PAX EAST 2011 – Best in Show

In my last chat about PAX I discussed some of the things I saw as trends based the booths as well as some potentially damaging repetition in gaming right in the FPS and MMO genres. I’d like to create a slightly more warm and fuzzy feeling today by going over the games that blew me away. These are not all going to be due to gameplay reasons either. At least one game is sort of my value pick of show as well. I’m not going to do something so definitive as name ONE game the best of show; rather, I’m going to say here is what I liked and why. There are three games in particular that I really enjoyed seeing as well as a couple of surprises.

That said, the three releases that I was most impressed with were L.A. Noire, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and Firefall. Some other titles that I will be touching on in this article are Section 8: Prejudice, Child of Eden, Swarm and Battleblock Theater. That is quite the list so I think I’ll just jump right into talking about the games themselves.

Feel free to join me after the break.


Based in 1947 Los Angeles with crimes rooted in real life equivalents, this detective title is a departure from past Rockstar games. You are detective Cole Phelps and will work your way through several ranks from traffic all the way up to major crimes and homicide. Within each of these roles will be cases that you can investigate and solve. The demo we saw was one of the first murder cases, based loosely on the Black Dahlia murder.

Certain elements will be familiar to any player of previous Rockstar game like GTA and Red Dead Redemption. The city is still pretty open world and the style is impeccably done. The cars and buildings are meticulously crafted to really mimic the era. For all of Mafia II’s faults they also did this correctly. You can travel wherever you want when you are driving, or you can have your partner drive straight to the location by setting waypoints.

Waypoints are set using your notebook. The Notebook seemed to be the primary menu UI and I like the way it keeps you in the detective frame of mind. It is a nice little touch of immersion to move your pencil down the lists in your notebook to review information and set your next destination. At the crime scene no punches are being pulled. The violence of the crimes is apparent and there are cut scenes introducing them with plenty of blood. In addition the scenes are meant to feel authentic. While I’m sure parental controls will be included in the menu, if they aren’t active and your victim was left naked she will still be naked.

Next came the really fun parts of the game: Investigation and Interrogation. Now, being that this was the first case I’m sure things were simpler than they will be later on. I won’t fault that the clues were REALLY easy to find and when someone was lying their behavior was SO different from when being honest that it was fairly easy to tell. Hopefully the whole game won’t be like that. I enjoyed little things, such as if you accuse someone of lying you have to have evidence or they won’t cooperate. Certain questions also wouldn’t be available to ask someone unless you found a clue or talked to someone previously that put the idea in your head. You can’t just MISS something and then have the question about that thing be a dialogue option anyways. Searching for clues was pretty fun and interactive as well.

Overall everything I wanted to see in this game was there. We didn’t get to see much combat, but if you are honest with yourself you know it’ll just be GTA/RDR type combat so no biggie. I’m more excited than ever for this game to come out.


This is the new title from 38 Studios and Big Huge Games. It's an RPG/Action (Editor's Note: I still contend it's really an Action RPG) title where you start off as a dead hero brought back to life. That’s right- you start the game dead. I have to hand it to them, I’m not sure I’ve seen that particular approach before. The game plays very similar to other titles and the closest one to it, in my opinion, is Fable. There are some fun dodge mechanics and everything just looks crisp.

Some of the biggest cheers came from some simple game play ideas during the guided demo. One of those was that you will be able to put all your items into a trash section in your inventory and the next time you're at a vendor one click will sell them all. Imagine that, a system for the simple selling of trash items. If this isn’t included in every game made in the next two years it’ll be a travesty. They have a Diablo/Borderlands like loot generator so you will have plenty of different gear to pick from. Finally, there are no button combos that you need to memorize for different strikes; it's all timing and situation sensitive and as you play, you will naturally learn to use the different combos.

The game REALLY shines in its visuals and buttery smooth combat. The environments are really detailed and varied, all the motions are executed well, the world has a realistic day-night cycle, the spells are eye-popping and the specialty kills look really awesome. The presenter joked that they were going for an award for best looking doors of all time and they really are nice. It's my duty to remind readers that the environments and art style were all done under the watchful eye of Todd McFarlane himself and there are moments when you can see his influence.

Did I have any gripes at all? Sure! I think the biggest weird thing is the instant weapon switching and magical appearing/disappearing shield. It breaks the immersion and realism – yes I’m whining about realism in a magic based fantasy game, deal with it – when you hit block and your shield just appears and then promptly disappears after the block. I’d like to see something like a smaller forearm shield or something that can just be attached and doesn’t vanish like that.

You also always have two weapons that you can instantly switch between with a button press. I would have liked to have seen both of them on the model sheathed. There are technical difficulties with both of these and a little bird told me that this was a design decision to allow for more sound technical aspects of the game.

Overall this game has been generating some nice press lately but it's still a ways out. My hype meter doesn’t start for games anymore until we have a hard release date, but I’ll be keeping my eye on Reckoning. I just hope they don’t try to release too close to Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or Mass Effect 3. This game is very different from both of those, but sales will surely suffer up against Bioware and Bethesda.


I know F2P is huge in MMOs right now, but I did not expect an FPS game with MMO elements to incorporate it. This is an INCREDIBLY POLISHED shooter and also happens to be one of the only ones that stood out as different at PAX. Red 5 Studios has taken the cel-shaded look of Borderlands and combined it with customizable loadouts that allow for pretty good customization of the classic classes. The weapons feel good and jetpacks are always fun. There is a Tribes/Quake feel to the game that makes it pretty fast paced but not totally frantic. People definitely are NOT unkillable tanks as even I was able to rack up some decent numbers and I’m average at best at shooters these days.

I don’t have much else to say about the game, I mean, it is a shooter. It's just nice to see a non-Modern Warfare clone coming out and with a F2P model to boot. If you head over to Firefall's website and look at the demos you’ll see what I mean about the style of the game. It has an anime feel to it. I personally have only played the demo of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 but it looks like that. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have the words to properly sell a game, Firefall is one of them.

Then again, I don’t need to do much selling do I! I’d like you go to spend your zero dollars on this F2P game when it comes out so I can blast you in the face or maybe vice versa. As always with F2P the only downfall could be how much of the game you need to buy through microtransactions to experience. I have no idea how Firefall will keep the revenue needed to maintain servers in this quasi-MMO if most of the elements are available for free. I really hope it works.


Did you play the original Section 8 by any chance? I don’t know ANYONE who did. It had a cool sci-fi look to it and a dropship spawn method that prevented camping and gave you the ability to try to be an infiltrator if you felt like dying fast, but that's all I ever heard. Perhaps this played a role in this game being an XBLA/PSN release. At this new price point I decided to take a closer look at the game in PAX and what I experienced was a very solid shooter reminiscent of Halo with a twist.

The multiplayer will focus on traditional CTF type game play, but other game types like protect the VIP will also pop up to keep people pursuing new objectives. As a value buy this is absolutely worth watching as it will probably present much of the multiplayer fun of a AAA shooter in an affordable package. If you can live without the 4-6 hour single player story mode – I haven’t finished one in a shooter since Modern Warfare (why would I?) - then you’ll get the multiplayer fun you were looking for.

I have no idea what the heck is going on in this game. It's advertised as a shooter, but it is also motion controlled. You are in some kind of wormhole traveling through some kind of ocean and as you go, different enemies come straight at you. In typical motion controlled play style, you have to move your hands around to target and destroy these things before they get to you. Nothing else I saw was even REMOTELY close in terms of visual stimulation; of course the stadium sized big screen set up facing the entrance didn’t hurt that. The soundtrack also got you pretty into the game It looked like a lot of fun, and given the lack of motion specific games out there this could be a real hit.

Battleblock Theater is the next creation from the team that brought us the very popular Castle Crashers. They’ve taken a similar style and turned it into a puzzle/co-op game. You have to work with your partner to achieve goals by several intuitive interactions, like throwing them around to places to far to jump to. However if your partner is a real bastard – someone like me – he will likely start throwing you into walls with spikes on them or into exploding objects just to watch you die a creative death. I liked this game much more than the frantic and sometimes hard to keep track of Castle Crashers and will probably be picking it up when it hits XBLA.

There was SO MUCH OTHER cool stuff at PAX and next year I hope to do a more complete report on it but for now I’d say these were some of the best things I saw there. I wish I’d had more time to play all the indie games as I know some of them are getting pretty rave reviews, but next year I’ll be ready.