Take a bow
The PAX conventions are always a great time for gamers of all types, where big-name publishers and indie studios alike get the chance to show off. There's no telling what you might find on the show floor; maybe the latest build of a highly anticipated AAA title, or perhaps a game you've never heard of before that has you hooked after two minutes of hands-on time. It's all about equal opportunity exposure for a swath of exciting titles--and what gamer wouldn't love that?
As with E3 and Gamescom before it, we spent the entirety of PAX Prime 2014 running around the show floor in an excited frenzy, playing all kinds of awesome games and talking with the brilliant minds that make them. Now that the dust has settled after the long Labor Day weekend, it's time to share which games impressed us the most. Just like we did for Gamescom 2014, here are GamesRadar's half-goofy, half-serious awards for all the games that really wowed us at PAX.
Darkest Soul Award (Indie Edition): Below
You land on the shore of a distant island, and make your way into the caverns below the surface. It's dark, damp, and cold. You begin to hunger and thirst, but supplies are scarce. Nothing is explained to you--not the fact that you can stop bleeding by using grass, nor that that circle you just walked over is a giant spike trap that will now impale you. So you arrive again, as a different explorer this time. But something feels off. Everything looks familiar, yet different, as the rooms have completely changed. You continue deeper, finding new weapons, fighting weird monsters, constantly learning the dungeon's systems, until you come across a massive monolith of a building. You activate the mysterious object inside of it, because why not, right? Fair warning--it could be the undoing of us all. This is Below, and 2015 cannot arrive soon enough.
Runner-up: Titan Souls What would a retro "demake" of Shadow of the Colossus look like? Probably a lot like Titan Souls, a game that pits you against massive bosses, each one with their own unique moves and weak points. You only have one arrow, and one point of health keeping you alive--luckily, so do those giant monstrosities. It's certainly tough, but it's pure exhilaration when everything comes together.
The "How Did No One Think Of This Before" Award: Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
This game is a slice of brilliance. One person wears an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, and the only thing they can see is a bomb covered in symbols and wires. Their friend can't see the bomb at all, but they hold a real binder filled with pages of written instructions. They have to frantically flip through the book as they listen to a description of what the bomb looks like in order to disarm it, and they have to do it fast, as the bomb will explode in five minutes. It is actually much, much harder than it sounds. The bomb is randomly generated, the manual is filled with so many instructions that it's almost impossible to memorize, and the bomb makes so many crazy noises (on top of everyone shouting at each other) that it becomes a uniquely stressful experience every single time. Seriously, how did no one think of this before?
Runner-up: ShadowRealms ShadowRealms is the closest thing there is to a tried-and-true D&D campaign in video game form. A group of four players must navigate a dungeon packed with spike traps, hidden explosives, and tons of unholy monsters on their quest to vanquish evil and claim riches for themselves. Thing is, a fifth player is the one placing all those traps and monsters in an attempt to wipe out the four-player group. It's super fun, regardless of who you play as, and a refreshingly unique take on fantasy multiplayer.
The Arcade Games Aren't Dead Award: Geometry Wars: Dimensions
Geometry Wars: Dimensions is both the game you remember obsessing over and something completely new and different. The classic twin-stick shooting, screen-clearing bombs, multicolored explosions, and constant jockeying for leaderboard positions between you and your friends is all there. But this time, levels take place on three-dimensional planes, meaning you'll have to be aware of your surroundings at all times as you zip around stages that twist and fold in on themselves. Your ship also comes with an assistant, which can help you in various ways: use it to help shoot down the never-ending horde of rhombuses (rhombi?), or sacrifice firepower for a multiplier-snagging magnet and watch your high score skyrocket. If what I played is any indication, Geometry Wars: Dimensions is shaping up to be a fantastic reintroduction for the series.
Runner-up: Broforce Grab a couple of your closest bros or broettes and get ready to blow some shit up. Broforce is a sidescrolling shooter where pretty much everything explodes in a glorious ballet of carnage, and every character is a pixelated version of a classic action hero. Share a broment with up to four friends, or play all by your bronesome in singleplayer. It's already awesome as is, but more stuff gets added every month. It's a fistbump in video game form.
The Metroidvania Award: Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones
It's not easy being a clone. As a guinea pig for product testing, everyone sees you as expendable, throwing you into dangerous rooms filled with all sorts of diabolical traps. Luckily, there are thousands of you, so death simply means starting over. In Stealth Inc. 2, you play as one of these clones as you attempt to escape a laser-filled laboratory while a crazed quality assurance tester tries to stop you at every turn. Each individual test chamber is fraught with peril, as the game's designers continuously predict your every move--then shoot a laser or drop a platform right on you. It's a good thing you have some breathing room between these harrowing challenge rooms, as Stealth Inc. 2 features a massive overworld to explore. New areas and tantalizing secrets become available as you unlock new and even crazier gadgets to facilitate your escape. Not bad for a Wii U indie exclusive.
Runner-up: Axiom Verge Axiom Verge was already looking impressive with a rad '80s-inspired soundtrack, interesting weapons, and some serious NES-style graphics. Add in some retro glitches that form the very backbone of how you fight monsters and explore its various caverns, and you've got a recipe for one hell of a trip.
The "OK, It's Your Turn" Award: Game 4
How do you turn a complex genre like turn-based strategy into something more accessible that players of all kinds can enjoy? According to the folks over at The Behemoth, the answer includes two steps. First: cut the fat and focus on logical simplicity. Second: make it funny as hell. Game 4, the codename for the next project by the devs that brought you Castle Crashers, is a turn-based strategy game (think XCOM, Fire Emblem, etc.) that prioritizes moment-to-moment strategic play over bloated stats and overly complicated mechanics. Your dude with a sword and shield is good at blocking projectiles, but not so great at cutting through armor--leave that to your mace-wielding party members. There's certainly a degree of challenge here, and plenty of customization to give you a sense of progression, but it's more accessible than most of its contemporaries. Oh, plus it's got a bunch of poop jokes and out-of-left-field humor to ensure you have a fun time while playing.
Runner-up: Massive Chalice Massive Chalice is a mashup of ideas from XCOM and Game of Thrones, and it's looking awesome. Turn-based combat fills out the majority of its gameplay, but the real star here is how its lineage system works. As you play, you'll install your soldiers into keeps, and pair them with spouses, and future soldiers are the result of the combined traits of the individual parents. With a game that can take place over the course of multiple centuries, Massive Chalice is looking truly epic.
The Best Excuse to Bet Money Against Friends Award: #IDARB
It started as nothing more than a red box--but with the help of the Internet, it turned into a competitive, eight-player, side-scrolling soccer-type thing with Twitch integration, and the developers are still taking suggestions. #IDARB is an inspired bit of lunacy; while players fight to score points in their opposing player's goal, their match is streamed online. Viewers can drop "bombs" in the game they're watching by using various commands in the chatstream, or by tweeting them. There are few experiences in games like having your adoring audience cause a screen-filling 8-bit Rick Astley to saunter across the playing field, but #IDARB is filled with those moments. It truly needs to be played to be believed.
Runner-up: Videoball This is the sport that the citizens of those 1980s sci-fi movies would watch in between shifts at the space mines. There's a minimalistic beauty in its frenetic competitive gameplay, as a bunch of triangles fight over smacking a giant circle into their opposition's goal. The clean, vibrant colors and excellent sound effects really help knock this one over the top.
The "Game Make Brain Hurt" Award: The Talos Principle
Croteam is responsible for the hyper-violent first-person shooter throwback Serious Sam, so it makes sense that it would follow that game up with a philosophical puzzler that deals with transhumanism and the nature of existence. You won't need a philosophy degree to play it, though, as its story is told through a series of puzzles requiring you to manipulate gates and laser beams to find hidden tetrominoes. Its puzzles feel like the best parts of Portal, and its environment and non-linearity feels a lot like Myst, as you can explore this virtual island at your own pace. If you're looking for a break from all of the explosions, definitely check out The Talos Principle for a change of pace.
Runner-up: Miegakure What we have here is a 4D puzzle-platformer, but rather than being about time, the fourth dimension is actually an additional mathematical plane. Your brain will probably perform backflips inside your skull as it tries to wrap itself around the game's unique challenges.
The Best Witcher Award: Talion (Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor)
Who needs Geralt of Rivia when you've got Talion of Middle-earth? Talion's not your typical Lord of the Rings hero--see, he's fused with Celebrimbor (you know, the guy who forged the Rings of Power along with Sauron), meaning he has all sorts of awsome Wraith powers. Which are sort of like Witcher powers in that they let you use magic-like attacks and hunt down your prey. And there's a lot of prey to hunt in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor thanks to its truly inventive Nemesis System, which generates awesome villains from your encounters with generic enemies. Fun stuff indeed.
Runner-up: Geralt (The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt) OK, look--Geralt of Rivia is really cool, despite what was said above, and his showing at PAX was pretty awesome. In a behind-closed-doors demo, Geralt uses his Witcher abilities to hunt a bleeding Gryphon, which he promptly pursues. After a nail-biting encounter where he uses some of his magic Signs to catch the beast on fire, he cuts off its head and carries it to a nearby town in exchange for a reward. Awww yeah.
The Fun in Space Award: Dreadnought
Everyone loves those massive ships in sci-fi movies and TV shows. The Star Destroyers from Star Wars; the Battlestars from, well, Battlestar Galactica. They're all awesome, but we never actually get a chance to fly them in video games--until Dreadnought, that is. It's a space flight sim from the devs behind Spec Ops: The Line, letting you fly starships ranging from small and nimble fighters, to larger Corvettes, to the hulking turret-covered Dreadnoughts. With both single-player and team-based multiplayer, Dreadnought hopes to offer something for every lover of space-based combat on a grand scale. The best part? It's going to be completely free-to-play.
Runner-up: Civilization: Beyond Earth You've seen the rise and fall of nations, conquered entire continents, and gave those Romans what for. But in Civilization: Beyond Earth, you'll dominate--wait for it--THE UNIVERSE! Mwhahahaha! Get ready to spend days of your life sending your civilization through the vastness of space, colonizing planets, and choosing how to go about dealing with those pesky indigenous lifeforms.
Game of the Show: Evolve
Every match of Evolve starts off as a game of cat and mouse. A team of four hunters (the proverbial cat in this analogy) have a single goal: hunt down a player-controlled monster, then shoot it until it's dead. But as the monster consumes the local wildlife and becomes more powerful, it becomes the cat, with a few abilities that can turn hunters into dead piles of fleshy chunks almost instantly. Both the hunters and monster need to utilize every tactic at their disposal if they want to come out on top, and no match plays out exactly the same as another, even if your monster and hunter picks don't change between matches. This is truly pulse-pounding stuff.
Runner-up: Bloodborne Bloodborne is Dark Souls in all but name. Granted, it does have its own twists. The atmosphere is super dark and foreboding, but it does feel like you're exploring a city on the brink of ruin. Enemies are still super deadly and can take you down in just a few hits, but instead of blocking then punishing, you must dodge and counter, making for a decidedly more aggressive experience. And in terms of boss encounters? Oh yes, still very much a signature event, even here.
Goodbye to the Emerald City
Another year, another rain-soaked PAX Prime completed. Now begins the final countdown to the beginning of the holidays and the upcoming downpour of gaming riches. What were some of your favorite games of the show? Let us know in the comments!
Looking to whet your appetite with more awesome previews? Check out our our hands-on impressions of Bayonetta 2, or some new details on the upcoming Grim Fandango Remastered.