Gaming in the Emerald City: PAX Prime 2013
written by Justin Prince (@justin_prince)
A new generation of gaming consoles means a whole slew of new announcements, this Penny Arcade Expo is especially special. When the last generation hit, Microsoft got there first with their Xbox 360 releasing in November 2005, about another year would have to pass until Sony dropped their HD console, the PlayStation 3 launched November of 2006. In anticipation of the forthcoming 8th generation of home consoles, Microsoft's road to PAX hasn't been the smoothest, after a very lackluster reveal at their Xbox One event, the E3 smack down, the whole Major Nelson "we can't just flip a switch" debacle, oh and we can't forget the very public Adam Orth comments on Twitter. The Internet isn't the most forgiving of battlegrounds, and this is a road that Microsoft has had to walk. It seemed that PlayStation was literally "winning" every conference they attended, with Microsoft "flipping" on many of their policies they were so adamant about during the Xbox One announcement, suffice it to say... It's been hard fought.
On the show floor, none if this was present, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 held a fairly equal footing. Located right next to each other, both areas had a consistently long line to play games and droves of fervent fans singing the praises of their console of choice. It was nice to see, personally I had wished that Microsoft stuck to their guns and didn't flip flop on their policies, but that's a chat for another day. The two console kings were very well represented, but lets not forget the Big N and the company that got many of us started in gaming, Nintendo held a very strong yet more subdued presence. Nintendo struck first in the 8th generation, with their WiiU console. The WiiU was out in full force showcasing many games like Bayonetta 2, Super Mario 3D World, and The Wonderful 101 to name a few. The longest Nintendo line has to be the line for The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, while I can see why this would be such an anticipated release, it wasn't really a selling point for me, the next generation of Pokémon games and the forthcoming Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (a true sequel to my favorite Zelda game, A Link to the Past) rounded out some of their showcased games for their 3DS handheld. All three of the big players in home consoles were in attendance, right on the cusp of a new generation of gaming, this make for such an exciting PAX.
But what would this be without the games? Lets talk games. My most anticipated game of the forthcoming generation is inFamous: Second Son, not only because I cosplayed the main character, but also because the game looks beautiful and takes place right in my (proverbial) backyard. Sucker Punch being a PNW Developer, their faithful recreation of places like Seattle Center, the Crocodile, Pike Place Market, and Post Alley (called Port Alley in initial preview footage) looks amazing. The sad part? There was no playable demo, I was able to get into the "viewing room" to see the footage without waiting in line, they seemed to dig my costume! Behind the closed off viewing room, a developer was playing a build of the game, the same build featured at E3 where Delsin takes down enemy soldiers at the Seattle Center/Pacific Science Center. Still, wish I played that build!
The only panel I was able to hit was the only panel I actually cared to see, Greg Miller of IGN hosted a panel with some of the minds behind the development of inFamous: Second Son, along with voice talent Troy Baker (Delsin Rowe), Travis Willingham (Reggie Rowe, Delsin’s older brother), and Laura Bailey (Abigail “Fetch” Walker). Interestingly enough, these three are all interconnected in the voice acting world, Troy and Travis are good friends which helps build on the “brotherly” dynamic they needed to portray (something the casting directors claims they didn’t know about the two), Laura is married to Travis and had recently played a small role in BioShock Infinite, another game where Troy Baker voiced a lead character. The panel talked about the development of the game while Greg Miller (in true Greg Miller fashion… BEYOND!) ribbed the developers a bit, especially about this not being a launch day game. Personally, I just want this game to be good. I’m a huge fan of the inFamous series, having playing the shit out of both the first game and the eventual sequel. I could have had time to hit other panels, but honestly… that would get in the way of all the gaming.
I played a lot of games this weekend, though only a few really stuck out to me. Titanfall was arguably one of the biggest lines at the show. I waited and played it and was very impressed. My initial impression is very positive, the combination of shooting, free running, and mech piloting make for a satisfying initial experience. I enjoyed it and would buy it, the thing is I didn't order an Xbox One for launch and while I will eventually get the console, perhaps for Fable Legends or whatever new Halo game, I don't see Titanfall as a system seller in my eyes. It is a great game however and if the forthcoming Dance Central game is a Xbox One exclusive (which I doubt) then I may have to get one, I love me some DC!
To be honest I had a lot of fun with some of the current generation games, much like how the PS2 continued to thrive in the wake of the PS3, I see the PS3 still holding a strong foothold even after the next generation goes into full swing. One of my most anticipated games of the current gen (and one that worried me) was Batman: Arkham Origins, set in the same universe as the current Arkham series of games, this prequel chronicles a young Bruce Wayne as he first dons the cowl and takes to the streets as the vigilante Batman. I was worried because Rocksteady games, the developer behind Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, was not behind the development, instead outsourcing their engine to WB Games. While this shouldn't worry some, it has been shown in the past when another developer takes over a project with the original developer’s assets, results have proven to not be as stellar as the initial outing, notably Fall Out New Vegas and Knights of the Old Republic II. I was pleased to see that this games plays exactly like Arkham City with a few enhancements. The new crime scene recreation mode makes for an interesting gameplay mechanic to showcase Batman's keen mind, the battle system made popular by the first Arkham game was largely intact, I felt right at home pummeling goons on the Gotham streets. The best part of the demo though? The Joker, Mark Hamill... My Joker... The people's Joker... The Joker from the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini animated series and the voice behind the Clown Prince of crime, was not returning for this game, in fact neither was Kevin Conroy (as Batman), but hearing Troy Baker do his "Joker" was such a treat, he sounds like he could be a younger Hamill-Joker. Troy Baker is the Daniel-Day Lewis of voice acting, having played roles like Joel from The Last of Us, Booker in BioShock Infinite and the lead in the forthcoming inFamous: Second Son, Delsin Rowe. I'm pleased that WB Games recruited such a great voice actor to bring this incarnation of the Joker to life.
Speaking of more Batman, I took some time to play the side-scrolling 2D (2.5D) handheld companion game to Arkham Origins, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. I played it on both the PSVita and the 3DS. Both games looked impressive though the 3DS version did suffer from lower graphical fidelity. The game plays almost identical to the PS3/Xbox 360 counterpart, with the exception of this being a sidescroller. Very reminiscent of one of my favorite games from the Sega Genesis era, the Batman: Returns movie tie in game. Like a souped up/glossy classic beat em up with a shiny new battle system, attacking follows the same flow mechanics as its big brother and countering is done in a similar fashion. From the demo at least, platforming was very light but the game did make use of the grappling hook. I enjoyed it and will most likely be picking it up for my PSVita, I don't own a 3DS (yet) but the 3D effects were more so throwaway and I found myself mostly playing the 3DS demo with the 3D effect turned off.
Beyond: Two Souls, the hotly anticipated new game from Heavy Rain developers Quantic Dream, drew quite the crowd of its own. The line was long but nowhere near as long as say Titanfall, I was told this was mostly because of how long the demo was. I didn't have to press X to "Jason" nor did Michael Cera get me pregnant... Though I did wonder when I'd see a hamburger phone. Seriously, the game is gorgeous but I wouldn't call it a game, more so an interactive story. If you've ever played Heavy Rain you'll immediately notice something familiar about the gameplay. The story is about a young girl with some sort of paranormal ability, she can manipulate objects in her surroundings and even control would be captors all with the help of Aiden, I assume to be the other “soul” (hence the title). If you didn't care much for it... I doubt Beyond: Two Souls will change your opinion. I got a chance to try out Diablo III on the PS3, I may have to get into this series again because the main reasons I originally boycotted the game are moot points on the PS3, since there is no real money auction house nor is there an always on requirement.
Nintendo was my first gaming love, and my favorite gaming franchise of all time is The Legend of Zelda series, primarily A Link to the Past (still my favorite game of all time). So you know I had to be all over the true sequel to this game, the forthcoming Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Taking place directly after the end A Link to the Past (LttP going forward), this game felt right at home, even with not having played LttP for a good while, I still recognized the map and the dungeon that was present in the demo, a new gameplay mechanic that allows Link to turn into a living painting and walk along walls makes for an interesting addition to this classic game, this is my reason to get a 3DS and I know I'm most likely going to have to grab one the day this games launches. I look forward to seeing just how similar the new game is to LttP. Pokémon is still pretty relevant, and the demo they were showcasing showed off the new games with a peek at the brand new Mega-Evolutions, it was cool but I haven't really cared much about Pokémon since the first generation. The line for Wind Waker HD was so damn long I didn't even bother with it, though I may give it a shot... That is if I ever buy a WiiU.
Speaking of the WiiU, I felt they had a pretty strong showing. My top pick was The Wonderful 101, a beat em up game with such a unique gameplay mechanic. You're a super hero with a whole troop of heroes at your side; you use the touch pad (or right analog stick) to draw shapes. Draw a line and get a sword, draw an "L" and get a gun. Mario and Co. is back again with new suits and new powers, the game has a heavy emphasis on co-op gameplay to reach objectives. I played a bit of it and had a blast, while this isn't as much of a system seller to get me on the WiiU bandwagon, I'm compelled more and more to finally get one... Just need one more price drop.
Continuing with my next gen banter, I mentioned the Xbox One briefly but honestly that was the only game I played, I did get to take some time with the PS4 and some of their games. Being a fan of DC Universe Online, I was jazzed to see that they had it available to demo. The game looks gorgeous on the PS4 hardware; definitely one of my day one games. Play style is pretty much exactly like the PS3 counterpart, just with prettier visuals. Killzone Shadow Fall was pure FPS bliss! The new analog sticks for the PS4 felt great! I felt a better sense of precision and control over my character… very similar to what it’s like playing shooters on an Xbox 360 controller. Blacklight: Retribution was decent but the demo bored me, don’t know if this should be indicative of the final product. The visuals were stunning and I’m interested enough to perhaps give it another go come launch day.
Not just limiting myself to console games, I did delve into the indie game section and played some truly innovative games, touched base with Cassie of Michael Todd Games to see how everything has been since the final build of Electronic Super Joy was released on Steam. Check out our interview with her at SGC this past summer. Over at the Nexon booth, I checked out this co-op squad based shooter Extraction. The game reminded me of 2 parts Team Fortress with one part Call of Duty. A grittier, realistic shooter with clearly defined character classes and an emphasis on teamwork. I had a blast playing and I plan to get in on the beta.
I spent a lot of my time in the Sony area, I’ll admit I am a bit of a PlayStation fan boy, even with the enormous initial price and the memory allocation issues, I stuck by their side. I still always had my Microsoft consoles as well as my Nintendo consoles. I had an Xbox and currently have an Xbox 360, had a GameCube and currently own a Wii (eventually I’ll get on that WiiU). From a gamer’s perspective, this was a great show and I had a blast playing games and checking out all this convention had to offer. Check out our cosplay roundup article for more coverage. We’ll be back again next year, makes me excited to see what the next generation has in store!