Connor Sheridan's picks
I understood just how serious Below was being with me when I realized why that heart icon was still on the screen. My character wasn't healing the damage she took in the last fight, she was slowly bleeding out. All she had in her pack was a torch and some potatoes, so wanting for proper medical attention, I set her limping back to the closest campfire. Once she got there, she heated her sword in the fire and pressed it against her wound, gasping in pain as it cauterized her injury and stopped the bleeding. Ok, I thought, super serious.
She was one of the lucky ones. You will die on your way down to the bottom of Below, either because you step in a deadly trap, or you run out of food, or a totally manageable monster encounter suddenly turns against you. Then the next foolhardy soul you control will have to search for your skeletal corpse, loot your precious lantern, and try to get further than you did.
Yes, Below is one of those games, with permadeath and randomly generated maps, but that doesn't define it - this lonely, tilt-shifted island is located somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle bounded by Zelda, Dark Souls, and Spelunky. You can start exploring it this summer on PC and Xbox One.
Fated: The Silent Oath
My demo of Fated began with a woman - my wife, so she tells me - talking casually about how I had an accident and apparently lost my voice. She's riding with me on a horse-drawn wagon and she asks if I think it improved my driving. I nod and she laughs. Later, when I drop into slow motion so I can steer the horse around boulders flung by an an enraged giant, I realize that it probably wasn't just a joke.
Fated is a virtual reality story that puts you behind the braided beard of a man trying to save his family from Ragnarok. Even if you don't know Urd from Skuld, you're probably familiar enough with Norse mythology to appreciate that Ragnarok isn't an easy thing to survive. I only got to try the wagon ride bit, but the developers told me that there is much more to the story, and I'm eager to try it.
Ok, one last thing I should note: my demo of Fated took place on top of a specially constructed wagon seat, complete with rubber reins to guide my virtual horse, and in front of a set of fans that blew cool mist at me when I rode past a virtual waterfall. My experience was not quite what the average user will have when Fated hits Oculus and Vive on Friday, and PlayStation VR at launch in October (though I hear you can do a lot with Arduino these days). Special effects aside, it was still an intriguing use of VR to put you not just in a place, but in the head of a father trying to do right by his family.
Strategy games have a reputation for being overwhelming, requiring players to give unique orders to scads of units every single turn. In Pit People, the latest game from the creators of Castle Crashers and Battleblock Theater, the burden of leadership is lighter: you don't ever tell your handful of soldiers what to do, you just tell them where to go. Once you pick the little hexagonal tile you want them to stand on, you lock in the turn and see what happens.
Yes, that does mean there will be times when your forces almost kill an enemy boss, but one of them hits his wimpy little archer friend instead, leaving the big bad to strike you down on your next turn. There's definitely room for frustration, but the feeling of chaos works well with the unhinged, post-apocalyptic atmosphere.
If that still sounds like too much responsibility to take on by yourself, Pit People also includes a co-op mode. Each player gets their own little detachment of units to command in battle, acting on the same turn. While it doesn't seem like co-op will be quite as essential here as it is in some other Behemoth games, it's still a great time. Pit People will be released on Xbox One and Steam, erm, sometime "before the apocalypse".
SteamWorld Heist HD
Image & Form did an admirable job of making SteamWorld Heist play well on a 3DS screen, just as it did with SteamWorld Dig. As soon as you see all that personality-rich 2D art of clanking steambots and their structurally unsound spacecraft in HD, though, it will be difficult to go back. The interstellar piracy and turn-based, sidescrolling combat all works the same, but it's so nice to be able to take in all the details without squinting.
That extra resolution is especially helpful for eyeballing Heist's billiards-style bullet ricochets. Even without a laser sight I was able to reliably bounce grenade launcher rounds past cover and directly into enemy ranks - though a laser sight is still handy when you're trying to set up a headshot from three walls away.
Oh, oh! And you can shoot off other robots' hats and then put them on. Everybody who has been playing the game since it came out on 3DS in December already knew that, but soon you'll be able to do it in HD. "Very, very soon", according to the Image & Form developer who gave me the demo - expect a release date announcement within a few weeks.
Push Me, Pull You
The first time I ever played Push Me, Pull You, it was up a creaky set of stairs in a booming nightclub, and everybody refused to tell me anything about the game except that I should play it. Here's what it actually was: two sets of two human forms connected from the waist down by a wormlike appendage, with each of the two pairs crawling around to capture a ball in their serpentine midsection and hold it on their side of the arena. The ensuing competition could best be described as intestinal.
If I wasn't so cheap that I only bought two beers the whole night I would assume that I must have misremembered it.
It was much the same game when I saw it at PAX East, but this time with a proper title and a crowd of people all just as perplexed as I was two years ago. Using my prior knowledge of wormball tactics, my teammate and I scored a handy 3-1 victory, which is not a sentence I ever thought I would write about video games. But I sure as heck want to play more after Push Me, Pull You comes out on PS4 on May 3.
Read on for Marshall's picks from PAX East.