Yesterday, OnlySP took a look at some of the indie titles present at PAX Australia last month. Today, Lachlan Williams takes a look at the larger games on the floor, including Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and Metro Exodus.
The show, however, had much more than just indies in attendance. Along with the standard multitude of hardware vendors, some of the biggest names in games were at the show. Nintendo had Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Pokémon Let’s Go. Sony had Resident Evil 2 and Dreams. Ubisoft had The Division 2. Bandai Namco had Kingdom Hearts III. Xbox had Battlefield V. Nintendo and Sony were the big hitters this year, with over an hour wait and a closed line common at Resident Evil 2, but Kingdom Hearts 3 was also incredibly popular.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is definitely even more Smash. Nintendo had a small selection of familiar characters and stages to choose from in its demo, but nothing immediately new. Different to previous entries, players choose the stage before character selection, which theoretically adds more strategy. Playing it on a smaller screen may concern many, since things tend to get very busy and keeping up with the scope of the action is troublesome, but with the Switch’s docking capability, this will likely not be a huge issue. Things feel a little tighter, but picking up on all the nuances was difficult during the time with the game. At any rate, the game is more of the same with a bit of newness added in, and it is on track to being up to series standard.
Devolver Digital had a very generous demo for Gris at its booth, and the game is easy to fall in love with. Gris is in my top two most beautiful games ever (along with Ice Pick Lodge’s The Void). The game’s watercolour look and bold smooth pastels intermingle with clear lines and lavishly flowing animation, creating a truly breathtaking visual experience. Gris is, quite simply, wondrous.
Unfortunately, while pretty good, the gameplay is not as stunning as the visuals. Gris offers pretty standard platforming fare. The player (beautifully) runs around a series of (beautiful) 2D levels, jumping and collecting (beautiful) items that help clear the way. In the first section is balls of light to make constellations that allow the player to navigate wide gaps. Next, they are rocketing upwards through a series of red butterflies, climbing up and up. By this time, the player has collected a slightly loose double jump skill and navigated upwards through a slew of shapeshifting platforms.
In the next section, players gain a skill that lets them turn their dress into a block, crushing pots and adding weight, which helped navigate a segment of upward boosts and an inky morphing bird that buffeted the platforms with wind. The third part of the demo contained an underwater section. Rare for the format, Gris makes swimming eminently enjoyable. Boosting around like a squid is surprisingly satisfying. However, everything felt slightly sluggish, and the platforming itself was nothing revolutionary. Despite that, I am very keen to play more for the sheer beauty of the experience.
At Sony’s booth, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a uniquely FromSoftware game. The title feels more Bloodborne than Dark Souls with its swiftness, by way of Nioh—not to suggest Sekiro is a Nioh clone, because it feels unlike Nioh in ways only FromSoftware can deliver, but the game has a focus on item usage and a general mood that channels some of the more interesting elements of Nioh. Sekiro is entirely stamped with the FromSoftware mark: dodges feel slightly strained and weighty, sword swings are meaty and dense but also swift, and intense panic occurs when down to the last sliver of HP. The much-vaunted resurrection mechanic is tricky to get the hang of, but adds an interesting risk-reward element somewhere Bloodborne’s rally and Dark Souls’s soul recovery.
I have been apprehensive about the Resident Evil 2 Remake ever since the first gameplay walkthroughs showed Leon plumbing the soupy black with his Maglite. In the original, RPD may have been overrun by flesh eating monstrosities, but Brian Irons never neglected the electricity bill. Resident Evil 2 was simply never that dark. After playing the Remake’s Leon demo at the Sony booth, I am still not fully converted, but going hands-on did alleviate some trepidation. The game feels closer to the original than expected, despite its massive differences. We will just have to see how well the game keeps that mood throughout.
Nvidia had a demo build of Metro Exodus at its booth, running on an RTX 2080 with ray tracing on. The slice played was the outside forest base attack, with the bright sunshine showing off the new RTX technology to full effect. The demo looked gorgeous, but in motion and no RTX off comparison led to difficulty estimating the exact differences. What was noticeable, however, was the framerate—at 1080p, the demo held below 60fps and at times seemed to drop below 30fps. Poor performance in unoptimised preview builds is the norm, but again, lack of RTX off comparison results in difficulty estimating just how much of an impact ray tracing will have on performance.
The game itself was very intriguing. The level on offer was linear, but broad, offering a number of approaches to the objective point. First I tried a stealth approach, but messed it pretty early and had to go the frontal assault route. My favoured tactic of systematically dismantling every single light source was not available due to the time of day—I imagine a night time approach would drastically alter the gameplay. Guns feel like the hacked together scrapheaps they are meant to be, with shooting being the punchy familiar Metro fare. Being able to change weapon attachments on the fly changes how each challenge is approached, with my silenced Bastard getting swapped for a long-barrelled shotgun as the foes went from human to beastie. From what I saw, Metro Exodus is shaping up to be a whole new take on the Metro world—one which I cannot wait to immerse myself in yet again.
Between getting my hands on the hottest upcoming titles, I spent most of my remaining time attending panels. From panels on video game reviews, developing games on the poverty line, and Super Smash Bros., to topics such as Pokemon Go’s effect on health, Japanese culture, and sex in games, the lineup was varied. Perhaps slightly less varied in the mainstream PAX theatres than previous years, but an improvement on last year’s effort—the show had topics for pretty much everyone.
One of the most interesting panels was Lance McDonald—currently known for his Bloodborne and Dark Souls cut content videos—demonstrating how he hacks games on legacy hardware live. He showed the theory behind mem hacking, and demonstrated the process live on an original PlayStation hooked up to a nearly two-decade old laptop via a printer cable, hacking Silent Hill to show off just how amazingly Team Silent’s debut was put together.
Tabletop is always the beating heart of PAX and this year was no different. The humming scrummage of those passing time and having fun playing games with their friends—both old and new—always fills the heart with all the good this pastime is capable of. I saw the best of people there, enjoying each others’ company, interacting, occasionally just resting, taking a break, supporting each other. The show had stalls with games thronging with people looking for rarities or just that special something suggested by a friend—and physical paraphernalia like dice, and carry cases, and cards, and dice, and mats, and dice, and paints, and dice, and dice. And dice. So many dice.
This year I bit the bullet and blew my budget on two sets of dice from Level Up, which has become a PAX staple. Connoisseurs of tabletop goods assembled quickly, with Level Up consistently inundated, selling out of its most popular stock early on the first day. This year, the company had a large layout and even more goods than ever before, and it took full advantage of its prime location and expanded space.
Less frantic but no less populated were the freeplay and tourney sections. Lively hubs of fighting games and competitive—but not too competitive—spirit, players flocked to both participate and spectate matches. The energetic and jolly competitiveness is always a joy to watch.
I think PAX Australia is at a strange crossroads. The merger with EB Games did not take anything away from the vibe of the show, and would never have been noticed by most attendees—EB was just another shop on the floor. While lacking the fervour and freshness of the first few years, PAX Australia seems to have settled into a more steady, comfortable rhythm. PAX Australia may no longer have that new smell, but it is beginning to feel more like a familiar, comfortable home—one in which we are always welcome.