PAX East is back and better than ever. Or at least, it would be, if it weren’t for the risk of coronavirus prompting several high-profile cancellations. However, that doesn’t mean that this year’s Penny Arcade Expo is disappointing. In fact, it’s almost refreshing in a way – with more space on the floor thanks to both lower foot traffic and vacant exhibitor spaces, this might be one of the most relaxing events I’ve ever been to. Now, I never thought I’d use the term “relaxing” to refer to a convention, but here we are.
My first day here has certainly had no shortage of memorable moments, thanks to a strong lineup of indie and double-A games on the show floor. For me, there have been several standouts so far:
Torn Banner’s sequel to the original Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is looking strong. While the medieval melee combat genre has been shaken up thanks to the debut of the popular Mordhau, Torn Banner is doing anything but capitulating – with Chivalry II bringing everything that made the original great and iterating on it further. Satisfying, meaty combat characterizes this simulation of feudal warfare, and new abilities and equipment add variety to already complex movement mechanics. Each strike feels just as powerful as it should, and in comparison to the first game, feedback on hits is both satisfying and clear to the player while they hack and slash with reckless abandon. If anything, Chivalry II indicates that Torn Banner is ready to reclaim its crown in the medieval combat market.
There’s no game quite like Maneater anywhere else at PAX East, or hell, anywhere in the entire games industry. This aquatic adventure game puts you in the shoes of a bull shark, and you are tasked with doing typical shark things – which apparently includes capsizing boats and consuming dozens of beachgoers. While it’s not exactly an accurate depiction of the average day in the life of a shark, it is nevertheless extremely fun. Developer Tripwire Interactive has nailed the control scheme for this game – controlling these oceanic behemoths is quite simple and intuitive, even for those with human thumbs. And the game has a campy yet surprisingly intriguing story just under its gameplay’s viscera-coated surface. Maneater is a title I’ll be keeping a close eye on.
The latest game from Blackbird Interactive, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is an intriguing new title. Forgoing the combat that characterizes many space sci-fi games, Hardspace is instead focused on breaking down and salvaging ships. Don’t let that fool you though – the game is action-packed. Thanks to a robust physics system that simulates the reality of navigating the vacuum of space, the process of breaking ships apart is exciting and immersive. Each chunk of the ship you break off is its own physics object, with metrics like mass and velocity playing a major role in how you plan your salvage job. The disorienting nature of zero-gravity is perfectly realized in Hardspace – it will shock you just how impressive this game about cutting up spacegoing vessels is.
Astragon Entertainment’s Drone Swarm is a unique spin on the traditional real-time strategy. Instead of a focus on commanding a variety of units, you instead control one mothership surrounded by drones. You draw vectors for these drones to get them to move in ways that result in them colliding with and damaging enemy ships. Alternatively, you can summon a defensive wall of drones that shield your mothership from missile salvos. This unique feature brings a kind of challenge that you won’t see in most RTS games – “drone drawing” is a surprisingly in-depth mechanic, as you must lead your targets and curve your command lines in such a way that your drones are used to their maximum effect. And you only have so many drones, so if you send them on an attack run that lasts too long, or if you’re building too many defensive walls, you might not be able to respond to your enemies’ moves in time. Drone Swarm’s drones are beautifully realized – both visually and in terms of gameplay – and RTS lovers would be wise to take a look at this upcoming title.
Stay tuned for more insights from PAX East across the entirety of the convention, and keep it locked to GameRVW for more original content that you won’t want to miss!