There’s a lot to discuss about PAX, but the truth is detailing things like panels is a bit, well, dumb. There’s nothing I can really say that will give you a sense of being at the panel, or of being at a community gathering, or of standing in line to use a urinal (hint: awkwardly impolite, as if I can feel my own eyes burning a hole into the back of a man’s head, saying “pee faster! Faster! Make it flow like the spice of Arrakis!”).
If I can find videos of the panels I attended, I will try to share them later and maybe comment on what I enjoyed most or perhaps disagreed with. Otherwise, I shall talk about what I always talk about: the games I played.
Penny Arcade: On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode Three
It is hard to be unbiased on this one. I really enjoyed the Hothead episodes that preceded episode three. In addition, while I do enjoy those old retro games, I do not enjoy the intentional imitation of the retro style. It is tacky, it lacks imagination and ingenuity and I believe if the team can do better, then they should.
On the other hand, Zeboyd Games is just a two man team.
In any event, when I say I did not like what I played as much as I enjoyed the previous episodes, that is pure bias coming out. They may both be turn based RPG’s, but they play very differently from one another. I merely preferred the presentation of the games developed by Hothead, games that were clearly developed by a larger team that had a lot more money, time and resources.
That said, having never played a Zeboyd game before (despite several friends nagging me that I simply must play Cthulu Saves the World) I found myself a bit surprised by the mechanics. It’s an interesting style that encourages players to use special abilities whenever possible rather than storing them up. Indeed, these special abilities are a necessity if the player is to survive. They still regain all health after a fight, same as the previous game, but as the rounds progress the foes slowly grow stronger. Sticking to simple brawling tactics will yield nothing but greater pain and risk.
Yet the player was not truly tested until the boss of the demo, where the real strategy came in to play. The Crabomancer was weak to magical attacks while feeling barely a scratch from physical ones. For two of the characters, that meant saving up magic points every round. Normally one might use the typical “fight” command, but that actually increases the chances of failure in the encounter. By defending, a character’s next action will come faster while allowing them to take less damage. While Gabe spams the Crabomancer with a fire attack every round, the other two are defending every other turn or so before unleashing their more powerful attacks. It is important to remember that the Crabomancer gets stronger every round, after all.
So while the appearance of this new Penny Arcade game may be stuck in the early-to-mid nineties, the gameplay is evolving and tackling issues the original genre never managed to before drastically changing. It may have a difficulty curve too high for some players, however, especially as it is so very different from the sort of games coming out today. For those with the patience, or those that long for the days of Final Fantasy VI or EarthBound, then the new Rain Slick Precipice will be more than worth the price of admission.
Aliens: Colonial Marines
Certis of GamersWithJobs asked me if this game looks worthwhile even if you’re not a fan of the Aliens franchise. I thought for a moment, and told him truthfully that I don’t know if I can answer that question. My love of the franchise runs deep, and thus I’m going to be looking for more than hints that the game is visually accurate to the films. The tone, atmosphere and nature needs to be as well. To view it as its own thing, to take away my fanaticism, may well be beyond my abilities.
The campaign demonstration was sadly out of the hands of the players, and a representative of Gearbox took the reigns so that we could see all the minute details of the levels. The careful recreation of the hangar, the crew names on the lockers, and even displays on the jettisoned cryo tubes were all given a good look so that players may appreciate the pain-staking detail put into this world. Yet you can’t make me happy with a simple visual imitation.
The demo had managed to sink its claws into me, however, and drag me back in like a victim to the hive (oh, the places I could go with this metaphor, of chest bursters and excitement and so on and so forth). The moment that the Gearbox representative went to complete one mundane task and-OH-SHIT-AN-ALIEN-WHERE-DID-IT-COME-FROM-OH-GOD!
The rest of the demo was a careful blend of thematics and mechanics, blending game design with the spirit of the films. Different breeds of the xenomorph will behave differently. Dome-headed lurkers will use guerilla tactics, leaping from the shadows before dashing throughout the environment to hide. Soldiers will come at you in swarms, careful to dash between bits of cover, using any surface available while striking from angles. The behaviors thus create what seems to be the two thematic philosophies of the game. One moment you’re cautious, afraid to take a step that it might trigger an enemy from above, behind or even around the corner. The next you can’t move fast enough, fleeing the oncoming hordes to try and find a safe zone to make your stand.
Yet it was still a brief demo and I still have questions. The lurker alien did an excellent job running about the environment from cover to cover, but it wasn’t always well hidden. Standing behind a column, its tale flicked out obviously, revealing its location. Was this intentional? Likewise, will the A.I. seek out sections of the ceiling or wall to hide, or will it only be so hidden during scripted events or cut-scenes? Will they leap onto NPC’s in grappling sequences similar to the films? Will you be able to save those soldiers?
There’s a lot left unknown, but what I saw indicated a carefully constructed game whose central theme is suspense and intensity. The game will also allow for drop-in and drop-out co-op play, and as players join the difficulty of the game will also increase. Similar to the arcade games of old, more players doesn’t necessarily mean less challenge.
The only issue I had with what I saw in the campaign were the tired use of “Mash X to Not Die” quick time events (reserved for when an Alien was on top trying to slip the player a bit o’ tongue). Otherwise, well, I couldn’t really find anything to dislike.
Now, normally I don’t discuss competitive multiplayer on this blog because it’s not my cup o’ tea. However, I’ll make an exception this time around as, well, I forgot for a moment that I’m an amateur critic as I was playing. My brain shut off all analysis and instead focused purely on simply surviving. I want you guys to understand that when such a thing happens, it’s a good thing.
The game mode shown was a team deathmatch of Xenomorph against Marine, a staple of games based on the franchise. However, unlike previous adaptations, the Alien play is controlled in the third person. This allows for a wider field of vision in the game while also allowing the Xenomorph to clamber about walls and ceilings without worrying about the camera shaking and shimmying along pipes, lights and other objects. It will also allow the player feedback in how well they are hidden in shadows, allowing them to see for themselves if they are disguised from sight. The player also gets to choose between the different classes of Alien mentioned earlier, lurker and soldier, which determines what sort of specialized attacks they get. Lurkers are given a pounce that allows them to close the distance faster, or possibly escape more easily when in trouble. The soldiers get the trademark tail capable of delivering death from above, behind and around corners.
Marines play in the traditional first person and about how you’d expect, though it’s the foe that sets the experience apart. Aliens can crawl out of any metalwork nook or cranny and specialize in surprise attacks. As such, it is best for marines to pull together and find a location with as few points of attack as possible. Death not only means the other team gains a point, they also now have the advantage of the player respawning away from the others and having to regroup all over again.
The game does not provide the marines any clear HUD indicators as to where their team mates are, and the motion tracker will only give some idea of distance. It is possible for players, and enemies, to be on separate floors. This is so players may be encouraged to communicate with each other and work together, or else they’ll succumb easily and become prey.
My only complaint here was having no idea what the different icons meant when choosing weaponry or which class of Xenomorph to begin with/as. I may simply not have noticed any explanations but there was no text that I could see informing what the different information was telling me. With more time available to study it would likely be more clear, such as the icon of a tail on the Soldier Alien display informing the player that it has a powerful tail strike. However, a new player picking the game up and having to make a fast choice between respawns may find themselves confused and ill-informed.
I do not know of any other game modes being developed, though part of me hopes for a return of the Lifecycle option from Aliens vs. Predator 2. There was an added element of suspense when you played a mere facehugger, stalking amongst crates and cargo, trying to find the perfect hiding spot to leap onto a marine’s face so that you may be reborn from his chest cavity as a burster. Yet it was a challenging game mode that a lot of players didn’t like, so its appearance is doubtful.
Either way, I’ve been uncertain as to what quality to expect this game to be at. After having seen and played it, I can definitely say we have a solid shooter coming our way in the near future, as well as an excellent addition to the Aliens franchise for a change.
As long as they can explain why there were so many xenomorphs on the Sulaco in the first place, that is. That was a lot of former humans they gunned down, after all.