PAX East wrapped up over the weekend, but those of you unable to attend this year have nothing to worry about. I was on hand to document and detail all of the most important news and got my hands on the latest up-and-coming games. Throughout this week, I’ll be releasing previews of all the titles I played at PAX, as well as a photo gallery of my personal top 10 cosplayers of the event. To kick off the week, however, I figured it’d be best to release a two-part highlight roundup of all the stuff shown at the event and give an overview of the most important announcements. Without further ado, here’s the second part of the roundup telling you everything you need to know about the 2013 Penny Arcade Expo East:
NetherRealm: NetherRealm Studios (formerly known as Midway) made quite an impact with their successful reboot of the Mortal Kombat franchise back in 2011. Since then, fans have been anxiously awaiting to see where the studio would go next. NetherRealm brought the answer to PAX East.
Injustice: Gods Among Us– With only a month until release, PAX East was the last major opportunity to put Injustice in the hands of fans before it came time to make a launch day purchase decision. Those who’ve been tainted by the less-than-satisfying experience known as Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe have little to fear, Injustice is a worthy successor to the previously mentioned Mortal Kombat reboot. Injustice tells the story of a world where the line between heroes and villains is blurred due to shifting allegiances and uneasy alliances. What’s even more interesting is that the latest trailers seem to also reveal something I haven’t yet heard anyone talk about: The potential that this game is canon with the Arkham series continuity. For the record, NetherRealm has not actually said anything about this, so don’t take my speculation as confirmation; but there are a few consistencies between the two that are worth noting. I’ll get more into this theory during my hands-on preview later this week, so be on the lookout for it within the next couple days.
Ubisoft: Ubisoft had a strong presence at this year’s Expo. While many of their trailers and demos took place behind closed doors, the publisher still managed to draw a large crowd willing to wait in line to see what lies ahead for their favorite spies, assassins, and soon-to-be favorite cyber hacker.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag– If there’s one franchise Ubisoft knows how to market, it’s Assassin’s Creed. To their credit, they’ve managed, on many occasions, to churn out a new title every year while still keeping the franchise feeling relevant; always adding some type of new gameplay mechanic to ensure the latest title never feels rehashed. ACIV appears to be no exception, as the upcoming game offers a new setting and lifestyle as players assume the role of a pirate. Edward Kenway, to be exact, is a British pirate who also happens to be the grandfather of Assassin’s Creed 3 protagonist Connor. Ubisoft has mentioned they intend to provide an authentic, true-to-life pirate experience, avoiding the classic Disney-esque tropes of parrots and plank walking. Ship battles will play a much larger role this time around and, according to recent trailers, there are a number of real life pirates such as Blackbeard making an appearance. If you ask me, this one looks like it’s going to be a whale of a tale. (Yeah, that happened.)
Splinter Cell: Blacklist– Following the events of Conviction, Splinter Cell: Blacklist once again puts Sam Fisher in the role of government-approved secret agent. As commander of the newly-created Fourth Echelon, it’s Fisher’s job to put a stop to a terror initiate called “The Blacklist”, a series of increasingly devastating terrorist attacks on the United States. Along the way, players will take advantage of the new “Killing in Motion” mechanic, an upgraded form of last game’s “Mark and Execute”. Now, instead of needing to remain stationary to mark a group of targets, Sam can run up to the first marked target in slow motion, allowing players to mark any remaining targets in range in real-time as Fisher performs a devastating finisher. Purists loyal to the original Splinter Cell formula will probably be disappointed with the continued heavy focus being placed on action and third-person cover-based shooting, but from a mechanics standpoint the game works well. Additionally, Xbox players will be able to utilize Kinect to input specific voice commands for distracting guards, as well as other tactical applications.
Watch Dogs– A title of particular interest to me, I chose Watch Dogs as my number one title that should be on your gaming radar this year. The development is moving ahead steadily and each build of the game I see looks even better than the last. I’ve already explained the premise of Watch Dogs in that previous post, so for now I’ll focus on what was discussed at PAX during the closed demo. Ubisoft showed two videos/trailers during the event: A video from the developers discussing the features of Watch Dogs that make the title unique, and the gameplay trailer originally debuting during the PS4 announcement with new commentary overlaying the audio to discuss the detailed mechanics of what was happening on-screen. In the first video, the team discussed the Central Operating System, or CtOS, the digital network infrastructure that maintains the entire city of Chicago. They explained how the player will have access to the entire CtOS and, without specifying exactly how we will be able to manipulate the environment on a city-wide scale, teased that the possibilities were nearly limitless. From changing traffic lights and knowing everyone’s personal information, to manipulating security feeds and overloading electrical conduits, it seems central protagonist Aiden Pearce will have a level of power and control over a sandbox environment that gamers have yet to experience. The team also mentioned they plan on making Watch Dogs a playable experience on as many devices as possible, hinting that smartphones and tablets will grant access to other features, or perhaps mobile CtOS hacking with ramifications when the console experience is revisited.
The second video, featuring commentary, described more of the plot from the perspective of a government agent made aware of Pearce’s hacking-in-progress. The mysterious voice revealed they have no idea how Pearce could have such complete control over the CtOS, but noted that he appears to be using the network’s crime prediction software to stop potential impending acts of violence. It ended by hinting that the player was not the only one capable of hacking into the system, and that there’s potentially some sort of online integration with players invading your world or hacking your game’s CtOS for their benefit.
Microsoft: Bringing the latest map packs and Arcade titles, Microsoft was on hand to give first-party fans a taste of what’s on the horizon for their favorite action games. They also had a strong showing of Xbox Live Arcade titles, offering a balanced diversity of core gaming experiences with more lighthearted, multiplayer fun.
Dance Central 3– Not much to say about this one. Dance Central was in the booth so that people could have fun dancing in front of PAX attendees. Hilarity occasionally ensued. Gangnam Style was entirely overplayed. And I hate to be the one to tell you, ma’am, but no, you’re milkshake does NOT bring all the boys to the yard.
Gears of War: Judgment- Maxim Map Pack– PAX East was the first opportunity for Gears fans to try out the all new Haven and Capitol maps, sponsored by, you guessed it, MAXIM. The maps are free to download, as is the accompanying new online mode called “Execution”. In reality, the new mode is basically Deathmatch with the stipulations of “death by execution only” and setting the allowed number of respawns to zero. But I guess for those who’ve never fiddled with customized Deathmatch settings, the concept will seem fresh.
Halo 4- Castle Map Pack– As with Judgment, Halo 4 was of course present at the con so folks could trade playing Halo’s online multiplayer from the comfort of their home, to playing it for a limited time in a noisy, crowded expo hall. In their defense, I’m sure they were merely interested in getting a head start familiarizing themselves with the brand new Castle map pack that debuted at PAX. In addition to three new maps, the DLC also comes with nine new achievements, two unique helmets, and a brand new emblem. For those who only want to experience the new maps, the team is thankfully including a “Castle DLC” playlist, ensuring you’re always playing the new stuff. I didn’t really play long enough to get a sense of weapon spawns, or even orient myself to the map layouts to be honest, so I can’t really comment on their design just yet.
XBLA Titles: There were also a number of Arcade titles to try out on the show floor. Here are some of the featured games.
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood– Have you ever wished your annoying little brother would just disappear? Here’s how to make it happen: Brother, brother, o’ brother of mine, I wish you could be erased for all of time. I wish your traces could be gone from all places. That evil itself could take you away, and leave me alone on this very day. That’s the spell young Felix’s older brother Max unknowingly casts on the poor boy, which sets Max on an adventure to undo his mistake. Armed with only a literal magic marker, Max must use his newfound power to draw his own platforms and objects to solve puzzles and avoid traps. Lush 3D backgrounds combined with classic side-scrolling action and the unique marker mechanics make The Curse of Brotherhood a fun adventure debuting for download this Spring.
Motorcross Madness– It’s motocross. It’s madness. It’s Motocross Madness. What more do you want from me? Race, compete, and perform heart-stopping tricks with your Xbox avatar as you ride across a variety of different tracks ranging from Egyptian deserts to Icelandic tundra. There are nine separate tracks to choose from featuring 8-player multiplayer.
State of Decay– An open-world, survival horror game, State of Decay is all about surviving the aftermath of a Zombie apocalypse. Drawing the obvious comparison to the dozens of other Zombie games out on the market, Decay stands out from the pack because it focuses less on direct zombie combat and more on stealth, building a strong community of survivors, and resource management. The game boasts a huge number of guns and melee weapons (0ver 130) and will have a heavy focus on customization in regards to base building and weapon loadouts. Weapons degrade, base buildings deteriorate, and a persistent world means survivors are in need even when you’re not playing. If you’re into Zombie survival games, this one is definitely something to keep your eye out for. It’s coming to both Games for Windows and Xbox Live this Spring.
The Last of Us– It didn’t take much to sell me on the premise of The Last of Us. Naughty Dog, now- legendary developer of the Uncharted franchise, making a survival game with a focused narrative tapping into the core emotions of two central protagonists, including one featured by a personal favorite voice actor of mine in Ashley Johnson? Yeah… just shut up and take my money. But even if an emotional storyline and incredible voice work don’t tickle your fancy, Naughty Dog knows how to create incredible action set pieces and gorgeously detailed worlds, so there’s really no reason to not give this game a try. The closed-door playable demo showed a bit more footage detailing the interactions between Joel and Ellie and gave us a good look at some of the mutated enemy types players will encounter along their journey. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I’m not kidding when I say this is going to be one of the PS3’s greatest exclusives.
Castlevania Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate– Mirror of Fate is a bit of a conundrum. I highly enjoyed the original Lords of Shadow, and greatly anticipate the upcoming sequel, but something about this 3DS bridge-between-stories left me feeling disappointed. I think perhaps the problem is that I loved the console version because of the finely-tuned atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, my time with Mirror of Fate certainly felt authentic to the Lords of Shadow series, but the lack of high-resolution graphics and large, expansive areas to explore took a lot of away from what makes the console experience so great. While I certainly appreciated the solid, familiar voice work, I was left wanting a more polished console experience rather than the portable alterative the 3DS wants to provide.
Fire Emblem: Awakening– If you own a 3DS and haven’t yet purchased, or at least tried, Awakening, you simply have to give it a go. A truly great strategy-RPG, Fire Emblem includes an expansive character roster, a wealth of options to tailor units to your playstyle, unique team-based bonuses during combat, and a heavy emphasis on replayability and stat grinding. For fans of the series, this latest installment is good enough to merit investing in Nintendo’s latest portable console all on its own. PAX attendees were treated to a new map which is currently available for download in the e-Shop.
Lego City: Undercover– It’s unfortunate that Lego titles are always such a tough sell, especially to the young adult crowd. I mean it’s understandable why college kids would be hesitant getting caught with Lego Star Wars in their console when the boys come knocking for a round of Call of Duty, but it’s a real shame that games can’t always be judged simply by their level of quality. This Telltale Fusion-helmed action-adventure takes place in a free-roam sandbox where players assume the role of undercover cop Chase McCain on the hunt for various criminals. As staples of the series, a multitude of disguises, alternate costumes, and vehicles are available to choose from. Being the first of the Lego games to be published by Nintendo, and thus only available for the Wii U (there is a 3DS prequel companion game), the game features a number of Nintendo-themed Lego constructs, such as the warp pipe of Mario fame. If you like sandbox games, and have already played and enjoyed previous Lego titles, I highly recommend Undercover. It’s, frankly, a whole lot of silly fun.
Luigi’s Mansion 2: Dark Moon– I’ve covered a lot about Luigi’s Mansion 2 previously, so I won’t describe much about the gameplay or plot here. The game officially released on Sunday, the last day of the convention, in North America, so I imagine those of you interested in the series have already picked up the game. Suffice it to say, the gameplay mechanics are much more refined as compared to the original and the experience is more enjoyable than ever. While part of me wishes Nintendo released the game simultaneously on the Wii U as well, the 3DS version certainly plays well enough for me to understand their decision to keep the game exclusive to the portable. Here’s hoping they’ll eventually give us an updated version for the Wii U.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted U– Most Wanted has been out for a while on other consoles, but the Wii U version comes packed with a few unique features that make the game more accessible than ever. Specifically, choosing to use the Gamepad offers players access to the new “co-driver mode” This entails using the Gamepad to alter the game instantaneously in a variety of ways. With a simple press of an icon on the Gamepad, players modify the controls, change cars, access the map, alternate day/night cycles, and disrupt traffic and police cars. I imagine a game with super-charged cars giving you the option to make traffic disappear is probably a racing fan’s dream come true, so if you’ve ever wanted an endless open road to cruise through without the fear of cops on your tail, Most Wanted U is, well, for you.
Pikmin 3– One of the games I absolutely couldn’t wait to get my hands on was Pikmin 3. Ever since the Wii U was first announced I’ve been excited to see where this franchise would go. Given the nature of Pikmin’s unique gameplay, coupled with the Wii U’s focus on Gamepad support, Pikmin 3 seemed like a perfect candidate to show off the most effective way to utilize the features of the Wii U. While the game supports Wii Remote play, which will feel familiar to those who purchased the rerelease of Pikmin on the original Wii console, using the Gamepad is a much better experience. Calling Pikmin and redirecting their attacks is easy, fluid and responsive on the Gamepad. The demo featured two areas, a timed section where you could explore freely followed by a timed boss battle. The boss battle required a nifty bit of strategy, as players will be forced to use certain Pikmin in a certain order to achieve victory. A mini-puzzle of sorts, the boss first required use of the heavier Rock Pikmin to break his hard shell, after which the other Pikmin could attack the creatures soft spot. Nintendo is known for crafting their first-party titles with an eye for quality and authenticity, and Pikmin 3 is no exception. It will surely delight both fans of the series and newcomers alike.
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity– I don’t think Mystery Dungeon needs much of an explanation by this point. Fans of the series know exactly what to look for, and that’s exactly what Nintendo aims to provide them with. The game is available now and I imagine many of the attendees who brought their 3DS systems were already making use of the StreetPass functionality for Gates to Infinity among many other games. Personally, I found the partner AI to be a bit lacking during my brief romp in one of the games numerous dungeons. Since you’re only in control of your own character, your AI partners are free to battle as they see fit, often resulting in type disadvantages and a distinct, near comical lack of self-preservation. But, it’s Pokemon, and admittedly adorable, so it’ll sell.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution: Director’s Cut– Apparently nobody told Square Enix it’s a bad idea to release internal press releases for things you don’t yet plan on announcing. Such was the case with the Director’s Cut of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Thanks to Amazon’s accidental listing, Square had to announce the game ahead of PAX. While much of the original game remains intact, the Wii U version includes a few new gameplay tweaks. For one thing, the hacking mini-game now takes place on the Gamepad while the game still runs on the main screen, meaning players will have to time their hacks carefully so as not to get caught. Some of the level layouts and boss fights are also being redesigned to allow for a more varied approach to completion; allowing stealthy players more sneaking options and indirect ways of bringing down their foes as opposed to the original version’s brute force approach to boss encounters. The demo at PAX also made use of protagonist Adam Jenson’s ability to see through walls, with players needing to hold the Gamepad up to the TV to use the power, which additionally reveals information about enemy health, ammo, and items now. It appears to be a much more refined experience over the original.
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD– Surprising absolutely no one, Square Enix “announced” the already leaked information that Final Fantasy X-2 is also receiving the HD Remaster treatment for simultaneous release alongside Final Fantasy X HD Remaster. While the title must be purchased separately on PS Vita, the PS3 version of X will include X-2 on a single Blu ray disc. Don’t get me wrong, the games look great, and according to the “Do JRPGs Really Still Matter?” panel I was a part of, people seem to really love the X series; but there might be one or two other Final Fantasy projects I’d rather see remastered before we were forced to relive that horrendously awkward laughing scene…
Metro: Last Light– With THQ forced to sell of all of their intellectual properties and subsidiaries, one of the titles that was lost in the shuffle was the hotly-anticipated sequel to Metro 2033. Thankfully, Square Enix came to the rescue and was showing off Last Light at their booth out on the show floor. While the game won’t be out this month like was originally intended, if the demo is anything to go by, it will certainly be worth the wait. Taking place in a dark, armored train yard, the demo tasked players with dealing with numerous enemies. But since bullets are used as currency in the world of Metro, the game forces you to make the difficult decision of either using ammo to facilitate taking down opponents, or patiently waiting for the opportunity to isolate and end your enemies with a stealth takedown. The graphics were actually quite impressive, and stand among the AAA blockbusters as one of the most visually satisfying experiences of this generation. Folks who’ve been patiently waiting for Last Light’s release haven’t got much longer to go, as the game hits store shelves this May.
Alright, that wraps up the highlights from this year’s PAX East. As previously mentioned, be on the lookout for my hands-on previews of some of the upcoming titles I played on the show floor. Specifically, Capcom’s Remember Me and Supergiant Games’ Transistor will be previewed over the next couple days, with the end of the week featuring my analysis and theories about NetherRealm’s upcoming Injustice: Gods Among Us. Stay tuned folks, and be sure to share your thoughts in the usual place.