PAX Prime was filled with great games of all genres. Some were from the big gaming companies. Lots were from indie developers. It was a difficult task to narrow down our favorites, but here are Pixelkin’s picks for the top games from PAX.
The Banner Saga 2
This is a sequel to the first Banner Saga game, which came out in January of last year. It’s been a while, but it seems like Stoic has been hard at work making the second chapter even better than the first in terms of gameplay mechanics, story, and graphics.
Banner Saga is a turn-based strategy roleplaying game based on Viking mythology that follows the stories of several individuals (and their families, companions, and followers) as they make their way across a fantasy Scandinavian landscape. The invading Dredge, a mysterious race of undead (or maybe not so undead) monsters are at their heels every step of the way. The Dredge may be fleeing something far more terrifying, though.—Keezy
Another game I saw at the ID@Xbox preview, Cluster Puck, delivers a really fun experience for up to eight players at a time. Eight players! That’s a party or a great big family game night. I love the move into making gaming more and more social. Cluster Puck leans right into that trend with a great sense of humor, fun gameplay, and no violence. ClusterPuck 99, which is on Steam, is rated E.—Linda
Draw A Stickman: Epic (Kinect-enabled)
I have to admit that I saw this Xbox One game at the ID@Xbox preview and they didn’t have Kinect working because of the somewhat crowded conditions. So I used a controller to play, and even without motion controls I thought the game was pretty cool. You draw your own avatar (stickman/creature/whatever), and then it comes alive. You can move your stick man through the landscape and use it to solve puzzles. I drew clouds that then started raining, for instance, to make flowers grow, which then made a cave open. The game reminded of Okami, an absolutely amazing game for the Wii in which you use gestures to create weapons and other tools. There are mobile versions of Draw a Stickman available now, and the Xbox One Kinect version is coming out soon. The iTunes store rates the mobil version 9+ for mild cartoon violence.—Linda
Strange Loop Games has an ambitious goal. They want to redefine educational games, “taking an approach that pushes self-motivated learning in social worlds.” With Eco, they’ve taken a framework that’s similar to Minecraft’s and created what I think may be an amazing educational tool. The “eco” name refers both to “ecology” and “economy.” And the brilliant idea behind the whole thing is to create a kind of high-stakes society simulator. The premise is that a meteor is going to hit Earth in 30 days. Working in groups, players have 30 actual days to develop their society to a point where they can deflect the meteor. Players have to pass laws in order to manage resources in a way that will save the planet. The Department of Education is behind this game, and there will be easy ways for classroom teachers to use it to help kids understand ecological stewardship. I can’t find an ESRB rating for Eco, but I’d expect it to be E10+. There is hunting, I know, but I’m sure it’s not graphic.—Linda
Since I’ve been playing games for more than 30 years, I’m always delighted when I see a game that’s innovative and truly unique. At PAX, I was thrilled to discover Eon Altar, a cooperative role-playing game where you use your phone as the controller. It’s also used to advance the story.
The developers of the game have been friends for years and enjoyed classic tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. That’s where they got the inspiration for Eon Altar, but their game is something completely different. Eon Altar just became available in Steam’s Early Access program, but the developers said they’re hoping to bring the game to Xbox One as well. I really can’t overstate how impressed I was with this game. I encourage everyone to check it out. By the looks of things, I’d say this game’s content would be around a T rating.—Nicole
The MOBA genre is filling up with new entries everyday. In my experience, none of them have anything new to offer. But Gigantic is different—vastly different—and a ton of fun.
When playing Gigantic the first thing you’ll notice is the on-the-ground fully 3D third-person perspective. The second major thing that’s different is that there are no lanes and no bases to be captured. Instead, your team’s goal is to keep your guardian alive. It’s fast and frantic gameplay is a blast to play. Gigantic has already been rated T by the ESRB.—Nicole
GNOG is a simple, elegant, and incredibly difficult puzzle game by KO-OP Mode. You explore dozens of floating monster heads (“gnoggins”), each of which is adorned with knobs, switches, dials, and all sorts of other things that you can mess around with. Expect to feel a little lost: the objective of each puzzle is part of the puzzle itself. When I was playing GNOG, I found that I was able to do best when I let my curiosity propel me naturally. If something looked interesting, I played with it. The more zen I allowed myself to become, the more successfully I completed each gnoggin.
GNOG has a lot in common with mobile puzzle game Monument Valley, but I found it to be much more difficult. In fact, Saleem Dabbous from KO-OP Mode told me I was one of the only people to finish the demo at PAX. So, get ready to exercise a little patience.—Courtney
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is just like that classic scene in a movie where one character is trying to disarm a bomb but they have no idea what they’re doing and the bomb expert on the walkie-talkie is a terrible communicator. If that doesn’t sound like a good time, I don’t know what does.
One player wears a VR headset that places them in a small, dark room alone with a bomb. The other player has a physical binder filled with paper instructions for bomb disarmament. Player 1 must describe the bomb to player 2 (or players 2–99, there is no limit on the number of participants) so that they can work together to disarm the bomb. The bombs are procedurally generated, meaning they’re different every time, and the instructions are like very complicated riddles. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a fantastic game for players who want a creative and clever communication challenge. It comes out in October. —Courtney
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is an game that follows in the footsteps of BioWare and isometric RPGs like Diablo, so it’s no surprise that I liked it so much. The player controls several characters at once and is able to switch between them at will. Each has their own skills and strengths, and you can pause the combat in mid-air at any moment and line up your strategy. The game also comes with an excellent voice cast and a really intriguing story set-up; “Set in the Venetian-inspired fantasy city of Ombre where rare masks are the key to casting magic, Masquerada is dressed in the colours and style of French comic books and vivid games like Bastion,” reads the description. “Players follow the Inspettore, Cicero Gavar as he returns from exile to solve a kidnapping that will shake up the foundations of the city.” Cicero seems like an interesting, perhaps unusual lead. He’s a coward who’s only just returned from being banished for his past crimes.—Keezy
Show me a colorful, fast-paced platformer with a jazzy soundtrack, and I’ll show you a game I’m honor-bound to love. Mekazoo is a fun and challenging take on platforming games. It lets you swap between two animal avatars, each with their own special ability. In the level I played I swapped between an armadillo would could roll super-fast and get a boost, and a frog who could use its tongue to grab onto things and launch itself further.
Both animals were super fun to play as, and there will be several more in the finished version. Swapping back and forth between them at will was a challenge–but even better was when I played co-op. In co-op mode each player controls one of the animals, and can swap to that animal by pressing the right bumper. That means you can have control wrested away from you by your co-player at any time. But it’s all for the good of the game, and getting through Mekazoo on two-player is a great cooperative exercise. Mekazoo will come out in early 2016 for the Wii U, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.—Simone
Minecraft: Story Mode
Minecraft: Story Mode is a fun, funny love letter to anyone who has enjoyed Minecraft. It might not be so much fun for non-Minecraft players, so introduce yourself to the original game first so you can get all the in-jokes.—Simone
Innovative indie puzzler Mushroom 11 made the PAX 10 last year, and it was in the Indie Megabooth this year, which means it’s been under development for a while. Which means it’s getting perfected. It’s coming out this fall on Steam. This game plays very differently from anything I’ve seen before. You’re a blob, and the way you play is by nudging yourself along, erasing yourself and letting yourself grow back, splitting yourself in pieces, and so on. The game has beautiful art and music, and I liked it for how it made me feel…Kind of wistful about the fragility, adaptability, flexibility, and wonder of life. Mushroom 11 is rated E10+ for fantasy violence and mild blood.—Linda
Rise of the Tomb Raider
The new version of Tomb Raider that was released in 2013 remains one of my favorite games for Xbox One. The reinvention of Lara Croft was a welcome and excellent take on the classic game. The new Lara is returning in Rise of the Tomb Raider, along with massive multi-level tombs that the franchise has been known for along. I like this Lara and can’t get enough of her. The new tombs only sweeten the deal. Like the previous game, Rise of Tomb Raider will most certainly have a M rating. —Nicole
Shadowrun: Hong Kong
Shadowrun: Hong Kong is the third stand-alone Shadowrun video game (based on the classic Shadowrun tabletop games). The setting is sort of a mix between science fiction and fantasy–it’s set in the future, and people have access to cybernetics and that sort of thing, but there are also elves and trolls and magic. From what I saw, you don’t need to be familiar with the Shadowrun series in order to enjoy Shadowrun: Hong Kong. The game features gorgeous music and incredibly detailed settings, and it’s a good game for players who enjoy world-building and characters–and who don’t mind doing a lot of reading. I was really happy to be able to play as a female protagonist, as well.—Keezy
The simulation genre of games is one of my favorites. That’s why I was charmed and delighted by Stonehearth, a city-building sim with blocky Minecraft-like art style. Stonehearth tasks you with building a town. As your town grows, people will move in. These people can be trained to carry out a variety of tasks, such as farming and masonry, that will make your city grow even larger. If your city grows large enough you’ll catch the attention of other races like goblins who are afraid of your expanding empire.
I really like Stonehearth’s art style and depth of gameplay. The game seems to combine a lot of different simulation gameplay into one accessible package. The content is Stonehearth is pretty tame. I would think it would garner an E rating. —Nicole
I’ve played Tearaway Unfolded at a few conventions so far, but the demo at PAX Prime really solidified my optimism for what the game will be. In the Gibbet Hill level that we played, most of the interactions with the controller were on display. I was able to blow wind by swiping my thumb over the touchpad, draw on it with my finger, shine light from my controller, and launch squirrels with a touch of my finger.
Gibbet Hill is a huge, winding level that takes you up a mountainside. It’s the setpiece for the end of the game’s first act, and it looks beautiful on the PlayStation 4. Tearaway Unfolded does a great job of preserving the interactivity from the PS Vita version of Tearaway, and translating that onto a new console. I almost didn’t think it could be done, but here it is.
Tearaway Unfolded comes out for the PlayStation 4 on September 8.—Simone
Through the Woods
Okay, talk about terror. Through the Woods made me jump in scream in front of a crowd of people when I played it at PAX. It’s a horror game where you play as a young mother searching for her son in the woods of Norway. Her son has been taken by a Norwegian bogeyman, called Old Erik. As you explore the forest, the game ramps up the tension with horrifying sounds that will stick in your brain and probably make you very concerned next time you visit a forest.
The sound design is definitely a highlight of this game. I felt completely immersed and isolated in the forest. The end of the demo teased a plot that really interests me, and I’m excited to see where Through the Woods takes us when it’s released in early 2016 for PC.—Simone