PAX West Day 1 – Return of the Retro

I will be posting quick impressions of all the games I see each day at the convention, as well as providing deep dives into some of the standout titles. The theme of this year appears to be heading back to the retro classics of the early nineties, with titles like Streets of Rage, ToeJam and Earl, and Windjammers 2 all making appearances. Each day, I’ll be starting with the standout indie titles that need more coverage and then moving into the bigger AAAs at the end.

Indie Spotlight

As usual, some of the most interesting games at PAX are indies, so let’s dive into a few.

Achtung Cthulu Tactics! (Steam)

Set in a world where Lovecraftian monsters and Nazis are on the same side, Achtung Cthulu Tactics(ACT) is, you guessed it, a tactics game. Pulling from the wide lore of the table-top tactics game of the same name, ACT has a strong existing narrative to play off of. The developers have enlisted the help of the original table-top writer to ensure continuity between the two platforms and even hinted at the possibility of crossovers.

In my demo, I played as a group of soldiers trapped behind enemy lines, trying to fight their way out. While none of the aforementioned Lovecraft monsters made an appearance, there were plenty of Nazis to fight my way through. The game plays out similar to other tactics games with a few key differences. First, enemies can hide in a persistent fog of war system that can only be revealed by having a character watch it. This means that enemies can constantly be sneaking up behind players with the advantage of stealth. Second, the game implements an exploration mode between battles, making moving characters around the map far less tedious as it is not turn-based.

The game is set to release sometime this fall, and we’ll have more coverage as we get closer.

Irony Curtain (Steam)

Set in the middle of a cold war class struggle, Irony Curtain is a traditional point-and-click adventure following a young man and his quest to be a journalist. The game excels at capturing the ridiculous, circuitous nature of policy by having players navigate the complicated politics of communist Matryoshka. The art style is beautiful and lends itself well to the game’s satirical humor. We’ll be following up with the developers for an interview soon, so stay tuned!

My Brother Rabbit (Steam)

In the same vein as Irony Curtain, My Brother Rabbit is another point-and-click adventure from the same studio. The game is told from the perspective of a brother watching his sick sister and turning the events of reality into the surreal and bizarre fantasy of a young child. Most of the storytelling is done with little text and relies heavily on pictures. This was a deliberate choice from the developers to make the game easily accessible, and it really works. Like Irony Curtain, we will be following up with these developers in a future Indie Spotlight interview after the show.

Torchlight Frontiers (Link)

The demo for Torchlight Frontiers was short but sweet. It showcased a little bit of the hub area where players can pick up quests, as well as a short instance. Overall, there’s not much different from the other Torchlight titles, aside from the addition of other online players. Loot is still satisfying as hell, and the combat is great as it has always been. If anything, this feels like a Torchlight 3 with an added online component. Either way, I’m incredibly excited to dive in more when the title releases sometime next year.

Return of the Retro

After the first half of my day, I was unsure whether I had somehow stepped into a time-warp. Classic franchises are making a comeback, and there are three standout titles that I couldn’t be happier to see reappearing.

Windjammers 2 (Link)

Couch coop seems to be a theme in the retro titles being shown at PAX this year, and Windjammers 2 brought out my frantic competitive side in a matter of seconds. In my four matches against the game developers, I found myself slipping into my old rhythm, and ending each round with ‘one more’. While there are a lot of similarities to the original game, Windjammers 2 is also looking to innovate with new characters, mechanics, and stages. In the current build, there was only one new mechanic and it came in the form of a super meter. When filled, players can unleash a devastating attack shot that is very difficult for opponents to block. These attacks look fantastic, and so does the rest of the game. The graphics are hand-drawn, smooth, and fit the aesthetic perfectly. Even on this alpha build, the game plays better than other titles playing for the same mechanics (looking at you Mario Tennis: Aces). If this is what the developers have early on, I can’t wait to see what the finished product looks like.

Streets of Rage 4 (Link)

Continuing with the surprising 90s retro theme of this year’s PAX, Streets of Rage is back, with a brand-new, hand-drawn, HD art-style that pays homage to the original, while innovating enough to feel at home in a modern setting. Being familiar with the series (it was the first cartridge my parents ever popped out of my Genesis and refused to let me play), jumping into the game felt easy. Despite the new console, new controllers, and new technology, Streets of Rage 4 felt and played exactly the same. The developers really paid attention and have done an amazing job capturing the retro feel, while updating the core game so it doesn’t feel dated. While it doesn’t have an official release date yet, the game is quickly coming along, and I can’t wait to dive into it further with some nostalgic couch co-op.

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove (Steam)

Yet another title from my childhood is making a return, and it’s the funk-loving, groovy Toejam and Earl. The game is chock-full of nostalgia triggers, from its music to the art-style that looks like a mash-up of Ren and Stimpy and The Simpsons. For a deeper dive on the game’s new mechanics, dedication to the original title, and ‘hard mode’, take a look at our interview with Art Lead, Nathan Shorts!

The AAAs

No introduction needed here, these are the bigguns.

Hitman 2 (Link)

Warner Brothers showcased the same demo level from E3 and Gamescom for Hitman 2, but with an interesting addition. The demo I played had the option for using guided kills, which were essentially more linear forms of the otherwise open assassination format. This allows players who want an easier or more structured experience to pick from a series of assassination methods for the two targets, and then be guided through them.

In my playthrough, I chose to take the classic Hitman route and discover what ridiculous ways I could perform the assassinations myself. The level took place at a Grand Prix race in a colorful ocean-side town with two targets. The world felt vibrant and alive in a way that other Hitman titles have not quite been able to master. Interacting with the large crowds of people felt realistic, and the addition of a mechanic allowing players to blend in felt right at home. I plan on doing a more extensive write-up on Hitman 2 as it nears release later this fall.

Resident Evil 2 (Link)

Capcom is back with the second remake of the Resident Evil Series, and things are looking gorier than ever. While the short demo was fairly confined, it was able to showcase the game’s range well. Walking through darkened corridors felt tense, even when there was nothing around, and became even more terrifying when the undead showed up. The visuals looked incredible with the disembowelments and blood-spattered hallways making me feel a little light-headed by the end of the demo. If the game keeps up the attention to detail shown in the demo, fans will be pleased.

Metro: Exodus (Steam)

Metro is back, and it’s ditched the dreary subterranean setting for an expansive, dangerous outside world. Today, I had a chance to sit down and play the thirty-minute demo that was also shown at Gamescom earlier this year. From the outset, it’s clear that Exodus is a different game from its predecessors. While the levels still have a ‘golden path’ for those who want to jam straight through them, the structure is far more open and leaves opportunity for exploration and experimentation.

The demo opened with the main character being saved by a mysterious figure dressed in scavenger gear and then being set upon the wilderness in search of a settlement. During my time wandering through the beautiful world, I encountered pirates, massive mutated bears, packs of deadly wolves, and even a few bickering factions of survivors. The world in Exodus feels alive and evolves based on the actions you take. The element of choice allows for traditional run-and-gun and stealth approaches, as well as a little bit of everything in between.

After my brief thirty-minute demo, I was left wanting more. The levels have so much to explore and offer plenty of reward for those who are willing to go off the beaten path. Luckily, we only have to wait until February to get our hands on the full game.

Check back tomorrow for our thought on day 2 at PAX West 2018.

Ashton Macaulay

Ashton lives in the fairy tale village of Redmond Washington, has written a novel about a drunken monster hunter, and takes no responsibility for the sense of awe his articles might inspire.

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