PAX this year was a bit of a different beast than what I’m used to.
With everything (very sensibly) held online rather than in person, a lot of the excitement and electricity of the show was lost. So much of PAX is the show floor and seeing people and the games they want to share with us.
It’s not the same, but I did manage to find some sense of PAXmas in all the wonderful playable online demos available from people exhibiting.
Being able to download so many demos and play them in my own time, away from the busy PAX show floor, was such a blessing. It gives me an opportunity to really sit with them, unbothered by taking too long in a line or worried about making appointments. As much as I love playing the demos at booths where I can chat to developers and get more info, I’m really hoping we can keep this online part going for future shows.
That being said, here are some of the best demos I delved into during PAX 2020.
This wonderful roguelite is actually in early access on Steam so the demo felt quite feature complete. You play as a woman whose dreams are made up of top down isometric worlds to battle through and explore.
Dying will end a run and wake you up, or you can wake up on your own time to continue the run. In the real world you explore locations and enhance relationships to gain knowledge and experiences which turn into helpful items during your dreams.
It has a lovely balance of good and challenging combat as well as down time while exploring the waking world. Plus the loop of delving in and out of dreams and seeing how far your new skills and items will take you is genuinely satisfying in the face of roguelite repetition.
This game just looks delightfully odd. It’s a turn based strategy game where you play as various medieval storytellers and artists, kind of.
You face off against an opponent on the battlefield of a book. Both of you can draw different soldiers with your ink resource which is gained each turn and sometimes by other means.
Soldiers will have different stats and attacks depending on type and they cost different levels of ink. As you play the battlefield will shrink, forcing you and your opponent together one eventually defeats the other.
It feels more akin to trading card games than anything else with the management of ink and creatures but with interesting twists on the genre.
The art looks like delightfully weird medieval drawings and photographs of people’s hands are laid over the image to create them in a Monty Python-esque style of ridiculousness. Even the cut scenes are FMV which gives an added layer of humour and style to the experience.
I’ve had my eye on Exo One for a while now because it’s all about motion and gravity.
You have control of a sort of floating drone. Holding a button applies gravity which will increase your speed and you can use the momentum to ride up and down terrain and fly.
The flow of movement in the demo is really nice and experimenting with how the physics works was interesting nosh for my brain. It’s also quite relaxing and one of those experiences where time sort of melts away while you’re engaging with it.
The added bonus is the exploration. It’s not immediately very obvious in the demo as it’s a bit barren but the full game looks to have some interesting locations to explore and traverse. Consider me intrigued.
Trickshot is the best dumb fun idea anyone has ever had. It’s a multiplayer battle game but everyone is on hoverboards doing sweet tricks while they shoot at you.
You can grab all sorts of weapons like rocket launchers and taser guns by collecting them Quake style around the industrial skate themed maps.
Different kinds of tricks will earn you points which provide boosts on different abilities. They also determine your ammo so you actively want to be doing sweet ass jumps and grinds as well as shooting at people – but what's cool is both will earn points so if you're more about tricks that guns you could still win.
I’m not good at TrickShot and that’s my only real complaint. I can’t tell if it’s the kind of game that just has too much going on at once for a demo to really get you acquainted with the nuances. With all the aiming, skating, and jumping it’s going to take a while to learn and be good at but I think it’ll be super satisfying for those who master it.
As well as just generally fun because who doesn’t want to ride hoverboards and shoot their friends?
Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Heart of the Forest
There’s a special place in my heart for all things World of Darkness. The tabletop RPGs have spun off into video games many times including one of my all time favourites and cult classic Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines (two is coming and I can’t believe it!).
The thing with World of Darkness as a setting is it’s so rich. Even in the brief demo for this game I felt the strength of all these stories and experiences.
Your character appears to be someone with unknown Werewolf heritage returning to her beckoning ancestral forest home. Some are found there who still love and protect the forest and you can pick their brains to learn the stories.
You’ll have to manage your various abilities as well as the wild impulses of the wolf to get to the bottom of things here and find out who you really are. This one is available now on Steam and you can even get it in a pack with other similar World of Darkness games.
Omno is really just quite lovely. It’s a blocky yet beautiful looking single player 3D adventure game that takes cues from games like Journey but with what feels likely to be far more to do.
You play as a fellow with a staff exploring a beautiful natural world dotted with ancient technology. Completing puzzles like activating stone tablets will open up paths to new areas for you to explore as well as grant new abilities to do so.
By the end of the demo I was able to run and dash quite smoothly in ways that gave a real sense of freedom to explore.
From my brief time with Omno I’m quite excited to see the finished piece. I want to find out more about this world and the puzzles it holds.
The impression I have so far is that exploring it will be a joy filled with little brain teasers and beauty. You can try the Prologue, here.
I’ve played Innchanted a couple of times now through its development and it’s so fun to watch this Overcooked like management game grow into its own.
It’s now got a real sense of its own DNA and purpose now as you play a band of plucky adventurers who somehow wind up managing a magical tavern.
The gameplay loop of hectically making various things and serving them to customers while keeping other clients happy, stopping thieves, banking your money, and generally trying to breathe is superbly balanced with moments of downtime. This allows you to take those moments and make choices about how your game will continue and what kind of player you want to be.
It also is shaping up to have an interesting story and is very playable by yourself thanks to the helpful AI.
Plus the game is made here in Melbourne and has lots of lovely and intentional insertions of Australian and more specifically Aboriginal culture.
I don’t think anyone can deny the links to games like Diner Dash or Overcooked and the devs certainly don’t try to. However I do feel like this is the management game you’ll want to play for more than just the multiplayer as it just goes deeper and offers more.