PAX East 2018 has come to an end. Our feet are tired, our backs ache, but we're home and ready to give props to the very best - our favorite games of the show. Below you'll find the top three games as selected by PAX-attending editors Connor Sheridan and Sam Prell, as well as a short summary on why they were chosen.
That being said, let's jump in! And once you've seen our top picks, check out our other favorites from the show on the following pages.
Connor's top 3 games of PAX East 2018
Outer Wilds (2018 - PC)
What if you could play No Man's Sky with only a few worlds (but they're hand-made and interesting), and all of those worlds were on a Majora's Mask-style march toward annihilation? Also, what if you could roast marshmallows on a campfire while you wait for the sun to go supernova? If you can do all that you're probably playing Outer Wilds right now and I am super jealous. I went through several cycles of its surprisingly folksy approach to space exploration and I'm still impatient to try more.
It takes about 20 minutes for the end to come in Outer Wilds, but because of your exposure to some mysterious alien artifact - you know how those can be - "dying" makes your perspective rewind through time back to just before your initial takeoff (whether you died at The End or from colliding with a space rock). This changes the 20-minute cycle from a pressing time limit into a recurring invitation to explore 20 minutes of life all across a star system. Wherever you are and whatever you're doing, events are elsewhere. You don't need to worry about missing out, though, because your chance to see another side of the Outer Wilds is always one apocalypse away.
The best because: If the world was falling down around my ears and there was nothing I could do about it, I'd want to roast marshmallows too. The fun space navigation and alien mysteries are just extra chocolate in the s'more.
Pikuniku (Fall 2018 - PC, Switch)
I kicked a villager in Pikuniku and they asked me stop. But in Pikuniku you play as a squashed red circle with long, gangly legs. You are pretty good at jumping, great at running, and just the bee's knees at kicking. It would have been an inexcusable waste of my natural talents to not kick everything at every opportunity. So I kept kicking the villager. They kept asking me to stop. Then they shrieked "THAT'S IT", jumped on top of my round red head, and started kicking the hell out of me. I didn't stop laughing until long after they were done.
Let me lay out my biases quite clearly: I already had an unhealthy love for doing goofy things with body physics in games. I spent far too much time throwing myself into the air and pressing the ragdoll button in GTA 5. As soon as I saw those googly legs flailing around in the air, I was at Pikuniku's mercy. Finding a secret area with a little bee that did a special dance just for me was only icing on the cake. Pikuniku is a really weird game, and I think I might love it. Oh, and all of this was just the single-player story mode, not even talking about the ripe-for-chaos co-op mode.
The best because: Pikuniku was the funniest game I played at the whole show - not just because of its kooky dialogue, I could happily make that little red leg monster roll around and kick stuff for hours. Also, the secret dancing bee interlude was very special to me.
Below (2018 - PC, Xbox One)
You're so small in Below. Not the "David and Goliath" kind of small that video games often portray, where your tiny hero triumphs over screen-filling bosses. More like leaving a brief ripple in a field of waving grass as your hero hikes toward the misty cavern where they'll almost certainly die and decompose alone until another inconsequential adventurer discovers their remains. That kind of small.
Below was announced many years ago, when the idea of a Dark Souls inspired roguelike with minimalist graphics was more novel. Sometimes when games spend that long in development, they become bloated with half-finished ideas. Below went in the opposite direction; it's been rounded out a bit since the last time I played it at PAX East 2016, sure, like how there are more ways to make sure you don't lose *too* much progress when you bleed out after fighting a freakish gem-creature. But it's also been thoughtfully stripped back and honed down so the few elements that remain all contribute to that one feeling. You know, the small kind.
The best because: No other game walked so fine a line between ambient exploration and thrilling action-survival challenge. Below may have taken a lot longer than expected (and that's assuming it actually does hit its release window this year), but I'm glad Capybara never gave up on it.
Sam's top 3 games of PAX East 2018
Omensight (2018 - PC, PS4)
Omensight is a cavalcade of seeming contradictions. It uses a bright and stylized artstyle (one could go so far as to call it 'cartoonish') but tells a dark story about war and the conspiracy plot to execute a noble. Then there's the combat - free-flowing like Rocksteady's Arkham games, with flashy combos like Bayonetta, plus the animation style of Street Fighter. The former keeps players agile, the second makes them feel cool, and the latter seals the idea that your attacks hurt these bad guys.
Another seeming contradiction? Omensight is simultaneously a 3D action-adventure game and a murder mystery. By calling upon your demigod-like powers, you'll be able to reset the final day of your world's existence in order to try and prevent said murder and thus avoid the apocalypse. Each time you relive the world's final day you have choices on what to make and which clues line up with whom.
The best because: Omensight had me hooked from the get-go: an intriguing murder mystery plot, satisfying melee combat that blends swords and sorcery, all wrapped up in a gorgeous art style? This is pretty much My Jam: The Game.
TrailBlazers (2018 - PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
Splatoon + F-Zero. Need I say more? Okay, I probably do, because it's a bit of a strange concept. In Trailblazers, you and two other teammates race around a track on futuristic rocket cars that wouldn't look out of place in an F-Zero game, all the while laying down paint to help yourself and your compadres boost past the competition.
Get out in front of the pack you can lay down a line of your team's paint, which will give you or your friends a speed increase. Alternatively, you can hang back a bit so you can cover up the enemy's paint with your own color and turn the whole raceway to your side. Just don't focus solely on speed - in Trailblazers, teams of 3 win or lose as a group by points. While taking 1st will give you a rise in numbers, it's the points you get for painting the speedway, drifting, boosting, and generally being a good driver that will make or break you.
Aside from this formula being used to fuel a unique and supremely fun multiplayer experience, it will also carry you through a single-player campaign full of aliens, robots, frog-people, and more. Keep an eye out for this one.
The best because: On the surface, TrailBlazers is a pretty simple idea: what if Splatoon, but cars? But by embracing the cooperative nature of such a mash-up, the game manages to invert a few expectations and tropes in the racing genre. It's clever, colorful, and tons of fun.
Pixel Ripped (2018 - Rift, Vive, PSVR)
My demo of this VR game opened with me as a 2D character surrounded by a world of other 2D sprites (if that sounds confusing, try to imagine life from the perspective of a cartoon character - a 3D world full of 2D objects). Before long, I was whisked away and controlling a young child trying to play a Game Boy-esque device in the middle of school. I looked down and instead of a controller I saw a handheld game system. After successfully avoiding the teacher's gaze long enough to beat the level, a boss battle began.
Sprites and particle effects spilled out of the game system, into the real world. My books became platforms. My scissors became obstacles. Not only was it all fabulous to look at, but genuinely surprising and fun to experience. So clever is Pixel Ripped's integration and remixing of 2D and 3D elements inside of a virtual world, I'm really not sure how you could make it work outside VR without losing something significant in the process. You have never seen a game quite like Pixel Ripped. But you really should.
The best because: We've been hearing for years about how virtual reality would make new methods of play possible, but often we get what could've been a standard first-person game with neat visual gimmicks. But Pixel Ripped really doesn't feel like it could be anything but a VR title, at least not without losing a big part of what makes it special.