that smaller developers and publishers officially took over the show floor. If big publishers showed up at all, it was with one game and some merchandise to sell. Spots normally assigned to companies like Sega, Konami and WB went towards YouTube and Twitch instead. There were a few lines worth waiting on, but it seems like the industry as a whole is waiting for E3 in May to really drop some bombshells.
Despite making some Hearthstone announcements at the show, Blizzard's booth was devoted to Overwatch. Thankfully, Blizzard had a convention of their own to announce the game, and the playable demo quickly made me a believer in what they were selling. It's fascinating that this game was once an MMO, as what exists now is a polished and competitive team shooter. It borrows the character setup of MOBAs, giving you two easy to use skills and an ultimate attack in addition to your firearms or floating orbs. You can switch between heroes at any time during the match, including Zarya, the recently announced pink haired Russian woman who wields a laser cannon and has at least one quote taken directly from Team Fortress 2's Heavy.
In fact, a lot of the game derives from TF2's style. Rounds consist of either controlling points or escorting a payload across the midsized maps, and my years of experience with the Pyro made me feel right at home ambushing the enemy with dual shotguns as Reaper. There are a few balance issues to work out, but the gameplay is definitely there, and it's nice to be really excited to play a new multiplayer shooter. Time will tell if Blizzard will go all the way with copying Valve and sell the game using cosmetics, sell heroes individually, or even sell the game at retail. Whatever they decide to do, it is clear that Overwatch will go into beta this fall with all the polish that Blizzard is known for.
Despite a fleet of 3DS stations playing Monster Hunter and Code Name: S.T.E.A.M., Nintendo's booth was similarly devoted to their own competitive shooter, Splatoon. The show was my first chance to head into combat as an Inkling, and I was surprised by how responsive the controls felt. You can use the Wii U Gamepad motion sensor to aim your shots, and it's the first shooter I've seen that doesn't feel hampered by its own motion controls.
The movement in general was smooth, with maps that are easy to navigate and the fast moving squid mode that allows you to climb walls and dodge opponents. Being able to jump over to your teammates with just a tap of the Gamepad's screen also helps keep the action moving. I'm still not entirely sold on the main mode, where you're attempting to cover the arena with your own color, but it's hard to fully get your head around any game after only a couple rounds, much less something as unique as this. We'll all get a handle on the fully fleshed out experience in May.
The Behemoth have had a great track record producing games that have stood the test of time in the sometimes fickle indie marketplace and have earned their perpetual spot among the heavy hitters on the PAX show floor. Therefore, it’s no surprise that their next game, temporarily named Game 4, looks very promising. It’s an accessible turn based strategy game that imparts narrative through narration not unlike Bastion. However, this is The Behemoth, so instead of stoic truths, the narrator belittles you at every turn, attempts to predict your death, and gives away your position to your enemies. It’s the same narrator from Battleblock Theater, and considering how incredible he was in that game, making him a focus of their next project was a great decision,
As for the gameplay, Game 4 is very simple to pick up. Troops have a mind of their own, so you order them into position and then they attack anyone within range, then onto the next turn. The demo introduced a few rules to combat, like maces always do bonus damage against armored foes and shields protect against arrows. It reminds me a lot of Fire Emblem, and there is definitely a need for more games in the strategy genre to invite in new players. Especially if those games involve acid rain which originated from a giant bear that landed from space long ago. Don't worry it all makes sense in context. Game 4 will be one to look out for on Xbox One and PC.
Finally, a quick word about the Oculus Rift booth. Many people have already praised the technology, but I have somehow missed the opportunity to strap the headset on until now. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend seeking it out, as the technology is every bit as good as the hype would have you believe. I received a series of quick demos in a room that included cameras that tracked my movement, so I could peek at sheet music behind a stand or lean in to view a model town or look up at a person screaming as he passed overhead in a car. You would certainly need either a controller or some sort of gloves for most games, but I imagine that developers could produce a mean game jam's worth of stuff with just with this tech. As several other companies jumping on the bandwagon since Oculus first released their prototypes, it seems inevitable that someone will finally get this right and deliver tech that facilitates an entire new breed of experiences.
Any announcements from AAA that you are excited about? Any companies you wish had more to show? Sound off in the comments and check back often for more PAX East hands-on impressions!